I am interested in exploring the actual physical space in which the workings of the criminal justice system occur. Usually it is teeming with people; families and friends of victims and the accused, incarcerated individuals, police, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, counselors, clerical and maintenance workers, members of the media. It's likely that coming to these spaces has a profound emotional impact on all of them. Observing the space when it is completely empty offers clues about its temporary inhabitants and is certainly cause for contemplation.
There is an interesting contrast between the emotion that people experience during the proceedings of justice and the elements of the space where those events take place. The rooms of the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center (known locally as simply "201" for its address at 201 Poplar Ave. in downtown Memphis) can be elegant, banal, menacing.
Each day after waiting in long lines to pass through metal detectors, throngs of people descend escalators into a literal pit surrounded by courtrooms below. When unoccupied, the space resembles an abandoned set piece from a dystopian science fiction movie.
A witness area where people wait before taking the stand or where family gathers during a trial seems a complete afterthought with mismatched and damaged furniture haphazardly pushed against the wall. But someone thoughtfully placed a children's toy on the table, and the room itself is bathed in beautiful light from wall-to-wall windows. Despite the frenetic pace of human activity, a laminated sign that seems decades old somehow remains pinned to the wall.
The gravity of the judge's bench seems immense as people's lives are affected as they stand before it, while just out of sight on the bench are the mundane personal items one would expect to find in any office cubicle.
Panoramic views of the city are visible to anyone in the public waiting area, though everyone certainly has other things on their mind.
I've covered numerous stories in the facility, photographing victims and the accused giving testimony, distraught relatives outside the courtroom, demonstrators demanding justice, attorneys reassuring clients, police standing guard. Photographs of the empty spaces where these events occur invite the viewer to consider the machinations behind the system, the surreal nature of it. The idea of these spaces, the thoughtfulness or thoughtlessness of their design, is worth noting.
I'm starting inside the courthouse itself as it seems to be the hub around which other parts of the system revolve. Policing and surveillance efforts as well as actual crime scenes are scattered, and the actual incarceration of people is largely static. It is in and around the courts themselves where the changing paths of so many peoples' lives are concentrated.