LOS ANGELES — Deborah McDuff Williams is hosting a new exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Social Justice. As a passionate poet and artist, she hopes her exhibit, entitled “Impact on Innocence: Mass Incarceration,” will help people understand the pain of those behind bars, particularly through the eyes of children whose parents are locked up.

“There’s so many people incarcerated for a number of reasons, some warranted, some unwarranted. But children do not choose their parents, so why should they endure a life sentence too?” Williams explained.


According to a 2018 Prison Policy Initiative report, there are 239,000 California residents behind bars.

Williams' art, created through charcoal on canvas, displays the dynamic between parents in jail and children who await them. One particular image displays labor work being done by a parent in prison.

“Mass incarceration is cheap labor, so a lot of the products we use, the inmates are making them. And in doing so, how can they provide for their families if they’re not being paid?” Williams said. 

Among the many things those in prison produce, are license plates, which Williams recreated as a part of her exhibit.

There are currently 2.7 million American children separated from a parent in prison.

The center of her exhibit lies in the raw facial expressions she illustrates, capturing the inter-generational family pain tied to the effects of incarceration and family separation.

“I want them to look into the eyes of these images which represent communities, not individuals," Williams said. "And see, because the eyes are supposed to be the mirror of the soul. So if you look into their soul, you will know what devastation is all about."

She hopes her exhibit will awaken visitors to support children whose parents are incarcerated. To donate to her cause, you can dedicate funds to the Los Angeles Museum of Social Justice, and specify the “Impact on Innocence” project.