Interview with Alan Pogue

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People and Organizations 
  •  Sullivan, Charlie 
  •  Pallone, Tony 
  •  The Seipsers 
Table of Contents 
  •  Washington, D.C. Organization of American States 
  •  Prisoners worsened due to lack of rehabilitation 
  •  Patterns within non-homogeneous peoples in Latin America 
  •  No death penalty? 
  •  United States incarcerates more people per capita 
  •  Watch Video 1, Video 2, Video 3, Video 4, Video 5, Video 6 of "Interview with Mr. Alan Pogue" 
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  •  RAYMOND: Alan, you were talking about the bakeries. 
  •  ALAN POGUE: The bakery in Montevideo, Uruguay. So as I was describing, the bakery was first rate. And this is what I've run into in many places - it was funded by, say, the Norwegians, or maybe the Belgians, or some governmental or nongovernmental organization from another country would come in and pay for this- at least the startup. 
  •  POGUE: Because it was a commercial bakery. They were selling a lot of bread all over the place, so they were making some money. There were many men involved in baking and packaging this bread. So kind of the funny thing - I saw this one young man, and as is usually the case in South American prisons, people wear civilian clothes. 
  •  POGUE: They're not wearing uniforms of any kind. So I saw this young man and he had on, say, blue jeans and a button-down shirt and nice glasses, and he was going over the books and I assumed that he was a prison official. He was obviously in charge. 
  •  POGUE: So I talked to one of the people from the prison who was taking me around and I asked him that question - who is this guy? He said, "Oh, no, this fellow is the head of marketing for the bakery, but he's a drug dealer." 
  •  POGUE: He said all of the skills that made him a good drug dealer - distribution, being able to handle the work activity of many people, supply and demand - he had all the intelligence and skills that made him a good manager of the bakery. One only hopes that when he leaves prison, he can do something similar. 
  •  POGUE: But all of the pictures I took in the bakery, you couldn't tell it from a civilian bakery. Everyone was quite proud of their skills. They went through making a croissant for me so I could take pictures of the process. That was also true of other prisons. Other prisons in South America would have bakeries, but the one in Montevideo was the most sophisticated bakery. 
  •  POGUE: So - and again, the reason that I was taking all of these pictures was for the CURE report to the Organization of American States. So I had to be able to take pictures with a digital as well as a film camera so that I could email many of these pictures from wherever I was so that they could receive them in Washington in a timely manner for the publication. 
  •  POGUE: They had two publications, but the one that was the final report was this one, and it's in four languages of the countries of the Organization of American States - mostly Spanish, but there's some French, and of course Portuguese for Brazil and English. 
  •  POGUE: So several of us - myself, I think Tony Pallone from El Paso - he's a professor at the University of Texas El Paso, and Charlie Sullivan, of course, of CURE, and the Seipsers, the husband and wife who actually had a lot of production of the book all went to Washington. This was difficult to get on the agenda to be listened to. 
  •  POGUE: The Organization of American States annually has three or four days, and all day they would have reports and the reports would be made by people, by groups, by government organizations within countries to a panel of officials that are members of the administration of the Organization of American States. 
  •  POGUE: To get on that agenda to make a presentation is not easy. But Charlie worked very hard and we all met in Washington and had a very slick PowerPoint using many of my photographs and all of the research done by different people for each of the countries. It went well. We made our recommendations and one can only hope that they have some impact. 
  •  POGUE: What I did find from my travels was that the prison officials in different countries in Latin America were very curious about what I had found in other countries and asked me specific questions about how the different prisons were run, how it seemed to me. So what I discovered from that was that people in Argentina don't necessarily know how things are going in Colombia. 
  •  POGUE: But I also learned from in Montevideo in particular that some of the prison officials in Uruguay had gone to Michigan. It's kind of like sister cities. They're like sister prisons. They would go and learn about American procedures of running prisons. So this only reinforced what I've learned in other places: that people are eager to learn, and if given an opportunity, they'll take it. 
  •  POGUE: So what's necessary here is for the opportunity to be presented. People ought to go from one country to another so they can learn and adapt and take whatever is usable from whatever they learned in other countries and bring it back home. 
  •  POGUE: Because when I'm discussing these things with people and I say I went to prisons in South America, most of them have this really bad idea that all of the prisons in Latin America are bad or not as good as American prisons. Well, the truth is well some are and some aren't. There are many things to be learned from Latin America and the way they run their prisons. 
  •  POGUE: Of course obviously you want to avoid the gang activity and riots, and you don't want people armed in prison, but on the other hand, their visitation is so much better. Often their educational opportunities in some cases their craft and other skills are better. So there's something to be learned there. 
  •  POGUE: The two wardens in the prison - that was a huge difference. So people shouldn't assume that things are better here. 
  •  RAYMOND: Do you get a sense that any of the prisons are - especially thinking about the prison with the boys and the rabbits and younger people - whether the prisons are effective in rehabilitation. 
  •  RAYMOND: Do people come back? Is juvenile prison just a prelude to more prisons to come? 
  •  ALAN POGUE: Well, I think there are a couple of problems there, and one of them is with the prison itself and what opportunities there are for the young person to learn and then the other larger problem is the society that the young person goes back to. 
  •  POGUE: You always have to think, well, what were the circumstances that led this young person, or any person to commit a crime that was so - well, then you get into a third problem of sentencing - but if they have to go back to the same set of circumstances they were in before, then they can get caught up in the same social networks. 
  •  POGUE: They have to have a skill, a marketable skill, and the economy has to be such that there's a job for them. So it's a complex system and there are many parts. They either all fit together or they don't. 
  •  POGUE: So we're assuming that the person wants to be rehabilitated, that there are facilities, there are programs, there are people that will present the kind of knowledge that the person needs to rehabilitate. Then when they get out of prison, they have to be in a situation that isn't so harsh that it's going to drive them back to prison. 
  •  POGUE: So they have to be able to find a job - all of these things. Now I don't know offhand the recidivism rates - the going back to prison rates in the various countries I was in. But I can certainly tell which ones had the better facilities within the prisons to make possible rehabilitation. I thought that the prison in Argentina for young people was pretty good. 
  •  POGUE: Now the women's prison in Bogota was kind of marginal. I think it wasn't going to make a person necessarily worse, but I don't know that it had facilities to help a person get any better. That's the deal. So the whole idea of just a prison being a holding tank, that the only function of a prison is to keep people out of society, that doesn't work at all. 
  •  POGUE: The people are going back. So you always have to be thinking about, well, how will these people be when they go back? But I don't have any hard statistics on prison recidivism rates in Latin America. 
  •  RAYMOND: I guess there's a couple problems with my question in the first place. 
  •  RAYMOND: One that there's rehabilitation to be done, because we don't know necessarily how those people got there and if they've done anything wrong, and I guess it also assumes that they should be in prison, that that's - 
  •  ALAN POGUE: Well, you have people - a lot of people for minor crimes - theft of property, and of course in Panama, drug dealing, prosti - well, not prostitution, because it's legal. 
  •  POGUE: But then you get into sentencing rates, like how harsh are the sentences going to be, and alternatives to bricks-and-mortar prisons, parole, having ways to oversee a person's activity without putting them behind bars. That has to be a priority in any society. I know that - I haven't been to Europe, but from talking to people, say in Western Europe, the sentences are much shorter. 
  •  POGUE: Their oversight - parole officers - you can have more of them because it really comes down to caseload. If a parole officer only sees a person for five minutes once a month, well, that's no supervision. It has to be a little bit more intensive, a little bit more hands-on. So the parole officer also has the skills - would have to have the skills of, say, like a guidance counselor and a psychologist. 
  •  POGUE: That would have to be linked with opportunities for the person under supervision. It's not enough just to keep an eye on somebody while they have nothing to do. That wouldn't work either. But if I could walk through large rooms and hallways full of people - every one of these prisoners has a knife - I think people who have no familiarity with prisons - what do they think? 
  •  POGUE: That everyone in prison is just going to jump you and stab you and beat you up? Well, no, they're not. So the idea that most people are violent - well, that's not true. 
  •  POGUE: Or that they are incapable of learning anything - well, that's not true. So the prison environment has to do with the philosophy of the government and the people that run the prison, and also it's going to be a mirror of the society in general. 
  •  POGUE: If the society in general is - wants to help people within the society itself, then of course they're going to want to help people who are in prison, and you're not going to put people in bricks-and-mortar prisons unless there isn't any other alternative to that. Now the problem, getting back to the United States, is that there aren't enough alternatives. 
  •  POGUE: So in Texas, where I am, and I'm most familiar, we tend to put people in these huge bricks-and-mortar prisons because we have no alternatives to that. Then, they may not have access to education, crafts, industrial learning opportunities, and so they're going to get out of prison not any better than when they went in. 
  •  POGUE: Really, because of the deprivation of visitation and other things, they may be worse than when they went in. So that would, of course, lead to a cycle of returning to the prison. 
  •  POGUE: I had my experience not long ago of helping a woman here in the east side who was being beaten on the street, and she was involved in drugs, but now she's left Austin, got psychological counseling, is living with a relative, and has been drug-free for six months now, I'm happy to say, has a job, and is involved in community activities. 
  •  POGUE: So there's always that hope, but this person had the insight to realize that she physically had to move away so that she wouldn't be constantly around the people with whom she had done drugs in the past, who would be pulling her back into that lifestyle. Also, she was fortunate enough to have a relative to stay with and had social services she could access. 
  •  POGUE: So those are the sorts of conditions that one has to have in order to succeed. 
  •  RAYMOND: That's really beautiful, thank you. Latin America, South America is racially or ethnically heterogeneous. Certainly you can draw a lot of conclusions about race in prisons in the United States by either looking at numbers or visiting anywhere. 
  •  RAYMOND: I wondered if you noticed any patterns as to Afro-descended people or indigenous people, European, South American, or mestizo, but within that, did you notice any patterns? 
  •  ALAN POGUE: Well, what I noticed was there's a lot of difference, and it's exactly analogous to talking to the Middle East. I mean countries are different. So we have a term, "Latin America," but Argentina is very different, I noticed right away. 
  •  POGUE: It's more European, and I think unfortunately that's because the Europeans that came here just about committed genocide, that the native population was decimated. So it's fairly homogeneous, whereas Brazil was hugely different. Brazil is extremely mixed. There's a very large indigenous population. 
  •  POGUE: There's a very large African origin population. There's a very large European origin population. So big differences and very mixed and a problem that I see there that I saw also in Colombia is people, because of the change in the way agriculture is done, the move to agribusiness, 
  •  POGUE: and also the expansion of the population is causing the smaller farmers to be dispossessed for various reasons either because their land is physically taken over, in some cases because of drug wars, public works or simply expansion of cities that you have a 
  •  POGUE: large, large number of people that have no other skills besides agriculture being driven to the economic periphery of these huge cities like Sao Paolo with its fourteen million or other cities of eight million, ten million people. 
  •  POGUE: And so I saw this all around Bogata. Really it was overwhelming around Bogata. These hills covered with the most rudimentary shacks, housing, people who had been part of the agricultural producing population and now they had no gainful employment in agriculture and they had no skills for the urban environment. 
  •  POGUE: Well of course you're going to have a certain amount of crime come out of that. It's absolutely unavoidable unless there was a massive program on the part of the government to incorporate these dispossessed people into some viable economic workforce. 
  •  POGUE: But as it is, these thousands upon thousands of people live a very marginal existence and I saw the U.N. groups, other groups trying to work on infrastructure for the very poor. 
  •  POGUE: Water is always a big problem and— water and waste water, when you have a concentrated population, if you're going to avoid disease and then it gets really hot and you have people in tin shacks in the hills on the edges of these huge urban environments and it's dusty, diesel fumes. You have all of the respiratory problems. 
  •  POGUE: It's quite overwhelming and so you'll just have all kinds of problems and a large prison population will be one of them when people are desperate. It's not that something couldn't be done. Well of course something could be done. There just has to be the will to address it, but that's part of the whole movement of the population. 
  •  POGUE: If you want to get into more of a macro economic analysis, if always what is wanted was a cheap labor force, well if you have a lot of marginally employable people who are desperate for money, then they'll work for whatever wage they can obtain even if it's way below a living wage, but there are huge social costs to that. One of them is crime and prisons, huge social costs. 
  •  POGUE: For the whole society, it would probably be cheaper if the infrastructure problems of the very poor were addressed directly. 
  •  POGUE: It would be cheaper then these enormous expensive prisons but there again the prisons are paid for by everyone whereas the profits made off of the people's poverty, the profits go to very few, so the whole society pays for the profits of the few by allowing marginalized people to remain marginalized and of course to do that they'll also be demonized. 
  •  POGUE: It'll be said these are bad people, they're scum, they are ignorant; they are incorrigible, prone to violence. All of these insults will be heaped upon them rather than saying these are people that need water to drink. These are people that need food to eat. These are people that need a roof over their head. 
  •  POGUE: They need education and health care and it would still be cheaper to address those problems than to produce a massive prison system which is unnecessary. 
  •  RAYMOND: Thank you. Last question about crime and punishment in South America and Central America: Is there a death penalty in any of the places that you've lived in and did you talk with anybody in any of the places that you visited about capital punishment? 
  •  ALAN POGUE: It seems to me that the issue didn't come up because there wasn't any death penalty. I think there is no death penalty at least even if it's on the books it isn't— no one is actually executed. I don't want to say that as a fact. There might be a case or two, but there again there are so few that it wasn't an issue in Latin America. 
  •  RAYMOND: And nobody asked you about the— 
  •  ALAN POGUE: In the United States as an example? No, no one— It really didn't come up. We pretty much talked about them and their problems, their difficulties. If anything at all, I think the discussion was simply that the United States incarcerates more people by far per capita than any Latin American country, as many prisons as Brazil has. 
  •  POGUE: But I think most of those kinds of statistics are in the book. They did a good job in the book of running down whether a country has capital punishment, if it's used, the per capita incarceration rate, all of those kinds of statistics are in the book. 
  •  RAYMOND: Thank you very much. Gabe, do you have any questions about prisons in any of these countries? 
  •  SOLIS: I don't think so. 
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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:7 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.


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