June 17th: Prisons

We host a discussion club every few weeks where we choose a thought-provoking subject to come together to share and discuss articles and other forms of writing about.  This week's topic: Prisons


Hello Theo / The Flower’s or the Tree’s - Unknown Authors, Found Magazine - Found by Nicole / Shorty Smooth Dawson

Submitted by Jessica Perelman

http://foundmagazine.com/find/hello-theo/ / Flower’s or the Tree’s

Super short summary: There is so much to delve into around prisons and the prison industrial complex, but I happened upon some beautiful notes I felt compelled to share. One to a prisoner. One from a prisoner. Both exploring more the emotional realities of imprisonment, centered around loss of freedom and connection to the outside world.


A Peek at the Golden Age of Prison Radio - Maurice Chammah for the Marshall Project

Submitted by Mukta Mohan


Super short summary: In the 1930s, there was a very popular radio show called “Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls” that featured prisoners singing, dancing, and acting. It was so popular that at one point it had 5 million listeners! It was a platform used to promote prisoner rehabilitation and inmates also gave interviews about life behind bars. I’m interested in the idea of using music and art for rehabilitation but also is it ethical to broadcast to the public? How does spectatorship change this? How does this tie into the popularity of crime shows now like Serial?


Fog Count - Leslie Jamison “The Empathy Exams” / Oxford American

Submitted by Maggie Boles



Super short summary: A really beautifully written look at confinement. Charlie Engle was an ultra-marathon runner who was imprisoned after an IRS agent saw a documentary about him and wondered how he financed his lifestyle. He is out now and running again!


Inside a Bolivian Jail - BBC

Submitted by: Olive Kimoto


Super short summary: Within these Bolivian jails, inmates are given “freedom” and are left to their own devices with no guards, and no official laws. They must pay for their stay within the jail: meaning they must create their own miniature self-sustaining, self-contained society, complete with their own political system, laws, and capitalism-- it is probably the closest example of anarcho-capitalism we have.


Final Truth: The Autobiography of a Serial Killer - Donald Gaskins / Wilton Earle

Submitted by: Olive Kimoto

Super short summary: With new advancements in our understanding of neurobiology and psychology, we increasingly learn that the idea of “free will” is becoming more and more distant. This presents a moral dilemma. What does justice mean when the cause of someone’s sadistic and criminal behavior is biological?


The New Abolitionists & Prison Enslavement Complex - Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Michelle Alexander, and Angela Davis

Submitted by Matthew Donovan

Super short summary: As Michelle Alexander proclaims “More Black Men Are In Prison Today Than Were Enslaved In 1850,” Ruth Gilmore responds with explaining “Since 1980, the number of people in U.S. prisons has increased more than 450%”.

Why? The War on Drugs for instance was exclusively waged in poor communities of color, leading to the disintegration of the black family structure, increase in this populations high school dropout rates, addiction, mental illness, and being in the pipeline to the prison industrial complex. Others in the new abolitionist movement comment like the founders of Critical Resistance believe that the abolition of slavery is like the abolition of the prison system. Critical Resistance as founded by Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Angela Davis both feel they are part of a history of black radical visionaries who want to disrupt the systemic inequality that is grounded in certain social practices such as the prison industrial complex and The War On Drugs. The PIC existence remains as a symbolic institution giving legitimacy to how our society is structured to oppress specifically homeless, gender non-conforming, low-income, migrants and disportionately people of color. The belief of the new abolitionists is that we should move past our structures by dissolving these structures, their associated social practices of racism, and their implicit impact on society by rehabilitating criminal behavior through liberatory and democratic justice. Here is an interactive chart that may help understand how the Prison Industrial Prison sustains or works as a phenomenon if you want want to learn more. Otherwise, here are the facts on race and prison.


Restorative Justice: The World I Want - Jo Bauen for Stanford Social Innovation Review

Submitted by Jack Sample


Super short summary: Bauen challenges our society’s insistence on a justice system predicated on punishing criminal “others” and proposes a shift towards “Restorative Justice”. Her practical reconsideration of how inmates may be supported to relate with one another, their families, and themselves with compassionate awareness addresses the American prison system’s explicit goal of rehabilitation while eschewing its implicit intention of dehumanization. The Prison Mindfulness Institute (http://www.prisonmindfulness.org) has many programs that address how prisons can function more like monasteries, and how we outside the system may foster greater “solidarity across differences” through a renewed perspective on justice and punishment.


Life After Life Without Parole - The Marshall Project

Submitted by Paige Emery


Super short summary: After being released from over 30 years in prison, Ronal Elston finds that being outside bars doesn’t feel any more freeing.  



Bonus links:

The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison - Jessica Benko for NYT Mag

Because I love reading about how Norway is doing everything right:


The Nation’s Shame: The Injustice of Mandatory Minimums - Andrea Jones for Rolling Stone

Just another enraging article about victims of this stupid rule and how even reforms are never retroactive.


This American Life did a segment on how interrogation can be akin to brainwashing sometimes, causing people to believe they committed crimes they did not comit: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/507/confessions

Implicit Bail Bias study