Hull of a House

Unfinished Business – A Call to Action

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Hello. Teresa here. I’m the curatorial assistant at Hull-House and I want to give an update on an exciting interactive exhibit that we inaugurated in September.

If you’ve visited the Museum lately, you’ll know that the new exhibition has rooms organized thematically, but with multiple voices telling a story. The story of juvenile justice is what the “Unfinished Business” exhibit space tells through wall-based illustrations, linking the history and current state from the point of view of reformers, legislators, youth, and abolitionists.

Images tell the history of the first juvenile court. Illustrations by Josh Peter. Photo by Adam Mark.

More illustrations about the history of juvenile justice. Photo by Lauren Meranda.

More than storytelling, the space is also a “call to action,” asking visitors to engage with the various stations set up in the room. The stations represent different grassroots, local and national groups dedicated to some facet of reforming the juvenile justice system or abolishing the prison-industrial complex.

Tamms Year Ten action station. Photo by Adam Mark.

For example, the “Tamm Year Ten” station tells the story of Tamms super-maximum prison in southern Illinois that houses inmates under permanent isolation. The Tamms Year Ten group—an eclectic coalition of activists, artists, lawyers, prisoners, and ex-prisoners—is dedicated to ending the psychological torture of total confinement, which is counter-productive to rehabilitating inmates. As one Tamms prisoner stated: “I will ask you, ‘Lock yourself in your bathroom for the next 10 years and tell me how it will affect your mind.” Tamms Year Ten’s moniker reflects the prison’s tenth anniversary (currently in its eleventh year). Founded on the notion of short-term punishment, many prisoners at Tamms supermax have been there for a decade.

The Tamms Year Ten station is interactive, engaging visitors with a project to send poems to prisoners. (Why? Because prisoners asked for them.) Here is what a postcard looks like:

Postcard for Tamms prisoners

What makes this so very exciting is that the public response has been tremendous. Since its inception, we’ve collected around 250 postcards for the prisoners. The station provides numerous poetry books and asks visitors to read and transcribe a poem that resonates with them on a postcard. Not only are the selection of poems beautiful but the postcards are lovingly rendered. To see them will tell of the love:

 

Usually in a museum setting, visitors spend a few minutes with an exhibit and mere seconds with an object. The carefully crafted Tamms postcards show that our visitors have been spending substantial time in “Unfinished Business.” These acts demonstrate that our museum visitors are not just consumers of history but also agents of change. The act of writing a postcard is our museum public’s way of contributing to the ongoing fight to wage reform, and the remarkable response shows that the spirit of the Hull-House Settlement is ever-present.

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