Interview with Alan Pogue

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  •  Panama 
  •  Venezuela 
  •  Peru 
People and Organizations 
  •  Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE) 
  •  Organization of American States (OAS) 
  •  Sullivan, Charlie 
  •  Milan, Victoria 
  •  Vegas, Fernando 
Table of Contents 
  •  CURE Report to the Organization of American States on prison conditions 
  •  Venezuela and Peru 
  •  Uruguay continued 
  •  Watch Video 1, Video 2, Video 3, Video 4, Video 5, , Video 7 of "Interview with Mr. Alan Pogue" 
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  •  Raymond: We are here with Alan Pogue at the Texas Center for Documentary Photography in Austin, Texas, on the bright morning of October eighth, 2008. 
  •  Pogue: Mh-hm. 
  •  Raymond: we're continuing with the third in a series of interviews with Alan, and this morning I wanted to start by asking you - you took a trip to South America to visit prisons. Can you tell us what was the reason for that trip, and why you went, and something about that trip? 
  •  POGUE: Well, the organization I work with, Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, CURE, started by Charlie and Pauline and Sullivan, decided to go international. And I think I went to the first - the first international conference I went to was shortly after 9/11, 2000 and - gosh, what was that - 2001? I get confused. 
  •  POGUE: But anyways, I went to Manhattan, and they had an international conference. People from Africa, people from China, people from Latin America were there, and Charlie is in D.C. He was going to the Organization of American States, and he learned that the Organization of American States was working on a draft of a survey of prison conditions in Latin America, and recommendations about what to do. 
  •  POGUE: And Charlie wanted to do a similar, parallel study from a grassroots perspective. 
  •  POGUE: And so - there are thirty-five countries in the Organization of American States. Their charter, I think, dates back to the 1860s. It's a very wonderful charter. It reads a lot like the Declaration of Human Rights from the U.N. and of course it pre-dates that by eighty years. 
  •  POGUE: So Charlie got a lot of people to write summaries of conditions in each of the thirty-five countries, but he wanted some photography of conditions, so he asked me if I would go, and I said yes, I would go. And he had contacts in several countries, and I had contacts myself, 
  •  POGUE: and so the first trip I took almost a year ago was to Honduras. And I photographed in a prison in Marcala, Honduras. 
  •  POGUE: And what I learned from that is that there was very little money in the Honduran economy for social services in general. The teachers had been on strike. Even the police had been on strike for lack of being paid. 
  •  POGUE: So the prison I went to - the people who ran the prison - the warden and all the personnel -- were friendly. They let me tour most of the prison. They didn't let me into the living quarters because they were so overcrowded they didn't want me to photograph them. 
  •  POGUE: The conditions were somewhat primitive. I remember being in the kitchen and the conditions for the cooks were the best because they had their own room with about eight people. They cooked enormous pots of rice and beans in sort of a cave-like kitchen. 
  •  POGUE: And the even more touching part to me was I talked to the person in charge of medical care. And he was well-trained, but his stethoscope to listen to people's chests and whatever was a child's stethoscope, something you'd get in a little kit for a child. 
  •  POGUE: And his blood-pressure machine didn't work, and he kept his medical records in something like an apple crate. He had all kinds of charts and graphs on the walls of his little - very little - room for looking at people. 
  •  POGUE: He talked about insulin and diabetes. He talked about heart conditions. He talked about a lot of things, but the problem was, he didn't have enough medicine, or hardly any, and his equipment was inadequate. So it wasn't for a lack of interest or education on his part. 
  •  POGUE: It was simply that in Honduras, there seemed to be no import or export duty. It was a sort of maquiladora paradise, maquiladora meaning factories run by foreign businesses in a country, and these foreign businesses have access to a cheap force, but the value added by that labor is not taxed. 
  •  POGUE: And so there's no money for the poor guy in the hospital to get medicine for their prisoners, or practically not enough money to pay the guards. 
  •  POGUE: So again, as I see often, it's a systematic problem. It isn't a problem that some warden or some guard is not a good person, but it's - they can't do their job. 
  •  POGUE: But on the bright side, they had a huge vegetable garden. Behind the place where the people slept, the actual prison part, was a vegetable garden the size of a football field. And the prisoners, of course, it was very much in their interest to grow a good and the best crop of vegetables they could so they could eat them. 
  •  POGUE: The other thing that the prison had was a very extensive crafts operation. They did a lot of weaving of hammocks, they made a lot of hats, they made leather goods, they made purses and wallets and all kinds of things, and you could buy them right there in the prison yard. 
  •  POGUE: And, also, they had a shop in Marcala where you could buy these items, and I don't know if there was anything more extensive throughout Honduras, but they were quite nice, and the prisoners were working very hard on it, because again, it was in their best interest. 
  •  POGUE: The other thing I learned in Honduras, which was reinforced in every other country I worked in, was that visitation was easy and encouraged. Family members and friends of prisoners could come several times a week, and they could come for hours at a time. So the prison was very hospitable to visitation. 
  •  POGUE: It seems to me that all throughout South America - Latin America in general - the idea that the family is very important, and it's not part of being in prison that you be denied access to your friends and family. 
  •  POGUE: This is diametrically different than it is in the United States, where going to prison is always a harsh and cold experience, and visitation is difficult, and time is restricted to something like thirty to forty-five minutes in many cases, and a family might have to travel for hundreds of miles to go see their family member and then be denied access. 
  •  POGUE: There's all kinds of things like that that go on in the United States - throughout the United States. 
  •  POGUE: So in Latin America, Honduras was the first country where I found out this big difference in attitude. But the next country I went to was - 
  •  RAYMOND: May I just interrupt you for one second to ask you a question? 
  •  POGUE: Sure. 
  •  RAYMOND: First of all, I am not familiar with Marcala. What part of Honduras is it in? 
  •  POGUE: It's near the border with El Salvador. So - I don't have a map in my mind, but Honduras is on the coast, so you'd have to really travel to the western edge of Honduras, I believe, near El Salvador. It's only about 15,000 people. It's a small city, and then of course agricultural - there's a lot of coffee grown. It's not what someone would imagine a jungle would be but there's a lot of vegetation. It's very green. It's hilly - a beautiful place. 
  •  POGUE: We were in Tegucigalpa, the capital, and crime is a big problem - street crime is a big problem. And you can imagine - the police aren't being paid, and people with money, with wealth, have their own private security forces. 
  •  POGUE: When I went to the shopping center, there were four guys with shotguns in the parking lot, and another man inside with a shotgun, and they even went to the length of having the shotgun shells being transparent so you could see he had double buckshot in all of his shotgun shells, which was an intimidating factor. 
  •  POGUE: But it shows you a couple of things. It shows you how inadequate the regular police force is and how much fear there is about street crime in Honduras and Tegucigalpa in particular. 
  •  RAYMOND: Did you know where people in Marcala prisons were from? 
  •  POGUE: Right there in the area. I think it was a little regional prison, but it was a prison, it wasn't like a county jail here. People were in for two, three, five years. 
  •  POGUE: Also, they had a fairly good prisoner council. I was able to sit and talk with the young man who was the head of the prisoners' council. They could bring problems to the warden, and so that was good. I could go on to - 
  •  RAYMOND: Just a couple more questions. You talked about how encouraged family visits are. Were people able to touch each other, what here we would call a contact visit? 
  •  POGUE: Oh, yes. I saw the families sitting outside on a bench, and then when I went to the central part of the prison - this was not a large prison, but there was an interior courtyard. The men were sitting around the perimeter of the courtyard. 
  •  POGUE: I could see into the rooms adjoining the courtyard that other men were sewing - they had electric sewing machines. They were making things. 
  •  POGUE: And then I noticed a man was cutting his son's hair. His son was about eight or nine, and the man had a nice barber's clipper, electric shears, and scissors, and was cutting his son's hair. 
  •  POGUE: And then off to the side there was a young woman, either a friend or a wife of one of the prisoners, and they're all just sitting and milling around in this open space. 
  •  POGUE: Everything - if you didn't know it was a prison, it could've been a building somewhere. It could've been anything. So when the family members and friends - relatives of the prisoners were there, it was completely open, and certainly they could hug and touch and talk for hours. Really, it was not - 
  •  RAYMOND: Very interesting. Do you remember about how many prisoners - how many people were in the prison? 
  •  POGUE: I think it was not a large population. I would say about 300. 
  •  RAYMOND: And were they - could you tell from what you saw, were they - well, these were all men in the prison? 
  •  PORUGE: This was all men, and they were adults. I think maybe older teenagers, I don't think there was anyone under eighteen, certainly, and maybe up to late forties. I didn't notice any elderly men. 
  •  RAYMOND: Thank you. 
  •  POGUE: And so I came back to the United States and then a few months later I launched the bigger part of this tour. 
  •  POGUE: I went to Argentina - Buenos Aires, Argentina, the capital, and I stayed with two American lawyers - they were very young - who were working with the human rights commission in Argentina. 
  •  POGUE: I was very impressed with the human rights commission. They had complete access to the prisons. 
  •  POGUE: I went to a town south of Buenos Aires called La Plata, and I met with the two women who ran the human rights commission there. When I walked into their office, I was literally knee-deep in dossiers because they had uncovered a cache of dossiers on people who had been disappeared - that is, kidnapped and murdered -- in the early 1980's in Argentina when there was a military dictatorship. 
  •  POGUE: I reached down and picked up one of these folders and it was a photograph on a sheet of typewritten paper. It was a young man - a photographer himself - who had been disappeared. I think he was about twenty-six. 
  •  POGUE: But what this was, was documentation by the military dictatorship of all of the people they had murdered, when these people were picked up, where they were taken, and eventually what happened to them. 
  •  POGUE: So this was documentary proof of what they had done. So this was going to allow lots of relatives to finally know what happened and to be able to prosecute the people who did it. 
  •  POGUE: Now the people who had suffered under this in the 80s, a lot of them now were in the government. They were the government. So they were very interested in making the prisons better, because they had suffered in those prisons themselves. 
  •  POGUE: So when I went to the prisons, these two women took me through six prisons in three days. We went through one prison in the morning, I mean starting at 8 o'clock, and would leave around lunchtime, have lunch, and then go to a second prison from, say, 1 o'clock to 4 or 5 or 6. We weren't finished until 8 o'clock at night. This is three days in a row. 
  •  POGUE: But what I was impressed by was, they went up to the door, they knocked, they were welcomed by the warden. They went into the warden's office and spoke at length, sometimes contentiously, but usually everything was resolved. 
  •  POGUE: One prison I went to had two wardens. They had one warden in charge of security and one warden in charge of rehabilitation. This was a new thing to me, but it made sense, because it took a different mindset, it took a different emphasis to do each of those jobs. 
  •  POGUE: And if you're going to have security, the best way to have security is no one comes in except the prisoners and the guards, and no leaves except the guards unless the prisoner is discharged. And then you have security. But then you have no rehabilitation. 
  •  POGUE: To have rehabilitation, you need the visitation, and you need to have people come in and teach all different things. 
  •  POGUE: In the prisons that I went to in Argentina, one prison had a very extensive workshop where they made beds, they made furniture, they made all kinds of things out of wood. 
  •  POGUE: They also had a beautiful old printing press, a Franklin press, where they did old-fashioned - it's almost like embossed printing, for declarations and all kinds of invitations and things. They were very proud of it. They also had a bookbinding shop. They had an extensive library. 
  •  PORGUE: And their visitation - for visitation, they had a picnic area that was very large. When I was there, it was full of picnic tables. The person in prison could sit down at that picnic table with the entire family. They would bring baskets of food, and they would be there for three hours, at least. And this happened on a regular basis. 
  •  POGUE: So I asked about visitation, and they said that many people - Buenos Aires, I don't know, it's 8 million, 10 million people - huge - and they don't have the facilities to keep the people in prison all in prisons in and around Buenos Aires. So when I went 200 kilometers south to La Plata, many of the people would be from Buenos Aires or some other part of the country. 
  •  POGUE: And the officials - the officials felt bad about this, so they would pay the price of the bus ticket for that person in prison's family members to come and visit them. 
  •  POGUE: And the further step was, in the unlikely case that both the husband and the wife were in prison at the same time, they would of course be in different prisons, so they would put one or the other, either the husband or the wife, on a bus - I'm sure a prison bus - and ship them over to the other prison so they could visit and have conjugal visitation. 
  •  POGUE: I thought to myself, I don't know if this would ever happen in the United States in my lifetime, but that shows the extent of their desire to keep family relationships together for the obvious reason. 
  •  POGUE: Almost all people in prison are leaving prison at some point, and if they have no friends and relations, what are they going to do? They're more likely to end up in prison again. But I was truly, truly amazed at the extent and the lengths that the prison officials, the government of Argentina would go to, to make sure family ties were kept together. 
  •  POGUE: I went to old prisons - very old prisons - and I went to very new prisons in Argentina. So they didn't hide anything from me. 
  •  POGUE: I went to more of a model prison for young people - teenage boys. It was very clean and neat and again they had extensive work facilities. The most touching part in that prison was they raised animals of all different kinds. 
  •  POGUE; In one place I went into they were raising rabbits. And they were these huge white bunny-rabbit-looking things. I got some very sweet pictures of the young inmates holding these big white bunny rabbits. 
  •  POGUE: And they had an organic garden. It was all organic, and it was very large. They also made clothing and I'm not sure - yes, almost all of them have a woodworking shop of some size. So there was quite a variety of things. 
  •  RAYMOND: Was there a school -- 
  •  POGUE: I'm trying to think 
  •  RAYMOND: - Academics, like math, or 
  •  POGUE: The one thing that I recall in particular was that there was a prisoner in one of the prisons who was an older man, and he was a mathematician. I went to a coeducational class - they had bussed over some women from the women's prison and he was teaching algebra. I could tell from my own painful experience in high school that it was quadratic equations. So they had about twenty people, men and women, learning algebra. 
  •  POGUE: The officials said that jokingly, but in real also, that they liked the women coming over because it made the men act better. They dressed up and their manners were very good to impress the women prisoners. 
  •  POGUE: The older prisoner who was the math teacher had his own office, so I went to his office and listened in. He was just like a math teacher at a university. I don't know what his crime was, but he obviously was in prison for some time. 
  •  POGUE: The other touching part was that prisoners in many prisons all over the world, and in this prison also, were making ships in a bottle kind of thing, and they gave me one. I have it right here. They made many things, and they have a lot of time. They also made these beautiful large swans out of paper. 
  •  POGUE: And also I went to a part of the prison where they had a section that was all police officers who were in prison for committing some crime. And they kept them all together so they wouldn't have the unfortunate experience of running into someone they had arrested in the past. 
  •  POGUE: Some of the prisons were large and expansive, and had many sections. I photographed those. I got up on the walls of the perimeter as well as into the cells. 
  •  POGUE: One thing I noticed throughout Argentina was that the prisoners were allowed to cook, both in their cells and sometimes, depending on the living environment, they would have at the end of a row of cells, they would have a central communal area, and they would have a telephone there. 
  •  POGUE: The prisoners could receive calls and make calls any time of the day, and they could receive and make calls to anyone they cared to. 
  •  POGUE: All of the prisoners had knives to chop vegetables with, and I have photographs of the prisoner cutting up potatoes and carrots. So you could say every prisoner was armed, and this was not a problem. 
  •  POGUE: Okay, you want to stab somebody? Well, you're going to go in solitary confinement for gosh-knows-how-long. 
  •  POGUE: People were very interested in cooking. The prison, of course, did provide some food but they could supplement it with whatever it was they wanted to. They had huge bags of potatoes and carrots and peppers and different things. 
  •  RAYMOND: Things they had grown themselves? 
  •  POGUE: In this case I don't think so. This was a different kind of prison. The prison in Honduras was smaller and it had more land around it, whereas most of the prisons I went to in - not all of them - the youth prison had a big organic vegetable garden. This particular prison was more of a classic one. It was more castle-like. 
  •  POGUE: I don't - they had a small garden, and I think it was more decorative than a food garden. So there must have been these big bags of vegetables were brought in to them. Now if a prisoner in this particular prison, which was a very old one, were on their best behavior, they had sections of the prison for students, prisoners who were students. These places were cleaner. They had kitchens that were nicer. 
  •  POGUE: All of these places had electric hot plates, and all over Argentina the prisoners drank a tea called mate. So they were always cooking this and drinking that. There are little pipes to drink it through, and it's kind of like a - not a coconut, but some kind of a shell that the cup that the brewed tea is in, and the leaves are in it. It's quite a ceremony making this stuff. I even saw people drinking it walking down the street in Buenos Aires. 
  •  POGUE: But what that shows is that the prisoners can be trusted to do all of these things - to have knives, to have electrical appliances, and to be able to socialize with each other and people from the outside. 
  •  POGUE: There's no inherent difficulty in this. You can always segregate the few people that can't get along, and there's no reason to punish everyone because of those few people. That's the lesson, I think, from everything I saw, and that it pays to be as nice as you can be in prison, as in anywhere else. So Argentina was the high point. 
  •  POGUE: The one part that was puzzling to me - I was in a prison with the medical people, and they were showing me rooms full of very expensive diagnostic equipment, x-ray equipment, all kinds of equipment, and it wasn't being used. 
  •  POGUE: Prisoners that were sick in this prison were taken to a nearby town, and I asked them, Well, what happened?, and they said it was just a huge bureaucratic nightmare. 
  •  POGUE: They would like to give this equipment to the hospital in the town, but they hadn't been able to get through all of the paperwork and all the permissions and everything. The prison itself was supposed to be staffed with a doctor or more than one doctor, but this never happened. 
  •  POGUE: So they have all this equipment and no one to run it. So the people I was talking to were kind of like paramedics. They had a certain amount of educational experience in medical affairs. 
  •  POGUE: So then I asked them about sexually transmitted diseases within the prison system, and I was shocked when he told me that there weren't any. Well, he did - they had - they kept no records, kept no records. 
  •  POGUE: Well, this was nothing but denial. Obviously, you're going to have a certain amount of activity, and from that activity, you're going to have a certain amount of health problems in any given population, period. 
  •  POGUE: But they just stonewalled me. I couldn't - because everything else about the prison system was so good, I couldn't understand why in this particular area it just completely fell apart. And because of that I'll jump from Argentina to Colombia. 
  •  POGUE: When I went to Colombia and I was in Bogota, that was an interesting experience on many levels. My hosts in Bogota were Evangelical Christians. The main person, a woman lawyer, Milan, Victoria Milan - she had gone to the trouble of renting a three-story building catty-corner to the men's prison in Bogota, Modelo Prison. 
  •  POGUE: And she did that because mainly women would line up at three o'clock in the morning for blocks in two directions with food for their husbands and sons in prison, but there was no shelter for these women. 
  •  POGUE: And then on one day it was women and children, so they'd have babies, they'd have infants, they'd have three-year-olds, they'd have children of all ages at three o'clock in the morning on the street. If it was cold, it was cold. If it got rained on, it got rained on. Sometimes they had to come a long way on a bus with food. 
  •  POGUE: There were very strict regulations about how much food, what kind of containers it could be in. These women would arrive; it would be dark at three o'clock in the morning. There would be no place to put anything that they couldn't take into the prison. And of course there was a dress code and they didn't want people to bring in extra bags other than whatever the food was in. 
  •  POGUE: And so what Victoria Milan did was she set up something like a Y.W.C.A. is what it amounted to. On the top floor, women with children could sleep. On the bottom floor they had little wire baskets with numbers on them and women could check in anything they couldn't take into the prison. 
  •  POGUE: She was also getting a fax machine and a copier - all the things that people might need, because some of these things were available at exorbitant prices. The women would be taken advantage of. 
  •  POGUE: But I also was able to go in with Victoria or other people into the men's prison. The guards were all dressed in SWAT outfits - like black military jumpsuits with their trousers tucked into their highly polished combat boots. It's a very militaristic model. Very - you could say macho. 
  •  POGUE: But when it came to sexually transmitted diseases they had an AIDS hospice where prisoners with AIDS were in their own section in the Modelo Prison and it was very nice. They had a real doctor, and they had medicine. I spoke briefly with a doctor, and he was able to give first-rate care to these men. 
  •  POGUE: Of course most of these men looked like anybody else. There was no way to know whether they were heterosexual or homosexual except for two of them who were transexuals. 
  •  POGUE: One of them was sort of very convincing, looked like a woman. The other man was very large and was not very convincing. He reminded me more of a person in a drag show. He was very humorous. 
  •  POGUE: He was very funny. What I was interested in was his interaction with the guards and the other prisoners, who liked him a lot. He was almost like an entertainer in the prison. Everyone enjoyed him and his manner. 
  •  POGUE: I just thought of the contradictions between this militaristic macho thing and everything else about the prisons were not particularly better, but in this instance, the AIDS care was first rate. I just don't know. 
  •  POGUE: Now it was not easy getting access to the Modelo Prison. The officials in charge of the prisons in Colombia would not give me permission to go to prisons in outlying areas, although they did give me permission to go to the women's prison in Bogota. 
  •  POGUE: That was interesting because there are women from all over the world there. When you think about the drug trade, that sort of gives you an answer. Also, a lot of women are used as messengers, as couriers, they might be carrying large amounts of cash for drug transactions and other illegal transactions, and they wind up being caught and put in prison. 
  •  POGUE: So I talked to a woman from Houston, Texas who was in prison there. I talked to a woman from Spain. 
  •  POGUE: Again, they wouldn't let me in to the living conditions. They had a huge dormitory; it seemed to be at least four or five stories, and I could see clothes and sheets and blankets hanging out the window being aired out. But I had to assume that there were more women in each of these rooms than there should have been, or otherwise they'd have let me in. 
  •  POGUE: But the sort of general prison was open and airy. I went into one room and it was all elderly women who were doing needlepoint, all kinds of embroidery. They didn't want to be photographed. These women were fifty, sixty years old, doing this kind of craft work. 
  •  POGUE: The younger women all wanted to be photographed. I had a hard time getting away, as a matter of fact. I took pictures of - portraits of women, and then some of the women who were lesbian wanted me to photograph them with their lovers. 
  •  POGUE: So I did lots of two- and four-people pictures, and what I learned from that was that there was a time when the women wouldn't admit to this, but culture has changed somewhat. So they have no difficulty being upfront and out about who they are and what they are. So that takes me back - gonna take a break. (break) 
  •  POGUE: So that gives me a subject that I can do some comparison about. In Uruguay, Montevideo, where I went after Buenos Aires, I went to the women's prison there. It had, in the past, been a convent for Catholic nuns. It was in the middle of town. It had high, thick walls, as a convent would have. It had an interior courtyard. It had dormitories and smaller rooms. 
  •  POGUE: So it was easily converted for use as a prison facility, as I think some of the nuns - some, not many - some worked there. The woman I talked to who was the warden was a regular civilian warden. 
  •  POGUE: But they were able to keep their children I think until they were eight years old. Now when I was in Buenos Aires, in a women's prison, I think they got to keep their children until they were four years old. 
  •  POGUE: In Montevideo, Uruguay, which is right next to - it's a short trip from Buenos Aires, the children, once they reached the age of five, say, they would go to schools outside of the prison and then come back. 
  •  POGUE: The atmosphere of the women's prison in Montevideo is very casual. I would see women doing sewing at sewing machines around the periphery of the interior of the courtyard. One woman took me to her room and showed me her certificate. She had won some prize for her sewing. 
  •  POGUE: Then they took me to a dormitory where there were younger women. It looked like a college dorm. They were in their early twenties. Some of them were very punked out, with earrings in their ears and noses and whatnot, and tattoos and short hair, and then you had other women who were more conventionally made up. 
  •  POGUE: They had double bunks, and they were able to decorate their area however they liked. So that was one situation. But almost always, and this is true in the United States as well, the women are able to do more decoration and have a more casual atmosphere. 
  •  POGUE: But going back to the women's prison - one of them I visited in Argentina - they kept their children until they were four. When I went into the women's dormitory, it was a big open space, two-story, with a wide metal staircase up to the second story. 
  •  POGUE: They had rooms where the women were with their children. They had a big kitchen. There was a playground immediately adjacent to this dormitory, with swingsets and sand piles and all of that kind of thing. Some of the women were obviously coupled with other women - a few - and again this was not a problem. 
  •  POGUE: Some of the women were pregnant. But there was accommodation for all of this. The prisons were set up to accommodate women with children and pregnant women. 
  •  POGUE: Whereas when I went to Brazil, and I was in Sao Paolo, I went to the women's prison. Again, this one had been a seminary for men. It looked a lot like what you would expect - a college campus, with dorms. They had a large recreation area. 
  •  POGUE: But it seemed to me there was even more emphasis in the one in Sao Paolo on industrial activity. Many of the women were making small electronic devices, mainly simple things like plugs and connectors for electronic gear. They were doing some extensive sewing. They were making children's books, binding children's books. 
  •  POGUE: But I did notice that there was educational opportunity, and there was opportunity to learn a craft. The warden of the prison was very proud of this and gave me a lot of information on the educational opportunities there were for these women. So they had rooms that were like dorm rooms and they could pretty much keep them as they chose to. They didn't look so much like prison cells. 
  •  POGUE: I didn't notice any big open dormitory situations there. 
  •  POGUE: But it was more prison-like. It was a little bit colder. It was a little bit more formal than the prisons either in Bogota or particularly in Uruguay and Argentina. 
  •  POGUE: But Brazil, of course, is huge. You could drop the United States into it. And Sao Paolo is something like 14 million people. It's too large, and so they have big problems in their prison system. To switch to the men's prison, they were very reluctant to let me into most of the men's prisons. There was a large amount of well-founded fear. 
  •  POGUE: I learned from talking to different prison officials and people in their prison reform movement in Sao Paolo that many of the prisoners had cell phones within the prison and that the organized crime members were able to give orders to the rest of their crime syndicate. While I was there, they had put the head of a large crime syndicate into a super-max facility. 
  •  POGUE: So the order went out to his people in Sao Paolo to commandeer public buses on the streets and burn them, and they did. They would take the bus - take over the bus, throw everyone out, soak it with gasoline, and torch it. 
  •  POGUE: They said, well, we'll keep on doing this until our leader is let out of the super-max. Also, if people in organized crime didn't like a particular guard, they could give an order that the guard be killed, and when the guard would go to the grocery store or something, he'd be killed in the parking lot. 
  •  POGUE: Also, they put out hits - orders to kill - on wardens who didn't cooperate, who didn't give the proper amenities to the heads of organized crime in the prisons. 
  •  POGUE: So when I went with members of the prison reform groups to meet with the head of the prisons just within the Sao Paolo area, which is huge - many prisons, thousands of prisoners. I don't know the total amount - there was tension. It was palpable. 
  •  POGUE: So they let me into - many miles away from Sao Paolo, a very nice prison for young men probably between the ages of eighteen to thirty-six. I think there was a very strict category actually for this particular prison. The warden was quite nice, and he introduced me to some prisoners who spoke English. 
  •  POGUE: I'm sure they were under a lot of pressure - I mean, they weren't going to say anything bad in front of the warden. But they did praise the prison, and I could tell from looking around that this was - if you're going to be in prison in Brazil and outside of Sao Paolo. Because it did have an extensive garden all around the prison. 
  •  POGUE: Inside the prison it was airy. They had computers. They had a computer room. They had a library. They made medical equipment. They made masks and gowns and other things. They made furniture. They made business furniture. It was a little overcrowded, I would say. 
  •  POGUE: They had three-tiered bunks built into the walls in some rooms, but it was clean. The food looked good that was being served to the prisoners. It was airy. They had a very large inside gymnasium with skylights so people could play soccer. They could play basketball inside. 
  •  POGUE: But on the other hand, although I didn't get to see things personally, I went to one prison - it was a men's prison - and again, the women had come for visitation. They were lined up in long lines, and when the prison officials saw me, I was nearly arrested. They saw me with my cameras. They're so tense. 
  •  POGUE: They didn't even want me to photograph the prison from across the street from a public area. They were really - I just had to do a lot of smiling and bowing and get the heck out of there. I could see that visitation for these women was going to be very difficult, probably even more difficult than it was in Bogota - not friendly at all. 
  •  POGUE: But these are huge prisons - two thousand men, probably, in that prison. And this is only one of several within Sao Paolo. Some of them from the outside look pretty beaten up. There had been some horrendous prison riots on the scale of Attica, from the Attica prison riots in the United States in New York back in the seventies. A lot of tension; highly organized crime. Just a very large problem. 
  •  POGUE: So I also went to Panama, and Panama is a very interesting case because the United States basically ran it for the longest time. In Panama they still use American money - paper money, and most of the coins are American. There are a few coins that are Panamanian, but they look like American coins. 
  •  POGUE: There were three prisons there. It's a small country. Three men's prisons. It took some hard negotiation, but I was finally let into one men's prison. It wasn't the worst prison, but if this was the best they had to offer, it was pretty bad. 
  •  POGUE: One room that I went into, it was designed sort of like a Quonset hut, these prefab buildings, and then inside that, there were steel containers which were the actual cells. So you could imagine these large rectangular containers made of a heavy, heavy mesh with doors, and so a room would be - you'd open up the door, and it would be three-tiered bunks inside this room. 
  •  POGUE: So you might have - well, it was more than six people. I don't know how they managed it. It seems to me - well, six, seven, eight people in one of these things. It was very overcrowded and dirty and run-down. Obviously, if this thing had been built in the forties or fifties, maybe, nothing had been done since then. 
  •  POGUE: And then towards the back of the room, there were other prisoners behind heavier iron bars, and they wouldn't let me go in. I was given to believe that I might be in danger. But I was able to photograph some of the prisoners through those bars. 
  •  POGUE: So then they took me to a second area up a hill, which is a long concrete building, and when I went into it, I could see it was divided between some larger rooms that were more dorm-like and then a long hallway with single cells. This was better, but the dorm seemed to be overcrowded from my point of view. 
  •  POGUE: The long hallway with the single cells was a quite dingy, sort of depressing-looking place, and the cells were small. 
  •  POGUE: But the one highlight of the place is very unusual. They had an air-conditioned library. Within the sort of library structure, they had a part sectioned off which had been turned into a video and audio recording lab. The prisoners were in there playing music and recording their music onto CDs. 
  •  POGUE: This one particular ebullient prisoner covered with tattoos - he was in for murder, he told me, probably drug-related - he was very effervescent. He was leading a group - a band. It had a soundproof booth for the singer so they could record different tracks - have a separate audio track from the musicians' track. So I was very impressed by that. 
  •  POGUE: They had a lot of religious activity. I was able to see Catholics and Protestants mainly. 
  •  POGUE: And then I was in the wood shop, which was a very large warehouse-looking place, and there was this enormous guy. He looked an Olympic weight-lifter. He had arms bigger than my thighs, and he looked to be in his late twenties. 
  •  POGUE: So I went over to talk to him because he was working with this massive machine, and then he had these massive shoulders and biceps and chest - it made a great photograph - it turned out he was from Israel. 
  •  POGUE: And he told me his name, and Shalom was part of it. He was in for six years for cocaine trafficking. He was caught, and he had served four years of his six-year term, which I thought was very unusual, because another thing I found out about Panama was that you could buy your way out of prison. 
  •  POGUE: I don't know if anyone officially talks about this, but I was told that the going rate was about twelve thousand dollars. 
  •  POGUE: Then the big case of the fellow who's now in Florida – Posada - I heard that his price for getting out of prison was half a million dollars paid to the president. Then he was flown from Panama to the United States. So I could only assume that the prisoner from Israel simply didn't have the money or the connections. I couldn't quite figure out why he couldn't pay his way out. 
  •  POGUE: There didn't seem to be - and this is a subject I don't know in all of the prisons - they didn't seem to be making any money from the work they did. The prisoners particularly in the men's prison in Panama City - a lot of them were hitting me up for spare change if I had it. They seemed to be desperate for money. 
  •  POGUE: But the other thing was, there were pay phones, and people who had money could use them at particular times of the day. 
  •  POGUE: So let's see - just in general, Panama is like the Wild West. I think gambling and prostitution are legal. A big problem in Panama is that women from other South American - Central American countries in particular - are brought in under prostitution visas, practically, to be prostitutes. 
  •  POGUE: You can go down to areas adjacent to the water where there are just rows of buildings that are set aside for prostitution. It's a big problem. But I didn't get to go to a women's prison in Panama. It was very difficult to get into the one prison. 
  •  POGUE: I was also - I had contacts in Venezuela, and Fernando Vegas on the Supreme Court, but he couldn't get me into the Venezuelan prisons. 
  •  POGUE: I also had contacts with religious organizations in Peru to get into juvenile facilities, but in the end they couldn't get the prison system to give me permission. So that was a difficulty. 
  •  POGUE: Now I'll - I can jump back to Uruguay. I did go to a facility in Uruguay, but again, they sent me to nicer prisons. 
  •  POGUE The problem with Uruguay that was similar to other places including the United States, is that they had put a lot of people in prison. They had extended the sentences, and then their economy collapsed. They couldn't build more prisons, so the prisons that they did have were very overcrowded. They had similar violence problems, all because of the overcrowding. 
  •  POGUE: So they sent me to a prison that had been a hospital, and it had been turned into more of a youth facility, but youth meaning probably older teenagers up to about thirty. It was more prison-like, except that they had an extensive garden and they also raised pigs or hogs, which was a big deal. 
  •  POGUE: There was a lot of crafts going on, and it was more dorm-like in the rooms. Also they had some - not very many, but a few women guards that I spoke with. The fellow that ran the prison was quite nice. Again, it was a model facility, the same sort of idea as the one they sent me to outside of Sao Paolo. 
  •  POGUE: I went to the women's prison there that I described before, in Montevideo. 
  •  POGUE: And I went to another men's prison. It was somewhat older men. The most remarkable experience I had there was they had a full-blown bakery - a commercial bakery. All of the prisoners inside the bakery were dressed completely in white. It was tile, and it was stainless steel. They had first-rate equipment. They made everything - they made croissants, they made bagels. 
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Title:Interview with Alan Pogue
Abstract:Alan Pogue is a photographer who has documented movements for social justice and the problems those movements seek to eliminate for four decades. In Video 1, Pogue explains his entry into the Texas prison reform movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s via civil rights, anti-war, and student organizing. A member of the Austin Prison Coalition, he soon met Pauline and Charlie Sullivan, founders of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). Pogue's commitment to prison reform paralleled his growth as a documentary photographer: in Video 1, he describes photographing prisons in connection with Ruíz v. Estelle, the longest-running prison lawsuit in U.S. history. In Videos 1 and 2, Pogue mentions specific people on Death Row. In Video 3, Pogue discusses the philosophy of incarceration and capital punishment as a form of human sacrifice. In Video 3, Pogue also addresses the conditions on Death Row; general access to prisons; prison reform and anti-death penalty movements; and the theological doctrine of predestination in relation to criminal justice policy. In Video 4, Pogue discusses Vietnam and his personal intellectual growth. In Video 5, Pogue discusses documentary photographer Russell Lee and the purpose, politics, and aesthetics of photography. In Videos 6 and 7, Pogue shares what he saw in numerous Latin American countries when he traveled on behalf of CURE, which produced a 2006 evaluation of prisons in member nations of the Organization of American States (OAS). This interview took place on October 8, 2008 at the Texas Center for Documentary Photography in Austin, Travis County, Texas.
Sequence:6 of 7
  • Alan PogueRole: Narrator
  • Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
  • Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
  • Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Videographer
  • Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Transcriber
  • Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
Date Created:2008/10/08
Geographic Focus:North America--United States--Texas
Geographic Base:North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:Moving image
    This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.


Continues with Video 7 of the TAVP Interview with Mr. Alan Pogue.

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