carles rabada / unsplash.com/@carlesrgm


Prison Break – Orange is the New Black – Porridge – We’ve all done our fair share of time in the box(set), but what do we really know of the reality of incarceration?

This volume investigates the prison system from rates of incarceration, to the experiences of inmates, their families and guards, to the reality of life after release. It looks at prison life in Mexico and Burundi, and meets the teenager sentenced to 241 years inside.

Rock hammers at the ready. We’ll see you on the other side.


01 / Prisoner 4099 / The National Archives

“This is an extract from a letter Oscar Wilde wrote to The Daily Chronicle newspaper after his own release in 1897 from Reading prison. The letter, entitled: “The Case of Warder Martin: Some Cruelties of Prison Life”, shows his concern over the treatment of children in prisons.”

02 / Notes from a Dead House / Max Nelson / The Paris Review / 2015

“No writer intends to produce prison literature. Just as incarceration involves its own awful set of debasements, drudgeries, and abuses, so it marks any writing done under its restrictions as part of a genre, one of the oldest to which new work is still added daily.”

03 / Yes, U.S. locks people up at a higher rate than any other country / Michelle Ye Hee Lee / The Washington Post / 2015

“It’s a stark fact that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago despite the fact that crime is at historic lows.”

04 / Prison rips up families, tears apart entire communities / John Simerman / NOLA / 2012

“Jaymalis — who goes by “J.J.” — is meandering toward a cliff that seems always right around the corner in a neighborhood with one of the highest incarceration rates in New Orleans, in a state that locks up more of its residents, per capita, than any place in the world.”

05 / Inside America’s Black Box: A Rare Look at the Violence of Incarceration / Shaila Dewan / The New York Times / 2019

“Then there is the blood: In puddles. In toilets. Scrawled on the wall in desperate messages. Bloody scalps, bloody footprints, blood streaming down a cheek like tears.”

06 / Fog Count / Leslie Jamison / Oxford American / 2013

“Charlie is a cat of many lives: once-upon-a-time crack addict, father of two, professional repairer of hail damage, TV producer, motivational speaker, documentary-film star, and—for the past twenty years—one of the strongest ultra-distance runners in the world.”

07 / America’s Other Family-Separation Crisis / Sarah Stillman / The New Yorker / 2018

“Sending a mother to prison can have a devastating effect on her children. Why, then, do we lock so many women up?”

08 / The teenager sentenced to 241 years in prison / Owen Amos / BBC News / 2018

“A man who committed a brutal robbery as a teenager in Missouri, firing a gun at two people, will be in prison until he dies. Is that fair?”

09 / My four months as a private prison guard / Shane Bauer / Mother Jones / 2016

“I take a breath. Am I really going to become a prison guard? Now that it might actually happen, it feels scary and a bit extreme.”

10 / VIDEO: Murder, Mayhem, and Meditation / VICE News / YouTube / 2014

“VICE News was granted rare access to go inside one of the most maximum-security prisons in the country, a place that’s on the frontline of what could be a sea change in prison policy.”

11 / These photos of prison cells around the world show how differently countries treat their criminals / Mark Abadi / Business Insider / 2018

“From comfortable single bedrooms in Norway to overcrowded and run-down facilities in Malawi.”

12 / Prisons in Africa: ‘The Dungeon’, Burundi Jails / Nathalie Mohadjer / Prison Photography / 2010

“Nathalie Mohadjer and I sat down and talked about her vital photographic series The Dungeon.”

13 / Two Years Inside a Mexican Prison / Monica Cruz / The Atlantic / 2013

“A U.S. citizen says he was wrongfully sentenced to jail on drug smuggling charges while on a trip across the border with a friend. Now he’s writing a book about the ordeal.”

14 / Prison re-entry programs help inmates leave the criminal mindset behind, but few have access to the classes / Cindy Chang / NOLA / 2012

“The rats, the roaches, the stabbings and the suicides have never stopped J.C. Alford from coming back. Out of prison for a year or two, then back on a drug charge here, a burglary there – it’s a cycle he’s been repeating since 1977.”

15 / The scandal of ex-prisoners released into a new life – on the streets / Emily Goddard / The Guardian / 2018

“Figures obtained by the Guardian show a 25-fold increase in rough sleeping among those who served sentences of less than six months”

16 / I went to prison for 19 years. Here is why I didn’t become a statistic / Joseph Jackson / The Guardian / 2018

“The philosophy of punishment seems to have changed. To fix our broken system, we must return to the progressive policies of old”

17 / VIDEO: Grace / Jim McCann / YouTube

‘Grace’ performed by Jim McCann