Taylor creates art in a unique collaboration with DeKalb County courts
Samuel “Trace” Taylor, an undergraduate in the criminal justice and criminology program, launched research presented as an audiovisual art installation at a Decatur coffee house this spring. Titled “The Discovery Project,” the art acquaints visitors with the stages of recovery experienced by individuals struggling to overcome drug and alcohol addictions through their participation in the DeKalb County Superior Drug Court program.
Taylor was inspired to create the installation by stories of drug court successes that, he felt, lacked the human element. He also holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from the University of Alabama in Birmingham. “Since the introduction of drug courts in 1989, a large volume of statistical data has been accumulated showing that they reduce recidivism and cut costs,” Taylor says. “What has been missing is an account of drug court success directly from the point of view of the participants.”
To fill this gap, Taylor set out to make a qualitative documentary project that would illuminate the personal side of addiction recovery and introduce a new dimension to the drug court story. His faculty advisor is Wendy Guastaferro, an assistant professor who has conducted extensive research in the area.
For the documentary, Taylor recorded more than 500 minutes of interviews with drug court participants who volunteered for the project while working towards defeating addiction. He blended the interviews with photographs representing the stages of addiction and recovery, resulting in a complete audiovisual experience.
“The juxtaposition of audio and visual elements makes for a deeply personal experience for each individual in the audience,” says Taylor.
In assembling the project, Taylor says he was motivated in large part by a newly acquired interest in correctional theory. “The correctional system – and drug courts in particular – fascinate me. I want to ask relevant questions, such as what drives correction officials in making the decisions that they do, many of which contribute to the United States’ exploding rates of incarceration.”
Drug courts, on the other hand, represent a paradigm shift against the established model of jailing offenders to isolate them from the population. “The drug court approach is rooted in medical theory that accounts for the heterogeneity of offenders. It is a model for rehabilitation aimed at making lasting changes to offenders’ behavior, which may be impossible in the prison environment,” he notes.
Taylor’s exhibit operates as a mobile platform, and he has posted it online at www.tracetaylor.com. His hope is to have as many people see the installation as possible to meet the project’s ultimate goal: acquainting Americans with the personal side of a highly successful alternative approach to rehabilitating offenders.