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Panel Discussion

Inside Rikers Island

Wednesday, February 21

7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Aperture Gallery and Bookstore 547 West 27th Street New York, NY


Panelists include: Jamel Shabazz, Lorenzo Steele Jr., Katherine Cheairs

A movement to close New York’s Rikers Island jail facility is gaining momentum. This panel brings together two former corrections officers/photographers who worked at the facility in the 1980s and ’90s, as well as a documentary filmmaker who has taught filmmaking to incarcerated youth and adults, to discuss their work around the facility and criminal justice reform.

Moderated by Janos Marton, Director of Policy & Campaigns at JustLeadershipUSA.

In a series of public programs that accompany the spring issue of Aperture magazine and the related exhibition, Prison Nation, photographers, writers, historians, and activists discuss the unique role photography, art, and storytelling play in understanding and creating a dialogue around the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States.

Click here to see the full list of Prison Nation programs

Janos Marton is the Director of Policy and Campaigns at JustLeadershipUSA. A born and raised New Yorker, Marton has spent his career as a lawyer and activist. He began working in political campaigns before returning home to attend law school, during which he founded a program for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds incarcerated on Rikers Island. As an attorney, Marton has practiced at the civil rights firm Siegel, Teitelbaum & Evans, served as special counsel to the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, and served as legal policy counsel to the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board. Since joining JLUSA in early 2016, he has led the organization’s advocacy department, managing the #CLOSErikers campaign until December 2017. He now focuses on expanding JLUSA’s national advocacy work.

Jamel Shabazz is best known for his iconic photographs of New York City during the 1980s. He is a documentary, fashion, and street photographer, and has authored eight monographs. His work has been exhibited in Italy, France, Korea, Turkey, Germany, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Japan and throughout the United States. Shabazz’s work is housed within the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Shabazz is a twenty-year veteran of the New York City Department of Correction.

Lorenzo Steele Jr. is a criminal justice major, an accomplished visual artist, and a former corrections officer. While an officer (1987–99), he photographed some of the most disturbing and horrid images ever taken behind prison bars. After leaving the department after twelve years, Steele decided to share his personal experience and knowledge about the prison system in an attempt to deter youth from violence and incarceration. He created a book called Behind These Prison Walls: Life inside Rikers Island, in which he uses prison art to change habits and behaviors that can lead to criminal activity. His passion and commitment for children and the arts have allowed his stories and work to be displayed in art galleries, colleges, and public schools across America.

Katherine “Kat” Cheairs is a documentary filmmaker, educator, and community artist from Atlanta who currently resides in Brooklyn. Cheairs works with a number of communities—including adult education, youth and after-school programs, and incarcerated youth and adults—to learn filmmaking practices. Her philosophy is that filmmaking can be used to archive the voices of those not often heard from, and create an opportunity for individual and collective healing. Cheairs has a BA in political science from Tufts University and an MFA in film and television from Chapman University.

Image: Jamel Shabazz, A detainee from Brooklyn poses in the corridor of his housing area, Rikers Island, 1986; Courtesy the artist

Aperture magazine’s “Prison Nation” issue and the related exhibition and programs are funded, in part, with generous lead support from the Ford Foundation, as well as funding from the Reba Judith Sandler Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Grace Jones Richardson Trust, and the Board of Trustees and Members of Aperture Foundation. Additional public funds are from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Inside Rikers Island