9/16 – 9/18/15
Affricka G. Jean.
These four women died under suspicious circumstances while serving time at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, Florida. The prison has a long standing history of abuse and corruption, with little recourse for justice for the women behind bars and their families.
This is the case with Latandra Ellington’s family.
I met with Latandra Ellington’s 19 year old daughter, Jaineshia (pictured above). She’s currently a second year undergraduate studying education at Florida A&M. She was brave enough to share some of her time with me for this film, but again, I found myself grappling with responsibility to represent grief and loss.
I never was comfortable with prying, poking, or cajoling for a certain soundbite, as if I or audiences could appreciate words that could carry years of relationship in about 5 seconds. Nah. Without the camera on, she told me how she hasn’t been able to process her loss, hasn’t been able to talk with many people about it — so in this way, I didn’t see myself as the proper person to help her articulate her profound loss.
As an alternative, I pivoted towards silence.
To expand, Jaineshia bears her mother’s narrative on her body, on her face. So I asked her if it would be okay to sit in some silence, and that I record it. I talked her through, invited her to meditate on the memories of her mother, to bring her grief to the surface. We sat for something like 10 minutes — only with the hum of the air conditioning unit to recenter the moment, a drown out whatever yells, cries, whispers were happening behind her downcast eyes.
To sit with her, to know some of the facts surrounding her mother’s death, and to know that this film could only do so much.
I can only sit and stare, only know so much.
Somehow that is enough.
Somehow that is not enough.
The Lowell Correctional Institution, is within a 3-5 mile radius of institutions and enforcement spaces — juvenile facility, fireman school, police shooting range — that made it all incredibly difficult to even attempt to film. Had there been public property, or a nearby neighborhood that seemed outside of that bubble, and that kind of energy field, then I could film it, but nothing nowhere within visual proximity, not even a hard shoulder on the side of the road. I even tried to stop near the shooting range, across the highway from LCI but every driver that passed by locked eyes with me in that way…and it was always slightly arresting.
So, rather than taking any legal risk for myself and the film, I tried my hand at asking for permission from LCI main office. Walking into the area was like swimming into the jaws of a shark. I know I wasn’t at particular risk, but having an understanding of the ominous culture of LCI and the various stories reported and even more that are hidden from public eye, enshrouded in bureaucracy, and a tacit agreement with our [democratic] society…that shit was heavy.
I left the main office being denied permission, no documentation was allowed, even journalists had to get permission to take photographs of the sign, well outside the bounds.
No image does not mean no reality.
For more information on Latandra Ellington’s story and Lowell Correctional Institution read Miami Herald’s article here.