Saturday, November 9, 2013

Yelp Reviews of Correctional Centers written by Formerly Incarcerated Americans

screen print on birch plywood, red wriggler compost in plexiglass box, printer paper, wheat-paste, ceramic plates, compost liquids 

In the United States, 1 in every 32 residents is on parole, on probation, or currently incarcerated, and 1 in every 5 adults has a criminal record. Those who are tied into the prison system by incarceration, probation, or parole are its products; formerly incarcerated Americans who are tied in by a criminal record, probation, or parole are, like all non-incarcerated Americans, its consumers. 

Our identities as consumers under late capitalism are our most visible and clearly defined identities. Consumption at its most basic — how and what we eat — may be the most divisive aspect of those identities, separating the foodies and the locavores from the junk-foodies in the food deserts. Yelp, as a consumer-created product, is a website that depends on self-selected consumptive identities, and in turn, gives consumers a sense of creative control over systems in which they have no other role. The reviews of jails, prisons, and juvenile detention centers on Yelp, written by those who have lived as the products of this system and live now as its most disenfranchised consumers, are digital relics of not just the fact of lining up at 4 a.m. for “Shit on a Shingle” but the meaning of that experience and a means of controlling the uncontrollable. 

The cycle of incarceration in the U.S. can appear to be a closed system, a loop defined by lack of choices and bad luck (it is unlucky to be a young black man in a major city, where your chance of incarceration is as high as 3 out of 4), recidivism or reincarceration a near inevitability. Conscientious consumer choice is defined by its polarity with choicelessness, and its relation to limitations of choice. The non-incarcerated, the incarcerated, and the formerly incarcerated are also connected by this polarity and relativity. 

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