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A Photographer's Project: The View Outside from the Inside

Mark Strandquist

More than 33,000 people live behind bars in Virginia, and from their cells few have a view of the outside world, but a Richmond artist aims to change that.

If you were locked up for months, years or a lifetime and could look out a window, what would you most like to see?  That’s the question Mark Strandquist has put to inmates in Virginia jails and prisons.

“And then I go to that place, photograph it and bring the image to them, and then they write about it.”

He’s shot hundreds of images and put some on display at the Bridge - a community-oriented gallery in Charlottesville.  Each is displayed along with the essay written by an anonymous inmate.  Many are pictures of home.

“It says, ‘Looking through this window I can see this long hallway, my sister and I running halfway down the hallway and sliding the remaining way in our sox.  At the age of 12 years old, my sister six at the time, seeing the world through my innocent eyes, this hallway was a safe haven for us.  This hallway is filled with laughter and fun.  No worries.  I miss this place."

Other photos show favorite places in nature, and all provoke thoughts of human beings no longer seen by the public.  The U.S. has the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world, and more than half of inmates are locked up for non-violent offenses- often drug possession or sale.  The sheer number of prisoners has made Virginia’s Department of Corrections the most expensive state agency.

“It’s more expensive to send somebody to prison for a year than it is to send them to Princeton.”

Stranquist takes no position on this situation but hopes to spark a dialogue.  This Saturday at the Bridge in Charlottesville, he’s organized a poetry reading from prison, with inmates on the phone, reading their works for a live audience.  He also plans to set up bright orange newspaper boxes around town - filled with ads from inmates who would also like a view from their cells.  Strandquist hopes other photographers will join him in responding to those requests.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief