Smith cradles “Thumper,” a Flemish giant rabbit, as “Fat Albert,” a giant tortoise who roams the farm, waddles over looking for attention. Located in an open area beneath the Florida Keys jail, the Sheriff’s Animal Farm was launched in 1994 as a haven for homeless animals – now cared for and tended to by inmates. (Kim Raff)

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.


Keith Spike, center, is handed a mannequin baby during a lesson on how to properly cradle an infant at Falkenburg Road Jail in Tampa, Fla., on Dec. 28, 2015. To his left is classmate Williams Harvey and to his right is Salvador Sanchez Jr. (Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times)

Robert, 70, looks out his cell window. He has spent nearly 30 years in prison after being convicted of murder. Long sentences and reluctant parole boards mean prisoners across the country are growing old behind bars. (Jessica Earnshaw)

Theda Rice, 77, convicted of murder. (Ron Levine)

Praying. Southern Oaks Girls School, Union Grove, Wisconsin, April 2007. (Sarah Hoskins)

Latonya, photographed in 1995 at the Metro Correctional Institution near Atlanta. “I am tired of living under someone else’s rules. I just want to go home to my son and family and start over,” she said. (Marilyn Suriani)

Charnese Zanders, 12, visits her father, Van Morris, through a small window in the locked door of his hospital room. Morris, who is diagnosed with colon cancer, remains in lockdown because of a history of disruptive actions. Regardless, Warden Burl Cain of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola encourages his staff to facilitate family visitation. (Lori Waselchuk)

As a murder suspect is booked into the San Francisco County jail, employees document his neck wounds from a suicide attempt. Part of the series “Lost Promise – The Criminal Justice System,” 1993-1996, in San Francisco. (Robert Gumpert)

A tender moment between Shanon Fulcher and his girlfriend Jamesha at a drug rehab center where they checked themselves in with the goal of getting clean. Shannon was initiated into the infamous Bloods at a young age. He racked up six felony charges in his youth. Starting in 2012, photographer Sam Wolson followed Fulcher as he tried to establish a stable life in Oakland. (Sam Wolson)

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.’”


Green Eyes comforts his dying grandmother in hospice care, having been granted a month-long sentencing delay to pay his respects and say goodbye. He travels to Brooklyn three times — twice to visit her at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center and once more for her funeral. (Ben Cleeton )

Tracy has her makeup applied by a family friend in her daughter’s home in Bergenfield, N.J. Only two years into her prison term, Tracy received a cosmetology certificate from the New York State Department of Labor and then worked as a barber, hairstylist, nail technician and supervisor. (Sara Bennett)

Evelyn with the son of her domestic partner in Long Island City, N.Y. “I met my partner when I’d only been home for a few days. She has three kids and, me not having kids, I became close to the kids and that was an extra.” (Sara Bennett)

A mother and daughter sleep on a bus to Hazelton Penitentiary, in Bruceton Mills, W.Va. The bus is organized by the District of Columbia Office of Returning Citizens Affairs for families who could not otherwise afford the trip. (Gabriela Bulisova)

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

More In Sight:

Harrowing scenes of Venezuela on the brink of collapse

Scenes of drug addiction in the mountains between China and Burma

See these couples magically age in fast-forward over 32 years