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What matters now. A publication from Medium about politics, power, and culture.

Prison

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THE WAY WE WORK NOW

Librarian networks are trying to get books in the hands of people locked away in prisons and jails

The Way We Work Now is a series chronicling how people’s lives and careers have fundamentally changed because of the pandemic.

Mia Bruner is a 29-year-old librarian and founder of the Prison Library Support Network (PLSN). She spoke with Mai Tran about the difficulties of providing resources to incarcerated people during a pandemic.

Prison Library Support Network was founded in 2016, after Donald Trump was elected. …


The new film ‘Belly of the Beast’ explores the legacy of forced sterilizations in California’s prison system

In 2000, Kelli Dillion was 24 years old when she began to feel abdominal pain. An inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility, the world’s largest women’s prison, Dillion was sent to the prison gynecologist for an exam. The doctor suspected she had cancer and booked her for a biopsy. He also asked whether Dillon wanted to have more children. She said yes. Then, he inquired whether she’d agreed to a hysterectomy. Dillion said yes, but only if they found signs of the disease. …


Chicago shows that the best way to keep young people out of jail is to make sure they’re staying busy

Americans today are deluged by a seemingly endless stream of horrible news. Wildfires. Hurricanes. Economic dislocation. Social unrest. Naked power grabs undermining hallowed institutions. All that amid a pandemic that has already taken 200,000 American lives, many of which might have been saved had the White House been even half-competent. The country at this moment could use something to cheer about. And while it’s not getting much attention, Chicago has some welcome news at the ready.

Consider this: Chicago Public Schools in 2020 boasted a record graduation rate of 82%, up from 56% just a decade ago, and the lowest…


Voices From Inside the System

Bail bondsman Topo Padilla works in a $3 billion industry where Black and Hispanic detainees make up nearly half of the jail population

Handcuffs
Handcuffs

Voices From Inside the System is a new GEN series where we interview people who have had firsthand experience in industries with especially fraught histories of systemic racism. We asked our subjects to think deeply about the role they played and the work they did. We asked them why they stayed or why they left, how they might be complicit, or if they thought they — or anyone — could fundamentally change the system.

Topo Padilla, 55, is a bail bondsman and president of the Golden State Bail Agents Association. Bail bonds are a $3 billion industry, and two-thirds of…


VOICES FROM INSIDE THE SYSTEM

A corrections officer reflects on 15 years of working among incarcerated people

Voices From Inside the System is a new GEN series where we interview people who have had firsthand experience in industries with especially fraught histories of systemic racism. We asked our subjects to think deeply about the role they played and the work they did. We asked them why they stayed or why they left, how they might be complicit, or if they thought they — or anyone — could fundamentally change the system.

This 38-year-old white corrections officer has been working in New York state prisons for 15 years. According to the Sentencing Project, one in three Black men…


Life in the Time of the Coronavirus

Vanessa Santiago departed as the virus began to spread through the prison. The outside world had changed in ways she was unprepared for.

Life in the Time of the Coronavirus is a GEN series where we are interviewing people across the country who have had their lives upended or are experiencing the stress of the unknown.

Vanessa Santiago, 40, was released from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility on March 30 after serving 22 years in prison. She is currently living in a short-term studio rental in Syracuse, New York, as she waits to move to Florida to rejoin her family, but parole obligations and travel limitations due to Covid-19 have forced her to put off these plans.

On March 30, 2020, I got out…


Life in the Time of Coronavirus

A new series about how this pandemic affects our lives, our loved ones, our work, and our way of life

Life in the Time of Coronavirus is a new GEN series where we are interviewing people across the country who have had their lives upended or who are experiencing the stress of the unknown.

This incarcerated person, who wishes to remain anonymous, is serving a 15-year sentence at a federal penitentiary in a southern U.S. state. The facility in which he is housed operates beyond capacity and has scarce medical care.

A couple of months ago about 300 of us got sick. They took everybody 50 years old and over and moved them permanently to their own dorm. Whatever that…


Great Escape

There was no chisel involved, no rope of bedsheets. But with the help of a willing accomplice, I found a way out.

A few years ago, I escaped from prison. I’d been fantasizing about it for years, but the precipitating factor was a fight between two fellow inmates that left one in the hospital and the other in solitary confinement.

It was 8 p.m. Slim, a tall, skinny dude, had been gossiping with a friend. “Yeah, son, I’ma holla at you later, boy,” he yelled down the tier as the conversation wrapped up. “That shit was crazy!”

I was standing in my doorway, just keeping a quiet watch on my surroundings, when another inmate, Shaolin, rose from his bed and made his…


Prison Stories

An unexpected lesson in the power of generosity

It might not be the Plymouth Colony pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe, wildfowl and popcorn, but my first Thanksgiving in a state prison had a few echoes of that famous feast.

Seven years ago, I was 19, fresh upstate, and didn’t know nothing about anything. My commissary account — the money I’d use to purchase approved food and cosmetic items biweekly — was virtually nonexistent. Every money order my family sent was diverted towards “surcharges,” or various administrative fees connected to my conviction. My monthly 35-pound food package from home was long gone. Bottom line: I was broke. …


Prison Stories

I didn’t have a mentor. I’m not going to let that happen to other trans and LGBTQ prisoners.

Every morning, I try to wake up around 5 a.m. It may seem strange given the long day that lies ahead of me in prison. But I am a transgender woman assigned to a cell with a non-LGBTQ man and, thankfully, he sleeps until 7 a.m. or later. So early morning is the only time I have to sit back in peace, reflect on yesterday, and prepare myself for today.

It is also my only time to cry and to be emotional without showing weakness. …

GEN

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