Mass Incarceration is truly a deep and messy web of the most important issues in America. As we progressed through our research, the declaration made in most of our secondary sources that Mass Incarceration is this generations’ Civil Rights Movement made more and more sense to us. Furthermore, the statistics back it up: 4.4% of the United States’ population is incarcerated, and while this might seem to be a small number; it totals to be around 2.5 million people. The United States alone has 22% of the entire world’s prison population. Adding insult to injury, these numbers show no clear signs of slowing down. Therefore, the penal system as it stands today has become a self-perpetuating system of oppression, encompassing all of the factors we’ve discussed across this website and more, and as Americans it is our responsibility to fight it.
It should be clarified that we are not advocating for the crimes that have been committed by so many individuals, nor are we happy to sit in silence as the system that is supposed to reform these individuals instead moves to cripple their chances at a normal life. Regardless of race, gender, age, or education, humans deserve a fair trial, a sentence that fits the crime, and the competent forms of rehabilitation devoid of personal motives or biases. If we can’t count on this promised treatise from our government, what can we count on?
This project was like nothing I have ever done before. Recording other people’s stories and synthesizing the meaning and impact of these stories was incredibly eye opening. Before embarking on this project, I did not realize how important this issue truly is in our country. Over the semester, I learned that mass incarceration is the civil rights issue of today. One of the things I wrestled with while creating the project was how to refer to individuals who have been incarcerated. The reason I settled on that particular wording is because it became clear to me while doing this project was these individuals are people who made mistakes.
Personally, this project opened my eyes to how massive of a system Mass Incarceration is. I had heard it was my generations’ Civil Rights Movement, but it took talking to those affected by it and opposing it to really motivate me into actively opposing it. In addition to this, conducting these interviews showed me the true value of Oral History: the power of an individuals voice. As we move away from “Dead White Guy” history in America, it’s important that we embrace the power in everyone’s voice, and I believe Oral History will help scholars greatly in this endeavor.
I have learned so much over the duration of this project. Before, I had never truly realized what ‘a life sentence’ entails. To meet good people who had been in jail longer than I’ve been alive for crimes they committed so many years before as a different person… it was eye-opening. Personally, I’ve always had a penchant for the law, so it was quite distressing to see just how out of date our current ones are. The fact of the matter is that the system in place just doesn’t work. People are getting pushed through without a second look, and then piling up on the other side. And everyone- government officials as well as the general public- is turning a purposeful blind eye. They refuse to look in hopes that the problem will dissipate on its own, but it won’t. Change needs to be made in our laws, in our prosecution system, and most of all, within the confines of the prisons, where sometimes more harm is currently being done than good.