Hearing from those impacted by incarceration

The United States has an incarceration crisis. We imprison more people — both in sheer numbers and as a percentage of the population — than any other country in the world. A huge number of people in jails or prisons are there for non-violent offenses and unequal application of laws and sentencing have led to people of color being disproportionately warehoused and separated from their families. 

More and more, citizens and lawmakers are calling for change. Still, the problem can be overwhelming. We need good ideas and information to support change that improves the lives of families and communities. Those who are most affected by incarceration possess a deep understanding of what drives the cycle of imprisonment and how it impacts incarcerated individuals, their families, and communities. Their real life stories contain valuable ideas of how to best reform the criminal justice system.

The Inside/Out Project brought the voices of those most affected by incarceration into the conversation about criminal justice policy and reform.

Held at Serenity House in San Diego and in the Las Colinas women's detention facility, we met with groups of women for several workshops. The goals of the workshops were for participants to have a rich and new experience of themselves through creative art expression and storytelling and to develop, from where they were at, their comfort level in working with various media. Group members were supported in speaking about their experiences in ways that they feel respected and honored, looking at their experiences from a broader social justice perspective, and considering how they might engage in advocacy for better criminal justice practices. In the workshops, we used visual art and writing exercises to help the women separate their own identities from their criminal activities and incarceration experiences. As a group, we developed a picture of the stereotypes and misconceptions about incarcerated women that are unhelpful and keep them stuck in their lives. They then had the opportunity to propose alternatives and talk about exceptional programs that had been helpful to them.

Throughout the workshops at Serenity House, we had simple video cameras available and encouraged the women to film one another - to increase their comfort level with the technology. This simple video was edited together and included in a multi-media art exhibit at Expressive Arts San Diego. Attendees of the exhibit were invited to interact in various ways and propose their own ideas for improving our criminal justice system.

We also worked with young people on probation at their continuation High School, using video production to create a video called "I Deserve" where they expressed their current reality in the context of their hopes and dreams . 


Implementing Project Partners


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Community Partners