Relearning the Art of Living, Photos of Indonesian Ex-Prisoners documents the lives and art practice of two Indonesian artists, formerly incarcerated on drug charges, who have been released from prison. The photographs show my subjects with their prison-created artwork depicting challenges they faced on the inside, such as water shortages, violence and internal struggles. I also photographed the men in their daily lives on the outside, interacting with family and their surroundings, and reconciling their feelings of ‘otherness’ in a familiar environment.
Beginning with President Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs, the US enacted tough sentences in an attempt to wipe out drug use. Indonesia also penalized drug offenses similarly, if not more harshly, in some cases. Having worked in the Phoenix, Arizona justice system for the past two years, I’ve seen similarities between the US and Indonesia’s criminal justice system first hand. While the US has begun making changes in its drug policy opting for less harsh sentences and treatment options for people with drug addictions, Indonesia’s government still exacts long prison sentences in difficult conditions for simple possession and the death penalty for drug trafficking.
I see Relearning the Art of Living as a visual part of the conversation around drug policy and the justice system. Photography offers insight into people’s motivations and life patterns, which in turn supports empathy and builds awareness. Understanding can incite change.