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Emerging Photographer Fund – FINALIST (number two of eleven)
The continuous withdrawal of mental health funding has turned jails and prisons across the U.S. into default mental health facilities. The system designed for security is now trapped with treating mental illness and the mentally ill are often trapped inside the system with nowhere else to go.
I left the prison everyday feeling the same way the warden and the doctors do – wanting to help these men that have nowhere else to go but feeling helpless. My intention was to produce a riveting body of work that made the viewer feel what I felt when I was inside the prison. There were days that I was extremely scared and others that I left thinking how much someone on the outside missed them. Some days, I had to remind myself that many of these men had done heinous things. There were also days when I was reminded that some of these men have faded into the system with no hope of getting out.
I saw them cry. I saw them hit themselves so hard in the head that they bled. I saw them throw their feces at the officers. I saw a world most people don’t even know exists in America.
Thus far, this project documents the Correctional Psychiatric Treatment Unit at the Kentucky State Reformatory. I chose this institution because it is regarded by many as one of the best psychiatric units in the country.
The project portrays the daily struggle inside the walls of the unit redesigned to treat mental illness and maintain the level of security required in a prison. The photos take viewers into an institution where the criminally insane are sometimes locked up in their cells for 23 hours a day with nothing to occupy their minds but their own demons.
I have an excitement for storytelling and believe it is a great honor and privilege to share the stories of people who otherwise might not be heard. I specialize in long-term, in-depth, documentary projects and believe strongly in its ability to increase social awareness. My goal is when an image can make you feel something you can no longer forget it exists.
While this is a topic that has been covered in foreign countries, we have yet to see an in-depth photo documentary on the inhumane treatment to the mentally ill in America. Thus, this story is one I am honored to tell given the access that I was granted. Throughout this past year, I balanced my time shooting stills and video. While I also believe the edited film will be powerful, I know that the still images cannot be ignored and will have a lasting impact.
See more photos and the short documentary film at http://www.jennackerman.com/trapped.