In 1978, journalist John McCoy and photographer Ethan Hoffman quit their paying jobs at the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin to do an in-depth report on the biggest story in town: the Washington State Penitentiary. They spent four months talking with inmates, correctional officers, administrators, other prison staff, and visitors. They watched, listened, and Hoffman shot photos. Their resulting book, Concrete Mama, Prison Profiles from Walla Walla, is a snapshot in time of the Washington State Penitentiary at perhaps the lowest point in its more than 130 year history.

Concrete Mama, a book by John McCoy and Ethan HoffmanExcerpts and images from the book appeared in Life magazine in September 1979, and in several European publications a few weeks later. The book is sometimes available on Ebay, but expect to pay a pretty price for it.


Concrete Mama – the Book

In August 1978, photographer Ethan Hoffman and his journalist friend, John McCoy, quit their paying jobs at the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin to do an in-depth study of the biggest story in town, the Washington State Penitentiary. The result of their work was the iconic book, Concrete Mama, Prison Profiles from Walla Walla. In this video, Ethan Hoffman talks about making Concrete Mama against a backdrop of images from the book.