Who Speaks for Me?

by Taylar Nuevelle, Gabriela Bulisova, & Mark Isaac

One of the most shocking injustices associated with mass incarceration is the fact that our prisons have become a dumping ground for people who have experienced severe trauma, resulting in mental health issues. Instead of receiving needed treatment, they are subjected to additional abuse and mistreatment. This project is a collaboration with Taylar Nuevelle, who served four and a half years after she was charged with breaking and entering the house of a former girlfriend and attempting to commit suicide. Taylar was diagnosed with PTSD, trauma, and severe anxiety disorder, and a pre-sentence report recommended that she be treated rather than sent to prison, but the judge overruled this recommendation. In prison, rather than receiving treatment, she was raped, locked in solitary confinement and placed on suicide watch.

We adopted a novel visual and storytelling strategy that allowed Taylar to personally represent her experiences. First, we photographed her and created digital negatives. Taylar then took the negatives and distressed them to represent her abuse. For example, she used bleach as a means of depicting the times her mother scrubbed her skin with a metal brush and bleach. We passed the images back and forth, working on them until we fully represented her pain. Some of the photographs also incorporate text from her writings and diaries. The final images expose the manner in which our criminal justice system has dehumanized those with mental health issues. By sharing her deeply traumatic and painful experiences with us, Taylar is opening the door for others to find their voices, challenge societal stigma and bring about much-needed reforms.

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