Photographs by Isadora Kosofsky
“Vinny and David” begins with Vinny, then 13, when he was incarcerated for stabbing his mother’s assailant, and shadows him and his older brother, David, age 19; the long-term photo essay focuses on the brothers’ lives in their family, community and respective incarcerations over five years in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
See the photo essay: www.isadorakosofsky.com
Brothers Vinny, age 15, and David, age 21, stand together before a summer storm in Northern New Mexico.
One evening, in the booking section of the juvenile detention center in Albuquerque, I saw Vinny and felt an immediate connection. I experienced a familiar, yet unfamiliar feeling one gets with the subjects that eventually become the focus of long-term projects. Once Vinny arrived in his unit and sat down in front of the television, I approached him and he confided his story to me, speaking of love for his mother and older brother. Vinny spoke extensively about his relationship with his older brother David, particularly talking about wanting his brother’s attention. After speaking to Vinny, I was taken aback by his wisdom and maturity. Later, I approached Vinny’s mom in Juvenile Court and a few days later, while Vinny was still in detention, I went to Eve’s apartment. Vinny’s brother, David opened the door, but immediately shut it, telling me I wasn’t allowed inside.
Eve cries after learning that the Juvenile Court will not allow Vinny to live with her, for his own safety. The Juvenile Court ordered that he live with his paternal aunt. “I died when I lost my son. I have lost Vinny forever,” says Eve.
Though we are close in age, David assumed I was a social worker, and was worried that I could be someone who could cause instability for the family. However, David’s response did not inhibit me from returning to the apartment. What I had learned about Vinny and David’s brotherly relationship intrigued me, and I knew that in order to document Vinny’s life, I had to include David. It took about a year for David and the other family members to grow comfortable with my presence. For the past five years, I have documented the relationship between families and incarceration, focusing on lost intimacy and love as a locus to investigate humanistic elements of the criminal justice system. My initial motivation was to produce a humanistic documentation of incarcerated youth. Yet, over time I realized that this held a limited scope. Through documenting one family, I began to uncover the interwoven chaos of love, loss, betrayal and abandonment that lives beneath the surface of incarceration. My drive to document this particular family was initially a curiosity about them, particularly about Vinny and David, and I’ve continued because of a deep felt connection to them.
Vinny, age 13, prays on his cell bunk at the juvenile detention center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I want to go home. I’m not with my mom or my family. I love my older brother more than anybody in the world. I want to spend the night on the moon,” says Vinny.
Vinny confides, “When my mom was being beat up, I was so scared. I wanted to defend my mom. I’m tired of seeing my mom get hurt.” While in juvenile detention, Vinny’s older brother, David, age 19, is incarcerated in an adult facility. David, who was introduced to drug dealing at age 10, has been in and out of juvenile and adult correctional systems. After his father went to prison, David spent time in and out of the foster care; eventually, at 14, David's mother, Eve, was given custody.
Vinny’s mother, Eve, visits Vinny, age 13, at the detention center. “Mom, just get me out. Just get me out, Mom,” Vinny says.
Eve puts her clothes on hangers as her boyfriend, Mark, reclines on their bed behind her.
Shortly after Vinny’s release in 2012, the court ordered that live with his aunt, three hours from his family in Albuquerque. Just as Vinny’s absence impacts the family, David’s incarcerations leave the family in a culture of loss. When one member is incarcerated, the whole family is too. Incarceration is a solitary and collective experience that leaves profound psychological effects, as it has on Vinny and David’s development. David struggles as he attempts to abandon dealing drugs, wishing to give Felicia, and daughters, Lily and Mary Jane, “everything [he] always wanted…[and end] the whole cycle” Yet, change may, at this point, seem more daunting than remaining in a comfortable chaos.
Felicia, David's fiancee, and their daughter, Lily, see David through video visitation at the county jail.
David feeds his daughter, Lily, as his other daughter, Mary Jane, touches Lily's arm. "The best thing in the world is for a man to feed his child," says David.
David, age 21, looks at Vinny, age 15, as Vinny smokes a cigarette in the motel room that David rented after his release from jail.
Eventually, after meeting his girlfriend, Krystle, Vinny left his aunt’s home and moved in with David. Vinny and David have grown up in an environment of loss and, yet yearn for love and a restored family. In the midst of turmoil, Vinny and David try to embrace their youth. Vinny describes David as a father figure, and David views Vinny as the only person who appreciates him. Now at the age of 18, Vinny has a daughter named Jordyn and works as a maintenance man. “I hope no one ever has to go through what I’ve gone through. My priority is to care for my child, so that she never sheds that kind of tears that I have,” says Vinny. --Isadora Kosofsky
Eve holds Michael in the pool at the motel. “I want a hug. I want a hundred hugs a day,” says Michael.
Vinny, age 16, tickles his younger brother Michael as Vinny’s girlfriend Krystle rests her head on his back during a temporary visit with his siblings at the motel where they live with their father. Eve, Vinny’s mother, and Elycia, Vinny’s sister, lean against each other as they watch a cartoon program (right). “I feel happy when I’m with my mom, little siblings, and my older brother. I make the best of what I have,” says Vinny.
Links on Vinny and David:
http://time.com/3398210/the-intersection-of-love-and-loss-confronting-youth-incarceration/ https://medium.com/vantage/subjected-to-prison-defined-by-family-love-d1a1a590613f http://www.strangefirecollective.com/isadora-kosofsky-1/ http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2014/10/19/isadora_kosofsky_vinny_and_david_is_a_photography_series_about_two_brothers.html
Vinny and David is also in the anthology Family Photograph Now (Thames and Hudson UK, 2016) http://thamesandhudsonusa.com/books/family-photography-now-hardcover