Tom Brooks, head of Harris County Probation, essentially the greater Houston area, answered his email and followed up with a phone call with the words, “We want you to come to Harris County and document everything we have; the good, the bad and the ugly. The only way we will improve the lives of these kids is to shine a light here. Let me know when you are coming and I will pick you up and drive you to all our facilities.”
This is a rare event. Frequently the discussion is a long exchange of emails and a presentation of bona fides, references, checks, cross-checks and occasionally court orders. There are many examples I can offer where the institutions and the individuals wanted to protect themselves from scrutiny under the guise of protecting the children in their custody.
So, last month, I spent a week photographing six facilities in Harrison County and Houston. What I found was far from perfect, but also many caring people who were willing to open up their doors. Brooks understands that the architecture of the Harris County detention center does not allow for classrooms. He understands that common areas that have to be used as multiple occupancy units and temporary sleeping spaces are inappropriate. But rather than dismiss or sweep these issues under the rug, he asks for images to assist in his efforts to advocate for improvement.
This month and next we are focusing on the Harris County system. We want to begin with an acknowledgement and an expression of gratitude for the openness of Tom Brooks and people like him—all the more appreciated for their rarity.