After working as a photojournalist for local newspaper The Philadelphia Inquirer for over two decades, Hinda Schuman was laid off from her job in 2007 along with “a whole crew” of fellow staffers. Finding herself at a loose end all of a sudden, she decided that she needed an outlet.
“I was looking around for something to fill my time besides freelance work,” Schuman says. “I wasn’t very marketable. I was approaching 60 years old and there’s not a big market for 60-year-old women in photojournalism...”
Her search would lead her to the city's Germantown neighbourhood, where the New Directions for Women (NDFW) programme was located. Founded in 1987 in response to Philadelphia's overcrowded prison system, the outpatient programme offered an alternative to incarceration for women, providing educational programmes and drug/alcohol treatment among other services. Schuman spent many afternoons there as a volunteer teacher, helping women pass the equivalent of their high school exams with lessons often verging into the extra-curricular.
“We ended up calling it ‘Miss Hinda’s Anything Class’ because it was whatever came into my head,” Schuman recalls. “We did word puzzles, I read books to them, [and] I always brought a bag of fruit because I thought that their menu wasn’t that great.”
Schuman would become close to a number of her students, but kept in close contact with two in particular – Linda Todd, who entered NDFW in 2009, and Concetta Harris, who arrived a year later. “I had a particular rapport with them and so we stayed in touch,” Schuman says. “They were both in and out of prison between their release from New Directions to until about 2018. They were both seemingly somewhat stable in their lives, so I was going to visit them to see how they were doing and started bringing my camera and photographing them.”
Travelling regularly across town to visit, Schuman found herself unwittingly making a project. Taken over the course of four years, those pictures are now published in her new photobook Done Doing Time, which capture the two women in their homes, neighbourhoods and communities as they navigate daily life post-incarceration.
Often surrounded by their networks of friends and family, the pictures are warming and bursting full of character and resilience. It was their magnetic personalities that attracted Schuman to them in the first place, which shine through in their interactions and demeanours. “I met Linda first,” says Schuman. “At the time she was in her very early 20s and she had been in prison for [either] selling drugs or for a robbery, but she was one of the most industrious individuals you’d ever meet. Under different circumstances, Linda should be Chairman of the Board of some Fortune 500 company.
“Concetta’s now 51, so she’s [from] a different generation,” Schuman continues. “She was on and off drugs most of her life, I think to quell the demons inside her head. Under different circumstances, she would be the Mayor of Philadelphia – she’s just a presence on the street. Everybody knows her, everybody does what she tells them to do."
The photos also present an honest assessment of the tough circumstances faced by those who find themselves in and out of prison. Staying out can be hard, especially in an uncompromising place like Philadelphia. With a drastic increase in the prevalence of fentanyl over the past decade, the city has become the epicentre of the USA’s opioid crisis, with a record high of 1,276 overdose deaths in 2021 disproportionately affecting Philly’s Black community.
“What little I know of the crisis is it’s beyond tragic. Philadelphia is the poorest large city in the United States. One-in-five residents lives below the poverty line. People are desperate for a way out, and that way out is either to take the drugs or sell the drugs,” Schuman explains. “Linda worked and lived literally at the heart of the crisis, in the neighbourhood of Kensington.
“I would say [staying out of prison] is close to impossible – very few who come out stay out," Schuman adds. "Many have undiagnosed mental health issues that make it difficult for them to function without drugs, and it’s really tough getting a job if you have a felony conviction.”
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