BY MARK SAXENMEYER
Here’s some trivia you probably don’t know: If every American serving a term of probation today were gathered together in one place, they’d form the third-largest city in the country, with 2.9 million people. That’d put this new population center right between second-biggest Los Angeles, home to 3.8 million folks, and Chicago, with 2.7 million residents–bumping the Windy City to fourth place. (New York City would remain tops with its population of 8.5 million.)
And get this: People now on probation easily outnumber the 1.3 million Americans currently locked up in prisons, the 600,000 behind bars in jails, and the 800,000 out on parole.
Yet few of us actually understand what the sanction of probation really involves.
In a Whole New Way: Undoing Mass Incarceration by a Path Untraveled is both a new book and documentary that aims to clear up the confusion and misconceptions about probation, as well as counter negative stereotypes affecting people on probation. Creators Jonathan Fisher and George Carrano do so in a truly innovative way—they hand out cameras to people in the New York City probation system, as well as their neighbors and other allies, and have them capture images of their everyday lives. They call the process “participatory photography.” (more…)
BY KIM WHITING
I met Michelle Lacy in high school in Minnesota, back in the 1980s. Michelle had (and still has) cerebral palsy—she was diagnosed at birth—and she attended classes in an electric wheelchair, always with a personal care assistant (PCA) at her side to assist with most of her basic needs. I would find her in the hall, stuck, because wheelchairs back then easily ran out of battery. Despite her many challenges, Michelle always had a smile on her face, a sunny disposition, and a great sense of humor.
I hadn’t seen or spoken to Michelle in more than 40 years, but when I reconnected with her recently, her positivity and humor were still front and center—despite the fact that her life has become even more challenging as a 57-year-old adult. Case in point, when we were sharing memories about high school, she laughed and said, “Did I ever run you over with my wheelchair?” She still requires PCAs, and these days, she says, there’s a consistent shortage of available, dependable, and qualified ones.
“For a little over five years, it’s been really challenging to find the care I need,” Michelle explains. “Not having caregivers is health-threatening and even life-threatening for me. If my caregivers aren’t able to show up for a shift, that can be a very big deal and lead to things such as skin sores (from staying in the same position too long), bladder infections, dehydration, hunger, and more. And if one of my caregivers quits, it could be months before I find someone reliable to replace them. What would happen to me and where I’d end up if I lost my current PCAs is a stress that’s constantly hanging over me.”