The Family Tree

Flowers in a Field of Terror, a digital art project, lifts up all of the “flowers” I’ve met over the last several years: the beautiful people who survived the worst of the carceral system and are doing the hard work of advocating for themselves and others. These individuals wake up every day and fight back as field organizers, restorative healers, strategists, policy advocates, policy writers, organization leaders, and artists. This is a project for them.

Our communities are overrun with government agencies that have historically intimidated and violently harmed the people they were supposed to help. When I think about what a safe future for these communities might look like, the image of a sprawling garden comes to mind, a space where people faithfully nourish the landscape and are thus nourished by it.

In my vision, I am specifically imagining the landscape of the Southwest. The desert, though a living place, is often depicted as bare and sullen—and humans have made it a scene of death for undocumented people. This mirrors the criminal justice landscape, which rarely offers justice to the people caught in it. The title of this work is a protest against the literal and metaphorical desert that has taken so many. When I reimagine this landscape—reclaim it as a garden—it is filled with the complex joy of the people who have come through it.


I am not an inmate
Archival inkjet print, 2020

The dehumanization of people who are incarcerated is a common issue. In the movement, we are working to change the language used to describe people who are justice impacted. We do that by using chosen descriptors. In this image, my chosen descriptors border images of me growing up. These include a photo taken the day I was born, my kindergarten photo, my high-school graduation photo, and my Hays County Jail intake photo.


solar eclipse
Archival inkjet print, 2020

In astrology, solar eclipses are known for revealing hidden information. I was thirty-three years old when my father first told me about his first arrest at twelve. Learning about this helped me to understand more about my family’s history of poverty. We both survived the carceral system, but barely.


Being Buried in the Hays County Jail
Archival inkjet print, 2020

I was arrested while traveling back from my fiance’s funeral and held in the Hays County Jail for forty-five days. I spent the first few weeks after his death mourning in a jail cell.


family tree
Archival inkjet print, 2020

A photo of my teenage father, who was homeless throughout high school, is repeated across branches. Many people have more than one person in their family tree who has been incarcerated. In my family, every generation has several life-changing arrests.


we’re all serving time
Archival inkjet print, 2020

This image includes original photos of family members, friends, and previously detained people. On the left-hand side of the image, you see my biological child, me, and a photo of me while I was pregnant. Every time someone is arrested, their entire community is impacted.


looking in
Archival inkjet print, 2020

A photo I took of my biological child and her friend looking at trains is combined with this photo of a man in jail. Children have a hard time understanding what is happening when a parent or loved one goes to jail. I am a birth parent, and my child, born two years after my arrest, was adopted by my friends in Chicago. One day, I will have to explain how my poverty-induced incarceration impacted my decision to adopt.


flowers in a field of terror
Archival inkjet print, 2020

I took this self-portrait in the Sonoran Desert, one of the deserts where migrant people are often hounded by ICE (U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the U. S. border patrol. I am a member of the Directly Impacted cohort of Detention Watch Network, a nonprofit social-justice group fighting for migrant rights. I am one of the few members who have not been held in a detention center or threatened with deportation. As a cohort, we regularly discuss how migrant detention is a symptom of this country’s punitive carceral system. We advocate for an aligned cause: communities, not cages.