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.

3 Replies to “American Prison Writing Archive”

  1. Hi Hannah!
    I really like this post and the topic you chose. I am always very interested in prison and incarceration. I love that Doran Larson went looking for an outlet to share writings from prison. We as a society often dehumanize these people which is unfair. This project I think helps us see them as people still and understand their stories. To answer your questions, I hope they do not deny essays. No matter how vulgar or upsetting, these are peoples real and true stories so I think they should be shared. I think many people worry about prisoners abusing this as a way to contact the outside world, but since these people are incarcerated they do not get responses to so I think this could be very beneficial for those in jail and those on the outside.

  2. Hi Hannah,
    I find this Digital Humanities Project particularly interesting. The incarcerated suffer from a lack of voice as well as a lack of civil rights. I agree with what you said in regards to the overall indifference towards those incarcerated and the assumption that everyone in prison is there because they made irreparable mistakes within society. I believe we need to turn an eye towards what happens in correctional facilities and how this may perpetuate crime rather than prevent it. The American Prison Writing archive is definitely making positive leeway in achieving this goal.

  3. Hi Hannah,
    I found your project to be very interesting. The prison system has always been something that was interesting to me. I feel like a lot of prisoners are overlooked based on their crimes. I agree with you in that it’s very interesting how they separate the essays into categories such as race, gender, and even state. That is interesting because I find that that makes the site easier to look through especially if you were looking for a specific essay. I think your question is also very interesting. It is interesting to think about who might be reading these essays. I would like to think that families might read these essays , or maybe even college students in a criminal justice class might look at these essays in order to learn more about a prisoners perspective. I think ultimately these essays can help expose us to the real source of what is happening in the prisons. I also have seen a lot of different Netflix documentaries on prisons and I have found them very interesting. I felt like they helped at telling the prisoners stories. I especially really liked the documentary girls incarcerated because it showed the aspect of reform as well.

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