In the criminal justice debate, let’s make sure that the people with first-hand experience get heard.
About this project
WHAT IS THE MARSHALL PROJECT?
The Marshall Project is a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. We launched in November 2014 and are the youngest news organization ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. We’ve published more than 500 stories in partnership with nearly 70 news organizations. Our goal is to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about criminal justice reform.
WHAT IS LIFE INSIDE?
Every week, Life Inside features a first-person narrative by someone with personal experience of the criminal justice system. Many of our authors are among the 2.2 million men and women incarcerated in this country. They include people like Corbett Yost on what it’s like to be gay in prison; Rahsaan Thomas on investing small sums in the stock market from behind bars; and Dan Royston on reconnecting with his estranged daughter, “one crinkly letter at a time.”
Other people with direct experience of criminal justice have also published “Life Inside” columns: a police officer, a murderer’s daughter, a judge, a transgender corrections officer, a juror with second thoughts in a death penalty case, and many more.
We publish “Life Inside” every Friday, in partnership with Vice. These stories reach hundreds of thousands of people.
This Kickstarter campaign will help to support Life Inside by underwriting the small team here at The Marshall Project who research, edit, format, illustrate, promote, and distribute the column. We also pay a modest stipend to our authors.
It costs us approximately $1,400 to produce each Life Inside column. Reaching our fundraising goal of $20,000 will go a long way toward covering our costs for the rest of the year.
We clearly state the crime and punishment of our contributors. But we do believe our authors have something important to say about how more than 2 million Americans are living their lives, almost completely unseen and unheard by the rest of us.
We hope that you’ll support our campaign because you, like us, believe that good journalism sparks reform. The Marshall Project is determined to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about our broken criminal justice system.
Many important reform advocates, policy makers, and other experts have been quoted in our news pages and have written policy op-eds. But “Life Inside” is different. Its authors are not people with ready access to media. Their voices are not being heard.
As we debate criminal justice reform in this country, let’s make sure the people with first-hand experience of the system are a part of the conversation.
Please help us support Life Inside.
AN EXAMPLE OF LIFE INSIDE:
“RAISED, AND IMPRISONED BY THE STATE” BY ARTHUR LONGWORTH
Arthur Longworth is a 50-year-old inmate at Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, Washington. He is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for an aggravated murder he committed when he was 20.
In this prison, the yard is only an acre and a half. But we pack into it hundreds at a time. Like every other place in here, it smells and sounds like people.
Outside prison, mass incarceration is measured in numbers, which is understandable, because the numbers are staggering. But after more than 30 years in prison – my entire adult life – I have mass incarceration sewn into my flesh and bones. I can’t turn away from it or choose not to know it, and it leaves me with little or no capacity for hope. It buries me. It keeps me from breathing.
When I close my eyes, certain faces of mass incarceration appear, unbidden, in my consciousness:
Boo’s is wide and moon-shaped. He is the little Native American kid who wouldn’t let go of my leg at my sister’s foster home. He’s called me uncle ever since. If I open my eyes, I’ll see him as clearly as I did when we were boys, because he’s on this yard with me. At least a lifetime ago, he shot someone during a drug deal. He has life without the possibility of parole.
Dean’s face is brighter and buoys me. He is the boy I met in a receiving home in Tacoma, Washington when he was nine and I was 12. Both of us, at that point, were already veterans of an interminable number of state placements. Dean was in the control unit in Walla Walla with me when guards firehosed me every week and kept me naked and in leg shackles for months. He lifted my spirit by giving me a thumbs-up through the narrow window slat of his cell door whenever the guards dragged me by. Dean is on the yard of a prison 60 miles south of here. Two decades ago, he struck out under this state’s three-strikes law — for burglary. He has life without the possibility of parole.
I shared a room with Robert at the boys’ home in Silverdale, Washington the night he snuck out the window. He said he’d be back by morning, but he wasn’t. He was in an article in the next day’s newspaper because he beat up and robbed a man outside a tavern. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the man died a week later: Robert was bigger than all of us and always unaware of his strength. He is at a place 400 miles east. He has life in prison.
Dan’s face is haggard; he looks old, though he’s only a few years older than me. I first saw him when I was at a boys’ home outside Centralia in Washington. I never expected that he’d come to prison because he was the son of a staff member. Prison, I believed, was for those who were raised by the state. Maybe whatever was wrong inside of us rubbed off onto him. Dan hasn’t been to the yard since his friend, Dennis, died in the cell next to him. Maybe he’s given up. He has life without the possibility of parole.
I haven’t known James’s face long, but I know where he came from, and it troubles me deeply. Like me, he was at O.K. Boys Ranch, and he committed almost the same crime I did. But he’s 20 years younger, and has more of this ahead of him. He too has life without the possibility of parole.
And then there’s Tony, whose face, I hope, no longer shows the strain of his unending incarceration. He got let go from his job at the license plate factory after he lost part of his hand in the metal-cutting machine. He often talked to us about the state boys’ ranch in Eastern Washington, where he grew up. He ran laps in the yard, taught us math, did the best he could. For 25 years. And I swear I still hear his voice in the corridor when it’s crowded, even though I know it can’t be him because he hung himself in his cell.
He had life without the possibility of parole.
They, we, are mass incarceration. We grew up inside of it, never outside of it. Our lives as boys — free of education, free of a home, free of hope — pulled us into becoming the numbers. And now we are in here forever, without the chance of parole.
But those aren’t the only faces I see. There’s one more that I think of every day, the face of a person I keep close in order to never forget why I wasn’t delivered into this innocent or blameless. As a boy, I stabbed and killed a person. I’m bound irrevocably to that terrible act, and obligated to the human being I committed it against, in a way that feels separate from my punishment. No matter how bad it gets in here, prison doesn’t feel like it makes up for anything.
But prison, even in the form it has devolved into, has still taught me something: no amount of pain or misery the system assigns can undo the crime I committed or make me any sorrier than I was the moment I committed it.
My remorse can be the seed of my change. Although I cannot undo my crime, I can do good. I can care about others. I can see them.
Risks and challenges
We want the audience for Life Inside to grow. We’re grateful for our partnership with Vice that helps us reach a much larger audience. But the readership for this kind of material is limited. We will do our best to expand the readership of Life Inside through social media and partnerships. Still, it isn’t easy to change America’s perception of the men and women living behind bars.