Slavery did not end, as is commonly believed, in 1865; it merely evolved. The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution includes a strategic exception to the abolition of slavery for those “duly convicted of a crime.” Prisons in the United States are filled with people of color “duly convicted of a crime” at a rate almost eight times higher than whites. Thus, conversations surrounding prison abolition are required in order to facilitate authentic possibilities for a non-racist, non-exploitative, non-hierarchical democratic order.

Of the 2.2 million incarcerated people in the United States, 80,000 to 100,000 are subjected to indefinite solitary confinement everyday. Prisoners are isolated for a minimum of twenty-three hours per day in a six-by-nine-foot (or smaller) concrete and steel cell. No judge or jury places an individual in solitary confinement; the decision is made solely by prison officials. The devastating, and often irreparable, effects of solitary confinement include, but are not limited to, alienation, dehumanization, despair, disorientation, paranoia, and suicidal ideation. Solitary confinement is torture and has been defined as such by the United Nations, the American Civil Liberties Union, and human rights watchdogs around the world. It remains one of the most concentrated forms of punishment in the United States, making anti-solitary work a paramount target for true abolition.

Solitary Gardens is at the intersection of public art, alternative land-use and social sculpture. The project imagined by artist jackie sumell, will utilize garden beds designed after six-by-nine-foot American solitary cells as a physical platform for collaboration, education, and commiseration to facilitate unexpected exchanges between persons subjected to solitary confinement and volunteer communities on the “outside.” The six-by-nine-foot beds are “gardened” by prisoners, known as Solitary Gardeners, through written exchanges with volunteers. The Solitary Garden's beds become the classroom for prison abolition curriculum as well as portraits of those buried in a system designed exclusively to punish.

Solitary Gardens’ ecological and social footprint will counterbalance that of the prison complex. As the gardens grow, the cells will be overcome by plant life, demonstrating that no matter what harm we humans impose on ourselves and the planet, nature, like human hope, love, and the imagination, will always win in the end.

 Preliminary Sketch for 2600 Andry Street, Site of the Solitary Gardens, July 2015

Preliminary Sketch for 2600 Andry Street, Site of the Solitary Gardens, July 2015

Solitary Gardens is made possible with support of Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE), the Nathan Cummings Foundation; the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, SUA NOLA, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, IDIYA New Orleans, Antenna Gallery, EyeBeam NYC and the inspiration drawn from those who survive the impossible. 

Download the Solitary Gardens Deck here.