Marshall Project Originals
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.”
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.
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.