What Photos Would You Want In Prison?

Photo by Laurie Jo Reynolds and Chris X. The prisoner requested a photo of himself in front of a blue sky.

We’re so innundated with photos these days. If you miss a loved one, you can just pull up a Facebook page or shoot them a text asking for a picture of what they’re doing. But what if you were locked away with limited access to images. What would you ask for?

My dear friend Jon forwarded me a link to this organization, YearTen.org, which chronicles life in solitary confinement for the men of Tamms CMAX, a super-prison in Illinois. For more than 10 years, many of these prisoners have been or are still living in tiny rooms, with no stimulation and no interaction. Their only salvation? Photographs.

I was moved by this idea and this organization. Perhaps you will be too – this is where you can help.

On the site, you can read the requests for pictures by the prisoners. Some ask for family photos, others ask for Jesus. Or, like the above picture, some want images of themselves dropped into a background that highlights hope, love, or something more. A few men just want something funny to look at. It’s strange to think about a photograph as a privilege, but when you’re denied everything else, a single image can be the difference between salvation and insanity.

If you want to pitch in (and maybe change someone’s life), join me in sending photos by following this link.

Change someone’s day, week, or life with a single image. Thanks.

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31 Responses to What Photos Would You Want In Prison?

  1. apertureamy April 19, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Chase, your Giving Back ethos is so inspiring. In my city there was a fire last week which completely destroyed a block of homes. All the residents were left homeless and with nothing, having to face starting over again. And of course among the things which were lost are precious family photos. Some members of a local photography group are planning to offer new family portraits as these folks get back on their feet.

    A photo can change a life, or help get a new life started.

    Thanks for all you do.

  2. Sara Mac April 19, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Thanks for highlighting this project!

  3. Matthew April 19, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Ok, so, I am more just interested in your response to this Chase, but, why waste time helping these guys who are convicted criminals that have done some despicable things when there are so many other options out there in the world? You took the time to make a blog post about this, so I am curious, what drew your attention to THIS project???? Just curious, not trying to spark a debate about good and evil and all that jazz. Great work and I love how involved you stay with the photog community; giving so much information back to those trying to climb the ladder! Take care.

  4. Another Matthew April 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Matthew, I think your definition of this as “a waste of time” already signals to the way that you view this project. Do you value rehabilitation and the chance that someone might change or someone getting their “just deserves”? I don’t think it is up to any of us to dictate that these men should be treated like animals and long forgotten for past mistakes, particularly when you consider that any person is capable of nearly anything at the right given moment. Not wanting to start a debate either, I think it can most easily be summed up with this question: if you were locked away with only yourself for 10 years, would you want to be given something that reminds you that you are human?

    • Matthew April 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

      FIRST OF ALL . . . . . .clever name thing. I guess that’s true, I hadn’t really thought of it in that light, but at the same time, let me give you a quick story about where I come from when viewing “prisoners,” I’ll keep the whole thing brief:

      When I was in the Navy and first got to the boat, I knew a guy who I came to really trust. It was my first time away from home on the opposite side of the country and this guy opened his home up to me, he was really into photography which I connected with, and we become really good friends. After about 8 months of knowing this guy, I found some child porn on his Zune. Along with that were photos of his stepdaughter, I think that’s enough detail, you get the idea. It REALLY screwed my head up. I knew this guy and trusted him, and he turned out to be a filthy worthless being. I ended up being the reason he went in prison. And they only gave him 13 years for molestation and a bunch of other charges, turns out there was more than photos happening.

      So, ‘Another Matthew’ when I look at ‘Prisoners’ I associate those people with this guy. They did wrong, and they should be paying for what they did. Once they get out of prison, that’s a different story, but I have a hard time feeling compassion for these people when they are still serving what society has deemed a suitable punishment.

      I guess my point is simply a curious inquiry as to what drew Chase to want to promote it? Is it a simple matter of helping people somehow? Which leads me to the next question of if so, why prisoners, is it just what you happened to hear about at that moment you wanted to post on your blog??? I don’t see it as good or bad, and I am in NO WAY condeming the project, I feel very strongly in people doing what they want in the world of photography, and if this project makes people feel better or helps them better their photojournalism skills or whatever, so be it, but, I was just curious as to the reasons for posting this up.

      • Ricky April 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

        First, love the fact we are having a respectful discussion going on here!

        Maybe this project is needed because of the perception many people have of prisoners. I am guilty of this myself;I viewed inmates, especially at maximum security places, as being scum of the earth, but is it really fair to made broad brushstrokes on approx. 3% of the population (this is the number of people who are currently retained by the system).

        These photos can help change the perception of prisoners from being animals that must been kept fenced in to people who also have hopes and dreams that may of been dealt a bad hand at some point in life.

        We need to get past classifying large groups of people based of lack of information.

        • Andrew Webb September 11, 2013 at 10:12 am #

          It seems to me that we are not suffering from a lack of information. These folks aren’t in jail without cause—that’s why we have trials and verdicts. It’s kind of the opposite of the “don’t judge them” thing, eh? They aren’t in jail to be treated well. They’re in jail to keep them from hurting other people or disturbing society. Giving them nice things seems a lot like patting the dog that just bit your hand off.

  5. Brent Schmidt April 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Definitely with Matt here… these guys don’t deserve the time of day.

  6. John April 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    Agreed – there are many others who are actually deserving of charity than murderers, rapists. Perhaps their victims…?

  7. Deemtri Mouratis April 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    As a 3rd year law student studying criminal law I had the opportunity to see TAMMS first hand. That was over 10 years ago.

    Consider me the latest member of yearten.

    Thanks for posting.


    • Weslie April 26, 2012 at 11:23 am #

      Remember the stress of your 2L summer? Your first interview? Waiting to hear? Wish it had been a little easier? Well if JD Match had been around, it might have helped. JD Match provides a free and easy online service that matches students with firms and firms with students. While you can’t travel back in time, you could help ease the burden for a current law student by sending them this link. Yeah. Sorry we didn’t think of it before. http://bit.ly/JGCt1K

  8. Anonymous April 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    I don’t see why the prisoners need this “help”now. How about they stay where they are during the time of their incarceration and continue to be punished for the crime(s) that they have commited?

    I have no issue whatsoever of providing a helping hand towards their rehabilitation (if they can be rehabilitated at all) after they have paid their dues, not during, not before, not instead of. They commited a crime, were caught, tried and convicted, sentenced and should complete the entire sentence.

    I also don’t agree that they should be allowed to complete anything higher than a High School diploma while incarcerated. A High School diploma is certainly helpful for rehabilitating and since it is free to anyone anyway, this is not a bad thing. However I don’t think a convicted criminal should be afforded the luxury of a post secondary education while they are being punished, regardless of who is paying for it.

    My $0.02,

  9. Michael April 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    I love the idea of giving back or providing hope to those in need. Victims of natural Disasters, the poor, communities in need, etc. I find that noble and compassionate.

    I am also a huge supporter of the idea of rehabilitation. When these guys go to prison, their rehabilitation should begin immediately. NOT when they get out.

    That being said… if they earned a long-term stay in a MAXimum security prison… I think I would rather commit my goodwill to others first. Such as communities that have suffered disasters (fires, tornadoes, etc.).

    Thank you for highlighting this story, Chase. I’m very grateful for all you’ve given back and shared.

  10. Ana Montoto April 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Well, this year I had the opportunity to photograph the women inside the jail in Puebla, Mexico. The pourpouse of this was to give them for free a professional portrait with their kids and husbands who visit them on sundays. You should see how happy and grateful these families were! They were smiling, hugging each other and they wouldn’t stop thanking me! So I was really happy, helping these families that already are suffering enough. My purpose was to HELP not JUDGE..maybe you can do that too.

  11. Matt April 19, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Thank you so much for posting this. I looked through the requests, and I found one for a picture of downtown Chicago or Lake Michigan that I can fill. I will be sending that photo to them with an offer to fill others requests when I can.

  12. Jim April 19, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    One of the reasons that our jails and prisons are so full is that we keep babying the prisoners instead of teaching how to be respectful law abiding citizens. Let them do without a few things and maybe they might appreciate freedom they can have if they behave themselves.

    • Matthew(the first one) April 20, 2012 at 4:20 am #

      I agree. I think that the biggest problem I see here is that as a photographer, especially during the time on deployments and the power we had in printing family photos for people every once in awhile, I know better than a lot the extreme emotional and pychological(sp?) power a single photo can have. If these are the things these people want, let them do without and let it torment them a little, after all we are talking about murderers, rapists and the like… This is a maximum security prison, not a county jail where the guy who had a beer too many is sitting in the drunk tank for the night. . . . But on the flip side of that I suppose, Having ONLY that photo to look at is a way to twist their mind into the “I need to get my sh** together because I want to get outta here and see [insert photo content here]” It’s a double edge sword any way you look at it.
      Also, maybe it’s the comment moderator, or probably just the crowd that Chase Jarvis attracts, but, I would like to take the time to point out that I really appreciate everyone having an opinion and not just talking smack. That’s pretty great to be able to have a real conversation and not read through “Frank you are dumb and that’s a dumb opinion” with zero supporting argument. You know, like, well, most of the internet…. You guys all rock.

  13. chase jarvis April 20, 2012 at 4:41 am #

    thanks so much to everyone here for the thoughtful, heartfelt conversation. just want to say how much I love and appreciate the words, regardless of position (AND the way in which you’ve gone about it here…)

    for the record, my goal here is in creating awareness for the side of things less thought, for new perspectives and to help create a sense of compassion.

    thx for all comments and awareness.

    and thanks to my friend jon for pointing this out!

  14. Ron Hiner April 20, 2012 at 5:01 am #

    Photogs that want to make a diference in peoples lives should also check out FlashesOfHope.org. They are always looking for photographers. I’ve shot with them… it’s very rewarding, and a great way to give back to the community.

  15. Meg Davis April 20, 2012 at 5:03 am #

    Everyone has value regardless of their actions. We are all capable of great good & great evil. I live by the grace of Jesus.

    Thank you for sharing this Chase.

  16. Kim April 20, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    I have a friend doing this with a women’s prison in Montana. She’s been blogging about it and has had some really interesting requests. It’s cool to see the images she has taken for these women.

  17. faisal April 20, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Looks like an interesting project to me.

  18. Ryan Parker April 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    I sent one! Now, maybe this guy doesn’t deserve my time, but it’s never too late to turn it all around.

    Also, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to composite a trash can rolling downhill toward an incinerator plant…very strange.

  19. Moritz April 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm #


    i think this is a hard question… hope i never have to be in that position… but i guess it would be a pic of me skydiving… just a happy place for me and represents freedom.

    i can understand why people here are against helping prisoners by sending pics, and in a way i agree… on the other hand i disagree, we cannot judge people, we dont know why they are in prison, why they did what they did or if it really was them or if they are innocent… in the end, they are all human beings even if they done something wrong, and if a picture can help, why not…


    • Lisa September 11, 2013 at 11:06 am #

      Well said Moritz!! I worked as a counselor and Correctional Recovery Facilitator at both a medium security prison and a county jail/house of corrections. The medium security had many men who were transferred for “good behavior” after serving part of their sentence in Supermax & solitary confinement. These men were human beings, fathers, sons and brothers, no different than the fathers, sons and brothers we all have. I made it my practice to get to know the men (in the classroom setting) for a few days before reviewing their files & criminal history, so I would have no preconceived judgments or prejudices affecting my relationship with each individual. I learned that any one of us is capable of making poor choices, whether over time or in a split second heat of the moment situation, that could result in incarceration. These men were not animals, they were human beings with the same capacity for love, pain, suffering, joy, anger, jealousy, shame, regret and CHANGE that each one of us has. But to do differently, one must first think differently, actually learn HOW to think differently, and this cognitive restructuring needs to begin as early as possible, beforehand for prevention, or during incarceration to reduce recidivism & promote pro social behavior & positive change.
      Thanks Chase for this opportunity to make a difference on behalf of society, the inmates, their families and the victims…it’s a win-win situation for all parties if the result is less violent criminals, pro social behavior and recovery/rehabilitation…and eventual release & reintegration into the community as productive members of society.

  20. Jackie Kathan December 22, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

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  22. Willard Rivas April 24, 2013 at 12:23 am #

    Wow, Freddo, you really had some feelings to share, there! But yeah, you’re totally right! You just can’t beat WHMS.


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