2.2 million Americans currently reside in jails or prisons – a 500% increase in incarceration over the past thirty years. 60% of those people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities. If you are a black male in your thirties, there is a 1 in 10 chance you will end up in prison or jail on any given day. Though the US is only 5% of the world population, we have 25% of the world’s prisoners. (NAACP, The Sentencing Project)
In crochet, there is a simple stitch called the chain stitch. When formed in a long line, the stitches look like a chain, except instead of cold iron they’re made with soft yarn. For the last three days Savannah artist Becca Cook has been living inside Sulfur Studios, stitching chain after chain to create 2.2 million individual stitches. One to represent each of the people currently incarcerated in the United States. They currently hang from the ceiling at Sulfur Studios; a white forest of silent pain.
A fibers artist by trade, this is Cook’s first foray into the world of political art. She was inspired to create the performance/installation piece she’s calling “Chains” by a documentary about the private prison system.
“I was thinking about how many people are incarcerated – 2.2 million. That’s a huge amount of people. I thought it’d be interesting to make a piece that represented that number so people can actually visualize what 2.2 million looks like and how big a number that really is,” she explained. “A lot of times we say the word ‘a million’ and we throw it around and we don’t really understand it. I think if I put it visually, people will understand.”
Though the subject isn’t something that affects Cook personally, she realizes that there are larger social implications for this national problem. “The number is a national number but it affects all of us. It affects your community’s life. It affects us all,” she told me. About $70 billion dollars are spent on corrections yearly in America, which consumes a growing portion of the nearly $200 billion we spend annually on public safety. (NAACP)
Of course, it is in the best interest of the private prison system (and those who enjoy its lucrative profits) to continue incarcerating non-violent Americans. Recently, a Pennsylvania judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison after accepting millions of dollars in bribes from the owners of private, for-profit youth detention centers to increase the number of “residents” (imprisoned children). Corporations that contract prison labor, construction companies, surveillance technology corporations, private probation companies, lawyers, lobbyists, and corporations who provide prison food and medical services all stand to make an enormous amount of money so long as we continue putting people in prison.
According to the NAACP, 1 in every 31 adults (or 3.2% of the population) is under some form of correctional control. Since rehabilitation is not a major priority for the prison-industrial complex, two-thirds of prisoners will re-offend.
Cook is currently under surveillance at Sulfur Studios. You can watch a live-stream of her performance by clicking here. Attend the opening of Voting Block, an exhibition presented by Emergent Savannah in partnership with Sulfur Studios tonight (Friday, October 23) at 6pm to see the finished piece. The exhibition will include a separate performance by Raine Blunk at 6pm as well.