Livin’ the Dream is a participatory media project in Humboldt County, California, undertaken in collaboration with artist’s Leslie Castellano and Laura Montagna, that engages incarcerated individuals being held at the Humboldt County Correction Facility in Eureka, CA. The program is one chapter of three that navigates substance abuse recovery for the currently and formerly incarcerated in Humboldt County.
Of the roughly $81,000 California spends annually to house each of its prison inmates, just $2,478 (3%) goes toward rehabilitation programs (2018-2019 fiscal year). Individuals who participated in prison-based treatment followed by a community-based program post incarceration were 7 times more likely to be drug free and 3 times less likely to be arrested for criminal behavior than those not receiving treatment.
In 2015, the Journal of Consulting Psychology released a study on visualization techniques in goal achievement, proving that believing in an outcome can greatly increase the capacity for achievement. The project centered around the participants identifying an aspiration they wish to pursue upon being released and constructing handmade objects, utilizing material available to them, symbolic of their goal. Each participant acted out the corresponding movements that embody their aspiration, as we documented the enactment. Additionally, collages were constructed by each participants that allowed them to further experience the landscape of their aspiration.
It was my great pleasure to serve as juror for CENTER’s 2020 Project Development Grant, which offered me the opportunity to review over 550 fascinating projects in progress. There were many deserving submissions tackling a diverse array of subjects, and it was difficult to choose just one. I selected “Livin’ the Dream,” by the photographer Justin Maxon in collaboration with the artists Leslie Castellano and Laura Montagna, because I was moved by its belief in the power of art to change lives. The work was made with prisoners in the Humboldt County Corrections Facility in Eureka, California as part of their rehabilitation. Using positive visualization techniques, the prisoners enact an aspiration they have for the future. The photographs depicting these enactments, complete with wonderful handmade props, are paired with preparatory sketches and collages made by the participants. The portraits are clearly the product of deep trust between the photographer and his subjects, as the men felt safe to openly express their desires. As a nation we are failing to prepare incarcerated people to succeed on the outside after they have served their time, and this project gave me hope that creative people such as Maxon, Castellano and Montagna can use photography and art to improve the outcomes for people currently behind bars.