It’s difficult to know what prison is really like until we actually decide to commit a crime and get in big trouble for it. Luckily for us photographer Patrick Simpson has saved us from that by giving a rare glimpse into Angola Prison in Louisiana. Different to other insights into prison life, his series focuses on the model inmates of the prison called ‘trustees’ and the arts program ‘Hobby Craft’ that involves painting, wood and leather working, taxidermy and furniture building, set up as part of their rehabilitation.
The pieces of work made by the prisoners are sold to the public at the prison’s annual rodeo and art fair as seen in Patrick’s photographs. The money raised is then split mainly between inmates’ families and prison administration, with the inmates themselves receiving a small amount to buy more materials for the next fair encouraging a steady work ethic.
However, around 90% of the prisoners have life sentences and will end up being laid to rest in a place called “The Farm”, so it’s sad to realise that this rehabilitation won’t actually be able to benefit them in the outside world. This is sentiment is reflected in Patrick’s photographs with their honesty and bleak aesthetic, but there’s still a sense of quiet proudness from the prisoners in the photographs from the work they’ve produced. The photographer shows them as real people, and while the concept of a model inmate is a little jarring, it demonstrates that perhaps programs like this can do some good in a not so good place.