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In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America
by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian

Includes the DVD Death Row

In the series Documentary Arts and Culture

Published by the University of North Carolina Press and CDS Books of the Center for Documentary Studies

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In This Timeless Time personifies the power of documentary work to humanize the inhumane, to transform the specificity of ‘being there,’ in this case a Texas death row, into an expanded, universal expression. Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian, artists and thinkers who work across mediums, demonstrate in this book the power of the long view, a central instrument of documentary. Importantly, Jackson and Christian also make strong policy arguments about capital punishment, using the power of their thirty years of fieldwork in prisons to reflect on and challenge this abiding and complex issue. The impulse and tradition of using artful documentary expression to reveal and enlighten, and then drive toward social justice and reform, has been a major current in the practice of making documentaries for decades. Whether as interviewers, writers, photographers, or filmmakers, few are as articulate, artful, and relevant, or even timeless, as Jackson and Christian.”

Tom Rankin and Iris Tillman Hill, editors of the series Documentary Arts and Culture

In This Timeless Time features photographs by Bruce Jackson and text by Bruce Jackson with Diane Christian, as well as a DVD of their film Death Row, and “is about life on Death Row in Texas, the special prison within a prison the state maintains for men it plans to put to death,” as Jackson and Christian write in their preface. “It is also about all the other Death Rows, which across time and in various places differ in marginal ways but which, at their core, are not significantly different from one another.”

The book is made up of three parts. In the first section, "Pictures," ninety-two photographs taken during their fieldwork for the book and documentary film Death Row illustrate life on cell block J in Ellis Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections; the second section, "Words," further reveals the world of Death Row prisoners and offers an unflinching commentary on the judicial system and the fates of the men they met on the Row; and the third, "Working," addresses the profound moral and ethical issues the authors have encountered throughout their careers documenting the Row.

They write, “In our 1979 film and 1980 book, we tried to give the residents of the Row voice about what it was like to live in that place and be in that condition. In this book, we try to let you see them as the individuals they in fact are, and to tell you what has happened to some of them in the interim. . . . The images in the first part of this book are, as most documentary images, made with an outsider’s eye and an outsider’s emotions. Some nights Bruce drove back out to Ellis prison late in the night and sat in the barber chair and listened, but he could always leave any time he wished and they could not, and in that option lay a gap no words or images can or could ever bridge—and we all knew it. We can only show you what we saw and tell you what we remember and have come to understand about that place and what transpired there.

“Death Row differs from all other prisons in this one regard: it is the one prison in which everything happens outside of official time. Every other prisoner in the penitentiary is doing time; the condemned are suspended in a period between times when the official clocks are running.

The clock stops the moment the judge announces the sentence of death; it resumes when the sentence is carried out, transformed into something else, or vacated entirely. The condemned live, as Donnie Crawford put it in the poem from which this book takes its title, in a ‘timeless time.’”

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Photo Gallery

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Trailer for the Film Death Row

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About Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian

Bruce Jackson is James Agee Professor of American Culture and SUNY Distinguished Professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is author of numerous books and films.
Diane Christian, a poet, scholar of religious literature, and documentarian, is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
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Praise for In this Timeless Time

Winner of a 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award in Essay/Creative Non-Fiction

“With absolute fairness and profound honesty, Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian carry us into the tragic world of a group of prisoners living on a Texas death row. Through unforgettable stories and photos, we come to feel the suffering, guilt, and confusion of these men, as well as their inextinguishable human dignity. We are also given a vital lesson in the strange element of chance that lies at the foundation of capital punishment, our correction system's ‘most significant act.’ This powerful book calls us to reflect on the extraordinary circumstance of prisoners not ‘doing time’ but waiting for time to run out on death rows all over America."
—Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States

“In the over thirty years since Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian’s work on a Texas death row began, we have made few advances in addressing the injustices in our justice system’s ultimate violent act. This is a significant work that speaks to our collective need to right the wrong that is capital punishment.”
—John Lewis, U.S. congressman and civil rights leader

“Most everyone in this book was executed. Most everyone said they were innocent. I did too . . . and I was. . . . These photos rewind, then freeze time, catapulting me back to a place that still invades the core of who and what I am today, nearly thirty-four years later. ‘It’s not about innocence or guilt, Kerry,’ Bruce Jackson told me in 1979 as I peered out of my cell as a twenty-year-old during our first interview. ‘It's about what we do as a society.’ I didn't get it back then, but I do now. With this book, Bruce and Diane have captured the face of America's death penalty machine.
—Kerry Max Cook, former Death Row prisoner "Cook, Ex: #600," exonerated through DNA testing after serving twenty-two years

“Most of us have formed whatever opinion we hold on the death penalty without any direct experience of what life is like inside of an institution specially designed by trial and error to utterly dehumanize its inhabitants (and by inevitable, toxic osmosis, its employees) in order that WE THE PEOPLE are able to take their lives at a given time on a given date. Pray that In This Timeless Time is as close as you ever get.”
—Steve Earle, singer-songwriter and author of I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

In This Timeless Time is a cry of the heart against the killing that is called the death penalty in the United States. Examine the photographs, read the words of the human beings in cages, waiting and waiting for the day, perhaps soon, perhaps in thirty years, when they too might be killed. Many speak to us from the grave, for they were killed. This book should become the definitive book on the medieval cruelty of our death rows. Once read, none of us can turn our view away and say, ‘We did not know.’”
—Michael Ratner, attorney and president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights

In This Timeless Time presents images and words of condemned men who are otherwise abstractions and provides a compelling history of death row over the last thirty years. Nothing like this book exists, or could ever exist again. I could not recommend this book more strongly.”
—Billy Sothern, death penalty lawyer and author of Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City

“Granted virtually unprecedented access to one of the least-seen sectors of American society (Death Row), Jackson and Christian have emerged from this foreboding place with something terrible and beautiful. For what is more terrible than this modern-day place of skulls, this (to quote a former Supreme Court Justice, Harry Blackmun), ‘machinery of death.’ Beauty? Where can beauty be in such a haunting, fatal place? And then one looks at these photos . . . men with visages of hopelessness, loss, and hope. Yes, hope. . . .”
—Mumia Abu-Jamal, co-author of The Classroom and the Cell

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Ordering Information

In the series Documentary Arts and Culture
Published by the University of North Carolina Press and CDS Books of the Center for Documentary Studies
256 pages | 9 x 8 | 113 duotone photographs | Includes the DVD Death Row
$35.00, hardcover | ISBN 978-0-8078-3539-5
Available in bookstores or by ordering from the University of North Carolina Press.
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Exhibition and Reception
On view fall 2012 semester; reception: November 28, time TBA
Love House and Hutchins Forum
The Center for the Study of the American South
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
November 29, 2012, 4:30 p.m.
Hutchins Lecture on documentary photography and the realities of capital punishment
Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence
Kresge Foundation Common Room (039), Graham Memorial Hall
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Talk and Book Signing
August 21, 2012, 6:30 p.m.
New York Public Library in Mid-Manhattan
Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street

Interview, The Story
April 26, 2012
American Public Media, broadcast locally on WUNC

Talk and Book Signing
In conjunction with a reception for the exhibition Full Color Depression: First Kodachromes from America's Heartland
April 19, 2012, 6–9 p.m., talk at 7

Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

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Winner of a 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award in Essay/Creative Non-Fiction

A Publishers Weekly Top 10 Social Science Title

"In this comprehensive, well-crafted book . . . Jackson and Christian build upon the photographs and interviews from death row in Texas that yielded their 1979 book and documentary Death Row (DVD included). Here, photos and text reveal inmate life, discuss capital punishment, and share the fate of each man: execution, a commuted sentence, parole, or after more than two decades, an innocent verdict. . . . [T]he book raises important questions about the judicial system and the practice of capital punishment in our society."—Publishers Weekly

“If opponents of the death penalty were to choose one book for their cause, this could well be it. . . . Jackson and Christian write in a direct, journalistic style, poignant and to the point. This book will appeal to those with a specific interest in criminal justice and the death penalty as well as curious casual readers.”—Library Journal Starred Review

“All readers concerned about the U.S. prison system and capital punishment will benefit from this important work.”—ForeWord

“An unflinching commentary on the judicial system and the fates of the men they met on the Row. . . . They made a body of work no one else could.”—Prison Photography blog

“Jackson and Christian's book gives some of those men a face. Therein lays its beauty.”
—The Rag Blog

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