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From The Vault Of Art Shay: Behind Bars

By Art Shay in News on Aug 8, 2013 7:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. This week, Art goes behind bars with some stunning photography.)

The specter of going to prison hangs over all of us. Our comedians joke about going to jail for tax evasion. Our politician comedians, governors and all, take their fulfilled fears with them and presumably use them on their captive audiences. Every week a murderer or a sinner whose crimes pissed off the populace or the slavering prosecutors of what passes for journalistic indignation—ah, there Rush Limbaugh, trying to stay off his addictive pills—passes through the steel portals of a personal and public hell to wash him or herself of sin. Somebody jokes that the only non-quarterback Manning may get 136 years for distributing free national secrets.

My favorite prisoner was my old friend Jimmy Hoffa. Not friend, acquaintance. He was a great, likable, camera subject always, and he once beat me at one-wall handball in his then-prison. The picture that Life and now Chicagoist displays is one that shows him in the holding cage at Lewisburg, Penn. prison with his topcoat futilely covering his handcuffs. He'd be released through this same gate after serving 58 months of a 13-year sentence for attempted bribery, jury tampering and fraud. A President who barely stayed out of jail himself, Richard Nixon, apparently traded Jimmy a few years of freedom and resignation as president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for his apparent influence in the Brotherhood's voting habits.

It worked, apparently, until the summer of 1975, when Jimmy disappeared (best guess) into the maw of a mob meat grinding machine in Michigan. Every now and then there's an Elvis-type sighting, under a football field, in a woodland grove, and what editor can resist sending a tongue-in-cheek reporter out. The same crew that collaterally missed the three women chained as sex slaves in some real Carlos Danger's house in Cleveland.

Published with permission.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago's Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.