The United States currently has more than 2 million people locked up in jails and prisons. A disproportionate number of them come from a very few neighborhoods in the country's biggest cities.
Hour Children is a non-profit organization in Queens, New York, started by Sister Tesa Fitzgerald. She is a Catholic nun who was working with incarcerated women at the Bedford Hills prison, and she saw that the imprisoned mothers often had no way for their children to visit them in jail.
The children might be in foster care, many of the mothers have drug offenses, their families at wit's end - and according to the law, if a mother's child is in foster care, and she doesn't keep in regular contact for 15 months - she can lose her parental rights. This can happen easily if there's no means of transportation for these visits.
So the name, "Hour Children" comes from these precious hours of visits to prison, of phone calls. These hours are counted by the state. The child and parent's lives are regimented; they are determined by these hours, and both live waiting for the next hour. From its beginnings in 1986, Hour Children now has five residences that house 60 families each year. There are three stages of residential apartments in which the former women prisoners live and are trained to work, with computer and clerical skills, and some take classes at Queens College. They are also taught etiquette for work, how to dress professionally, and conflict management skills.
Society sees people - women in jail, or formerly in jail - in a certain light, and that negativity is reflected back which these women internalize. It is a message cycle of inferiority. Fashion dictates image, for women especially, and I'm trying to make up that deficit-hole in the soul. Like with any self-destructive behavior, it can only change when the cycle is broken and healed.
Being normal isn't enough, everyone has to be a super-star - there are images all around us of these impossible ideals - and these women are in the greatest deficit from that. It's a common thread through all of their stories.
So I wanted to do fashion shoots with them, with proper hair, make-up, and the white seamless background. It's an opportunity to show these women to them selves differently; positively. It's how self-image gets formed. There was anxiety. It was almost traumatic for them to get dressed in these clothes and be pampered a little bit, to be photographed. They all said:
"I never knew I was beautiful."
© Copyright 1989 - Brenda Kenneally. All rights reserved.