Joseph Rodriguez, Author, Nell Bernstein, Author, Joseph Rodriguez, Photographer , intro. by Nell Bernstein. powerHouse Books $29.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-57687-138-6

A former inmate himself, Rodríguez (East Side Stories: Gang Life in East L.A. ) follows a variety of teenagers, judges, public defenders, district attorneys, probation officers and social workers who make up California's juvenile court system. Framed by a searing introduction by the former editor of YO! (Youth Outlook) , and by a short account of Rodríguez's own experiences in jail, it's almost impossible to approach these stark and somber photos with any other emotion besides deep sadness at how much the juvenile court system has moved from minimal rehabilitation to something much worse. In this 9½"×9¾" collection (which unfortunately lacks page numbers) of 91 duotone photographs, Rodríguez slowly focuses on particular individuals—such as Lance, who escaped being prosecuted as an adult, at age 15, only a few years before Proposition 21, or Katrina, who appears both preternaturally old in full makeup, or heart-tuggingly young while playing solitaire on her bed. The restrictiveness, deprivation and uncaring bureaucracy that these teenagers face comes through in photos of the bareness of a prison cell, words scratched into the arms and legs of a self-mutilating teen or a counselor demonstrating how to make a ridiculously thin bed on top of a wooden table. As Bernstein says, "What fuels [Rodríguez's] photographs of young people behind bars and on the street is his ability to look with them," providing exactly the kind of humanizing that the present system is fast losing. Certainly one of the most moving photographs in the book is Rodríguez's own 1968 mug shot: rumpled and defiant, he is also very, very young. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 03/15/2004
Release date: 01/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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