The Auburn System
My hometown, Auburn, NY, is host to a maximum-security prison. The prison sits directly in the middle of the city, nestled between busy roads and residential neighborhoods. Its thirty-five-foot high walls become largely ignored. The walls around the perimeter of the prison are a visual and psychological reminder of the two distinctly different worlds inhabiting the same space. Historically, this prison has played a large role within the workings and systems that structure modern day correctional services and prisons. This work is an ongoing portrait of Auburn - both past and present – and its relationship with the maximum-security prison it hosts. The people in these photographs are members of my community - some live across from the prison’s walls and others have worked behind them. My photographs explore this relationship and exist to question the histories and correctional practices that have traveled well beyond the walls of Auburn’s prison.
In the 1820’s, Auburn Prison implemented what became known as The Auburn System – a series of corrections that included lockstep, solitary confinement, and complete silence. The prison was also home to the first execution by electrocution. Many of the practices that began in Auburn have led to what is now called the Prison Industrial Complex - a term that describes the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are, in actuality, economic, social, and political problems. These histories are deeply ingrained within the social fabric of the community, and they historically mark the prison’s role within the Prison Industrial Complex.
Many of the systems and correctional practices that were originally implemented behind the walls of Auburn’s prison have created and perpetuated traumas and injustices that are now shared by many people and communities nationwide. These histories and correctional practices, along with their traumas, have had a role in leading to the systemic oppression and mass incarceration of many Americans involved within different levels of the criminal justice system in the United States.
My work brings these histories into discussion within the context of modern day mass incarceration to document and explore how a community so deeply ingrained within the prison industry and penal history coexists with its prison. The work also exists to foster a discussion that asks difficult questions regarding prisons, incarceration, and policing within American society.