Marshall Project Originals
How I Survived a Year in ‘the Hole’ Without Losing My Mind
In prison, going to “the hole” can mean spending 23 hours a day alone in a tiny cell. Here, incarcerated author Michael J. Nichols shares his top 10 tips for enduring long stretches of “administrative segregation.”
The Art of Bidding, or How I Survived Federal Prison
When Eric Borsuk went to prison with his two best friends, they found their ‘bid’ — their purpose — together. Then one day, everything changed.
Prison Money Diaries: What People Really Make (and Spend) Behind Bars
We asked people in prison to track their earning and spending — and bartering and side hustles — for 30 days. Their accounts reveal a thriving underground economy behind bars.
When People Fear Me Based on My Jail Tats and Scars, They Miss the Real Me
A recent ride to a public clinic gave Jose Armendariz a quick break from jail. But he couldn’t escape the fear and judgement of the other patients.
Banned Behind Bars
Issue 11 of News Inside delves into topics that would normally get a publication barred from prisons and jails
My Prison Gets So Hot, the Floors Sweat
Survival tips include, “Wait it out” and “Buy another fan, bro.”
The ‘Foul-Mouthed Pagan Lesbian’ Who Inspired My Jail Memoir
Keri Blakinger’s new book, “Corrections in Ink,” began with Susan Begg, an older woman the author met on her second day in jail. If only Susan had lived to see it in print.
A Tupperware of Heroin, Or How I Ended Up in Prison
In an excerpt from her new memoir, ‘Corrections in Ink,’ Keri Blakinger puts us at the scene of her drug arrest — and her path to becoming The Marshall Project’s first formerly incarcerated staff writer.
I Got the Prison Transfer I Fought For. My Feelings Were Surprisingly Mixed
Demetrius Buckley’s long-awaited transfer to a lower-security prison means more time outside of his cell and a chance to see his daughter. But the transport process was like everything else in prison: slow, confusing and casually cruel.
I Grew Up Believing I Was Dumb. A College Education Behind Bars Healed That Wound
“My college degree taught me that anything is possible when you show someone how to love themselves, through accountability, vulnerability and education.”
How to Write for The Marshall Project’s Life Inside
Life Inside is a weekly series of first-person essays from people who live or work in the criminal justice system. Here are answers to the questions people ask us most.
Surviving Prison is 90% Mental. That’s Why I Teach Workouts That Strengthen the Mind
The sessions I lead are intense enough to match the mental strain that we endure daily: the rejected phone calls, denied visits, humiliating random pat-downs and other microaggressions.
Out of Prison, TikTok Influencers Are Reshaping How We Think About Life Behind Bars
But a dearth of content creators of color raises questions about the app’s algorithm.
The Powerlessness of Parenting From Prison
Demetrius Buckley thought his bond with his 11-year-old daughter was strong. But when he couldn’t physically protect his child from adult problems, he learned the limits of parenting via prison phone calls.
The Genius Speech That Changed My Life
Words like “junkie,” “destitute” and “criminal” have applied to me at some point in my life. Hearing the formerly incarcerated voting rights activist Desmond Meade speak at my prison reminded me that my sky is full of stars, my heart is full of hope and my future is full of promise.
‘A Humiliating Experience’: Prisoners Allege Abuse at Discipline-focused ‘Shock’ Camps
New York is closing one of its last ‘shock’ camps, a move some experts and former prisoners say is a long time coming.
Inside the Underground Economy of Solitary Confinement
Goods are scarce in any correctional facility, but the circumstances are especially dire for those in isolation. Here’s how people in “the box” use their ingenuity, collaboration skills and a form of “fishing” to get what they need.
The Rise and Fall of a Prison Town Queen
A family feud over drugs, money and fried fish roils the heart of the Texas prison system.
I’m Having a Cancer Scare. But Prison Healthcare Is So Degrading, I’ve Quit Seeking Answers.
“Not knowing what is going on with my body will catch up to me, but I refuse to be treated inappropriately.”
Some of Our Best Work of 2021
From police use of force to life without parole to troubling prison conditions, our reporters told groundbreaking stories this year.
After a Decade on Parole, I Saw 2021 As a Fresh Start. Life Had Other Plans.
A workplace injury derailed Alfonso Cobb’s progress, but the Arkansas wood factory worker is still holding on to his freedom dreams.
Tackling a Huge Taboo: Sexual Desire Behind Bars
On the outside, most discussions about incarceration and sexual desire are limited to exploitative “reality” shows, violent movies and terrible jokes about homosexuality and prison rape. But like all humans, we deserve some semblance of dignity.
An Ode to Memo, the Cellmate and Art Teacher Who Saved My Life
After decades in the system, I was acting like a wild horse roaming the countryside. Memo taught me how to paint through the chaos.
When Mom Is In Prison — And When She Comes Home
“Oh, Mother of Mine,” a short documentary and photography project by Anna Rawls, explores the generational impact of incarcerating mothers.
My Uncle Died the Day He Was Released From Jail. I’m Still Trying to Understand Why.
“Sudden cardiac death,” is the cause listed on my uncle Bryan’s death certificate. But it didn’t feel sudden at all — not when you factor in his underlying mental and physical health problems, years of poor prison medical care and the fact that he caught COVID-19 in his Arizona jail.
Stopping Violence Over Prison Phone Time? There’s an App for That.
While Corey Devon Arthur was quarantining, people in the unit got tablets equipped with telephone apps. “If we all had the option to use a phone app, the value of violence would plunge,” he writes.
A Filthy New Orleans Jail Made My Son Sick. The ‘Cruel and Unusual’ Medical Treatment at Angola Prison Killed Him.
This spring, a judge ruled that the healthcare at the Louisiana State Penitentiary violated prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights. Lois Ratcliff tells the horrifying story of her son Farrell’s decline and death.
I’m a Teachers’ Aide at My Prison. Here’s What I Learned From My Toughest Student
His disrespectful classroom antics could have sparked a fight. But as a former “hard case” myself, I was determined to help him.
Issue 8 of News Inside takes on the words that define and label incarcerated people.
“Daddy, if I Come See You, Will I Have to Be Locked up, Too?”
Recently reunited with his 10-year-old daughter, Demetrius Buckley struggles to push past the barriers of a maximum security prison to be present for his curious, whip-smart little girl.
A State-By-State Look at 15 Months of Coronavirus in Prisons
The Marshall Project and The Associated Press collected data on COVID-19 infections in state and federal prisons every week. See how the virus affected correctional facilities near you.
Mr. Sitthivong Goes to Washington
Felix Sitthivong, who is serving 65 years in a Washington prison, recently testified before the state’s House Public Safety Committee in support of a bill that could decrease his time. “They can stall our bills,” he writes of the “disappointing” outcome, “but they can never stall our dedication.”
COVID-19 and Vaccine Mistrust Behind Bars
The second episode of The Marshall Project’s new video series, designed for audiences inside and outside of prison, reflects on how the COVID-19 vaccine has been received in lockups.
Parole Is Better Than Prison. But That Doesn’t Mean I’m Free.
At age 17, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. I got out due to Supreme Court decisions, but there was one catch: Parole for the rest of my life.
Cadets Violently Strip Searched Us As Part of Their Training. For My Pain, I Got $325.
Willette Benford was one of several incarcerated women who sued the Illinois corrections department for using mass strip searches to train cadets. A small settlement check took her back to the shame and trauma of those incidents.
People-First Language Matters. So Does the Rest of the Story.
While we have to be aware that any word we choose has influence, no amount of Googling will reveal the magic word that brings justice into American prisons.
How I Convinced My Incarcerated Peers to Make Language a Priority
Rahsaan Thomas, an imprisoned journalist, has long fought to change the way outside media describe people in prison. One of his toughest crowds? His fellow reporters.
Good Intentions Don’t Blunt the Impact of Dehumanizing Words
Of course not everyone means harm when they use prison labels. But that doesn’t make the language any less damaging.
The Language Project
Rethinking the words journalists use to talk about people who are currently or previously incarcerated.
I Was Trained to Call Prisoners a Word They Hated
As correctional officers, we are conditioned to call prisoners ‘inmates.’ But at Sing Sing, where I worked for 25 years, that was as bad as calling them a snitch.
What Words We Use — and Avoid — When Covering People and Incarceration
Journalism is a discipline of clarity. That’s why we’ve solidified our policy about how we talk about people who are currently in or have previously been in prison and jail.
I Am Not Your ‘Inmate’
I didn’t always detest this term. But hearing officers use it as an insult reminded me to call incarcerated people — including myself — by our names.
Living With Survivor’s Guilt on Federal Death Row
I escaped Donald Trump’s last-minute execution spree. Now I have to find a way to keep fighting.
Texas Prisons Stopped In-Person Visits and Limited Mail. Drugs Got in Anyway.
Guards smuggle in most contraband, people who live in or work at prisons say.
Spotlighting the Ingenuity of Artists Behind Bars
On exhibit at MoMA PS1, “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Incarceration” is a rich exploration of how artists adapt to limited materials and endless time.
My Neighbor Sexually Harasses a Female Nurse. Eventually I’d Had Enough
“I want to tell her I’m sorry for what he did, but I’m an inmate and she’s part of the administration.”
The Making of “Superpredators”
The first edition of The Marshall Project’s new video series, designed for audiences inside and outside of prison, examines a toxic media myth that damaged a generation of Black youth.
How I Keep Hope Alive While Serving 150 Years in Prison
In those moments when I feel like a puppet tied up in strings, I draw on my Muslim faith to stay hopeful.
Inside Frigid Texas Prisons: Broken Toilets, Disgusting Food, Few Blankets
The deep freeze has been terrible for many Texans, but prisoners have little way to get warm.
When The Prison Banned Board Games, We Played Chess In Our Minds
“At the heart of our mental chess game lies a profound lesson: The difference between being content or distraught is a matter of perspective.”
I’ve Been Strip-Frisked Over 1,000 Times in Prison. I Consider It Sexual Assault
Strip-searching us for contraband is a perfectly legal way to rob incarcerated people of our humanity.
I Did 340 Pushups a Day to Prepare for the TV Version of Prison. Then I Got There.
After a steady diet of shows like “Oz,” I was convinced that prison would be a paradise for monsters. Turns out, the abuse I experienced came directly from the system.
When a Shower Counts as a Privilege, You Have to Get Creative
Doing time during a pandemic can mean fighting for your turn to wash your body or call your family. Inside one man’s battle with an inaudible loudspeaker, weary guards and a dysfunctional process.
Some of Our Best Work of 2020
From the sweeping impacts of COVID-19 to the protests against racial injustice, 2020 was a year like no other.
A Question of Violence
Rahsaan “New York” Thomas is barred from COVID-related release from San Quentin because his 20-year-old crime was violent. GoFundMe cancelled his legal defense campaign for the same reason. Here’s what it’s like to live with the scarlet letter V.
Prisoners Are Setting Fires To Protest Pandemic Conditions
But many Texas prisons don’t have working fire alarms.
Notes From a Wild Election Week Behind Bars
“From time to time you hear someone shout something like, ‘Trump cannot be stopped!’ or, ‘Let’s get this White Nazi out of power!’ There is no gray area.”
Coronavirus Has Sparked Another Epidemic in My Prison: Anti-Asian Racism
The racial slurs, dumb comments and news reports of hate violence have me on edge.
Why My First Thanksgiving in Prison Was The Best One I’d Had In Forever
Between being sober, getting a visit and having a surprise feast with the mean girls in my unit, I still cherish that day.
Life Behind the Wall
Sure, prisons and jails are dangerous places. But everyday life inside isn’t as explosive as TV and movies make it look.
A Pacifist's Plan to Survive the Violent World of Prison
I once surveyed a plot of land for a future prison. Now I live in one.
Lax Masking, Short Quarantines, Ignored Symptoms: Inside a Prison Coronavirus Outbreak in ‘Disbeliever Country.’
The latest COVID-19 surge is happening behind bars, too. Here’s three accounts from an upstate New York prison hit by the pandemic.
Shame Is Ever-Present When You’re Sitting in a Cell
Between a strained relationship with my family and the death of a good friend, I’ve struggled to feel like I’m worth something.
Being a Prison Firefighter Taught Me to Save Lives
I first joined the San Quentin fire department to get my own room, eat well and train dogs. It ended up being the most important experience of my life.
I Hate My Prison Dorm So Much, I Enjoyed COVID-19 Quarantine in the Box
After two decades in a single-person cell, I moved to an open dorm with 30 other men. Between the smells, stress and lack of privacy, I was happy to spend time in solitary confinement.
How COVID-19 Tested the Family Bonds I Was Building When I Got Out
After serving more than 21 years for a crime he committed at age 15, Angel Alejandro was reintroducing himself to his family. Then the virus took three relatives.
During the Pandemic, a Prison Funeral for Our Angel
Despite coronavirus-related lockdown and a skittish staff, prisoners at California Women’s Facility pulled off a full-fledged memorial service for a beloved long-termer.
The New Normal
The fifth edition of The Marshall Project’s print publication explores a world transformed by COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests.
How Prison Turned My Childhood Friend Into a Neo-Nazi
We grew up listening to Tupac, smoking blunts and emulating Black people. Behind bars, our past was a dangerous secret.
"All of Us Inside Have Cried Out"
Since the killing of George Floyd, protesters have started to change the way we think about law enforcement. Will it trickle into prisons?
They Agreed to Meet Their Mother’s Killer. Then Tragedy Struck Again.
A Florida family opted for restorative justice over the death penalty for the man who murdered their mom. What happened next made them question the very meaning of justice.
I Wonder If They Know My Son Is Loved
Visiting my son in jail for the first time, I know that I cannot protect him. Although he is too young to drink, the criminal justice system regards him as an adult.
In Prison, Even Social Distancing Rules Get Weaponized
“After close to 22 years inside, I thought I had seen everything when it comes to the Department of Corrections using impossible-to-follow rules to punish prisoners. I was wrong.”
While I Wasted Time in Prison, My Mom Died of a Broken Heart
My mom was by my side the first time I went away. The second time was just too much.
I Survived Prison During The AIDS Epidemic. Here’s What It Taught Me About Coronavirus
COVID-19 isn’t an automatic death sentence, but the fear, vilification and isolation are the same.
During the COVID-19 Crisis, Don’t Shoot the Messenger
When you lead the Inmate Liaison Committee in a pandemic, you have to deliver bad news with finesse.
How 27 Years in Prison Prepared Me for Coronavirus
“If there’s one thing people who spent a long time in prison have acquired, it’s the ability to adapt.”
I’ve Served Time in Prison. Sheltering in Place is Terrifying.
Struggling with “that caged animal feeling” during the coronavirus pandemic.
As a Mom Working In a Prison, I Worry About Bringing Coronavirus Home
“I tell my husband to keep my son in another room, while I put my uniform in a trash bag and take a long shower.”
No, Your Coronavirus Quarantine Is Not Just Like Being in Prison
“I'd give anything to trade places with you right now.”
This Chart Shows Why The Prison Population Is So Vulnerable to COVID-19
Those 55 and older are a growing share of the people in state prisons. They’re also the most at risk as coronavirus spreads.
What Coronavirus Quarantine Looks Like in Prison
“I cannot help but linger on the faces of the elderly prisoners and think about how they are unlikely to survive this.”
What I Learned About Voting Rights in the Fields of Angola
"We asked ourselves: Do we want to change our conditions, or do we want to change our circumstances?"
For Those Serving Long Sentences, Politics is a Lifeline
Respondents who’ve spent decades behind bars were more politically engaged than their peers, but they’re also the most cynical.
Trump's Surprising Popularity in Prison
Many incarcerated white people said they'd re-elect the president—if given the chance.
How We Pulled Off A Groundbreaking Political Survey Behind Bars
More than 8,000 incarcerated people responded.
What Do We Really Know About the Politics of People Behind Bars?
More than 8,000 people responded to a first-of-its-kind political survey. Here is what they said.
When Purell is Contraband, How Do You Contain Coronavirus?
Handwashing and sanitizers may make people on the outside safer. But in prison it can be impossible to follow public health advice.
Mississippi Prisons: No One’s Safe, Not Even the Guards
Too many prisoners, too few officers leads to violence.
From the Inside Looking Out
When you’re in prison, outside sights and sounds can become cruel jokes.
Fighting Time When You’re Doing Time
“Time has made it abundantly clear that my ability to exercise patience—or not to—doesn’t sway it in the least.”
A Couple That Crafts Together Stays Together
Jenny Jimenez and her husband, Jesse, who is incarcerated in Illinois, have found creative ways to show each other love, especially around Christmas. Puzzle filters, nail clippers and Lifetime original movies are involved.
I Did My 25 Years. Now I’m Fighting Another Sentence—Deportation
I barely remember my birthplace, Jamaica, and I have no family left there. Frankly, I’m terrified.
’Til Death Do Us Part
After my mother was diagnosed with cancer, she married the love of her life even though he was still behind bars. Then he got sick, too.
I Got To Leave Prison For A Few Hours—It Broke My Heart
“When the van pulls back up to the rear gates of the prison... it's almost a relief.”
What I Think About When I Think About Freedom
“It’s conflicting, I imagine, to hear how someone who once took a life thinks about living a good life.”
The Never-Ending Drug Hustle Behind Bars
“While I went to high school with casual weed smokers and worked at various jobs with weekend coke snorters, I was entirely unprepared for what I’ve seen in state prison.”
Finding Peace—and Briefly, Freedom—at My Grandfather’s Funeral
“Saying goodbye with the people who loved him—and me—I remember that I am not the tomb that imprisons me.”
All I Really Need to Know I Learned on the Streets of the Garment District
“The runaways, the mobsters, the pimps—they saw me as someone credible, someone who didn’t judge them.”
Want to Time Travel Back to the 80s? Visit a Prison “Typing Room”
“The typing room is where the optimism of naive, hopeful, recently incarcerated inmates goes to die.”
In My Prison, Summer is “Ticket Season”
“If you move the wrong way—ticket. You look the wrong way—ticket. Breathe—ticket.”
Mourning a Stranger’s Suicide in Prison
“Together we prayed and talked about who this girl might have been—and who she might have become.”
In Sickness, In Health—and In Prison
A Nebraska couple fighting to marry behind bars wouldn’t be the first: Three decades ago, two prisoners took their bid to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I Had a Shitty Job in Prison
“Down in a wastewater-treatment pit, I kept furiously shoving the black liquid toward the pump, with a squeegee.”
My Dad Taught Me How to Build Things. Now I’m Doing It in Prison.
“What neither of us knew was that coming to prison would create new worlds for me to build.”
I Thought I Knew My Father, Then I Met Him in Prison
“In a way, it was like seeing myself clearly for the first time.”
Father and Son, Next Door Neighbors in Prison
"We take turns holding the mirror to see each other. And we talk for hours."
The Underground Art of Prison Tattoos
Broken spoons, beard trimmer parts and other ingenious, sometimes dangerous, tools used by incarcerated body artists.
I Lost 25 Pounds in 4 Months Eating Prison Food
“I couldn’t wait to go home, restart my life—and eat a diet that didn’t kill me.”
Money Changed Everything for Me in Prison
“I am not evidence that the system ‘works.’ I am an outlier, dripping in luck.”
I Watched a Man Die in Prison. His Last Words Haunt Me.
“There is hardly a day that passes when I do not see his face.”
The Agony and Isolation of Tearing Your ACL in Prison
“There wasn’t enough ibuprofen in the world to combat the pain I was experiencing.”
I'm in Prison—And on HBO
Theothus Carter reflects on starring in the film “O.G.”, alongside Jeffrey Wright, while serving time in prison.
I Proposed to My Girlfriend From Prison
“I didn't have anything to offer her except a lot of lonely nights.”
Why Showering in Prison Is Hell
“Step by step, I shuffle forward amid the mass of bodies, waiting to get inside.”
How Prisoners Brought 'Death of a Salesman' to Life
“Everything in that room, and everyone, was shining, just for a moment.”
The Isolation of Being Deaf in Prison
“I didn’t have a way to communicate. And they basically just flipped me the bird.”
More Women Are Behind Bars Now. One Prison Wants to Change That.
Connecticut’s WORTH program uses therapy, classes and mentoring to try to keep women from coming back.
The Prison Portraits
A Pennsylvania artist draws hundreds of fellow inmates to show the scale of mass incarceration.
The Awful Thing I Saw in Prison That Stunned Me Into Silence
"It was the kind of moment that you witness but your brain just rejects; you can’t believe what you just saw."
Documenting the Hard Truths of Prison and Policing
At Tribeca Film Festival, new documentaries give voice to the incarcerated and communities struggling with crime.
Prison Is Already Scary. It's Even Worse During a Blackout
As darkness fell, nerves got rattled and rumors spread.
Death Row’s First Ever Talent Show
Featuring an “impresario,” a gyrating orange juggler, and an audience-pleasing grand finale.
Caring for My Sick Husband From Prison
A federal inmate feels helpless as her partner’s health deteriorates.
When a Wedding Narrowed the ‘Emotional Distance’ of Prison
For the best man, a fleeting moment of humanity.
My Best Friends in Prison are Frogs, Turtles, and Raccoons
Sharing space with open-minded visitors from beyond the walls.
How a Phone Changed My Life on Death Row
“I felt like a virgin on my wedding night — eager to put this thing to use, not sure if it’ll hurt.”
The Best Guard at My Prison Was Murdered
“Timothy. His first name was Timothy. I hadn’t known that. They punish us for using guards’ first names.”
A Primer on the Nationwide Prisoners’ Strike
Prisoners can be forced to work without pay — the Constitution says so.
Do Prison Strikes Work?
Amid a current prison work stoppage, here are five strikes and how they turned out.
When an Old Law Makes It Hard to Fix a Troubled Jail
A federal statute from the Carter era favors negotiation, but that can take a long time.
How Having a Dog Changed My Life in Prison
“Until now, touching another living thing took place in the context of fights, pat-downs, and strip searches.”
What I've Learned Cutting Hair in Jail
“They look tired, ragged, and sick, more so than they thought they would.”
The Absurd Things I Heard Through the Vents in My Prison Cell
“The man proceeded to make car noises.”
What You Do While You Wait for Your Husband to Go to Prison
“Drive whenever you go anywhere, get your financial house in order, finalize your will, take baths, and cry.”
Watch a Video From “Mariposa and the Saint,” a New Play About Solitary Confinement
The work is based on years of letters between Julia Steele Allen and Sara Fonseca.
A Rare, White Christmas in a Texas Prison
“A few flakes continued to fall, and for a moment, I forgot where I was.”
Deck the Dorm: A Christmas Contest in a Kentucky Jail
The Louisville jail holds an annual competition to bring cheer to a tough time of year
A New York Prison-Yard Search and 10 Cases of Frostbite
Barehanded, inmates are ordered to grip a metal fence in 10-degree weather.
Prisoners Who Fight Wildfires in California: An Insider’s Look
For $2 a day, “It’s a hairy adventure, let me tell you.”
Why Dylann Roof’s Racism Will Only be Nurtured in Prison
An author and former prisoner reflects on the white supremacist’s potential fate.
Fact-Checking Season 3 of Orange Is the New Black
A former CO — and first-time OITNB-watcher — weighs in.
‘I Feel Unsafe Every Day.’
An Oklahoma corrections officer on the stress and danger of understaffing, and why each inmate should be given a joint twice a day.
Adding Pepper Spray to the Prison Arsenal
A new Human Rights Watch report assesses use of force behind bars.
Older Prisoners, Higher Costs
A tough, new report says it’s time for federal prisons to release the elderly and infirm.
‘If You’ve Been Waiting in Jail for Several Months, Prison is Considered the Promised Land.’
Daniel Luke, a 45-year-old former inmate from Oregon, on his time behind bars and what he struggles with now that he’s out.
‘Sure, People Are Talking About Prison Reform, but They Aren’t Actually Doing Anything.’
Inmate-turned-journalist Paul Wright on what he’s learned in his 25 years covering the prison system.
16-Hour Shifts, 300 Inmates to Watch, and 1 Lonely Son
The very sleep-deprived life of a corrections officer.