American Prison Writing Archive

Hannah Dwyer

In 2017, it was recorded that there were over 2.3 million people incarcerated and the United States is known to be the country with the highest incarceration. Many people have their own beliefs about incarceration, some disagree with people not being in jail for the right reasons or not for enough time or vise versa. Some people raise awareness or disregard the way of life for prisoners in their conditions.  American Prison Writing Archive is a website that holds thousands of imprisoned people or prison staff’s experiences. It’s a site to educate outsiders on the indifference of people incarcerated. It’s main goal is to replace misrepresentation of imprisoned people and prison workers with thousands of first hand experiences. 

American Prison Writing Archive was founded by writer Doran Larson who had an interest in this topic and started to pursue it in 2006. Not until 2012 did the archive become a discussion from receiving many essays and in 2014 few selected essays were published in Larson’s book called Fourth City: Essays From the Prison in America. With millions of people in prisons and many stories untold, essays never stopped coming in to Larson. Instead of letting these stories go unread, Larson created APWA. By 2017 Larson was awarded $262,000 by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The NEH is an independent federal agency of the United States government that supports research and education in the humanities. Both Larson and NEH had hope to destroy the disconnect between American’s outside and inside prisons. Part of the money is to continue to let people see the stories and another part of the money is to create an online tool that allows anyone to transcribe essays. Something that stood out to me was with the thousands of essays they receive, they are all categorized so that they can be found easier. There are categories such as ethnicity, gender, religion, different states, etc. With these thousands of essays, the same emerging themes are known to be staff violence, neglect and abuse at home, drug and alcohol addiction, and police aggression. Questions I have regarding this archive are who is reading these essays, are they all being read, and if there are ones that are ever denied from being put on the website.

Creating A New Education

Technology has brought us many great advancements but it also led our generation to lack social skills, communication skills, and a lack of focus. Our generation has an issue with face to face conversations due to texting, so how could we gain those communication skills back? Who can teach those who struggle with this? Society has changed in many ways, but our education system has always stuck to tradition, leaving us with no outlet to learn how to progress along with technology.

“Were still going to school the way we did in 1993, which is to say, pretty much as we did in 1893.” (6). We still follow the main traditions Socrates created, and focus mostly on getting good grades on standardized tests and working to get into a university. Although those aspects create work ethics and gain us knowledge, we should be learning how to fit in society. School is the one place we are we are told to not use technology, and that never suceeds. Our generation is addicted to the advancements we have made in the technology world, it is hard for us to shut that out for hours inside a classroom. “Its odd and irresponsible that formal education that formal education is the one place where we are not using the devices on which we do our learning all the rest of the time.” (76). Technology has allowed us to have every answer to any question in the palm of our hand, so why would that not be useful to use inside a place of learning? 

Almost all of our assignments are due online and tablets have become the new loose leaf. When we step outside of the classroom, we use the internet to help us complete our assignments. I think if we could do the same inside the classroom, students would be more confident in particiapting and would get more out of the class. In one of my recent classes last semester, I used my laptop as my “go to” to look up a lot of questions my teacher addressed and it helped me to be more confident in participating. 

The issue is that some teachers are technophobic, and can not stear away from their old school traditions. To them, they think they are helping us because “things were easier back then” but in reality, it is only regressing the quality of our education.  We are only taught how to be successful prior to and during college but not after. Once we graduate we may have many science formulas memorized and know ancient history, but we don’t know how to function in society to succeed. I see this as very alarming issue and something I would want to see change, but an important question that still evokes my mind would be the “how”. How can we create this major shift in learning as a society? Many teachers are much older than us and did not experience growing up with technology, therefore they are against it. Say we create a “new education” and cirriculum, how can we be sure that those teachers will know how to properly help us succeed or if they will still stick to their traditions. I think the reality is that we are too far along in advancements to try and forget about technology in certain scenarios. Incorporating technology into classrooms and teaching us how to succeed outside of school will benefit us students more than the old traditional ways. Going to school should mean we are being taught the needs to suceed for our future. “The college education we need today must prepare our students for their epic journey, the mountains and cliff’s edges.” (13). We are constantly modernizing and advancing our society and education should be included in that. 

Discussion Questions:

  • How can we steer away from old traditional classes and create more on how to succeed in society ? Do you think teachers would be upset and stick to their old ways still?
  • Do you believe that incoroporating technology into lectures would help you focus worse or better in class?

Davidson, Cathy N. The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux. Basic Books, 2017.

Hi, my name is Hannah!

Hello everyone. My name is Hannah and I am a junior at SUNY Cortland. I am from Long Island but I love upstate New York! My major is Inclusive Childhood Education with a concentration in Humanities. English is my favorite subject and I look forward to learning a lot in this class.