Friday, January 18, 2008

health insurance

"everything else is tertiary, everything else is a lie."

overheard in the stairwell of my new apartment building, last night, not too late- 12:30. slightly drunk, saw s. she looked the same. and didn’t ask me at all about europe/afrika/israel travels. she is unemployed and possibly toxic.
she is having a party on saturday and marc is coming into town.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Spoke with Greg. Happy about Brooklyn. And the springtime.

I feel so spent, I couldn't form a unique thought if I tried.

These pictures are from Belfast. IRA cemetery / Belfast murals.

picures past

a long time ago.
mason's arm

in motion

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

brooklyn rail

i have an internship with the brooklyn rail.

i visited riker's island with my mural painting class last spring. then i wrote about the experience for the new school paper.

MAY 2007

My visit to Rikers
-Emily Alexander

On Friday, April 20, 2007, at about 11:35 AM, I was admitted into Riker’s Island correctional facility along with five other Eugene Lang students. The purpose behind our visit to New York’s largest prison facility was meet with students attending the Island Academy High School. We discussed art and one particularly disturbing mural inside the halls of the prison.

Ella Turenne, Lang’s Director of Special Programs, who organized the visit, gave us a brief run-down on Riker’s do’s and don’ts before we left- security protocol, what not to wear, what topics to avoid, etc. My class, mostly young women, was told to wear loose-fitting clothes. We had originally intended to wear our bright orange Lang Mural Project t-shirts, but later received an emphatic email.
“...DO NOT wear the orange Lang Outdoors t-shirts,” it read. “Some of the incarcerated men's uniforms are bright orange. Any other colors are fine.”
We rode the F uptown to Astoria and transfered to the Q101R bus to the end of the line.

Checking into prison is a slow process, after arriving and putting our things into lockers, we waited in the first holding room for close to an hour. My class and I watched as countless police officers in street clothes, guards, visitors, and janitors in prison uniforms walked by. To pass the time, in an exercise of poor taste, we discussed our own brushes with the law.

After clearing security and receiving blacklight stamps on the backs of our hands we waited for the Rikers bus to the high school. Island Academy looks exactly like all of the other prison buildings: a massive thundercloud-grey block with very few windows and surrounded by razor wire. The school’s assistant principal, Mr. G, led us through a second security checkpoint and gave us a tour. There was a thick black line painted down the center of the hallway, prisoners must always stay on the right side of the line, shoulder touching the wall. Painted in bright colors on the brick walls were several patronizing, elementary styled murals of smiling cartoon teenagers walking on a curvy sidewalk towards a giant diploma.

It wasn’t until nearly the end of the hallway we found the mural we had come to discuss. The painting depicted a young man kneeling beneath a razor-wire fence, he is trying to climb out. The man is dissected in two halves; his left half is dressed in a traditional olive-colored prison uniform and his right half, the side closest to the reaching out of the fence, is dressed in military camouflage with a mask and night vision goggles concealing his face. The title of the mural is “Choose Your Green.”

Inside the classroom, there were about 20 inmates classified as juveniles, all between the ages of 16 and 18. As I walked in 40 eyes stared at me. All of these men were either black, Hispanic, or mixed and representing all five boroughs.
America’s current system, referred to as the prison-industrial complex, focuses more on making money than lowering crime rates and rehabilitating criminals. Prisons provide the US with low-cost labor and house (almost exclusively) economically disadvantaged and politically underrepresented members of society. There was a reason that all of the young men, many younger than me, were minorities, and it is not because they are all bad people. According to the US Department of Justice, 64% of prisoners belong to a racial or ethnic minority and an estimated 32% of black men will enter state or federal prison in their lifetime. America holds more prisoners than any other country in the world, over 2 million.

By Lang standards my mural painting class is very racially diverse. However, I felt that as soon as we had all entered the classroom the students probably saw us all as exactly the same--the same way we are conditioned to see them. Despite being white, Asian, Hispanic, Black, male, female, Jewish, Catholic, pagan, nerds, and artists, we were all privileged upper-middle class college students that can never understand what these young men are living.

Ella, who accompanied us on the visit, instructed us to play an icebreaker game. We introduced ourselves and asked questions like, “What do you do for fun?” One of the guys asked me if I smoked pot or had sex. He said that’s what he used to do for fun. After the icebreaker we broke up into groups and talked about “Choose Your Green.” We asked the students how they would like it to be different if it were to be changed, and to draw pictures of what they’d like to see. One student drew a helicopter bombing Rikers Island.

I smiled and nodded to hear one of the other students said that there was no way he would ever join the army. Some members of the class discussed how it might be another way of being a detainee of the U.S. government. I learned that as part of their high school classes, for one hour, once a week, an NYU social work student comes in and discusses poetry with them and that they had taken a liking to Dead Prez.

The Lang visitors asked Island Academy students about their plans for after their release. Answers varied from traveling to working in construction to attending Hunter College in the fall. About half of the class didn’t know what they were going to do. ‘Shouldn’t our correctional system help prisoners, especially juveniles, figure this out?’ I thought silently.

My class and I left Rikers Island only a few hours after our arrival, spending most of our time in transit or security. We went home and enjoyed the start of the weekend and some of us probably participated in recreational activities that could potentially get us arrested, but usually do not. Besides taking back several phone numbers (where they would pick up, I do not know,) I gained a deeper and unique insight into the U.S. prison-industrial complex, and also about the judgments we have on others. I did not ask the young men I met what led them to Rikers and I still do not know. I do not pretend to know them or what it could possibly be like to be where they are at such a young age.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

dawn some pictures

ive been back in atlanta for a while.
in a few days i leave for new york.

the pictures below are from one morning i woke up around dawn in amsterdam. there was a weird circus/beach/dump/skate ramp by my old apartment.