Dear Daily Givers,
Before you read this, look at this photo. Does it mean anything to you? Its just a picture of a convenience store somewhere, right?
(from the New York Times blog, July 2014) When Paulo Demetrick, a 29-year-old federal prison inmate in Virginia, was asked, “If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?,” his mind began to race. After 11 years behind bars for robbery, how could he think of just one photograph?
At first, he thought of his childhood, moments with friends and family. But it didn’t feel like enough. He sat in his cell for five days obsessing over the image. In the end, he chose a Bestway supermarket.
“At Bestway I learned to mingle with and learn from people of all walks of life,” he wrote in his request.
When Mr. Demetrick received the image, he was ecstatic. Apart from the store’s name changing from Bestway to Bestworld, the supermarket was exactly how he remembered it. “It has been over a decade and with the D.C. area having so many changes over the years I was glad this supermarket survived,” he said.
The image still hangs on the bulletin board next to his bed.
The person behind this photographic effort is Mark Strandquist, a teacher and photographer who we funded a year ago for his project “Windows from Prison”
We funded Mark to expand his project to incarcerated teens. He asked them the same question, “If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out onto?” Mark worked with a team of students from Duke Ellington High School in the Washington DC area to take the photos and deliver them to their incarcerated peers.
A picture doesn’t really seem like much when you think of it as “just a picture”. But these photos serve as bridge between people inside and outside, a bridge between the past, present and future, a reason to hope, and shared understanding from one human heart to another.
Another note from a program participant:
As the project gained traction in the past 12 months, Mark was able to produce a deeply moving, public instillation of photographs at George Mason University, and began to get more and more involved in criminal justice policymaking. He is now working on an ambitious “Community Think Tank and Media Collective” in Richmond, VA. This very innovative collective brings together teens, incarcerated people, designers, artists and criminal justice policy experts. If ever you wanted to think about a deeply ingrained “unsolvable” problem in a new way, what an exciting way to do it!
Today, as you think about your small investment in a pocket of goodness somewhere in the world- think about the young people who are living their lives behind bars, and how, for a group of them in Washington DC, you have enabled a sliver of hope, joy and magic to come into their lives. And this is just the beginning for this project. Thank you for seeing beyond the picture.
Have a beautiful day (and for those of you celebrating the Jewish New Year, shannah tova!)