Portrait of the people
The state of Kentucky is predicted to run out of space in its prisons by the year 2019. The Kentucky State Reformatory stands as the second largest prison in the state, and it exists amidst Oldham County, the wealthiest county in the state of Kentucky and the 20th wealthiest county in the nation; the Kentucky State Reformatory is not comprised of people who share socioeconomic commonalities with the citizens of Oldham County. The issues with the Kentucky State Reformatory are representative of the issues with the U.S. prison system as a whole.
The prison system is centered on the act of dehumanizing rather than rehabilitating. Prison duplicate the motives of slavery in their exploitation of labor and their efforts to capture people deemed “undesirable.” Prisoners are objectified through a property-owner dynamic; they are paid little or nothing and are vastly isolated from their labor. The overcrowding, dirtiness, and absence of nutrition and fresh air in prisons leads to health issues among prisoners, and a lack of prison healthcare worsens such issues. Officials are frequently unable to protect prisoners from physical violence, and mental health issues are left ignored. In turn, prisoners are often unable to lead healthy lives following release from prison. Incarceration places extreme strain on the family structures and communities of the incarcerated, and this issue is made worse by restrictions placed on prisoner visiting time. Upon release, many prisoners struggle to find income and housing.
My vision of utopia obliterates the existing structures of the Kentucky State Reformatory, preserves the population, and transforms the land into a center for rehabilitation. Members of the utopia are treated as humans who are valuable to both the utopia and the outside community. Labor exists only as a necessary force in the upkeep of the utopia, and a majority of daily energy is invested in learning, restorative justice, and rehabilitation. The utopia is staffed by doctors, teachers, and therapists, rather than punishing figures. Physical and mental well-being is prioritized, and healthcare and living conditions have been altered accordingly. Community members are viewed as people who will soon re-enter society. Family call and visiting time is regular, unrestricted, and accommodating of a family’s needs; on-site housing is available for those visiting. Several regular bus routes run from the surrounding counties (Trimble, Jefferson, Shelby, and Henry County) to the rehabilitation center, picking up at county libraries and allowing those with limited transportation access to their loved one.
In terms of outreach, because the Kentucky Center for Rehabilitation serves as a model of what all prisons could become, the outreach is not contained to a particular area. The broadsides created for the utopia summarize the philosophy of the rehabilitation center with “rehabilitation not dehumanization” and mention the Kentucky Center for Rehabilitation so that people can find more information. The posters can be printed by anyone and hung anywhere.
The site features housing for community members, housing for friends and family, a transportation hub, an educative center, a therapeutic rehabilitation center, an outdoor leisure center, a healthcare facility, a gym, an arts center, a dining hall, a garden and monument to rehabilitation, and a walking installation and museum about the former grounds and issues with the U.S. prison system. Outsiders, including Oldham County residents provide funding for the utopia by paying to use the utopia’s facilities. Outsiders are allowed to enter the utopia only through the walking installation, titled “Barred”, to ensure they are aware of prison issues and the prison that formerly stood in place of the rehabilitation center. The installation is a path surrounded by 22,000 poles—one per person incarcerated in the state of Kentucky. The poles increase in density from the inside to the outside and go from light at the entrance to completely dark at the end of the pathway. As visitors look left and right, they can see poles continuing to multiply in the distance, until they reach a point so dense that they form a sort of wall. Though the viewer does not get an aerial view of the installation, the lengthy walk and repetition of poles leads the brain to imagine that the poles expand infinitely, drawing light to the extent of mass incarceration in Kentucky and the U.S. as a whole. A museum about the Kentucky State Reformatory and the U.S. prison system is at the end of the installation path.
Overall, I hope that my utopia serves as a model for how the U.S. prison system could be transformed into a system that values people and restores.