Every week, the team at Prison Journalism Project selects a story or two to highlight some of the best writing on our site, whether a personal essay, thoughtful opinion piece or detailed reporting on prison conditions — all of which aims to bring fresh insight and transparency to the world of mass incarceration.
Week of July 4, 2022
For this week’s Story of the Week, we chose “For Our Children on the Outside” by Fred Lowe. In this beautiful illustration, the California artist depicts the heartbreaking impact COVID-19 restrictions have had on the children of those who are incarcerated.
Week of June 27, 2022
In his opinion piece “The Price of Connection,” Ryan M. Moser makes the case for more states to follow Connecticut’s lead by granting free phone calls in prison. A simple 15-minute call to communicate with a loved one can cost $3 or more. Ryan explains this financial burden and how state governments have the powers to alleviate it.
Week of June 20, 2022
In his latest story “On Juneteenth, Seek Out Stories Beneath Your Feet,” M. Yayah Sandi, an incarcerated contributing writer in New Jersey, uses vivid imagery to lift up the history of Africans captured against their will and honor people who yearn to be released from bondage and celebrate with their beloveds.
Week of June 13, 2022
We appreciated Antwain Love’s letter “To My Potential Child: The Advice I Never Got” and the advice he carefully selected to both compel and comfort a son or daughter who might read it. It is a tribute to the realities of parenting from prison and a compassionate example of powerful storytelling.
Week of June 6, 2022
This week we chose “As an Incarcerated Trans Woman, I Choose to Pay It Forward” by PJP contributing writer Patricia Elane Trimble. In this piece, the transgender feminist writer incarcerated in Missouri shares the experience of being the first incarcerated person in Missouri to give a presentation through webcam after being in prison 42 years. Trimble writes about overcoming the uncertainty and inadequacy she felt speaking to a college class without a college degree, and realizing that she did have something of value to contribute.
Week of May 30, 2022
In “Working Out Provides Opportunity for Redemption,” writer Aaron M. Kinzer beautifully describes the physical and mental health benefits of subjecting oneself to an intense, draining workout behind bars. From one’s diet to a negative mental state, Kinzer discusses the susceptibility for incarcerated people to succumb to maintaining unhealthy routines and shows how even brief exercise can aid in the healing process.
In “How Quarantine Killed My Workout Routine,” Kory “Hussein” McClary writes about the challenges of not being able to work out in his prison gym because of the COVID-19 pandemic and how his workouts had helped him stay connected to hope. Kory is PJP J-School student and a contributing writer for PJP in New Jersey.
Flynard Miller’s “The Criminal Justice System Would Benefit From Prison Education Programs” sheds light about the benefits of education programs in prisons and how few such opportunities are available to incarcerated people. Flynard is a student in the Northwestern Prison Education Program in Illinois.
Week of May 16, 2022
In “What It Takes to Go from Incarceration to Harvard,” Shani Shay explores her unlikely journey from abused stripper to Harvard graduate school. Shay demonstrates how someone who struggled with incarceration and trauma could rise to the highest echelons of academic excellence.
In our second Story of the Week, C.R. Addleman recounts seeing his cellmate almost die from an overdose in “Hardened by Prison, Broken by Overdose.” His cellmate’s struggle prompts Addleman to remember his own father’s death by heroin, leading him to reflect on both his past and his future.
Week of May 9, 2022
In “Opioid Crisis is Rampant in Michigan Prisons,” writer Brandon Resch reminds us that the opioid epidemic continues among incarcerated people, even as it does not take up the headlines as it once used to. He outlines how a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program has been effective in Michigan’s facilities but has yet to reach the widespread adoption it needs in order to be of actual benefit.
Many might be familiar with the concept of absent fathers who may be locked up and away from their families, yet “Love, Mom Project: The Mom in Me” by Misamoni Green-Johnson reminds us of how incarceration can keep mothers away from their children as well. Green-Johnson’s perspective sheds light on mothers in prison who desire to be good parents to their children but are often held back from doing so.
This week we chose “Restorative Justice Circles Help Many Address Violence, Trauma” by Christopher Blackwell and “How Ramadan Celebrations in Prison Changed Before and After 9/11” by Sean “Sharif” Neal. In the first piece, Blackwell recounts his experiences with restorative justice inside prison. We chose this piece because of Blackwell’s informative insight about how restorative justice works and the powerful transformations he saw firsthand in his community. Neal’s piece recalls how Ramadan celebrations have transformed over the last 30 years, showing the resilience of his Muslim community.
Week of April 25, 2022
This week we highlight two pieces that are unusually good at demonstrating kindness and generosity towards their subjects. Peter Sierra’s poem “My Generation” uses language of religious blessing to extend good will towards the people who got “lost in gang violence since they were children.”
In “Once a Drug Dealer, Now a Scholar,” Nicholas Brooks profiles fellow prisoner Daniel Sanchez with a curiosity that is down-right contagious. “When I think of Danny, and all his potential, and his hunger to learn and his life without parole sentence, I wonder where he gets his drive. It also makes me think more about redemption,” Brooks writes. Thanks to this thoughtful piece, we think more about it too.
This week we chose stories that reflect on the impact that prison has on individual lives as well as families. In “A Father and Son’s Game of Catch,” a father and son in California describe their respective perspectives after the father is incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. They describe the challenges it created as well as the change they both came to embrace. Jonathan Chiu’s “A Blessing and a Curse Choosing to Return to Prison” describes his relationship with prison when he goes back to the place he was incarcerated for almost16 years. He reflects on his experience there and the complexity of his emotions in going back.
Week of April 11, 2022
We chose “How Tennessee Higher Education in Prison Changed My Life” by Jacob Lee Davis for its insight into the history of education in prisons and its inspiring message about why education in prison is so important and how getting a degree lowers recidivism and increases opportunities after prison. This piece illustrates the immense impact that programs like Tennessee Higher Education Initiative can have in creating hope and empowering those in prison.
Week of April 4, 2022
For this week’s Stories of the Week, we highlight the work of two artists new to PJP, W.B. Livingston and John W. Zenc. In the visual story “Throwaway People,” artist W.B. Livingston throws us into the physical and emotional chaos of an unnamed facility where he was once housed. The two featured paintings — “Homesick #2” and “Throwaway People” — allow us to viscerally feel the sense of longing, anguish and claustrophobia that permeated throughout this particular prison experience.
John W. Zenc’s “Stuck in Transition” features an striking portrait — drawn with simple white lines and selective fields of color on a stark black canvas — that honors and lends strength to the transgender women in his facility. His accompanying essay asks for compassion and sensitivity training for both the residents and staff, so that these women may complete their physical transition with dignity and authenticity.
Week of March 28, 2022
In “From Thug to GED to Ph.D.” by Eric Shawn Burnham, the author accepts responsibility for his actions and recounts the painful lessons learned along the way. We appreciate how Burnham highlights how education can be a respite while incarcerated.
Our second Story of the Week, Felix Sitthivong’s “The Unbearable Weight of Life in Prison,” is an unflinching assessment of decisions made and the ongoing consequences. It illustrates the cost paid by families and communities.
Week of March 21, 2022
“A Texas Prison’s Class of 2021” by Cheryl Jackson includes the author’s reflections on academic success in prison and is accompanied by a shortened transcript of her graduation speech as an alumna of The Goodwill Excel Center, a high school that operates at the Lockhart Correctional Facility. Jackson’s vivid storytelling and inspiring speech make this piece a must read!
Edwin E. Chavez’s “Program Offers Incarcerated Artists a Platform for Self-Healing” describes the work of The Prison Arts Collective and demonstrates how art helps incarcerated individuals inside California prisons build resilience and foster introspection. Chavez’s article, republished from San Quentin News, tells us how self-expression through art can have a positive impact on a person’s state of mind.
Week of March 14, 2022
This week we chose “Corrections Department Must Establish Rehabilitation Program” by Steve Brooks, who is a PJP contributor and a journalist for San Quentin News, a newspaper published in the San Quentin State Prison, where he has been incarcerated for more than two decades. Brooks questions why there is no clear definition of rehabilitation as part of the parole consideration process and points out that individuals experience depression and anxiety after being denied parole without concrete reasons.
We also chose “Finding True Love in Prison” by Chastyn “Nova” Hicks. Hicks writes about navigating love and finding “the one” while incarcerated in prison in Arizona while also reflecting on their myriad of identities from race to sexuality. Their story concludes with them re-kindling their correspondence with their lost love, Chad, via letter exchanges. Finding love in prison is usually unheard of, yet this story transcends the circumstantial surroundings of confinement, giving us insight into now relationships are built within the prison system.
Week of March 7, 2022
This was yet another week for two Stories of the Week selections. In “Getting Old in Prison,” writer Tue Kha, who’s serving a life sentence in California, remembers the exact moment he first recognized he was aging. In his essay, he writes about what it was like seeing other people in the prison start to treat him differently as well as his fears about not getting a chance to see family members on the outside again. In “Stuck in a Cardboard Box for Three Hours” by PJP contributing writer Tariq MaQbool, the author recalls a story about an older man named Roy who, after falling on his way to the bathroom one night, ended up stuck in a cardboard box for hours even after a correctional officer found him. “After almost 20 years in prison, I have seen a lot of travesties …” Tariq writes. “Yet, I cried for days thinking of what happened to this particular man.”
Week of February 28, 2022
This was another week for two Stories of the Week selections. In “My Ukrainian Correspondence Saved My Life,” writer Cameron Terhune shares how the Museum of Mail Art in Ukraine provided him with hope and healing by building relationships through correspondence with artists from around the world over the past 10 years. As the world watches Ukraine face Russia’s recent invasion, this story reminds us of the enduring strength of the Ukrainian people. In “Finding My True Self” by Cavonte Shumlai, the author shares how he has changed his perspective in facing his 11-year prison sentence. By focusing on the second chance he will have after his release, Cavonte inspires us to continuously strive for growth.
Week of February 21, 2022
We chose two stories again for the week of February 21: Lamar Moore’s prison report “Arkansas Prisons’ Unpaid Labor Program is Criminal” and Reginald Stephen’s opinion piece, “The Failure of Drug Treatment in Prisons.” Lamar Moore reports on the shocking conditions of free labor in Arkansas, and connects mass incarceration to slavery and the chain gangs of the past, while Reginald Stephen illuminates an important topic often ignored in discussions of mass incarceration.
Week of February 14, 2022
We chose two stories for the week of February 14: “My Late Night Visitor” by Jessica Garza and “The Legal Beagle of Corcoran, California” by Artemus Blankenship. Jessica’s piece, along with accompanying artwork, made us feel like we were right next to her as she was chatting with her mouse friend. Garza’s compelling narrative shows the importance of pets even inside prisons.
In Blankenship’s story, he details how he honed his craft as a jailhouse lawyer. Blankenship describes overcoming the odds to become a respected jailhouse lawyer, defying, “every negative stereotype of prison.”
Week of February 7, 2022
“So I Run” by Kimberly Johnson is an eloquent piece about her passion for running that has been getting passed around from reader to reader by both runners and non-runners alike. The way she details how her sanity depends and feeds on her ability to run has been described as one of the best expressions of why a person pursues the sport.
Week of January 31, 2022
Aaron London’s powerful poem “The Orphan” depicts a to-the-punch account of a man wrecked with feelings of abandonment and misdirection. The absorbable imagery forms an interesting intimacy with the reader; it feels as if the reader is sitting right next to him, watching him stir the traumas deep inside his brain. Yet the poem also contains a youthful wonder — despite its dark tone.
Week of January 24, 2022
“Intro to Prison: A Roadmap” by Dorothy Maraglino is part prison orientation, part guided tour with rich details and personal observation. As Maraglino conducts a vivid dissection of the myriad layers of life in prison, she skillfully shares her insights into the sophisticated navigation required to survive within prison environments and dynamics.
Week of January 17, 2022
This week we selected “Eventually Luck Got a Hold of Me” by Tomas Keen, for his moving description of how a hard-to-come-by educational opportunity transformed his life. Keen candidly shared how his priorities changed once he joined a privately-run college-in-prison program at the Washington State Reformatory. This program not only gave him access to an advanced degree, but also to a community of diverse individuals committed to learning and paying it forward by securing additional funding for the program.
Week of January 10, 2022
The illustrated story “16.5 Cubic Feet” by PJP contributing artist Brian Hindson describes living out of a property locker in a Texas prison. When you look at the drawing, it is not hard to get lost in the details of each of his possessions such as medicine bottles, kitchen utensils and Folgers coffee. When you read his short accompanying explanation, you also begin to understand the emotional toll of living in such a confined space, allowing the reader to appreciate even more the entirety of the piece and his world.
Week of January 3, 2022
In “A Day in the Busy Life of an Incarcerated Person,” writer Jacob Lee Davis shows us a glimpse of his life in prison and sheds light on how busy his day is. The opening paragraph shares a perspective of an outside friend, which allows a reader who may not be familiar with incarceration to more easily enter his world. In telling his story, Davis articulates how a solid work ethic and a commitment to rehabilitation enables him to stay productive even in the confines of prison.
Week of December 20, 2021
This week we chose the poem “Ghetto Tears” by Carnell Wingfield Jr. The pain that he describes of being a Black man in the United States with no one to turn to and no one to rely on told a powerful story about race and class that stayed with us long after the poem was finished.
Week of December 13, 2021
Prison Journalism Project contributing artist O. Smith is an accomplished artist and an illustrative journalist who effectively combines words and pictures to depict the stress and the frustrations of trying to stay safe behind bars. He shares with us his illustrated series “The Gruelling Report,” a series of op-ed comics about the pandemic situation at San Quentin State Prison. “I had a vivid dream… no nightmare, laying in a coffin, dead. Yet I wasn’t,” he wrote in an impactful section of Issue 2. PJP looks forward to exploring art as journalism with him as well as other artists.
Week of December 6, 2021
Calen J. Whidden’s “A Brief Lesson on Prison Ink” details the ingenuity and creative labor of sourcing and constructing materials for prison tattoos. A fun read with touches of wry humor, it is a well-written step-by-step guide that also offers insights into life inside. In documenting the arduous process and unexpected quality of his tattoos, Calen also reveals an art form that many people inside prison appreciate.
Week of November 29, 2021
In ”Prison Pizza on a Budget,“ writer Darrell Whitlock sets a scene that is seldom portrayed in fictionalized renditions of prison life: two individuals craving junk food. Using wry humor in his narration, Whitlock walks the reader through his recipe for making ”prison pizza.“ The camaraderie he shares with his cellmate in the process gives a small window into the moments of humanity that exist behind bars but are unseen.
Week of November 22, 2021
Walter Hart’s timely piece ”Humanity Supersedes Everything Else on Thanksgiving“ tells the story of a multicultural Thanksgiving meal in prison. It highlights the creativity, diversity and generosity seen behind bars, with four men from different backgrounds coming together to make signature dishes for sharing.
Week of November 15, 2021
This week we chose “Shakedown Coming When Water Is Cut Off” by Kenneth M. Key. Through vivid details and evenness in tone, the reader is invited to feel just how disruptive and intrusive the cell searching process is. Key uses small details like clothing, temperature, posture and scenery to draw the reader into his experience. He recounts events without leaning into melodrama, giving the reader an opportunity to feel the weight of his words. It’s a truly powerful piece that will likely stay with readers for quite some time.
Week of November 8, 2021
As the pandemic eases in many parts of the United States, it’s easy to forget that a return to a version of normal may still be far off for many — or most — in corrections facilities. We appreciated Joe Garcia’s look into how policies around testing and quarantine can erode the trust incarcerated people have in the system. “Under Quarantine, Confined in Solitary” was also well executed, demonstrating journalistic integrity in its framing and quotes.
Week of November 1, 2021
For this week’s Story of the Week, we chose Colin Randolph‘s “The Prison of Perception: The Mind Also Incarcerates Each of Us.” Using his own experiences, Colin discusses how gang culture instills a mentality of violence in young people before they are incarcerated. His writing is thoughtful and introspective. He juxtaposes his past actions and thinking with his present outlook on life as he describes the “mental prison” he found himself in before coming to prison.
Week of October 25, 2021
Few things appeal to our best selves more than caring for an animal, as this week‘s two Stories of the Week, make clear. Lawrence May’s “Dog Rehab Program Builds Companionship, Purpose for Those in Prison” explains how giving injured dogs a new chance at life is so meaningful for men who work for the Paws For Life K9 Rescue Program at California State Prison, Lancaster. In “Tiny Meows Warm Our Hearts,” Jessie Milo describes the heart-melting impact of caring for the wild kittens who live on the yard at California State Prison, Corcoran. In a place where companion animals are not allowed, the chance to shower these creatures with food and love is a compelling antidote to loneliness and a validation of purpose all pet-lovers will recognize.
Week of October 18, 2021
Timothy Hicks‘ “Rehabilitation Through Tennis,” which PJP republished from San Quentin News at San Quentin State Prison, reports on one man’s experience in sports, how it contributed to his self-esteem and how he eventually became the commissioner of the tennis program. Timothy also raised an important question about the tennis program’s future after the commissioner, Orlando “Duck” Harris, is released on parole.
Week of October 11, 2021
Dean, an incarcerated writer in California, says he is passionate about steering young men away from the culture of violence that he was part of when he was a gang member. In “You‘re My Hero: Sharing Our Humanity Through the Bars of a Cell Door,” Dean uses dialogue to bring an encounter with a corrections officer alive. The negotiation he describes gives readers a real insight into the dynamics between a prisoner and a corrections officer, and the helplessness one feels while so reliant on someone else for their safety. The piece was a great example of a story with a larger point that leaves a lasting impression.
Week of October 4, 2021
In “I am Not a Number,” Jonathan Loppnow, a writer in Washington state, highlights the way in which incarcerated people lose their humanity once they become part of the system. Jonathan draws on his own experience to describe how an incarcerated person‘s individuality and their identity is often stripped away, reduced to a number. The piece also offers a glimpse into the ways in which incarcerated individuals become victims of their own environment. It begs the question of whether or not the prison system actually plays a reformative role or does the opposite. It‘s inspiring that the author remains positive, compassionate and still faithful that change is possible if given a chance.
Week of September 27, 2021
“Caring for a Dying Man” by Rick Allan Vance is a heartfelt and beautiful meditation on death and friendship. Vance shows the emotional toll of his position in the palliative care unit and the connections he forges with terminally ill people.
Week of September 20, 2021
In “Healing From Hurt: Reflections on Recovering From Childhood Trauma” by Edwin E. Chavez, the writer interviewed others at his prison and wove in their comments and experiences as he reflected on his traumatic events during his childhood. In doing so, he sheds light on one of the reasons and circumstances that attract people to gangs. He also writes about his transformation and how he is moving forward to a new life. His article contains both painful memories and new hope.
Week of September 13, 2021
Aaron McCoy’s poem “Prison is Like a Fiery Furnace” deftly combines an extended metaphor of metallurgy with honest and courageous self-assessment. It does so through concise wording and controlled syntax.
Week of September 6, 2021
We chose two stories for the week of September 6 because we wanted to highlight the terrible cost to families who are caught in the cycle of incarceration in the U.S. As one of the 92% of incarcerated men who are fathers, James Lenoir in Illinois wrote about the helplessness he feels as his family was torn apart by his incarceration and his son and nephew got involved in gangs.
In “Mother in Prison, Son in Jail,” Chanell Burnette in Virginia wrote from a mother‘s perspective about the pain of not being able to provide guidance and support to her son in jail. Both writers‘ pieces were written honestly and starkly, and together, they bring to life the painful reality of incarceration.
Week of August 30, 2021
As we continue to struggle with the global pandemic, Christopher Blackwell paints a concise and clear picture of the particular burden that incarcerated people bear. Without lessening the responsibility of the choices made, Chris illustrates the trauma that many people inside deal with every day and reminds us that we are all human, and anyone can struggle with depression.
Week of August 23, 2021
In this powerful take on empathy, Shakur shows us how mass incarceration has turned society into a devastating game of far more chutes than ladders: “Prison doesn’t reform, it tears down and disables. It’s a choke-hold that tightens the longer you stay down, and it can hold you down for years.” The name of the game? Reality.
Week of August 16, 2021
As the delta variant spreads, we feel grateful for Tariq’s piece on the realities of this new spike behind the wall. Reporting from New Jersey State Prison, Tariq details the rise in COVID-19 cases and the repercussions this may have for those incarcerated there. For many PJP writers, the story of outbreaks and cycles of extended isolation is all too familiar. Tariq’s detailed findings and clear relay of the facts exemplify the kind of journalism we aim to provide our readers with at PJP.
Week of August 9, 2021
Charles N. Diorio’s piece on the role that internet connectivity and technology play in a prison is our pick this week. His writing was balanced, well-researched and thoughtful, and he addressed a topic that lots of people outside the prison system have questions about. He did an excellent job of highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the current system in Massachusetts.
Week of August 2, 2021
Some of our favorite pieces are those that open our eyes to the unique and unknown challenges of prison life. In “Not Even a Sip of Water,” Frederick Mason described how incarcerated individuals have been unable to use water fountains in some areas of his prison due to COVID-19. While a lack of water fountains might be a minor annoyance outside of prison, Mason showed us how the consequences are significant in a world where the opportunities to hydrate are otherwise limited. Without Mason‘s story, we would have remained in the dark about one challenge of pandemic prison life: accessing water.
Week of July 26, 2021
We have recently been hearing a lot about how representation matters, especially on media platforms that are used by many. Kory “Hussain” McClary extends this discussion to prisons and the TV channels that they have access to as incarcerated individuals from marginalised and suppressed communities. He talks about how watching a certain channel — Revolt TV — where they talk about the hip-hop industry is a small source of entertainment and information that they can relate to and enjoy versus other channels, which are largely chosen by the White prison guards and often present biased accounts. It forces the readers to think about the small things that could provide incarcerated individuals with the hope of improvement and how access to those things should be increased.
Week of July 19, 2021
We were moved by Taylor’s account of how their views changed before and after the pandemic and how they made the best out of the terrible situation by changing their mindset and actions. Also knowing that COVID-19 precautions have been taken seriously inside, it gives hope that incarcerated individuals aren’t forgotten when it comes to dealing with this virus.
Week of July 12, 2021
In fewer than 400 words, author Jeff Shockley’s account transforms the ordinary activity of a haircut into a personal revolution. The piece’s format as a letter creates a sense of friendliness, which Shockley rips away in unmasking humanity’s complacency. One can see that Shockley possesses a pronounced curiosity that is as fascinating as it is voracious.
Week of July 5, 2021
Writer Anthony Ehlers eloquently illuminates the harrowing reality of prison life in this week‘s Story of the Week. In describing the dehumanizing conditions in every sphere of prison life — from regular strip searches to the lack of adequate medical and mental health care to the prison number that replaced his name — Ehlers offers a glimpse into the suffering and powerlessness of people behind bars.
Week of June 28, 2021
For the story of the week, we have chosen Bob R. Williams Jr.‘s “Planning for Death.” Having sat on death row for the past 24 years, Williams has had an intimate struggle with mortality. In his story, he kindly shares the perspective he has gained from living everyday with the knowledge of his impending execution. William‘s incredible message about life from his perspective is vitally important as a work of philosophical writing and acutely deserving of recognition.
Week of June 21, 2021
This story came in the middle of Father‘s Day celebrations and was a hauntingly beautiful narrative by the author. A brutally honest read, it took us through the journey of parenting from behind bars, and how the longing for loved one can appear in multitudes — from the excitement making the author “almost drink the brownish waste that comes from the sink” to his daughter requesting that he could “die twice already” just so she can have him home. It shows us all the forms love can exist in. We are highlighting this story for its raw honesty and realities that the author so poignantly shares with his readers.
Week of June 14, 2021
We felt this essay offered valuable insight into a world often ignored. This piece highlighted the pressing issues of youth incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline. Author Brandon J. Baker draws upon his own experiences in juvenile detention to offer details about what children go through in such detention programs and facilities. His stories are heartbreaking and often overlooked, yet all too real. The cruelty children face in such conditions is a systemic problem, related to classism and racism.
Baker‘s call to action is a powerfully compassionate one: “Show grace to at-risk youth,” and never give up on our young people. There is always hope they can change, but only if they are given the chance to do so.
Week of June 7, 2021
In “The Importance of History,” Patricia Elane Trimble reflects on the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and other moments throughout history when the LGBTQ+ community has fought for freedom. Trimble focuses on the oppression that trans women in particular have faced, and points to education as a way to heal and learn from mistakes of the past. “Speaking of history whenever you have an audience often results in a seed being planted in the mind of even the most negative of persons,” she writes.
Week of May 31, 2021
George T. Wilkerson’s “Talking to My Mom in Autumn” is a gentle, haunting poem on the challenge of maintaining relationships while in prison. It’s also a great example of how well poetry can serve journalistic ends when it documents the feel of prison life through close observation. Focused on one prepaid phone call the author made to his mom, the poem is filled with concrete and telling detail. Wilkerson notices the precise wording of the call’s pre-recorded announcement requiring her to “accept it,” and the “catalog of mundanities” his mother reports from home — falling leaves, creaky knees, a dying vegetable garden. In just 134 words, this piece tells us so much about the ability of telephone calls to connect and to alienate. Readers will come away understanding the heavy meaning of “pressing 5” on a prepaid call even if they don’t have a friend or loved one in prison.
Week of May 24, 2021
We chose David Jones’ piece “Squash the Negative Sentiment” to be our ninth Story of the Week winner because of the simple but poignant truth it bears about trying to fit in (or trying not to). “Feelings are very important. But they come and go, and they can lie to you,” writes Jones. While the outpouring of emotion from recent social justice protests feels necessary in some ways, Jones’ piece reminds us that feelings are not always the most efficient path to creating the change you wish to see around you. We can validate the existence of the emotions we feel, sit with them, and listen to them. However, one must recognize that critical thinking, strong listening skills and empathy are needed to intersect our emotions so to be able to use them in a productive way.
Week of May 17, 2021
When it comes to incarceration statistics, it is often too easy to divorce the charts and metrics from the real, human stories behind each number. We chose this piece by Charles Crowe because of how it highlights the strain placed on family dynamics. Crowe writes of his experience nurturing his relationship with his grandchildren by reading to them over evening phone slots, reading along on matching book sets despite the funny looks he gets from his fellow inmates. It is a heartbreaking reality that so many men are separated from their loved ones, but the strength of these familial ties still extends past the carceral system for people like Crowe, one reading session at a time.
Week of May 10, 2021
It has been refreshing to read and hear stories of people reuniting with their loved ones and slowly adjusting to life outside of quarantine. However, this story transports readers to a reopening scene that few reporters have access to: San Quentin State Prison’s main recreational yard. With quotes from those working and living within San Quentin, the story is a thoroughly reported look into one prison as it opens up with the rest of the country.
Week of May 3, 2021
Art is a powerful force and an essential part of the human existence. Art heals, tells stories, helps people make sense of their existence, promotes social change, and connects people to other people and the world. This piece by Bobby Bostic describes the importance and value of art to incarcerated people and underlines why art should be an essential part of prison life.
Week of April 26, 2021
We were struck by how the layers of Shon Pernice’s piece flow quickly, beautifully arranged and introspective. While the writer expertly navigates the process and effects of emotional detachment through the narrative, it is when he describes which parts of human flesh dogs prefer that we can begin to imagine the weight of what he has seen. But he doesn’t present it in a grotesque way.
We could feel Shon reaching out for help when he got back home, trying to show his pictures, trying to explain. The metaphor of the emotional tourniquet is again illustrative and functional; an image that would be a powerful tool when talking with others who are doing their own soul-searching. We came away from this thinking about just how much America asks of its soldiers. How can we expect them to just — poof — back into their lives after existing in such extreme situations? Likewise, how can we expect the same of those who have been inside America’s prisons?
Week of April 19, 2021
In “Precautions or Punishment,” Sheldon P. Johnson pleads to humanize prisoners during COVID-19. Here, we have an inside look at what’s going on behind bars and how COVID-19 has further isolated those already in isolation. One of the closing lines says it best: “Although we have been convicted of felonies, we have not lost our rights to love, to express ourselves, to live and to breathe.”
Week of April 12, 2021
This story represents the true fear that has been felt by many inmates during the pandemic. Knowing that all the symptoms that you have point to COVID-19 but getting very little help adds to the terror of this disease inside a prison.
Week of April 5, 2021
We chose this publication for “Story of the Week” due to the intimate view of the inner workings of a prison from the shoes of someone who is incarcerated. In this piece, Dorothy Maraglino takes us through a tour of the prison she is spending the rest of her life in and the lack of humanity within the system. Dorothy sheds light on the precarious conditions of the prison and the substandard basic resources offered to inmates. Dorothy highlights that the prison system is a result of the society we have created. The system contributes to hopelessness and the dismissive approach we foster regarding people in need of support.
Week of March 29, 2021
To kick off Prison Journalism Project’s Story of the Week, we have chosen Calen Whidden‘s “You Want Onions With That?” In this piece, the writer captured a distinct scene from behind bars with both humor and insight, bringing the reader into a world that we may never have experienced otherwise. His observations drew you into the moment and the dynamics of the characters. It‘s a hysterical story of defiance and ingenuity which speaks to the resilience of the human spirit.