Mass incarceration in America is an epidemic — not just in terms of being widespread, but in the medical sense, too. Health policy expert Ernest Drucker argues in his book “A Plague of Prisons” that incarceration behaves much like a disease.

As in an epidemic, there is a root to the outbreak. Proximity increases chances of infection. There are common patterns of transmission. It leaves indelible scars on the incarcerated and their loved ones.

The system of incarceration doesn’t simply affect the person in the cell. It can poison families and their surrounding communities.

A fascinating Instagram feed, “Everyday Incarceration,” seeks to tell the visual story of incarceration’s ripples. The feed is made up of contemporary and archival photo essays about the American prison system, which has rapidly risen in population since the 1980s and today far outstrips any other country, according to the Institute of Criminal Policy Research.

“Everyday Incarceration” was launched in 2014 by photo editor Zara Katz and reporter Lisa Riordan Seville to encourage dialogue about mass incarceration on the social media platform. One of their main goals was to showcase a diverse range of voices, so as to see more clearly the complexity and many facets of incarceration. Today the account has nearly 75,000 followers.

The project is modeled on the “Everyday Africa” Instagram account, which combats cliches of Africa in the media — perpetually war-torn and diseased — and serves up more nuanced slices of life instead. The account has spawned a whole host of spin-offs, from “Everyday Iran” to “Everyday Black America.”

Katz says that valuable dialogue has arisen around some of the photos on the “Everyday Incarceration” account. Sometimes commenters say they have been touched by the prison system themselves, and others offer support and encouragement to the subjects.

Katz recalled an interaction on a series by photographer Scott Houston, who showed chain gangs that were forced to pick fruit or dig graves. Although there was a bit of back and forth about the ethics of manual labor, it was a genuine exchange of ideas. And Katz remembered, “The final comment was, ‘Thank you, I learned something today.’”

Editor’s note: This post previously contained a quote by Theda Rice that was not vetted and has been removed. 

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