By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A Philadelphia arts organization opens a new exhibit at the Crane Arts Center in Northern Liberties that tells the story of children in correctional facilities.

Imagine being kept in an 8 by 8 cell. You don’t know what time it is or when you’ll be able to leave. It’s cold…you’re alone. You are just twelve years old.

“Twenty-two states and the district of Columbia will take kids into custody as young as seven,” says Richard Ross. He is one of three artists on display as part of InLiquid’s exhibit titled, “Juvenile in Justice.” Ross traveled to 30 states, including Pennsylvania, taking hundreds of pictures of children in solitary confinement, on house arrest and in youth correctional facilities.

“These are kids with the least voice, from families with the least power, from neighborhoods with the least resources,” he says, “my work supplements data about how these kids are treated. This gives them a presence and it shows that these just aren’t kids fighting with kids, kids murdering other kids, but they are kids. It’s not that kids are screwing up, society is screwing up.”

Ross actually spent 24 hours in solitary confinement in one of the facilities as part of the project. His experience is documented in a three minute video.

“They gave me clothes way too big for me, food that was inedible. It was cold, it was noisy,” he says, “it is made to isolate and diminish the humanity of whoever is in that cell.”

Rachel Zimmerman is executive director of InLiquid. The non-profit teamed up with the Juvenile Justice Center to present Ross’ photos, as well as work by Kensington-based artists Roberto Lugo and Mat Tomezsko, who worked with young people from Covenant House Philadelphia.

“Arts programs have been cut dramatically over the years,” says Zimmerman, “what we are trying to say is Creative education is a way out for a lot of these kids. When we deprive kids of a creative outlet– this is what we get.”

The exhibit includes a mock prison cell, used to keep young people in solitary confinement.

“It’s 8 x 8 x 10 feet,” says Zimmerman, “If you’re 17 years old and you’re in trouble. This is the worse place you could possibly be because all you do is think about the wrong things. As an adult I don’t even think I can handle it.”


(Credit: Richard Ross)

(Credit: Richard Ross)


The solitary confinement does not happen in Philadelphia, but it does happen in other places across the country. Zimmerman says she hopes the exhibit encourages change in juvenile justice.

“For a lot of kids– they’ve done what these kids have done, they just didn’t get caught,” she says.

The exhibit runs through December 12. In addition, to the exhibit there will be a number of special events, including a film screenings for youth on November 21st and an expungement clinic on December 3rd.

Follow Cherri Gregg on Twitter @CherriGregg 

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