punitive culture
mixed media collage, acrylic painting, spraypainting, silkscreen

Justice in America has always been seen through some sort of retribution — that justice can only be served when a person who commits a violation of law suffers in return. This distortion of justice often reciprocates the violence that the perpetrator committed. 

With one-fourth of the world’s incarcerated population, the American prison system boasts supreme control over 6.6 million people – one of the most violent and expansive systems in modern history. Many of these individuals won’t see the light of day for the rest of their lives, and will not get to vote or participate in their communities ever again. 

Those who eventually are released will not be able to get a job and will have trouble finding adequate housing. They might have even lost connection to their families through their incarceration, as often prisons are located in the suburbs away from urban areas. Family members thus have to travel long distances to see incarcerated loved ones, and those without access to a car or train may not be able to visit at all. Prisoners are isolated both mentally and spatially, and may end up completely desolate, which can lead to more violence and crime when they are released. In fact, up to 60 percent of released convicts are reconvicted within 2 years, furthering the cycle of violence through retribution. Regardless of wrongful or rightful conviction, or whether or not the judicial system worked to the best of its ability, these human beings will be affected for the rest of their lives.

My piece reflects on this culture that retributive justice has created — a cyclical and violent society that seeks vengeance through perpetual human suffering. The violence inflicted may not always be direct, physical violence, but more widespread is the imposition of economic and political violence through  voter disenfranchisement, inadequate shelter, poverty wages for those who work, and  the worst offense, solitary confinement. 

Punitive justice is inhumane, yet it is pervasive throughout our culture.