Brothers Vinny and David stand together as the sky darkens before a summer storm.
Brothers Vinny and David stand together as the sky darkens before a summer storm.Isadora Kosofsky
Brothers Vinny and David stand together as the sky darkens before a summer storm.
Vinny, 13, stands in command call before entering his cell at the juvenile detention center.
Ready to appear in court, Vinny is shackled to another youth.
Vinny lies on his cell bunk.
Vinny eats his first meal in the detention center cafeteria.
Vinny's mother Eve comforts him during visitation at the detention center.
A family portrait of David, then 13, Vinny, then 8, and Michael, then 3.
Eve cries after learning that the court will not allow Vinny to live with her and has ordered him to live with his paternal aunt.
Eve places her head on David's back, while he draws a picture of a clown in his notebook.
David and his father, Dave, leave a motel.
David and his girlfriend Felicia have been together for four years.
David feeds ice cream to Felicia.
David joined a gang in his early teens after his grandmother passed away.
With a warrant out for his arrest, David cries in fear that police will find him and take him away from his family.
David, 19, sits in the recreation yard of the jail at night.
Felicia and their 10-month-old daughter Lily see David through video visitation.
David stands at night next to a fence after being released.
David pushes his daughter in a stroller.
David and Felicia smile as they teach Lily to walk.
David and his youngest brother, Michael, 8. Michael pines for David's attention. "I want to be just like my brother," Michael said.
Michael playfully punches his sister Elycia's cheek.
Elycia grips her mom's leg and won't let go. After Vinny was held at juvenile detention and subsequently sent to live with his aunt in a town three hours away, Elycia often cries for her brother.
Eve speaks intensely to Elycia. Michael says his mom "doesn't mean it," when she is angry.
Michael seals his mouth with tape. "I'm lonely. No kids to play with," he says.
Eve holds Michael in the pool at a motel.
Vinny punches trash bins behind his aunt's home. He finds it hard to escape the "empty feeling" he gets when he thinks or dreams about juvenile detention.
Vinny, Michael and Elycia play together on a trampoline. This is Vinny's first visit with his siblings since beginning his new life with his aunt.
Vinny and his sister, Elycia.
Vinny, now 15, and David, now 21, lay down at night after spending the day together. "Vinny broke into my heart"" says David when asked about their bond.
Vinny looks at David and Lily before saying goodbye.
Brothers Vinny and David stand together as the sky darkens before a summer storm.
Isadora Kosofsky
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The Intersection of Love and Loss: Confronting Youth Incarceration

May 21, 2014

Isadora Kosofsky has been photographing since she was 14 years old. In her early projects, she documented the loss and loneliness of senior citizens in assisted living facilities. Now 20, she has recently completed a series that peers into the world of youth incarceration. In photographing one family for over two years, she explores the impact the vast and complicated juvenile justice system has on individuals and their families. Here, she tells TIME how she broke through the physical and emotional barriers that surrounded her subjects.

My interest in youth incarceration began when I was about 14. I had friends who had connections with and experiences in the juvenile justice system. I felt at the time that those were the people that I related to and identified with the most. I wanted to embark on a project about incarcerated young people, but unfortunately I was too young to photograph in those environments. I did write to many facilities over a few years and always received rejection letters. When I turned 18 a few facilities responded and said they were interested because they thought it was an innovative idea -- they were interested in my desire to go beyond stereotypes.

I was photographing at a juvenile detention facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico when I met Vinny, and felt an immediate connection. There was something so compelling about him -- so mature and wise. I saw a part of myself in him, as I do in a lot of the people I attach myself to. I started talking to him and he started crying and told me about what had happened and about his life. Vinny later told me that he was being detained because he stabbed the man who was assaulting his mother, “When my mom was being beat up, I was so scared. I wanted to defend my mom. I’m tired of seeing my mom get hurt,” he said. I think he opened up to me because he had never been asked his story, or asked how he was doing or feeling.

Eventually I met his mom and his brother, David. What I had learned about the brother's close relationship intrigued me. Vinny considered David as a father figure and David saw Vinny as the only person who appreciated him. While Vinny sat in the juvenile detention center, his older brother David, then age 19, was released from a nearby adult facility. David, who was introduced to drug dealing at the age 10, has been in and out of juvenile and adult correctional systems..

David was definitely the hardest person in the family to get close to. He shut the door in my face when I went to their house for the first time. David, their mom, Eve, their two younger siblings and David's girlfriend, Felicia, were all living at the house. Vinny was still in detention and I was trying to form a relationship with Eve. I knocked on the door looking for her, and he opened it and said, "I don't know how she handles it, but you can't come in," and shut the door. For months he thought I was a social worker or somebody in a position of authority, wanting to investigate and enter the house for reasons that would cause instability. Everybody involved was suspicious of me, except for the two youngest children.

I had to show that I was trustworthy, sincere, "real," as David called it. S0 I've made myself available by phone for the past few years during the times when David had been in jail, and I wrote to him and he wrote to me. I think being emotionally present for him contributed to our bond. When you're in jail, there's a deep fear of abandonment and disconnect, so I made the effort. I wanted to go through that struggle with him, both personally and professionally, and that struggle has brought me closer to everyone involved, because it's not until you experience that struggle that you really start to understand the complexity of that family dynamic.

Isadora Kosofsky is a documentary photographer based in Los Angeles. She hopes to continue documenting this family and publish the photographs so viewers can follow the ongoing story.

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