The American notion of childhood is one of a space that exists separately from the polluted and tangled business of adult life. In reality, the experience of childhood is as varied as any other on the scale of human existence. But, since World War II this idea that children deserve a chance at an unpolluted childhood has been central to America’s ideology. Our tolerance for the violation of this sacred space is low. The interruption of this space has become an important theme for me in this work.
In searching for visual strategies for this larger incarceration and community project, I wanted to tap into that potential outrage felt by everyday people who deeply believe in an unpolluted childhood space.
I was documenting a day care program run by Friends and Families of Incarcerated People, a D.C. based nonprofit, that serves children affected by incarceration. The daycare was located in the basement of an apartment building in Southeast D.C. After a lesson, the kids gathered outside for a trip to swimming pool. Once the chaperons gathered all the children, they began to walk towards the bus stop a few blocks away. One of the little girls spotted bluish-green glass shards spread on the asphalt and sidewalk adjacent to one of the teacher’s car. The glass had spread through the front passenger seat and on to the floor board. The daycare instructor’s vehicle had been broken into the previous evening. She asked what happened to the window.
This image stands out to me because it combined the violence of a smashed car window with the sacred space of childhood. I watched her as she opened her thin arms, then I made a picture. In the moment of witnessing her reaction I was touched by the simple question she asked, Why? The explanation was short and technical. Someone broke into the car to steal a music player. The kids wrestled with the reality of what that meant. Their level of understanding was one thing I could not photograph, but the intersection of crime and the innocence of youth radiate throughout this moment.
This is even more poignant because this group of children, whether it’s a simple walk to catch a bus to the pool or any other act of daily life, must navigate a community that has been stripped of it’s fathers and mothers.
An estimated 60,000 Washington D.C. residents have criminal records. Nearly 8,000 returning citizens are released back into the city each year after serving sentences in prison or jail. The aftermath of the War on Drugs has had serious impact on children in the economically depressed communities of “nation’s capital.” At some point in many of their lives, they will lose one or both of their parents due to incarceration.