Graterford, Pennsylvania, December 2001
To photograph Friday prayers at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, I needed the consent of the imam and the Muslim prison elders, who were serving life sentences. They were polite, respectful, and insisted on carrying my cameras. I was their guest, and they took it as a point of pride to safeguard me from the non-Muslim prisoners. I wore strict hijab both to show my hosts respect and also to send a stern message to the rest of the prison population that I was with—and protected by—the Muslims.
At this maximum-security prison, there were about 800 Sunni Muslims in a total population of 3,200. Most of them were African American. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of the U.S. prison system’s Muslims today are mainstream Sunnis, not Nation of Islam members.