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Yellow flower glowing under the sun
Photo by Jillian Wesner

Despite limited access to the outdoors, Prison Journalism Project writers have often shared their perspectives on the natural world. 

In honor of Earth Day, PJP has curated a collection of stories and poems from our archive that engage with the natural environment outside the confined space of a prison cell.

The stories document the push for “green prisons,” incarcerated people fighting wildfires, and what it’s like to prepare for a hurricane in prison. The poems suggest just how vital the environment is to people who are mostly confined indoors. In a cell, the slightest breeze can become an invitation to remember, imagine, liberate and sing.

Concrete building with green plant terraces

How Prisons and Jails Can Go Greenby Ryan Moser: A formerly incarcerated writer outlines his case for retrofitting prisons to reduce their negative effects on the environment in a co-published story with Atmos Magazine. 

Why California’s Incarcerated Firefighter Program Should Be Expandedby Ronald LeTourneau: A writer proposes ways to support these first responders with compensation, credit towards time served, criminal record expungement and an expanded personnel base.

People inprison have little agency over how to prepare for hurricanes

When You Sit in the Path of a Hurricane — And Can’t Moveby Gary K. Farlow: “Climate change is making hurricanes more frequent and more destructive. Those of us in prison have little agency over how to prepare.”

A big storm wave hitting the lighthouse

The Awakeningby Hakim Trent: A poet immortalizes the experience of waiting out extreme weather, writing “Men in his prison lay on the floor sick, with no phones and no lights, left in their cells, while the poet creates “a new blueprint of an ark / Designed for prisoners and the oppressed / That glows in the dark.”

Yellow flower glowing under the sun

Bloomby Cassie Rieb: An awe-inspiring Mother Earth guides a woman on her journey beyond the pain of domestic abuse to forgiveness on her journey to self-forgiveness.

Be Less Like Youby Dawan Ingram: A poet ties environmental racism to other strategies of oppression through couplets such as “You say we are greedy because we want to survive / Yet steal from the world in front of our eyes.”

A rusted Old Milwaukee pull tab beer can appears at the edge of a lake.

Fading Goodnessby A.P. Thurston: A poem that reminds us why we should still try to defeat the climate crisis, even if that window of opportunity is closing. He writes, “it’s not time to stop yet … / The sky is still blue, / and the grass has its days, / plus, the ugly and evil / still continue their ways…” 

A full moon illuminates a body of water below it.

Thresholdby Albert Manuel Franco Jr.: A poet shows the importance of the natural world for incarcerated poets as a source of strength, wisdom and inspiration. The poem evokes the moon, sea air and tides, “where physical confinement and free spirit meet.”

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.

PJP uses this byline for our Collections features and other roundups of PJP stories, as well as As Told To stories written by PJP staff. It is intended to signal the institution’s collective editorial voice.