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Coming Face to Face With Richard Ramirez (The Night Stalker)

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I moved to LA on New Year’s Eve, 1984. In mid-1985, I rented a house in Echo Park with some good friends. This was a time before cell phones and while my buddies moved our stuff into the house, I was tasked with going down to the corner with a fist full of quarters and a piece of paper with phone numbers scrawled on it looking for a payphone to use to get the utilities turned on.

We had rented an old Spanish bungalow on Parmer Ave, just off Echo Park Ave. At the corner, there was the bodega, El Batey, and the Suku Suku Club. El Batey didn’t have a working pay phone so I was forced to go into the Suku Suku Club. It was your typical sunny Southern California day.

The bar seemed completely dark when I walked in. A man tending bar looked at me silently. I asked if there was a pay phone. He nodded in the direction of the back of the bar. There were two men sitting at the bar. They sat apart and didn’t seem to acknowledge each other as they slowly drank. I could see the chrome payphone in the back by the bathrooms.

When I got about halfway down the bar, a tall Hispanic man turned, looked me in the eye and stood up to block my way. He had a strange smile on his face and acted as if he had been waiting for me—like he somehow knew I was coming. I met his gaze when he wouldn’t let me pass. He was significantly taller than me, but I tried to act as if I wasn’t intimidated by him.

Locked in direct eye contact, neither of us blinked. While trying to stand up to this man, the very fabric of reality seemed to shift—somewhat like cheesy horror movie. I began to feel like his giant hands were holding me up by my throat and that I was just dangling in the air. As he looked deeper and deeper into my eyes, I felt what seemed like the life of me being drawn out of me by him. At the same time, all my limbs became icy cold feeling. The whole time, knowing that I couldn’t move, I saw him laughing to himself.

I tried telling myself that we were in a public place and that nothing really bad could happen, but the two other people in this bar both seemed to have vanished and I believe it was just him and me at this point.

 Beyond my limbs losing their feelings of life, my peripheral vision began failing and everything started turning black, like a vignette transition to black in an old movie. I knew I was in the grip of something that was pure evil. I had never experienced anything like this before or after in my life.

While I had pretty much given in to whatever was going to happen, luckily, someone opened up the door to the bar and the bright light streaming in distracted the man’s fixed gaze on me for a moment and I felt like I was falling to the floor. Somehow, I turned and walked out of the bar without looking back. I somehow knew that this was my only chance to leave. When I got to the door, I didn’t see anyone. When I stepped onto the sidewalk, I began to feel safer and safer with each step that I took.

Our house was only a few doors down from the Suku Suku Club. When I walked into the house, my buddies asked when the power was going to be turned on. I could barely speak. I tried to tell my friends what had happened and told them I was leaving. I had to get away from there. Understandably, they were really pissed that I was bailing on the moving work.

 I was out of my mind. I knew I needed to get far away to break whatever connection and control this entity gained over me. I figured if I drove for a hundred miles that I’d probably be ok. I think I drove out toward Palm Springs and stopped somewhere in the middle of nowhere and waited until the sun set. It felt like I had shaken the event and I had the sense that I would be safe so long as I never saw this guy again.

 Weeks after moving into the house, my friends were upstairs watching TV one night. One yelled down to me, “Hey Mark! They caught that guy you were talking about!”

I ran upstairs to see the newscaster broadcasting a report from outside the Suku Suku Club and explaining how that was the Night Stalker’s favorite hangout and then they cut to a clip of Ramirez being arrested. I was transfixed at the images. In a way, I would have wished that the incident had all been in my mind, but it wasn’t.

 When I had met John Wayne Gacy in Chicago and he had threatened my life, it was also terrifying, but somehow, with Gacy, I knew that he was just a psycho-sadistic man, while Ramirez was something else.

 Following his arrest, a lot of information on Ramirez became big news, especially his belief that he was an instrument of the devil and that the devil had been giving him special powers. From my run-in with him, I cannot explain what happened in any way other than that he was channeling some power that came from the darkest source that allowed him to take control of me like he did. It seemed that had everything gone black and that all of me had become cold that I would have died and that in that moment, I was powerless to do anything.

 But anyway, I try to avoid beliefs in superstitions, the supernatural or the devil . . . but sometimes, there just aren’t explanations.

A Philosophy on Typesetting and Using LaTeX


While starting to work on my Salton Sea photo book, I had a decision to make. What tools should I use to create the book with? In the past, I’ve defaulted to either Microsoft Word or Libre Office. Like many people, this seems like the natural choice because, while most word processors are not ideal for book typesetting and layout, they do have all the rudimentary functions needed to produce a decent final product. Also, the myth is that if you are already familiar with a word processor, it shouldn’t be that much harder to figure out how to click all the right buttons to layout a simple book.

Well, from experience, let me tell you, “It isn’t that simple!” In their quest to make a do-everything package, word processor makers end up producing a product that is sub-optimal for almost everything it does! So many important things to the desktop publisher are buried three dialog boxes deep and have poorly documented side effects. This is where the whole what-you-see-is-what-you-get promise falls flat! So when I started to think about this book project, the idea of having to choose between my two word processors I let out a huge groan of anticipated dread!

When I was a young art student going to the Chicago Art Institute, I would often spend my afternoons at the downtown Main Chicago Library just going through all the stacks and I was always fascinated by the subtleties of good book design, typography and typesetting. So much so, that I took a few basic classes while pursuing my fine art. This was a time when computers were just starting to reach the masses so most of what I learned was old-school font development on vellum or Letraset dry-transfer lettering on illustration board.

While looking through all the example books to learn about typesetting, part of me imaged if I was ever going to make a living from my arts education, perhaps it would be as a typesetter in a major publishing house. I had a Dickenson fantasy of sitting in the dark at a drafting table and working into the night to get my layouts just right. Of course, being a young artist hoping to be catapulted into art-star fame, I never really pursued what it would entail to get into this profession (or any other for that matter!)

But that never stopped me from being interested in the craft or appreciating a well laid out book. For the most part, I think that a truly beautiful book layout seems transparent to the reader — where everything seems like it’s just in the right place and that it was really simple to put it that way. I belief that the content should be designed for impact and not the layout.

While both the Bauhaus and the Russian Constructivists showed in their early efforts to develop a new aesthetic and train artists to serve in art’s new societal function, it is more in their graphics where they really shined. Both movements produced book cover and poster designs that are still a marvel to look at today. But when it came to layout and typography for actual books, their new methods for laying out the content, while applying the same aesthetics to their work, ended up producing books where the layout actually gets in the way of delivering the content — being kind of at odds with the “form follows function” directive.

In his 1923 book, Towards an Architecture, Le Corbusier discusses the abandonment of style in favor of an architecture based on function and a new aesthetic based on pure form that facilitated a natural interaction between humans and buildings. His principles can be directly applied to the typesetting of books. Le Corbusier describes it as, “build[ing] simple, effective structures that serve their purpose and are honest in construction.” “Regulating Lines,” and constructing forms around naturally pleasing and simple ratios with little or no embellishment can lead to a beauty of a structure that transcends style or fads — and really, a book can be seen as a structure or construction.

While appreciating the simplicity of creating a professional looking document in any one of the current word processors, it always felt like a fight to me. Part of it was my approach, but this seems to be somewhat common. When working in a GUI world of the word processor, I have always tended to get all my content into the application and then try to navigate the multi-level dialog boxes to hammer the content into the form I wanted.

When I was recently complaining about this to a friend (who is currently working on his PhD and uses LaTeX all the time), he started raving about how I should go to LaTeX too. I had never really heard of the package or how it works, but as I said, I was dreading the inevitable journey to the center of the word processor hell and was open to any alternative.

As it ends up, LaTeX is more an open-source typesetting programming language than an actual software package and is rather daunting to get started with. But last week, I made the commitment to both learn it and produce my Salton Sea photo book using it. After a couple frustrating days while getting started, I’ve now completely constructed the entire structure of the book! It feels like a real achievement — the type of feeling that I never got after doing my best with a word processor.

Conceptually, I’m finding that using LaTeX drove a fundamental change in how I saw the typesetting process because it shifted the process away from formatting content to building a book structure that content could be ported into. To me, this is a huge difference, even if somewhat abstract in nature. Part of this was due the ability to use previsualized parameterization and control of all placement variables and formatting commands and the ability to outline them all out in a single text file. The second being the manner I chose to debug my template — using self-generated Lipsum (dummy text) and gray rectangular placeholders for images. This let me focus exclusively on the actual typesetting and layout completely independent of the content.

In a sense, going this route let me revisit the joy that I had looking at the typesetting and layout in those old Chicago Main Library books. The whole process has become addictive, fine-tuning my book’s layout and parametrically shifting elements by fractions of a centimeter until they’re perfectly balanced to my eye. My inner OCD spirit is completely enthralled by the project!





The Blurry Line Between Then and Now – My Work in Solar Culture Gallery

After helping my mom sell her house in Michigan, I drove her old station wagon from Detroit to Tucson. Since Detroit was my hometown and this time was probably the last time I would ever be there, it was wrought with emotions and the 2000 mile road trip by myself was time for reflection. Due to timing, I was unable to get anyone to make the trip with me so it was almost downright sad. Just me and my little Recording King parlor guitar. I had broken my phone somewhere a long the way and I ended up liking the blurry photos that came from the camera and its broken lens so most the photos I took along the way were shot with the phone.

blurry line-2

These are from the set of photos I’m using for the cover of my next music CD (Forever and Nowhere) which I wrote and recorded entirely on this trip — sitting at the edge of some bed in a nondescript motel in the middle of nowhere. After completing the final mixing mastering of the 10 song album, I’ve decided that even in its spareness and rawness that it is perhaps my favorite. It’s just me, a small guitar, trucks roaring by and single takes of songs written in my head while driving. I think the whole thing became very beautiful and hypnotic, the words, the music and the photos.

I am showing these three new photographs in the gallery:

Come see the show if you are in town!

Opening Saturday 18 February 2018

6-9 PM

Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701

All images and content copyrighted 2018 by Mark Hahn with all rights reserved.

Cheap Rent – My New Album Available Now!

Source: Cheap Rent – My New Album Available Now!

Solar Culture Gallery – My Photos From Vaughn, NM

Vaughn_NM_SC_smOpening Saturday 21 October 2017

6-9 PM

While I concentrated more on writing, contemplating life and raw music recording on my recent Detroit to Tucson cross country road trek, once I made it into more familiar territory, I did venture out with my camera and shot some photos. These are from Vaughn, NM — an interesting crumbling town that I would like to go back to and explore further.

I am showing these three new photographs in the gallery:

Come see the show if you are in town!

Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701

All images and content copyrighted 2017 by Mark Hahn with all rights reserved.

New Book Announcement! From the Inside – The Forest Haven Asylum (Available Now!)


From the Inside – The Forest Haven Asylum, is available for order right now for $27 from (Here!). It will be available from all major book sellers shortly. The photo essay book takes the reader on an immersive journey through the facility with 120 carefully composed and selected photos that had been taken over a three day span.

The Forest Haven Asylum, established in 1925, is located in Laurel, Maryland. It was abandoned in 1991 due to court orders resulting from class action lawsuits brought against the facility for rampant cases of abuse and neglect. Numerous suspicious deaths had occurred at the facility with the bodies often unceremoniously buried on the premises in numbered graves. The facility was first ordered to close in 1978 by Judge Pratt in District Court, but the logistics of closing such a massive institution filled with so many difficult-to-place mentally challenged patients were staggering. It took thirteen years before the last patients and staff left the premises. When they were gone, many personal artifacts were left behind, resting where they were dropped. These belongings can still be found scattered throughout the institution—along with work logs and patient records.

Institutions like Forest Haven were originally an attempt to provide care for those believed to be too mentally ill and unstable to live on their own or function in society. The intent of asylum care was purely humanitarian, but the social commitment to fund the experiment soon dried up and became economically unfeasible. Financial corners were cut in all aspects of patient care. At one point, Forest Haven had only two social workers for its 1,300 residents. Overcrowding and poor care became the norm. This led to a dangerous environment with both patients and staff being pushed well beyond the human ability to cope. Even today, when entering the abandoned facility, you can feel the oppressive hell that it had been for anyone trapped within these walls.

Getting There

During the early 1970s, US policy shifted dramatically with respect to treating the mentally ill. Mostly under the guise of patient rights, large institutions were closed under the policy of deinstitutionalization. High profile cases of unjustified commitments and/or forced lobotomies as happened to movie actress Frances Farmer often became representative of the whole institutionalized population and took a front seat to the diverse reality of the majority of people being treated in US mental institutions. For many, there was nowhere else to go and no other resources to help them.

The stated plan for deinstitutionalization was to offload patients from centralized institutions like Forest Haven into community based halfway houses. While deinstitutionalization varied greatly from state to state, the shift was initially set in motion with the passage of the Mental Retardation and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act of 1963 which had been championed by then president John F. Kennedy. Kennedy had established the President’s Panel of Mental Retardation shortly after being inaugurated. Kennedy’s sister, Rosemary, had been lobotomized at the age of 23 at the request of her father, so this was an important personal issue for him.

Kennedy’s presidential panel was responsible for the recommendations for determining how federal funding could help better transition the nation’s outdated asylum system into a modern community based system. However, having to deal with both the Vietnam War and the 1960 recession, Kennedy was never able to adequately fund the proposed programs, and the new halfway houses suffered the same lack of financial support as the historical asylums had. Without having a viable replacement, asylums were being closed across the country. Then with the passage of Medicaid in 1965, states were given further incentives to move patients out of state mental hospitals and into underfunded halfway houses, nursing homes, general hospitals or the streets. This was because Medicaid excluded coverage for people in “institutions for mental diseases,” so there was often no one left to bill for their services.

The biggest push toward implementing deinstituionalization came in 1967 when then governor of California, Ronald Reagan signed the bi-partisan Lanterman-Petris-Short Act into law. This law was intended to be a patient’s rights act, but it provided no safety nets or transition plans for those leaving the asylums. The end result was basically releasing thousands of mentally ill patients with no plans for assimilation or rehabilitation. They often simply ended up on the street and had to fend for themselves. At very least, this law was a socially irresponsible, even if well meaning, act.

Aside from the changing political directives coming from both the federal government and some state governments, public opinion on mental illness was also shifting dramatically in the 1970s. The influential 1972 television broadcast from inside a New York institution, Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace from the Willowbrook State School, outraged viewers when they saw for the first time what was happening inside our asylums. This broadcast was followed by the 1975 award-winning film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which sent another strong message regarding the rights of those involuntarily institutionalized. In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling that restricted the rights of states to incarcerate anyone who was nonviolent. This was followed by a 1978 ruling further restricting states from confining anyone for mental illness against their will.

The halfway house concept sounds great on paper as it appears to provide a viable route for re-entry into society, but it often doesn’t provide adequate care for patients with serious mental health issues. Many halfway houses are no better than the nation’s historical asylums. They are also often plagued by the same dilemmas when it comes to providing quality care while trying to get by on insufficient funding. Also, with halfway houses being less centralized and more dispersed across states and the nation as a whole, government oversight and regulation are often harder to enforce. Mostly run in private homes or small facilities, halfway houses are not generally designed to address the need for the highly secured care required by many of the most extreme cases of the mentally ill.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter attempted to follow Kennedy’s lead and address the mental health under-funding problem and better define federal guidelines for providing treatment paths for mental illness. His policies were implemented in the aggressively humanitarian Mental Health Systems Act. Unfortunately, shortly after its passage, Ronald Reagan took office as president and abolished the act. In 1982 it was replaced with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act which merged money for mental health programs into block grants. In the bigger picture, states were given fewer dollars to spend while the federal government allowed them to spend them however they chose. The pretense for this was the president’s concept of a New Federalism where taxes were cut, especially for the wealthy. Spending was reduced while also reducing the federal government’s influence. This left the important decisions on issues such has how to deal with mental health treatments to the states. The reality was that financial institutions were given greater protections than the most needy human beings.

Another unforeseen outcome of the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s was the transfer of care for the mentally ill from institutions specifically set up to treat them—such as Forest Haven—to placing them into the care of the criminal justice system. It is estimated that at least 20% of all male inmates currently held in US jails are severely mentally ill. These unjustly incarcerated patients are not only getting no treatment for their illness while in jail, but they are being punished for their illness by both staff and fellow inmates. Sometimes this is far worse than the historic mistreatment that had occurred inside traditional mental asylums such as Forest Haven.

When not inside an institution, many of the mentally ill end up being homeless. Drug and alcohol abuse among the mentally ill is epidemic and becomes the main form of self-medication. Some of the patients released to the streets suffer from extreme mental illness, and these patients can be unpredictable, threatening and violent. Walk through any large metropolitan city, and you are likely to cross paths with troubled souls visibly fighting with their internal demons while on the ready to lash out at those they perceive as threatening in the outside world. The mentally ill left to roam the streets often stir mixed emotions in us: empathy, fear, hopelessness. Our hearts may go out to them, but very few of us are in a position to be of any real help. These suffering people need focused and professional care, not a Good Samaritan handing them a dollar for food or booze or a cop cracking them over the head with a billy club.

Through the Eyes of a Child

I was a kid living in Maryland during the mid-1970s. We heard whispers of the horrible things going on in Forest Haven and at other local asylums. It captured our imaginations. It fueled unspecified fears. The definition of madness and the possibility of involuntary confinement can trigger conflicting emotions in most of us. This is why we photograph and ponder the ruined remnants of institutions like Forest Haven. We want to find the answers to difficult questions about sanity, existence and what it means to be a whole healthy person. These emotions that I experienced as a child were rekindled when I went back to the asylum nearly 40 years later. These unanswerable questions about the human soul and sanity are what lead so many of us to become fascinated by places like Forest Haven.

When I was twelve years old, I spent many afternoons at a public pool in nearby Columbia, Maryland. The moms would take us there and let us run wild for several hours while they sunned themselves and gossiped. On one of these days, two vans pulled up filled with special needs kids presumably from one of the local institutions. For all I know, they had come from Forest Haven, but they also could have easily come from one of the new halfway houses. Before the young people were let out of the vans, everyone at the pool was alerted to the fact that these kids, while being supervised, should not be approached. Their handlers all carried electronic cattle prods. Whenever one of the kids started getting out of line, they were threatened with the devices. We could see the terror in the children’s eyes. They obviously had great fear of their handlers.

We were told to stay on one side of the pool while we watched these kids being lined up and forced to jump into the water. In one instance, a boy was so terrified that it took using the cattle prod on his wet back to get him to jump in. The memory of his screams and contorted body as he jumped away from the cattle prod haunts me to this day. Being a smart aleck and mouthy kid myself, I shouted out at the handler that she couldn’t do that to the poor kid. She came over to me and asked if I wanted to know what it felt like as she waved the cattle prod in my face. I wasn’t usually afraid of adults, but she made me back off. I saw something dark inside her eyes that made me aware that under her calm socially controlled demeanor lurked the potential for brutal acts.

When the kids were finished swimming and went into the locker room to change into their street clothes, I made the excuse that I had to go to the bathroom so I could follow them in. My curiosity got the best of me. I found the kid who I watched get prodded into the water. I felt a need to say something nice to him. I don’t really know why, but at some level I think I wanted to find something in him that I could relate to and maybe give him some kind of consoling for his mistreatment.

“You have fun today?” I asked.

He got excited by my attention and started madly trying to form comprehensible words with his distorted mouth. We ended up just laughing. This got a few of the other boys interested, and they all surrounded me. I have always had a strong sense of personal space, and these boys immediately violated it. In their excitement, they started grabbing and pinching me in inappropriate ways.

“Hey! Leave me alone!” I cried out, but they all just circled around me tighter, laughed and grabbed me harder.

They seemed really excited to have an outsider in their midst. I couldn’t get away from them. Claustrophobia kicked in, and I started to panic and scream out. Finally, one of the male handlers came in shouting at everyone. The boys froze when he lifted up his cattle prod. A wave of palpable fear swept through the entire locker room.

“What are you doing in here?” the handler demanded from me.

“Just had to go to the bathroom,” I said, shaken.

“Well, get out of here! You have no business being with these boys,” he yelled.

I left and was just relieved to get out.

I was visibly upset when I returned to my friends in the pool.

“What happened with the retards, Mark?” My friends asked.

I made up something funny and tried to play it off as a joke.

On the drive back home, I told the moms how the boy had been mistreated and how I thought they should call someone to report it. The moms passed it off saying, “You don’t know how it is. At least they got to get out for the day.”

Wandering the Halls

It’s impossible not to feel trapped while walking through the abandoned halls inside Forest Haven. The original play equipment in the cement walled courtyard that had been provided for the young patients made me recognize how important a trip outside this place could have been for the patients. Seeing these horrific confines reminded me of the kids from my past and prompted me to consider that the boys I had seen at the pool were probably the best behaved and most stable of all the patients here.

The tormented cries coming from the most violent and disturbed patients during Forest Haven’s operation had to be horrific to witness. We’re all human beings and share the same primitive emotions. At some level, the cries of the insane are the same cries we all have inside us. They’re attached to the same overwhelming feelings we have to squash down inside ourselves when life feels like it’s just too much to handle. We are drawn to places like Forest Haven because somehow they trigger recognition of our inner fears. Perhaps we find reassurance in the fact that we are able to walk away from them afterward.

As an artist entering this facility, I first and foremost wanted to do more than just document the artifacts of a historic tragedy. Instead, I was looking to create images that are both new and universally moving while respecting the suffering that has occurred inside these walls. Throughout the history of humankind, suffering and injustice have been part of our existence. We often have to ignore the reality of how quickly our imagined security, stability and freedom can be turned upside down. Walking down the halls of the Forest Haven Asylum reminded me just how fragile our social existence is. It made me question just what part of our deep internal selves enables us to live sanely in a seemingly insane world. What is the true line between sanity and insanity? Is it a matter of control or a matter of letting go of control?

The presence of the people who resided in these walls lives on through the personal objects left behind. A single cup collecting dust contains the ghosts of hands holding a hot cup of coffee, as perhaps the last person who drank from it did before the facility was abandoned. Chairs are everywhere. You can sit in these chairs and think about the last person who sat in them. Through sharing the same physical space, you feel like you have a direct connection to the people who spent their lives in these walls.

In the administration offices, you have to wonder how it would have felt had you been a patient being threatened or reprimanded by the staff administrator while you sat on the wrong side of the desk. What thoughts went through your mind while you talked with someone who you knew was able to leave the facility each night? How would you envision the freedom to go home to a quiet house at the end of the day, knowing you would be left to hear the din of tortured screams throughout each and every night? What would be the long-term trauma from witnessing the violence of orderlies trying to maintain order in this place when, at its core, there was no order?

Conversely, how would it feel to be the person on the other side of the desk? How would it feel having to deal with often unstable and abusive people who you knew had no hope of ever getting better? How would it feel being in the presence of people who had to be restrained so they wouldn’t fling their own feces at you or even try to eat it themselves? How could you deal with this daily pain without becoming completely desensitized to the individuals inside the facility? How could you reconcile the line between the people on the inside and the people on the outside? What would be the personal toll on everyone working here? How did they compartmentalize the insanity they dealt with on a daily basis and the sanity they tried to occupy while not at work? How could workers hold onto hope that some of the patients would get well, when there was not one bit of evidence showing anyone at Forest Haven got better? Were the staff able to convince themselves that they were doing something good?

Once committed to Forest Haven, the only way out is to die.

– Betty Evans, mother of Joy Evans, who died in the facility of aspirational pneumonia at age 17 in 1976.

Piles of suitcases with name tags still on them are lined up in closets. It is as if they were being stored for when the patient was going to leave the institution after receiving successful treatment. Sadly, there were essentially no successful treatments. The patients all either died in Forest Haven or remained until they were transferred to a halfway house or were let free to live on the streets (where most ultimately died). The suitcases are all empty. You know that they were full when they arrived. You have to wonder who was tasked with packing these suitcases before a patient was taken to Forest Haven. What difficult emotions got packed in with the belongings? Was it distraught family members who had to finally accept that they could no longer care for their child or spouse—or was it the patients themselves who packed the bags not exactly understanding where they were going?

All that is known is that someone carried these suitcases into the facility. Their hands held onto these handles before they were taken by the Forest Haven staff. Once the suitcases were stored in closets, it became a matter of how many doors stood between the patient, their families, and freedom. For people on the outside, the doors shut out the horrors of what occurred within these walls. For the patients locked inside, the doors shut them inside these walls where they were forced to live the horrors of Forest Haven for the rest of their lives.

Lingering Thoughts

In the end, we are all living on the inside in one way or another. No one is free. Our lives depend on conforming to the world around us. When we are no longer able to conform, we once were sent to places like Forest Haven. Now, if we don’t conform, we’re confined to cells in privately run for-profit prisons or perhaps end up to living under a bridge and shunning social interactions. As brutal as facilities like Forest Haven were, we as a society, have to reassess whether we have made humanitarian progress in shutting them down. I can’t help but wonder why our priorities in the U.S. always seem to be law enforcement and war instead of caring for those most in need of help. While our historic asylum system was flawed and outdated, given the will and adequate support, we could certainly have made it better.

I spent three days inside this facility taking photographs. The experience changed my life. The emotions stirred up in me were deep and conflicted. I suppose this is all part of the process of getting into better touch with my inner self. Given different circumstances or if I had I been born in a different time, I’m sure I could have “lost my mind” and ended up here. What keeps any of us on the outside? Maybe it’s a question that has no answer, but I wish I had the answers for how we could create a more caring world, especially for those suffering from mental illness.


Black Cat Crossed My Path

I’ve been down this alley in Miami, AZ many times before. There’s something about the vitality of the structures here that are simultaneously at the edge of collapse while being completely beautiful and full of life that I find comforting. It is the kind of place where I can imagine finding some alternative dream life in and where I might make one of these buildings into my home?


Then a feral black cat crossed my path. I am superstitious about nearly all random occurrences, but I’ve never thought of black cats as bringing bad luck. More than anything, I somehow always relate to them, thinking that if I had the opportunity to return in a different form, that my choice would be to come back as a cat. The black cat I saw, was a little female and very timid. She looked at me before scurrying off between some metal garbage cans and a brick building.

I thought that if I lived on this alley, that I’d feed this little cat. Maybe she’d get tame enough to let me pet her before she’d dash away into the night. Just a pleasant chance meeting. It’s funny how sometimes it’s just the smallest fleeting moments that make you smile and happy.

While the pressures and responsibilities of my real life weigh on me daily – parenting my three children and shouldering the financial responsibilities that goes with that – sometimes it’s just my ability of imagining some carefree alternative life that gets me through the week. Maybe, if I was just an odd-ball artist living in one of these old buildings, I would find peace. I was never cut out for the pressures and responsibilities I have taken on, but all I can do is the best I can while I keep moving forward.

At this point, I also wonder how I’d manage if the pressure were suddenly removed. Would it feel like freedom or would it leave me lost? You get so used to a constant load that you can’t imagine it being taken off you. Maybe it doesn’t matter. We all put ourselves where we’re at by our actions, either consciously or unconsciously.

I have a lot of friends talking about early-retirement, what they plan to do when they are free from their jobs and how they feel like they’ve already worked too much and need to quit it all. When they ask me what I’m planning, I have to just honestly say I have no idea what I’m going to do or when. I’m just getting by week by week. The only reason I had to get my “day-job” was because I had kids and afterwards, things went pretty wrong in my life — not that I’m complaining, but they did. My kids are everything to me and when I finally depart from this life, I want them remembering that I was always there for them, emotionally and financially. That’s what keeps me working.

Maybe that’s why it’s so important to let myself dream of alternatives. Give myself small mental holidays from the stress and pressure. Dream about living on the edge of society, in a dirty industrial brick space with a steal door on an alley like this one in Miami, AZ. Dream about being the weird/friendly artist/musician crazy-cat-man.

But maybe it’s not the actual escape that’s important, but the mental one. The times to live a daydream. Think about the unreality of some alternative life. Maybe that’s ultimately where art, music and writing comes in. It provides the structure for emotional and mental escape from the day to day. Maybe it’s the spirit’s way to create balance in ourselves. No matter what, I find ways to create. I’ve just sent out the final draft of my third photo/essay book, From the Inside – The Forest Haven Asylum, which should be released shortly. I’m also working on the final production of my sixth full length music CD, Drive All Night, and I have numerous other creative projects in the works. Maybe it’s not about how good your life is, but how good the escape is. Maybe art is better when it’s the escape and not your life. I really don’t know any of this…

But as I watched this little black feral cat disappear between the trash cans, part of my inner spirit went with her. Part of me dreamed of being that little cat. Experiencing that total freedom. Another part of me appreciated that I could just experience seeing her and think about how it would be to be free.

And just because everything always connects… here’s a recent song I recorded about a lost cat:

Forest Haven Asylum – Solar Culture Gallery

forest_haven_small-3Opening Saturday 10 June 2017

6-9 PM

I think I needed some time before I could go back and do something with my photos from the Forest Haven Asylum. We spent three solid and intense days in the abandoned asylum and I took over a thousand photos. My goal was never to create a body of work that would shock or horrify the viewer, even though the facility had a brutal history and aspects of it are and were horrifying, but for me as an artist, I used the experience as a way to explore my own emotions though photography in a place where the archaeology could be used to transcend its past as well as my own past.

I have been immersing myself in this set of photos because I am very near to completely my photo/essay book project. While I’ll announce when the book is published here, I will say that I am happy with the final 120 photos that will be included and with my introductory essay. The experience of being here is one of those that I will never forget for many reasons.

I am showing these three new photographs in the gallery:

Come see the show if you are in town!

Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701

All images and content copyrighted 2017 by Mark Hahn with all rights reserved.

The Possibilities are Endless – Benson, AZ


The sun was going down on Benson when we stumbled on this little row of very old houses just beyond the railroad tracks that cut through town. It was impossible to tell if they were being torn down or being prepared for restoration. There were burned out foundations on the block and a pile of adobe bricks which looked like it had previously been a house. I shot off these photos in around ten minutes while the light held out.

Even though a few of the houses were wide open and we could easily have walked in, there was a cop circling around watching us and it was too dark inside to take photos anyway. I looked in some of the broken windows at the dark rooms inside and kind of liked being on the outside looking in, in a sense, it lent an abstract aspect of infinite possibilities for me. Of the shadowed interiors, I let my mind wander on what they could be.

As a structure, an old house can stir a feeling of new beginning or a place where you can write a fantasy destination onto the end of your life. New rooms and new situations can be found in the corners or shadows in these old houses. Perhaps, there is place where all the struggles and memories we’ve stored up in our minds can find a place to rest with us in one of these houses.

Houses all have their own personality. It comes from the basic architecture of the structure, the lives they’ve lead and the spirits who still linger — call them ghosts or whatever term you chose. My feeling for these houses were all very positive and I could imagine myself living happily in any of the smaller ones pictured. They’re only one block away from the locally owned ice cream parlor! The possibilities of finding a new life here would be endless. Those are good thoughts!


Proof Copy of My New CD!!!

I’m posting this to my artist/photography blog because the photos used for my music CD are all my own. There is a strong tie-in for me. Best!!!

Guitar vs. Meds

I just got the proof copy of my new CD!!! Wow! I think it looks awesome! For me, the final physical object is part of the art. Best all!!!


I’ll keep you all posted when the album is released and available!

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