‘Incarceration Helped Me Find My Voice’

The New York Times

By David Gonzalez, with photographs and essay by Brian L. Frank

Years after serving time as a youth offender, the photographer Brian L. Frank has devoted himself to documenting young men’s experiences with the criminal justice system.

In “Out of Bounds: Coming of Age in Gang Territory,” Brian L. Frank takes an intimate look at the effect of targeted policing on minority youth in the Central Valley of California, where the children of agricultural workers and former factory workers have few opportunities. Coming from areas labeled “gang territory” — a distinction largely reserved for communities of color — that have experienced generations of neglect and aggressive policing, many young people enter the system on “gang related” charges as children.

Mr. Frank, who himself was a juvenile offender, said that instead of addressing the root causes of violence with community development or jobs programs in working-class areas, the police aggressively sweep minority neighborhoods to rack up arrest figures. At the same time, he has been looking at programs that offer nontraditional approaches to reducing recidivism.

“I had my own run-ins with the law; a lot of the people that I’m photographing now, I see myself in them and I think, The only difference is you didn’t get out and I did,” Mr. Frank said. “Being able to not only tell these stories through my own lens, but also help people visually tell their own experiences with the criminal justice system, has been one of the highlights of my career.”

In the following essay, Mr. Frank reflects on his experiences inside and outside the system.

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