This photo series depicts an unseen side of the criminal justice system: its effect on the families of incarcerated people.
Around six months ago, the photographer Salvador Espinoza began spending a lot of time riding the Q100 bus through Queens, New York. The bus departs from Queens Plaza in Long Island City, winds north through Astoria, and ends at Rikers Island, the jail complex in the East River.
The Q100 is the only form of New York City public transit that reaches the jail, Espinoza says. If inmates have no one to bring them home upon release, they’re handed a MetroCard and directed to the bus.
As a kid growing up in Long Island City, Espinoza remembers seeing newly released inmates getting off the bus at Queens Plaza. Now 35, he still lives within minutes of the Q100 terminal, and as he rode the bus to his day job at a pawn shop in the Bronx, he started taking notice of the people boarding the bus with him. With support from the Queens Council on the Arts, he began a photo series, Q100. Select images will be on display at QNS Collective in Long Island City beginning December 10.
Wednesdays through Sundays, starting at 7:30 a.m.—the earliest departure time—the families and loved ones of Rikers inmates gather at Queens Plaza to travel to the jail. According to WNYC, around 6,800 people, mostly women, ride the bus to Rikers each week. Some have been making the journey for years, and recognize each other. They make small talk, and they’ve learned how to identify someone traveling to Rikers for the first time. The guards won’t let you in with those earrings, they’ll say, or that shirt won’t work—here, wear this jacket instead.
“There are all kinds of things people don’t know about going to Rikers,” Espinoza says. But the people who journey there watch out for each other. “There’s a real community that forms around the bus,” Espinoza says. While there are some local and national groups for the loved ones of incarcerated people, Espinoza sees most of the women on the bus relying on one-to-one support.
Often, the effects of mass incarceration are seen from the perspective of people inside the system. When Espinoza began photographing the people on the Q100 bus, he wanted to show how it reaches people on the outside. Inmates’ loved ones often structure their lives around when they can get to the jail, even if just for a brief visit; Espinoza spoke to a woman named Ivana from the Bronx, whose three-hour journey to Rikers ended with seeing her son for only five minutes.
Espinoza sometimes takes the bus three times a day to photograph. Never, he says, has he encountered anyone unwilling to be photographed, or unwilling to speak to him. “People want to share their stories, what it’s like to have someone inside the system,” Espinoza says.
Through his work, Espinoza hopes to call attention to the far-reaching effects of mass incarceration. Its burden on the families and loved ones of people in prison, he says, “isn’t something that’s understood, and needs more awareness.”
Q100 will be on view at QNS Collective beginning December 10.