Marshall Project Originals
How an Illicit Cell Phone Helped Me Take College Courses from Prison
“I didn’t want to give any type of indication that I am in prison, because I didn’t want to be kicked out.”
Despite Sensationalist Media Coverage, the Famous People at My Prison Aren’t in Any Special Danger
Celebrities get a lot of attention on both sides of the wall. But ultimately, we are all the same: warehoused property.
Between Addiction and Prison, I Left My Boy to Grow Up Without a Dad
With his release date quickly approaching, Ryan M. Moser reflects on the pain he caused his son — and his hopes for healing their relationship.
When It Comes to Voting in Jail, the Devil Is in the Details
Most people in New York City jails are eligible to vote. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to register or cast their absentee ballots. That’s where volunteers come in.
I Spent Over 40 Years Working in Corrections. I Wasn’t Ready for Rikers.
Rikers Island jail complex “reflects our nation’s racist and destructive fixation on imprisonment,” writes former New York City jails commissioner Vincent Schiraldi. “It’s Exhibit A for why we need to end mass incarceration.”
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.
My Wild and Winding Path to a College Degree Behind Bars
Rahsaan “New York” Thomas was proud to finally earn his associate’s degree in San Quentin State Prison. But repeated COVID-19 lockdowns turned his graduation ceremony into a two-year ordeal.
Dear Ira: I Want You to Know You Did Not Die in Vain
Jy’Aire Smith-Pennick participated in the robbery and shootout that claimed the life of a Delaware man named Ira Hopkins. Here is Pennick’s letter to Hopkins, “a loving son and uncle, an amazing chef and a leader.”
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.
My Prison Gets So Hot, the Floors Sweat
Survival tips include, “Wait it out” and “Buy another fan, bro.”
‘You Shouldn’t Have Used the D-Word’
Saying “I’m depressed” to jail staff landed Nicholas Brooks in solitary. But with his peers, he has found a way to speak freely.
I Joined the Parole Board to Make a Difference. Now I Call It ‘Conveyor Belt Justice.’
Between the grueling schedule, copious paperwork, abrupt hearings and risk-averse colleagues, prison reformer Carol Shapiro realized the New York parole system was dysfunctional by design.
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.
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.
My Son Nacear Was Killed on Memorial Day. It Took Me Two Years to Cry.
I was taking care of his kids, going to work, and helping my other children process their brother’s murder. I couldn’t have accomplished what I needed to if I had cried sooner.
People Often Say My Son ‘Passed Away.’ Darien Was Murdered.
If I see a car that looks like Darien’s or the sunlight hits just right, all of the sadness comes flooding back.
My Son Alex Was Murdered at 21. Grief for Me Has Been Hurt, Anger and Bitterness
I’d put up reward posters, hoping somebody would say they knew what happened. Someone knew something, but they just wouldn’t give me any answers.
My Son Khaaliq Was Killed Over a Parking Space. Now I Help Other Mothers Grieve.
After a neighbor fatally shot her son in 2001, Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight started the anti-violence group Mothers in Charge. “I thought maybe two people would show up; the room was jam packed.”
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.
I Had a High-Risk Pregnancy in Jail — Then I Gave Birth in Chains
When Rebecca Figueroa was arrested two months into her pregnancy, she didn’t worry because she wasn’t guilty. But seven months later, she was still in jail and totally unprepared for a high-risk pregnancy, childbirth in restraints and the constant fear of losing her daughter.
California’s Longest Serving Death-Row Prisoner On Pain, Survival and Native Identity
As the Monache and Cherokee 63-year-old awaits a new hearing for a 1978 murder he denies committing, Douglas Ray Stankewitz shares the cultural tools and memories he depends on to stay alive.
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.
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.
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.”
People in the Scandal-Plagued Federal Prison System Reveal What They Need in a New Director
“This is kind of like AA: To move forward, first you have to admit there’s a problem.”
The Criminal Justice Issue Nobody Talks About: Brain Injuries
I know firsthand what it’s like to navigate the criminal justice system with a brain injury caused by domestic violence. I also live with the fact that an injury like mine can turn a victim into a perpetrator.
Writing Is My Main Freedom. One Day My Work Disappeared.
A software change in my prison-issued electronic tablet ate up my drafts and eliminated basic writing tools. That may sound minor, but try sending a poem to your kid without line breaks.
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.
I Was Sentenced to Life as a Juvenile. Now I Help Kids Build Brighter Futures.
Imprisoned for 25 years, Fred Weatherspoon was shocked to return to a Chicago he didn’t recognize. He found belonging in an unexpected way — working with vulnerable young people and their families.
Dispatch From Deadly Rikers Island: “It Looks Like a Slave Ship in There.”
Rikers Island has been notorious for violence and neglect for decades. But detainees, corrections officers and officials tell us the New York City jail complex has plunged into a new state of emergency.
Police Killed My Dad When I Was 8. Next Came the Rage
After cops beat my father to death, I wreaked havoc on my community.Three decades later, I wonder what my story would have been if he had lived.
I’m a Pakistani-American Muslim in a Prison 5 Miles From the Twin Towers. Since 9/11, I’ve Been Treated Like the Enemy
It doesn’t matter how American I feel. The labels applied to me are “foreign,” “terrorist,” “inmate” and “other.”
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.
“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.
I Hate to Admit It, but Prison Is a Blessing in Disguise.
Jy’Aire Smith-Pennick suffered multiple traumas before age 18. He masked his pain with Percocet, weed and drug-selling. Now, at a Pennsylvania prison with the right programs, he’s finally starting to heal.
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.
Nothing Has Made Me Feel More American Than Going to Jail
I was born in D.C. to South Indian parents. But it wasn’t until I had to negotiate the criminal justice system that I fully realized what many Americans of color have to deal with.
How We Survived COVID-19 In Prison
At the start of the pandemic, we asked four incarcerated people to chronicle daily life with the coronavirus. Here, they reveal what they witnessed and how they coped with the chaos, fear, isolation and deaths.
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.
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.
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.
“Nobody Wants to Be Identified as a Victim”
Oakland activist Carl Chan reveals how fear of retaliation, mistrust of police, language barriers and technology gaps fuel underreporting of anti-Asian violence.
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.
Losing My Mom Was Hard Enough. Prison Made It Unbearable
Between scant information, limited phone time and insensitive staff, prison compounded a profound loss.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
I Wasn’t a Superpredator. I Was a Kid Who Made a Terrible Decision.
In 1994, at age 14, Derrick Hardaway took part in the murder of an 11-year-old. The media used the crime to build the myth of the superpredator—and stuck him with a label he’s still trying to shed.
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.
How Counseling Incarcerated Clients Helps Me Heal
My brother committed suicide because he felt totally alone. As a volunteer social worker at a jail, I can let even the most judged people know that someone cares.
I Thought Jail Would Help Me Get Clean. I Was Dead Wrong.
I asked a drug court to send me to jail to get stabilized. But when the jail refused to give me my Suboxone, everything came crashing down.
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.
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?
A Dispatch From Federal Death Row
Days before Daniel Lewis Lee became the first federal prisoner executed in 17 years, fellow death row resident Billie J. Allen wrote about the shared terror of wondering who’s next.
I Am Not Your “Other”
I’m a Cambodian-American from Long Beach, California. But to a prison system that limits its population categories to “Black,” “White” and “Hispanic,” I’m the race version of a misfit toy.
How My White Privilege Protected Me In Jail
Being locked up for a crime I didn’t commit was hard. But nothing compares to the humiliation and harassment that my elderly, disabled, Black cellmate experienced.
My Dad Went to Prison When I Was 5. Now I Write About Families Like Mine
Growing up with a father who was incarcerated didn’t define me. But it certainly taught me to challenge stereotypes and ask better questions.
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.
The Cruel Irony of Social Distancing When You’re Stuck in Solitary
Our running joke: ‘You may go crazy in here, but at least you won’t get corona.’
“We All Have An Expiration Date”: The Death of a Prison Writer
Among the many incarcerated people who have died from COVID-19 was Marshall Project contributor Timothy Bazrowx, one of Texas' best chroniclers of prison life.
A Juvenile Lifer Finds Peace in the Prison Garden
Bobby Bostic was sentenced to 241 years at age 16. Gardening, he writes, keeps him growing.
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 Do I Defend People Now?”
Public defenders rely on in-person, confidential meetings with clients. They say COVID-19 makes their jobs nearly impossible.
I Was a Prison Hospice Aide. Then Came Coronavirus.
“I know firsthand how the looming threat of COVID-19 is being absorbed by all of us behind the walls.”
I Was at Rikers While Coronavirus Spread. Getting Out Was Just as Surreal.
“My family is my family. I am used to our little quirks. But I am still getting used to what's going on outside.”
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.”
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?"
My Cell in Solitary Has a View: The Death House
“There are a lot of people working hard to pull off an execution successfully, and they don’t want to go through all of that just to be cheated out of it at the last minute by the guy committing suicide.”
I Struggled to Help a Prisoner. In Norway, I Found a Better Way
“We took off his wrist restraints and gave him pen and paper. He drew up a storm.”
From the Inside Looking Out
When you’re in prison, outside sights and sounds can become cruel jokes.
Game of Phones
In a prison where 200 men share eight phones, making back-to-back calls is like challenging the guy behind you to a duel.
How I Finally Learned That Trauma Does Not Define Me
“It can be exhausting to tell and retell your painful story just to get people to listen to you about other things.”
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.”
My GPS-Tracked Life on Parole
“Even in prison, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed with worry about doing something wrong when I’m doing everything right.”
For My Incarcerated Clients, There Is No Winning
“What he really needed, a lawyer couldn’t give him.”
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.”
I Killed My Wife. Now I Want to Help Prevent Domestic Violence.
“If I could save one man from doing what I did, then I will have found a calling for my final years.”
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.”
A Thirst for Justice
“They booked me into a cell where there was a paper sign over the toilet saying DON’T DRINK THE WATER.”
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.”
The Federal Prisoner Transit System—aka “Diesel Therapy”—Is Hell
Highlights of prisoner travel include gang fights, overflowing toilets and two weeks shackled to a neo-Nazi.
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.”
On Death Row, There's No Such Thing As Closure
A man convicted of murder reflects on his life, his crime and his punishment.
It Was My Job to Tell the Truth About Jails
“Anyone not touched by the system was unlikely to understand: Going to jail actually marks a story’s beginning.”
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’m 31. I’m a Lawyer. And I’m Still Getting Stopped by the Police.
“Despite everything I have accomplished, this is still happening to me.”
We Thought Our Prison Strike Was a Success. Then Came the Officers in Riot Gear
“Panic ensued as everyone braced for the inevitable attack.”
It's Risky Brewing Prison Hooch. I Learned the Hard Way.
I achieved "hooch master” status—until one batch exploded.
After Prison, I Became a Better Dad
“Even when a parent has been part of a child’s pain, that parent’s love can still be the antidote.”
My Cellie Was the Father I Never Had
“Prison was where I grew to love one of the finest human beings I have ever known.”
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.”
My First Father-Daughter Dance Was in the Prison Gym
“She saw a glimpse of me and what our life could be if I was free.”
Father and Son, Next Door Neighbors in Prison
"We take turns holding the mirror to see each other. And we talk for hours."
Coulda Been a Contender
I had a shot at being the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Then I was convicted of murder.
I Developed Agoraphobia in Prison
After spending 22 years in solitary confinement, anything larger than my cell threw me into panic.
I Taught Myself How to Read in Prison. Then I Sued the System and Won
“Just like the rest of life, everything about the court system is a puzzle I’ve had to piece together.”
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.”
Why Mothers Are the Unsung Heroes of Prison
“I’ve seen disasters averted because an inmate said these simple words: 'What would your mother think?'”
What I Learned When I Googled My Students’ Crimes
“I wondered if I knew more of their history if I would still view them the same way.”
Money Changed Everything for Me in Prison
“I am not evidence that the system ‘works.’ I am an outlier, dripping in luck.”
The Day I Didn’t Serve on a Jury in a Sex Assault Case
“As I left the courthouse it dawned on me that the judge had assumed the role of therapist.”
In Military Prison I Learned The True Meaning of Service
It took me more than 20 years to become a lieutenant colonel. Then I was sent to Leavenworth.
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 Was a Juror on a Murder Trial, And I Still Can’t Let It Go
“I felt an overwhelming sense of injustice. How did this happen?”
The Surprisingly Nomadic Lives of Prisoners
“We live like hermit crabs, schlepping our stuff here and there, taking up a new shell for a while then moving on.”
I Proposed to My Girlfriend From Prison
“I didn't have anything to offer her except a lot of lonely nights.”
Why I Quit My Prison Gang
“The whole experience, I realized, was like a strange mix between junior high school and the Roman Senate.”
Fields of Blood: My Life As a Prison Laborer
“The days would run together. The heat, the drudgery, the daily unpaid toiling in dirt and fields under the hot Texas sun.”
I'm in Prison During the Shutdown. I Didn't Get "Holiday Steak."
There will be beans (there's always beans). And half of a chicken.
Why Showering in Prison Is Hell
“Step by step, I shuffle forward amid the mass of bodies, waiting to get inside.”
I Was a Doctor Addicted to Pills. So Were My Patients.
“I had no idea if I would get caught. It didn't matter.”
Penitentiary Rock: The Radio Show With a Captive Audience
“Only this music captures my bitter, visceral pain.”
How Prisoners Brought 'Death of a Salesman' to Life
“Everything in that room, and everyone, was shining, just for a moment.”
Should I Have Let My Friend on Death Row Kill Himself?
“We don’t live on death row; we wait to die.”
Even My Dreams Are Behind Bars
After being locked up for years, a prisoner’s ability to see freedom fades.
My Dog Didn't Forget Me When I Went to Prison
Charlotte was there for the worst moments of my life. And she was there as I picked up the pieces.
I Got A Life Sentence At 17. Then I Was Raped In Prison.
Even though my son was conceived in the most traumatic possible way, his birth was my saving grace.
Freaky Friday, Prison-Style
At a Kentucky prison, inmates and staff switch places during a “re-entry to society” role-playing game.
The Isolation of Being Deaf in Prison
“I didn’t have a way to communicate. And they basically just flipped me the bird.”
I Met My Friend in Prison. Now I Doubt His Innocence.
A prison volunteer's belief in second chances faces a difficult test.
All The Ways Being White Helped Me Avoid Prison
“As a young, educated white girl, I confused everyone I encountered in law enforcement.”
Breaking the Unwritten Rule of Prison
Or, what happens when guards and prison staff interact as just human beings.
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."
What It’s Like to be a Cutter in Prison
"This isn’t a place that provides treatment, help, or even empathy to those who suffer from stress, depression, and mental illness."
How I Befriended a Prisoner on Suicide Watch
I looked into her eyes and told her, “Promise me you won’t hurt yourself again.”
It’s Surprisingly Tough to Avoid Snitching in Prison
How hard could it be not to betray your friends?
Learning Violin Helped Me Survive Prison
How one former inmate found healing—and himself—through music.
This Prison Won't Let Me Read “Game of Thrones”
Navigating the sometimes weird, arcane rules about inmate contraband.
I Survived a Violent Crime, Then the Justice System Let Me Down
"I was made to feel like a second-class victim."
My Road to Acceptance as a Trans Man Began in Prison
“I won’t be swept under the rug anymore. This is me.”
The Inside Story of a Legendary Prison Debate Team
Our victories over college students weren’t just for us—they were for incarcerated people everywhere.
Getting Out of Prison Meant Leaving Dear Friends Behind
“We leaned on each other. We found reasons to laugh while in agony.”
I Followed My Mom to Prison and to a Degree
“This is the path my life had to take so I could be strong.”
When Your Dad Gets Locked Up—And Then Deported
“It started to sink in that I wouldn’t really get a childhood.”
Want to Escape a Criminal Past? Move to Alaska (Like I Did)
After I left prison, nobody would hire me. So I threw a dart at a map.
How I’m Preparing for Parole After 27 Years in Prison
“With my new lease on life, I still remember the one I took.”
Prison Is Already Scary. It's Even Worse During a Blackout
As darkness fell, nerves got rattled and rumors spread.
Why This Judge Dreads Execution Day
“I wondered whether the system I have been a part of for so long was, simply, barbaric.”
When You’re 16 and It’s Your First Time in Solitary
“I felt like I aged 10 years just by doing 20 days in there.”
Death Row’s First Ever Talent Show
Featuring an “impresario,” a gyrating orange juggler, and an audience-pleasing grand finale.
The Conspiracy Theories You Hear in Prison
The Obamas are part of the Illuminati. Former inmates get lifetime benefits. “Franking.” And other myths that spread behind bars.
Caring for My Sick Husband From Prison
A federal inmate feels helpless as her partner’s health deteriorates.
A Black Mother’s Survival Guide for Her Teenage Son
"The only right you have, I told him, is to make it home alive."
My Sexual Harassers Were Behind Bars. I Was Their Guard.
“I’ve seen more men masturbate than I can count.”
The Day ICE Knocked on My Door
He completed his prison sentence. Then immigration officers came calling.
The Misery of “Medical Chain”
When a trip to the hospital means spending hours on a cramped bus handcuffed to another prisoner.
The Curious Case of the Prisoners in the Wrong Cellblock
A mystery unfolds during an urgent phone call.
The Doctors Say I’m O.K, But Then There’s This Pain…
A fretful prisoner struggles with an ever-growing list of symptoms.
My Do-It-Yourself Language Immersion, Prison-Style
Where the culture was Hispanic, ‘Me llamo Morgan’ got me started.
When Your 18th Birthday Gift Is a Transfer to Adult Prison
A “baby-faced kid” comes of age while incarcerated.
The Singular Sorrow of Grieving Behind Bars
“I had no idea how much pain I would be forced to carry alone.”
What to Never Ask a Prison Wife
People say the darndest things when they hear your spouse is incarcerated.
After 20 Years, Still Haunted by a Drug Conviction
“The criminal justice system has become an ever-present shadow looming over my life.”
I Served 26 Years for Murder Even Though the Killer Confessed
One of the strangest, cruelest stories of wrongful conviction you’ll ever read.
How to Have a Jail Wedding in 3 Minutes
For two women getting hitched at Rikers Island, the ceremony was short and bittersweet.
Working in the Prison System Took Over My Life
The 24/7 nature of corrections work can make it all-consuming.
The Hardest Phone Call a Prosecutor Has to Make
Law school doesn’t prepare you for delivering bad news to victims and their families.
I Can’t Visit My Sons in Prison Because I Have Unpaid Traffic Tickets
A mother with debts — and cancer — wonders if she’ll ever see her incarcerated children again.
Sentenced to Life in Prison — And a Job Making Furniture
Employee perks: None, really, unless you count the nail gun fights.
I Set a Defendant Free And Got Blamed When He Raped Someone
A judge explains how he decides whether to release a defendant before trial without bail — and how it can go bad.
“Prison is a Real-Life Example of the World White Supremacists Want”
Charlottesville: Views from the cellblock.
I Thought Being Gay Was a Sin Until I Saw My Friend Suffer in Prison
A Christian inmate confronts his own beliefs.
What I Learned From the Neo-Nazi in My Prison Book Club
An inmate who grew up worshipping Hitler forces a reading group facilitator to challenge her own beliefs.
Going Back to Prison Never Gets Easy
A Yale Law School graduate speaks to young incarcerated people and faces his own past.
Hell Is Trying to Visit My Jailed Client
At Rikers, it uses up a day. At the courthouse? Don’t hold your breath.
The Accident That Changed My Life in Prison
An inmate remembers his bond with a prison employee who was more than just “one of them.”
My Friend Killed Himself in an Alabama Prison
A rash of suicides in solitary confinement hits an inmate close to home.
The Day I Found Out About My Dad's Parole
The teenage son of an incarcerated man braces for news that could bring his father home.
The Prison Skinhead Gang was My Family. Then I Walked Away
After a violent encounter, an inmate makes a life change.
Facing the Pain of Being a Killer
An inmate offers an apology that brings him face to face with his crime.
I’m a Bail Bondsman Who’s Tired of Being Demonized
A small business owner fights back against changes in the bail industry.
I Escaped My Manic Demons, but My Clients Usually Can’t
A social worker struggles to keep the mentally ill poor out of jail.
I Paid for a Fancy Jail. The Alternative Was Terrifying.
One ex-inmate’s view of a comfy 6-month stay.
After 20 Years in Prison, All I Can Write Is Fantasy
An inmate, his typewriter and dreams of the Internet.
Her Son Murdered, a Chicago Mother Waits for Answers
Two years later and no arrest. ‘Will it ever happen?’
When a Wedding Narrowed the ‘Emotional Distance’ of Prison
For the best man, a fleeting moment of humanity.
The Implications of Trying to Kill Yourself on Death Row
Is dying sooner better than being executed later?
My Best Friends in Prison are Frogs, Turtles, and Raccoons
Sharing space with open-minded visitors from beyond the walls.
How I Came to Terms with the Man Who Shot Me
A victim is transformed by a family history of crime and violence.
A Former Prisoner on Voting for the First Time in His Life
“Being able to vote — that’s rare for people like me.”
How My Time as a Private Prison Guard Changed the Way I See Inmates
“No one wants to be accused of being ‘inmate-friendly.’”
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.”
When a Former Domestic-Violence Prosecutor Realizes Her Relative is Being Abused
“My usual insights didn’t seem to apply. I didn’t know how to help her.”
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.”
I'm a Judge and I Think Criminal Court Is Horrifying
“I was shocked at the casual racism emanating from the bench.”
The Absurd Things I Heard Through the Vents in My Prison Cell
“The man proceeded to make car noises.”
How Being a Sports Bookie Helped Me Live Comfortably in Prison
Even when I was being paid in mackerel and stamps.
My Life With Settlement Cash After Cops Killed My Husband
“Men in suits would sit there and actually talk about what my husband's life was worth.”
The Horrible Things I Saw Driving a Van Packed with Prisoners
Dehydrated, hungry prisoners defecating on themselves.
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.”
I’m a Cop Who Went Viral for Not Killing a Man
A play-by-play of a police-involved shooting in Ohio.
The Bogus Murder Confession That Changed How I Investigate Family Violence
A prosecutor on the case he’ll never forget.
When Your Job Is to Help Free a Wrongfully Convicted Murderer
Inside an innocence investigator’s hunt for a key witness.
The Unlimited Nothingness of Solitary Confinement
Isolation takes its toll, especially on a young mind.
How I Break Prison Rules to Keep in Touch with My Family
“Sometimes I won’t hear from my family in years.”
The War on Drugs Isn't Even Working in Prison
Frequent urine tests, controversial scanners, and false positives.
A Prosecutor’s Regret: How I Got Someone Life in Prison for Drugs
“At the end of my life, I’d like to know that I wasn’t responsible for Lewis Clay spending his final days in prison.”
What It’s Like to Almost Get Executed
San Quentin inmate Kevin Cooper on watching the minutes tick away on his life.
My Memories of Being in Prison with Whitey Bulger
Tales of the “pale, white-haired, geezer in a wheelchair.”
My Regrets as a Juror Who Sent a Man to Death Row
“If I could have done anything, it would have been to deadlock the jury, but I didn’t have the personal strength to do that.”
Inside the 'Shithouse,' the Prison Unit Where Troubled Inmates Throw Feces at Guards
What it’s like to slowly lose your mind in the grossest corner of the prison-industrial complex.
Getting a Hustle: How to Live Like a King Behind Bars
From moonshine to tattoos to balloons of drugs.
A Rare, White Christmas in a Texas Prison
“A few flakes continued to fall, and for a moment, I forgot where I was.”
Why it’s Hard to be a Lifer Who’s Getting Out of Prison
After 34 years inside, sometimes you never feel free.
Raised, and Imprisoned, by the State
A prisoner and former foster child on the kids he knew — and the inmates they became.