Workin’ on the (female) chain gang in Arizona


East Village photographer Q. Sakamaki was in the Southwest last month where he documented the country’s first female prison chain gang, in Phoenix, Arizona. The program started in 2001. There are now a few other prisons that have female chain gangs. The women spend four to six hours a day chained together in groups of 30, doing work like clearing roadsides of weeds. The program, which lasts one to two months, is for women serving relatively short sentences of around a year, for offenses like drugs or assault. The chain gang is supposed to instill discipline in the prisoners, get them into the habit of showing up regularly for work and also publicly embarrass them so they don’t commit crimes again once they get out. However, observed Sakamaki, “As a way to embarrass them — I’m not sure. Those people don’t embarrass easily.” As opposed to seeing it as a punishment, the women actually like chain gang duty because they get outside. “They can’t listen to music in jail,” Sakamaki noted. “When they are outside, they can listen to music, maybe from a car.”