“Please don’t forget me”, are the words Susan Lankford’s daughter Polly found as they sat at home looking through the countless survey’s they conducted. Lankford describes the sight of that message and her memory of the little boy, who wrote it as one of the most poignant moments in her study at the Las Colinas Juvenile Detention Center. Born, Not Raised is the culmination of a trilogy of books that started years ago when she rented an old, abandoned jail in San Diego, California.

Her intention was to simply use the jail as a backdrop for a project, but it became so much more as she developed relationships with the homeless or street people as they preferred to be called, who slept in the building at night.

The trilogy grew from an evolving interest in the lives of her subjects. She watched many of the homeless she worked with go in and out jail. This inspired her write Maggot’s in My Sweet Potatoes, a book that details the life of the female population of prisoners in a San Diego Prison. During this experience she learned about the children these women left behind. Many of them had become victims of the system, either through incarceration or placement in foster care.

Born, Not Raise, not only focuses on the reasons these children have become a part of the system, but on the need to rehabilitate them before sending them back into the world. The book is filled with expert opinions on why children have ended up in the system, but Lankford herself attributes a lack of parenting, broken homes and early childhood trauma as the reasons. “Juvenile facilities are not good parents, but they do eliminate a lot of chaos and they do create structure and boundaries and they do give three meals and they do give you a cot. So some kids would prefer that to being at home or being in foster care as harsh as that is to believe,” says Lankford.

Lankford sites remediation as perhaps the most important part of incarceration. The lack of literacy programs, skill training and other therapeutic services in detention centers makes reoffending almost inevitable. This lack of rehabilitation services is amongst the tough issues Susan Lankford’s Humane Exposure project tackles.

Through social media, documentaries, books and the future development of a volunteer bureau Humane Exposure is determined to shed light on the issues American’s don’t seem to want to be bothered with. They are concerned with topics varying from America being the most obese nation in the world, to the need to improve our struggling education system, to the U.S having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Through strong black and white images taken inside the detention center walls, poetic excerpts, essays, surveys and drawings from the children incarcerated in the juvenile detention center Lankford uses very interesting techniques to present this study. This story may not be one you want to see, but it is impossible to ignore.

To order Born, Not Raised and learn more about Humane Exposures, visit:

Born, Not Raised: Voices from Juvenile Hall
By Susan Madden Lankford
Humane Exposures Publishing, LLC
Paperback, $18.95
216 pages
ISBN: 9780979236631