Babita Patel

Babita PatelBabita Patel is a humanitarian photographer whose work has been featured in The Guardian, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, Time Out New York, NY Daily News, The Indypendent, Activist Philanthropist, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Journal News, Alliance Life, and Corrections Today. She is the Founder & Executive Director of KIOO Project, an NGO that advances gender equality by teaching photography to girls in economically challenged communities who, in turn, teach photography to boys.

Babita has also put life through the lens for organisaions such as WaterAid, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor, WASH United, Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, Woman’s Prison Association, The Mission Continues, The Third Wave Volunteers, ealing Haiti, Rebuilding Together NYC, Girl Be Heard, The GO Project, 3Seams, Long Island City Partnership, Print 4 Change, and Zylie & Friends. Her work has been exhibited across the world, including shows in New York, Atlanta, Santa Monica and Lisbon.

The Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline

“When I was 8 years old, the only thing I wanted to do was go to prison.” Herbie’s childhood ambition is a common one within his Bronx community, where imprisonment is seen as an important rite of passage for a young man. Now 45, Herbie grew up within the walls of Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. And he’s not alone. In the US, we will lock up 1 in 3 of the black boys, and 1 in 6 of the Latino boys born in the new millennium. For every girl we lock up, we’ll lock up five boys.

Herbie and his peers are part of the cradle-to-prison pipeline: a national epidemic in which low-income minorities gravitate towards incarceration. For these men, it’s the most promising career option on offer. To achieve stable lives and livelihoods, they’d need access to quality education, early childhood development support, and comprehensive healthcare — none of which is on offer within their community. Simply put: the system fails these men long before they enter prison.

Once inside, however, some find redemption through education — in the form of Sing Sing’s college degree program. The recidivism rate for graduates is less than 4%, compared with 42% for non-graduates. Sharing the stories of these men is the key to breaking the cradle-to-prison pipeline. Once, they were admired by their communities for “achieving the dream” by going to prison. Now, through rehabilitation, education and mentoring — incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men give their community members a new goal to strive towards, modelling the potential to live free and productive lives.

This photojournalism initiative will document this journey through childhood, incarceration, higher education inside prison, and finally to gainful employment in the community. The story arc will narrated by the voices of currently- and formerly-incarcerated men.

The project will culminate in a book, a series of photography exhibitions (including in the new Sing Sing Museum), and a public awareness-building campaign around the cradle-to-prison pipeline problem within marginalized communities, and the potential impact that higher education can have.