Book Review 2
Mark West & Molly Rose Jeff Barnett-Winsby (J&L Books)
“Woman is sacred; the woman one loves is holy,” Alexander Dumas wrote inThe Count of Monte Cristo, the book with which Jeff Barnett-Winsby was fascinated as a child.
As Barnett-Winsby writes in the opening chapter of Mark West & Molly Rose (J&L Books),
“As a child….I was unhappy, and often imagined myself imprisoned in a cell. There, I would learn the ways of the civilized world through books and instruction from my imaginary mentor next door. In real life, my dad was a psychologist for a prison in Topeka, Kansas. Mom analyzed the data he had gathered at the prison, and wrote her dissertation on sexual offender recidivism. Through dinner time conversations, my family helped me develop a more realistic view of incarcération.”
But that view did not dull the allure, for Barnett-Winsby used his time as a graduate student at Rhode Island School of Design to photograph prisoners at Lansing Prison, a prime example of the prison industrial complex in effect (so much so the slang for solitary confinement, thé hole, originated in living tombs). Barnett-Winsby was allowed supervised access of the entire prison, and during his time there, a drama unlike any other unfolded.
The Safe Harbor Prison Dog Program was founded and organized by a middle-age women named Toby Young. Ms. Young was driven to rescue dogs that would otherwise be euthanized—dogs with heartworm, dogs with broken bones in need of orthopedic surgery, blind dogs, deaf dogs, three-legged dogs, in short the canines headed for death row. These dogs were paired with inmate handlers, and lived with them in their cells, setting the scene for simultaneous rehabilitation—a chance for a second life for those with which society is displeased.
As Barnett-Winsby writes, “The men worked extremely hard to build trusting relationships with the injured, abandoned, mistreated, or otherwise abused dogs. They nursed their own wounds, and in the process, learned discipline and a new way to relate.” Barnett-Winsby photographed these prisoners, their dogs, and Ms. Young. As fate would have it, under the auspices of this program, true love was born.
Less than a year after the photographs were taken, Ms. Young helped a prisoner named John Manard escape by smuggling him out in a dog crate in the back of her van, having previously established the trust of a prison guard who failed to search her vehicle. For twelve days, the couple lived and loved free until they were captured after being spotted at Barnes & Noble (of all places) by a federal marshal. Mark West & Molly Rose is the result of their adventure, and their story unfolds through Barnett-Winsby’s narrative powers.
Using photographs, headlines, newspaper stories, surveillance stills, drawings, personal letters, and narrative texts to weave it together, Barnett-Winsby tells a romance unlike any other, a romance that was so unfathomable, Midge Grinstead, the executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society was compelled to ask, “What possesses someone to throw their life away?”
Love, in as much as none of us will ever truly understand, means something different to everyone on this planet. For a man like Mr. Manard, who was sentenced to life in prison for the carjacking and murder of a Johnson County man, for a women like Toby Young, who was married and twenty years his senior, love was something that could not be denied. Love was that which all would be risked for twelve days in each other’s arms.
As Mr. Manard writes in a 27-page letter detailing their affair, “Freedom is a lot more than what people perceive it to be. Freedom is just a word that people attach to their own illusion of what it means, but the truth of the matter in my opinion is this. If you don’t have someone to you truly love, and who in turn truly loves you, whether it be your soulmate or your kids, and someplace that you can call your own, you’re not living, you’re just existing through life instead of living through life, you’re just out there in the way. Freedom can be attained in your own mind no matter where you’re at. My living situation was a good as one can get in here. I was existing just fine. I didn’t breakout for freedom, I broke out to love and be loved. If we could’ve done that in here I would’ve been okay with that, but that was impossible.”
The letter is accompanied by two well-rendered drawings, one of Christ on his knees in an angel’s arms and one of a horse galloping free, proud, and powerful. Mr. Manard’s story is one of a man whose choices seem far more rational than that of Ms. Young, but that may be because she does not share her side of the story in Mark West & Molly Rose. Now out of prison after serving two years, she lives in Kentucky and is working on a book about her time with Mr. Manard. She does, however, offer this small bit, the final lines of a poem she wrote while in prison, the beginning of which she no longer remembers:
A matted farm dog
is no unicorn
While the book finishes with one final letter from Ms. Young, indicating she sees a positive future, that poem speaks volumes about the affair, the captivating power that love has to draw us into a private world that only one other person shares.
All told, Mark West & Molly Rose is a beautifully told tale, the story of two people, one parakeet, a cabin in the woods, and a manhunt that crossed state lines. Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Miskell described the apprehension as, “…the best possible outcome…” and perhaps that is real.
As for Alexander Dumas, in The Count of Monte Cristo he also wrote, “Now I’d like someone to tell me there is no drama in real life!”. Here, Here.
On May 6, Jeff Barnett-Winsby will be signing copies of Mark West & Molly Rose at the International Center of Photography.