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Human Rights
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North America
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Incarceration, USA, California, Prison, HIV, AIDS
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This project documents individuals in the AIDS ward at the state prison in Vacaville, CA, where even healthy but HIV-positive inmates are isolated from fellow prisoners - society's most isolated members cast even further from the realm of human contact.
Darcy Padilla

1991 — student award of excellence

My proposal for a photo project in furtherance of world harmony and understanding involves continuing my two-year effort to document prison conditions in the United States and abroad. Although I have photographed a prison in Chile, most of my work is done at prisons near my home in the Bay Area. For instance, I spent nine months photographing people in the AIDS ward at the state prison in Vacaville, CA, where even healthy but HIV-positive inmates are isolated from fellow prisoners - society's most isolated members cast even further from the realm of human contact.

With the United States recently overtaking the Soviet Union and South Africa as the country with the greatest percentage of its population behind bars (one million prisoners), the need to chronicle American jails becomes even more important all the time, to continue doing so is my goal.

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Inmate Francois shaves in his "house." Inmates call their cells, "houses".

“The Death Ward” was isolation units that held 120 inmates – all HIV positive – at the state prison California Medical Facility (CMF) in Vacaville, California.

The inmates had voluntarily tested for HIV and after receiving positive results were removed from the prison’s general population. Minimum-security inmates found themselves doing time in isolation units with maximum-security inmates. Inmates came to call it “The Death Ward” because “There was nothing to do but just wait around and die.” Darcy Padilla/Alexia Foundation
Inmate Francois smokes a cigarette in the small yard of the isolation wards. Inmates who voluntarily tested for HIV/AIDS were removed from the general population when they tested positive. They were limited prison services such as jobs, classes, church, and access to the main yard. Darcy Padilla/Alexia Foundation
An inmate in the TV room of the isolation units. Darcy Padilla/Alexia Foundation
Inmates have no access to the barber shop of main prison so they give each other haircuts. Darcy Padilla/Alexia Foundation
Inmates lift weights in their isolated prison yard. Darcy Padilla/Alexia Foundation
Two inmates talk in the kitchen. Darcy Padilla/Alexia Foundation
Inmates have limited access to prison services like the barber shop so they give each other haircuts and shaves. Darcy Padilla/Alexia Foundation
An inmate in his "house." There is no heat or air conditioning. Darcy Padilla/Alexia Foundation
Inmates called it the "Death Ward" because “There was nothing to do but just wait around and die.” Darcy Padilla/Alexia Foundation
Inmate Francois sits and has a cigarette in the kitchen watching inmates play cards. Darcy Padilla/Alexia Foundation