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Lawrence Sumulong September 8, 2014

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Philippines.

Inmates and their family gather for portraits inside Leyte Provincial Jail. Palo, Philippines 2014

Lawrence Sumulong (b.1987, United States) is a Filipino American photographer based in New York City and Manila. He received his B.A. from Grinnell College and studied contemporary American poetry under scholar and writer, Ralph Savarese. Among others, his work has been shown by The New Yorker: Photo Booth, Le Monde’s M Magazine, the Jorge B. Vargas Museum, the Milk Gallery, Chobi Mela VI, and his postcard series for the publication, Abe’s Penny, is in the permanent collection of the MoMA Library. His documentary work explores the idea of alterity within the Filipino culture and diaspora.

About the Photograph:

“I took this photo on an assignment which required me to verify whether families of inmates were continuing to live inside Leyte Provincial Jail in Palo, Philippines. I was collaborating with the journalist, Aya Lowe, who had originally broke the news that inmates and their families were seeking shelter in the jail after the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda. Leading up to my trip, there was word that access was restricted and the families had long since relocated. Since my fixer had went to school with many of the wardens, I was able to gain entrance and spend a few hours inside.”

“To my surprise, all of the families had continued to commingle alongside the inmates and wardens. Allegedly, I was the first Filipino American to ever set foot within the compound. With a water purifying system, electricity, rations, a sick ward, and security, the jail arguably provided more amenities than what one could find outside of the walls of the jail in the post-Yolanda landscape. Even more surprisingly, a woman who was related to one of the inmates even ran a vegetable stand in the middle of the prison, which gave the appearance of a local store that one might find in a small neighborhood or barangay.”

“During the family portrait sessions, the presence of family members made it difficult to ascertain and comprehend the crimes that the inmates had been accused of. I was told that petty crimes such as robbery and drug trafficking were the main culprits. However, upon looking at the makeshift release forms that I had asked each family and inmate to sign, murder and rape were the most prevalent. With the loss of court records due to the typhoon, the judicial process has been completely crippled and the future of all of the inmates and the livelihoods of their families lies lost in limbo.”