Discussions on mass incarceration often include staggering statistics and numbers that can easily stifle personal anecdotes. A panel discussion hosted by Agate Passage Friends and University Friends is shifting away from that kind of dialogue, and will provide a platform for four former inmates to share stories about their lives in prison.
“Ain’t nothin’ easy ’bout livin’ in a cage: The Prison Experience in Washington State” will be a two-hour conversation, moderated by criminal justice advocate Carol Estes. Steve Herbert from the UW’s School of Law, Societies and Justice will prelude the event with an explanation of how the United States has reached such high levels of incarceration, and provide historical context in Washington state.
The prison system is really about individuals, Estes said. “We have this idea that people in prison are monsters but they really are the people down the road. [They are] the guys you went to high school with, they are amazingly average people. I think that before we can take seriously the mass incarceration binge we’ve been on, we’ve got to be able to see these people as humans.”
The four former prisoners each have different prison experiences and were incarcerated for different reasons: Kristopher Larsen was caught in the immigration system. Ardell Shaw will speak to his experience as a Black man in prison. Dan Pens was convicted as a sex offender. Aaron Borrero received clemency from the governor only after great expense and going through the clemency process twice. He will also speak on the effect that prison has on inmates’ families.
“We say these people have accrued a debt to society and the currency we have decided they should pay it with is time in a cage,” Estes said. “The media often portrays the absolute worst side of the story and never hear about what a guy is like five years or ten years after [his] time and what he’s done to make up for it.” It is also a difficult task getting inside prisons as media, she adds, which contributes to the lack of personal experiences that are told.
The two organizations involved in this panel are hopeful that highlighting personal stories of the formerly incarcerated will help make the point that something has to change in the system. They hope to accomplish four major points in future legislative sessions:
- Changing the mission of the Department of Corrections (DOC) to emphasize reintegration
- Creation of an independent office to oversee the DOC
- Restoration of funding for higher education in prisons
- Creation of a sentence review, or parole, program.
WHAT: “Ain’t nothin’ easy ’bout livin’ in a cage: The Prison Experience in Washington State”
WHEN: April 28, 7–9 p.m.
WHERE: University Friends Meeting
4001 Ninth Ave. NE