Hundreds dead. Thousands infected. Stories from the inside.
UCI has created a website to preserve the stories of people who are incarcerated in California prisons and jails, their family members and loved ones, and the employees who work in these facilities. PrisonPandemic provides one of the first discoverable and ethical sources of knowledge about how those incarcerated are experiencing the COVID-19 crisis. We have collected contributions (primarily via phone calls and letters) from people incarcerated in California’s carceral facilities, with stories spanning across time (with retrospective accounts from the beginning of the pandemic) and place (across all of California’s 35 state and 10 federal prisons, jails in most of the state’s 58 counties, and all of the state’s nine immigration detention facilities). Our hope is that the archive will outlive the COVID-19 pandemic and serve as a resource for understanding the unequal toll of the criminal legal system in the United States.
Why was this project started? As we read the news about COVID-19 ravaging our jails and prisons, we became concerned about the dangerous effects of the virus on people living and working in prisons (and on their loved ones). And we have noted that there are currently no systematic accounts of how prisoners, their loved ones, and the staff and officers who work in prisons are experiencing this public health crisis. In fact, widespread lockdowns and outside visitor prohibitions have cut off prisoners from most outside contact. We started this project to address these concerns.
What are goals of this project? There are two main goals for this project. First, we hope to bear witness to what people have experienced inside our prisons during the pandemic. We want to give them an opportunity to describe their experiences and for them to know that people are listening to and sharing those descriptions. Second, we want to bring greater transparency to the crisis by broadening accessibility to the materials and building a permanent, sustainable archive (in addition to the digital interface). The archive will serve as a resource for understanding the pandemic’s unequal toll. By providing individuals in prison an opportunity to share their stories, this project will raise awareness to the vulnerabilities experienced by this population.
Since October 2020, we have collected thousands of stories from people who are incarcerated. We are working to process these materials for sustainability, to create pedagogical models to incorporate PrisonPandemic in high school and college classrooms across the state, and to develop outreach projects (e.g., a podcast, a play, an art exhibit, and social media advertisements) to amplify the voices in the archive.
Your contribution today will help us shine a light on this crisis and help share their stories.