Thursday, March 2, 2023

Danny Lyon Texas Prison Photos

Danny Lyon, shown here in a 1964 self portrait, is best known for his photojournalism centered on the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  Today, however, is March 2, an important day in Texas history, and that prompted me to do a series based on Mr. Lyon's Texas prison photos.  Beginning in late 1967, he was given almost unlimited access to the Texas prison system for 14 months.  Published in book form in 1971 as Conversations with the Dead, his work is considered groundbreaking.  Forty years later, Mr. Lyon had more to say about Texas in this piece I snipped from an interview.
Imagine that.



  1. The photography in this series is as excellent as the above statistics are worrying. Sometimes to collide with reality is a good thing. And given how things are so much worse, this series has given me food for thought. This is not to criticize America when Britain has its own problems in the very same way - except for the death penalty, when it is now, since the early 1960s, that only just under 50% of the population is still in favour of it. It is simply to reflect, once again, that we fool ourselves if the present is always better than the past, and that the past has nothing to teach us as if we are marching, hay foot, straw foot, up the hill to salute the flag of Utopia at dawn.

    1. I worked at a juvenile correctional facility in Louisiana for a few years. It was everything we could do to keep it from being a training ground where the inmates (all male) enhanced their criminal skills. The only way we managed that was by being operated by a private foundation that was funded by the state. State operated facilities were nightmares of corruption and abuse. Funny story: When I was hired, I told my boss I was gay and she said, "Oh, I've had funny bunnies working here for years and never had a problem. But these women?!?!?! You can't turn your back on them." Sure enough, a year into my tenure, a female guard got pregnant by a 16 year old car thief. It was the only untoward incident the whole time I worked there, something which made the place a paragon of propriety.

    2. Funny bunnies? FUNNY BUNNIES? The woman was clearly as mad as a March hare - which at least gave her 11 months to recover (with the right medication). I admire your fortitude... I always wanted to go to Louisiana - with a banjo on my knee. Unfortunately, my map reading skills weren't up to it.

    3. Oh she was crazy, all right. She had to be to survive in that position . . . or to take it in the first place. My favorite quote from those years was when the contraband interception officer, a woman, had this exchange with a 15 year old mugger she caught for the umpteenth time with cigarettes:

      Officer: "You'd sell your Mama to a Mexican pimp for a cigarette."
      Inmate: "My Mama already has a pimp."