The multi-media installation Women on the Outside tells the story of Kristal Bush and the riders on her Bridging the Gap van service. Directors Zara Katz and Lisa Riordan Seville worked with photographer Zora J. Murff to tell this story which later expanded into the documentary film A Woman on the Outside. The film was screened at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in combination with a panel discussion on criminal justice reform, a Be The Media! workshop, and the opening of this exhibition.
When someone is incarcerated, the women in their family often pick up the pieces. Women care for children, scrape together commissary money and pay high telephone rates to keep families connected. They are the rock. But the financial and emotional strain of having loved ones behind bars can take a toll upon women on the outside. This is one piece of the unseen legacy of mass incarceration in the United States.
To Kristal Bush, it sometimes feels like all of the men in her life have been locked up. Her first visit to Pennsylvania prisons was to see her father. She was a child. She didn’t see him again until she was 19 years old, and able to drive herself.
In 2017, Pennsylvania incarcerated more than 49,000 people in its state prisons. Almost half were Black. Nearly one in three prisoners enters the system in Philadelphia County. These numbers shape families.
As Kristal graduated Temple University, bought a house and became a social worker, incarceration remained a backbeat to her life. She sent money to her brother, Jarvae, and became the legal guardian to his young son, Nyvea. On weekends, the family drove to visit Jarvae at Huntingdon prison, 200 miles each way. When Kristal and her mother, Crystal Speaks, struggled to keep up with the expense of those visits, Jarvae suggested they start a van service to transport other families to visit their incarcerated loved ones. Bridging the Gap was born.
In her 20s, Kristal took Bridging the Gap from a side hustle to a legitimate business. Kristal, her mother, and Cassandra, who Kristal hired as a third driver after connecting on a prison visit, set out several times each week to 16 prisons across the state. Riders paid between $25 and $70 for door-to-door service. Trips span hundreds of miles, and sometimes stretch over 12 hours. Women sleep and primp, children play, and music helps the miles pass. Veteran riders share tips with newcomers: what to wear and where to sit in the visiting room, how to grapple with bills and the end of a visit when a loved one is left behind.
This multi-media installation documents a Bridging the Gap van ride to Smithfield and Huntingdon prisons, offering a glimpse into the lives of this group of women on the outside trying to stay connected to loved ones behind bars.
Exhibition Production and Curation: Zara Katz and Lisa Riordan Seville
Photographer: Zora J. Murff
Data Visualizations and Web Interactive: Michael Krisch and Mark Hansen
Exhibition Designer: Dalit Shalom