Jail is the only place where one gets to read
-Constance Gore Booth, jailed IRA activist, Dublin 1910
SITE: De-commissioned Los Angeles County Jail
COMPONENTS: Four hundred contemporary and historical letters written from jail. Some of the sources included: Amnesty
International, Arm the Spirit, The Black Person's Guide to Surviving Prison by Abdullah, Angela Davis, Hans Magnus Enzensberger,
Emma Goldman, Constance Gore-Booth, Antonio Gramsci, Peace Nets Prisoner of Conscience List, George Jackson, Leonard Peltier,
Susan Rosenberg, The Rosenberg Letters: The Complete Edition of the Prison Correspondence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
Excerpts from these sources are printed on orange, yellow, blue and green safety paper, a paper used by banks and governmental
institutions to discourage counterfeiting or illegal duplication. These letters, along with other letters made out of clay,
folded paper kites, (smuggled jail letters), and destroyed illegible letters are installed/deployed throughout the 8,000 jail
site. Prior to deployment, every letter is imprinted with an official notary seal which reads Several Very Secure Letters;
Each letter is then placed in a plastic evidence bag, sealed and stamped on the outside with a color and a letter code which
corresponds alphabetically to the author's name.
These letters were installed throughout the empty jail in available space from cell walls to windows, and from hallways
to document processing rooms. They formed a network of discrete texts, information often partially hidden and apprehended
only in the periphery of vision. Their discrete placement was designed to invite close scrutiny and serve as a reminder of
their contained, censored and marginalized existence. I anticipated that letters might get stolen, a prison population in
decline so to speak. Initially a public chart was to be kept each day logging the losses to thieving. This was abandoned
when it became clear that no one chose to steal the letters. Instead many people took great care reporting fallen letters
to the authorities. Finally many letters were given away to visitors on the last day of the exhibit. Entropy and thieving
were both ironically defeated.
Several Very Secure Letters is designed to explore penal institutions through the contemporary and historical voices
contained inside. The focus of the work is on the self-articulation of the political prisoner and the institutions designed
to contain and curtail these narratives and communiqués. By returning prison letters to their site of origin Several Very
Secure Letters addresses the first-person voice, the power structures that regulate that voice, and the definition of the
political prisoner in contemporary society. Through the sheer volume and intensity of the texts that have been re-incarcerated,
it is hoped that the viewer will examine his/her comfortable acceptance of penal institutions and of sanctioned definitions
of proper societal control(s) and listen to the voices that have called and will continue calling for radical reform, redress
and witnessing and who are still writing on the inside for the outside.