This article was first published by Nieman Reports on May 6, 2021.
The first thing I noticed was the dirty plexiglass as I entered the visiting room of the New Jersey State Prison in 2005. My best friend had just been sentenced to 150 years behind bars and I was still in a state of shock and grief at the verdict. As I waited nervously for him to arrive, I realized that the glass wouldn’t be the only thing separating us.
He was now one of millions of people incarcerated in the United States and, for the first time in our friendship, I knew nothing about what life was like for him. As a young reporter back then, I covered court cases regularly. But I never gave much thought to what happened once the people in my stories left the courthouse and entered the prison system. I never thought about the fact that life went on behind prison walls, that there was a whole community filled with stories that were untapped and hidden.
“Everyone in here has a story to tell,” he told me during that visit.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.