“I did time for eight parole violations,” said David Lee, 40, from San Fernando Valley (pictured above). Lee’s life is shaped in part by California’s “Three Strikes” law, enacted in 1994, which imposes a life sentence for a wide range of crimes upon people who have two prior convictions considered “serious” by the state. Lee is one of those people. “I have two strikes so I realized that I have this last chance before I wind up with a third strike and go away for life. That is why I came to the Walden House. This is it for me! I am still here.”

Photographer Joseph Rodriguez never strayed far from home, even as he traveled the globe. His career as a documentary photographer has stretched from 117th Street in New York’s Spanish Harlem to the barrios of Los Angeles, and taken him to Mexico, Romania and Kurdistan. But the drive that compels him to make photographs hasn’t changed since he first loaded a roll of Tri-X into a camera. Rodriguez takes photographs to open minds to the realities of the social justice system that most people — even, sometimes, his subjects — tend to skirt, bury and forget.

A boy plays with a ball in the hallway at The Female Offender Treatment and Employment Project. FOTEP programs have been implemented in 13 counties throughout the state. The goal of the project is to enable the successful reintegration of women parolees into the community, with a particular focus on reducing criminal behavior, substance abuse, and welfare dependence, as well as to facilitate their reunification with their children, if appropriate.<span class="_Credit">All photos by Joseph Rodriguez</span>
A boy plays with a ball in the hallway at The Female Offender Treatment and Employment Project. FOTEP programs have been implemented in 13 counties throughout the state. The goal of the project is to enable the successful reintegration of women parolees into the community, with a particular focus on reducing criminal behavior, substance abuse, and welfare dependence, as well as to facilitate their reunification with their children, if appropriate.All photos by Joseph Rodriguez
Chris “Pepper” Drayton, 30, poses with his roommate from Baldwin Hills at Walden House in Los Angeles.
Chris “Pepper” Drayton, 30, poses with his roommate from Baldwin Hills at Walden House in Los Angeles.

Rodriguez’s most recent series, “Reentry,” brought him back to Los Angeles, where he worked documenting gang life in the early 1990s. Now he focuses on former prisoners — men and women who have served their time and are reintegrating into society with the help of facilities like The Walden House, and its Female Offender Treatment and Employment Project. Like much of Rodriguez’s work, “Reentry” is anchored in family, which Rodriguez said he believes is key to ending the cycle of mass incarceration.

This fall, Rodriguez spoke about his work with Daniel Cassady, a freelance photographer and writer, as part of a collaboration with the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the @everydayincarceration Instagram project.

Darlene Escalante, a Walden House resident, goes home on a weekend pass to visit her grandmother. Both Darlene’s mother and father, who were gang-affiliated, spent time in prison. She remembers going to Chino, California, with her mother to visit her father in prison when she was a little girl. After her mother wound up in prison as well, her grandmother would take Darlene to visit her mother. “Both my grandmother and my mother were drug addicts,” Darlene said. “In 1989, my dad died after he changed his life, he became a nurse. Soon after his life changed, he was gunned down. Shot nine times. I want so much to change my life now, that’s why I came to Walden House. I don’t want to continue this horrible legacy that has existed my family.”
Darlene Escalante, a Walden House resident, goes home on a weekend pass to visit her grandmother. Both Darlene’s mother and father, who were gang-affiliated, spent time in prison. She remembers going to Chino, California, with her mother to visit her father in prison when she was a little girl. After her mother wound up in prison as well, her grandmother would take Darlene to visit her mother. “Both my grandmother and my mother were drug addicts,” Darlene said. “In 1989, my dad died after he changed his life, he became a nurse. Soon after his life changed, he was gunned down. Shot nine times. I want so much to change my life now, that’s why I came to Walden House. I don’t want to continue this horrible legacy that has existed my family.”

What surprised you the most when you began covering social justice stories?

I wouldn’t call it being surprised, it was more of a learning experience. I learned that with a camera I was able to create a relationship that I would not have been able to without a camera. I would become interested in a person’s life, and because this person grew to trust me and opened their heart to me, a bond would form between the two of us, and that bond became a revelation to me.

At the Walden House Transitional Facility for Men, in Inglewood, California men can use the phone for free. Research has found contact with family is a key factor in helping people reintegrate into their communities and stay out of prison.
At the Walden House Transitional Facility for Men, in Inglewood, California men can use the phone for free. Research has found contact with family is a key factor in helping people reintegrate into their communities and stay out of prison.
Joey Cabral served 27 years in prison. For over six years he has been a resident at Walden House, where he has spent time learning to assimilate back into society and adjust to modernizations in technology. “It’s not easy doing time nowadays,” he said. “It’s easy to catch more time. I did a lot of time, you learn to value your freedom and recovery. What scares me the most is not making it.” Cabral now works for an organization in Los Angeles focused on restorative justice, an approach that brings together offenders, victims and other stakeholders to try to repair the harm at the root of, and brought about, by crime and violence.
Joey Cabral served 27 years in prison. For over six years he has been a resident at Walden House, where he has spent time learning to assimilate back into society and adjust to modernizations in technology. “It’s not easy doing time nowadays,” he said. “It’s easy to catch more time. I did a lot of time, you learn to value your freedom and recovery. What scares me the most is not making it.” Cabral now works for an organization in Los Angeles focused on restorative justice, an approach that brings together offenders, victims and other stakeholders to try to repair the harm at the root of, and brought about, by crime and violence.

Do you think that people have a fundamental craving for this kind of bond? Most people, they say they don’t want to be photographed, or interviewed, yet once the process begins they open up.

The Sanchez family holds their newborn brother at a Walden House picnic in Los Angeles, California. Their mother, Yvette, has just had her baby in prison. The Sanchezes said they hoped for the family to grow stronger once Yvette is off parole.
The Sanchez family holds their newborn brother at a Walden House picnic in Los Angeles, California. Their mother, Yvette, has just had her baby in prison. The Sanchezes said they hoped for the family to grow stronger once Yvette is off parole.

I learned this early on in photography. When I was young, I didn’t have a voice. I wasn’t allowed to speak at home. Speak when spoken to, that was the norm. And, going way back, seven or eight years old, I spent a lot of time at home alone, you know, watching TV after school is what you did. And the heroes of the time, the classics — Superman, Batman, and even before that, Davy Crockett and Hop-along Cassidy — I always loved these guys. Why? Because they wanted to help people.

I’ve always had this dream of helping people. Because it wasn’t easy growing up the way I did, a stepfather coming home from prison and using heroin at home. And when you see darkness, and you live in darkness everyday it’s normal for you to look for hope. And the foundation is there, with those early heroes. I care about people, and I want to help them.

Maria Flores, from the Norwalk neighborhood of Los Angeles, sits in her room at Walden House Hill Street. “I don’t want my grandchildren to see me in prison like my children have done. My son is so angry with me,” she said. “How do I get back to his love and trust after years of pain and anger? He will not trust me with his kids and he is being protective and I can understand this but it hurts terribly. I have been on parole for 12 years, in and out of prison, with others taking care of my family.”
Maria Flores, from the Norwalk neighborhood of Los Angeles, sits in her room at Walden House Hill Street. “I don’t want my grandchildren to see me in prison like my children have done. My son is so angry with me,” she said. “How do I get back to his love and trust after years of pain and anger? He will not trust me with his kids and he is being protective and I can understand this but it hurts terribly. I have been on parole for 12 years, in and out of prison, with others taking care of my family.”
Marcos Luna, 37, is a recovering drug addict and a resident of Walden House. He spent almost 11 years behind bars. He now works at a bakery run by Homeboy Industries, which offers job training to former gang members, and volunteers his time giving food to the homeless. “Myself, I’m a two-striker, so I really got to think about what my third strike might be,” he said. “With my criminal record, automatically I get a term of 25 years to life, with no possibility of parole.” In 2012, Californians reformed their “three strikes” law, eliminating some of the harshest punishments. Now a life sentence can be imposed only in serious violent crimes. The reforms also allowed those in prison for life for a more minor “third strike” to petition for their release. Since 2012, more than 1,000 “three-strikers” have been released from prison.
Marcos Luna, 37, is a recovering drug addict and a resident of Walden House. He spent almost 11 years behind bars. He now works at a bakery run by Homeboy Industries, which offers job training to former gang members, and volunteers his time giving food to the homeless. “Myself, I’m a two-striker, so I really got to think about what my third strike might be,” he said. “With my criminal record, automatically I get a term of 25 years to life, with no possibility of parole.” In 2012, Californians reformed their “three strikes” law, eliminating some of the harshest punishments. Now a life sentence can be imposed only in serious violent crimes. The reforms also allowed those in prison for life for a more minor “third strike” to petition for their release. Since 2012, more than 1,000 “three-strikers” have been released from prison.
New arrivals from state prisons and jails enter the Transitional Treatment Facility for Women. Located near Downtown Los Angeles, the Hill Street residential program can serve up to 70 female parolee residents at any time. Once an old hotel, the facility has been renovated to become one of the most reputable treatment programs in the Los Angeles area. The purpose of the program is to help the residents successfully transition from prison back into the community.
New arrivals from state prisons and jails enter the Transitional Treatment Facility for Women. Located near Downtown Los Angeles, the Hill Street residential program can serve up to 70 female parolee residents at any time. Once an old hotel, the facility has been renovated to become one of the most reputable treatment programs in the Los Angeles area. The purpose of the program is to help the residents successfully transition from prison back into the community.
A mother holds her son at the Female Offender Treatment and Employment Project in Los Angeles, California. The program, which operates under a contract with the state, provides residential drug treatment for women parolees with a history of abuse. The idea is to have a 24-hour support group for mothers and their children, with intensive case management, vocational, and family services. Residents are encouraged to be with their children as much as possible to begin the slow process of regaining custody. Clean and out of prison, many women here are re-learning how to be mothers, and how to reintegrate into their communities.
A mother holds her son at the Female Offender Treatment and Employment Project in Los Angeles, California. The program, which operates under a contract with the state, provides residential drug treatment for women parolees with a history of abuse. The idea is to have a 24-hour support group for mothers and their children, with intensive case management, vocational, and family services. Residents are encouraged to be with their children as much as possible to begin the slow process of regaining custody. Clean and out of prison, many women here are re-learning how to be mothers, and how to reintegrate into their communities.

Tell me about your process of gaining access to stories and building relationships with subjects. Has that changed over time?

It’s a pretty simple formula: time and patience. It’s really about trying to go through the interview process first with a person, and sit down and just try to get a sense of who they are. There are usually a number of interviews. The first one is where you try to get access to this person’s life, “I’d like to take your photograph, this is the reason why.” Then you move on to, “How do you start your day?” and slowly you begin to understand this person who was once a stranger.

The women of Walden House visit White Point Bluff Park in San Pedro, California. Many of the women parolees at Walden House have never seen the ocean. As part of the program, they are brought to these cliffs, where they are asked to be quiet and think about this safe place. The Walden House philosophy is, “Fear of the past can hold you back.” At the cliffs, many of the women begin to cry. They later told Rodriguez they were thinking about the pain they have caused their children and families through their addiction and prison histories. Afterward, they wrote about their feelings during this experience, and shared them during support meetings at Walden House. For many, this is first step to redemption.
The women of Walden House visit White Point Bluff Park in San Pedro, California. Many of the women parolees at Walden House have never seen the ocean. As part of the program, they are brought to these cliffs, where they are asked to be quiet and think about this safe place. The Walden House philosophy is, “Fear of the past can hold you back.” At the cliffs, many of the women begin to cry. They later told Rodriguez they were thinking about the pain they have caused their children and families through their addiction and prison histories. Afterward, they wrote about their feelings during this experience, and shared them during support meetings at Walden House. For many, this is first step to redemption.
Tracey Stevens, 39, is a resident of Walden House, Hill Street program for female parolees. “Being Roma, I was sold at 15 years old into an arranged marriage by my family,” she said. “My dad didn’t want me to finish school, so I left after 10th grade. He was a gigolo and hustled women for money. I have five kids with one son in prison. I have followed my father’s example, as I hustled old men to pay for my lifestyle of drugs and party life until I got caught for assault with a deadly weapon. I do want to change my life and plan to go to a sober living facility once I am finished with the Hill Street Program.”
Tracey Stevens, 39, is a resident of Walden House, Hill Street program for female parolees. “Being Roma, I was sold at 15 years old into an arranged marriage by my family,” she said. “My dad didn’t want me to finish school, so I left after 10th grade. He was a gigolo and hustled women for money. I have five kids with one son in prison. I have followed my father’s example, as I hustled old men to pay for my lifestyle of drugs and party life until I got caught for assault with a deadly weapon. I do want to change my life and plan to go to a sober living facility once I am finished with the Hill Street Program.”
John Vaughn, a retired U.S. Marine, celebrates his Sicilian heritage. He joined the Marine Corps to see his father, who was a career soldier. He has seen several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. After returning home, he began to use drugs and alcohol to dull his pain and nightmares. One night he said he came home and found a man molesting his young babysitter. He beat the man and was thrown in prison for assault with a deadly weapon — his fists. After his arrest on a parole violation for using drugs, he tried to change his addictions and deal with his anger at Walden House, where he was been learning the tools to change his behavior. On his break time from his programs there, he plays handball with some of the other residents. He now works as a paralegal.
John Vaughn, a retired U.S. Marine, celebrates his Sicilian heritage. He joined the Marine Corps to see his father, who was a career soldier. He has seen several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. After returning home, he began to use drugs and alcohol to dull his pain and nightmares. One night he said he came home and found a man molesting his young babysitter. He beat the man and was thrown in prison for assault with a deadly weapon — his fists. After his arrest on a parole violation for using drugs, he tried to change his addictions and deal with his anger at Walden House, where he was been learning the tools to change his behavior. On his break time from his programs there, he plays handball with some of the other residents. He now works as a paralegal.
Jason Taylor, 40, is blind and crippled after being shot during an LAPD, DEA and ATF sting investigation into his gun-selling business. He said police shot 42 bullets into his SUV, killing his girlfriend. “They didn’t expect me to live,” Jason said. Law enforcement found a number of AK 47’s in the SUV’s trunk. Taylor was a Crip gang member. He started dealing drugs at the age of 12.
Jason Taylor, 40, is blind and crippled after being shot during an LAPD, DEA and ATF sting investigation into his gun-selling business. He said police shot 42 bullets into his SUV, killing his girlfriend. “They didn’t expect me to live,” Jason said. Law enforcement found a number of AK 47’s in the SUV’s trunk. Taylor was a Crip gang member. He started dealing drugs at the age of 12.

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A version of this story originally appeared on Beacon Reader.