Students learn about prison


Sophomore biology major Daniela Bravo (left) and sophomore nursing major Kayli Holden (right), write letters to inmates. This station at Day in the Life of a Prisoner asked students send hope to inmates in the form of letters.

Sam Malone

DeKALB | Junior marketing major Alli Howland went to the Day in the Life of a Prisoner event Sept. 26 because she was required to, but left the event more informed and remembered prisoners are people too.

The Common Reading and Student Experience Organization paired with First and Second Year Experience to put on the event so students could be involved with Common Reading Experience, a program that encourages new students to read the same story.

This year’s common read is “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson and is about the injustices of the prison system and the environment prisoners often face. Alexis Massman, senior electrical engineering major and Common Reading and Student Experience Organization president, said it is important that students are aware of how prison systems are run because it could lead to empathy.

“We noticed that a lot of students didn’t understand what the prison systems are like, and we kind of have a biased view that only bad people go to prison,” Massman said. “Really, some of these people go to prison because they made one mistake, or maybe they’re wrongly accused of something, but you are not your worst mistake. This event is about humanizing prisoners. It’s about awareness and making students more open-minded.”

Attendees were ‘charged’ with a crime at the first station, such as illegally transmitting HIV, and then took a mug shot. The Holmes Student Center, Regency Room, was set up as a walk-through that informed attendees about the conditions prisoners face every day.

A small square was marked on the ground with the dimensions of a solitary confinement cell, which allows no human contact for prisoners aside of occasional prison staff, and a table placed in the outline to represent the bed.

“I thought the tape on the floor was really interesting and the facts about how quickly a person can get depressed or mentally ill [in those conditions], because I’m sure I would too,” Howland said. “These people are still human, and you can’t put people in that condition and keep them there all day and expect them to still be able to be rehabilitated.”

The event featured Daniel McConkie, College of Law assistant professor, as a speaker on the topic of solitary confinement. McConkie said while some of these prisoners are not sympathetic, they are still human, and the nation could handle them in better ways than solitary confinement.

“I think prisons are fascinating, [because] when you go into prisons, you see the way a civilization treats its castaways,” McConkie said. “I think a lot of people deserve to be in prison, and for a very long time, but not all of the people in prison deserve to be there. Solitary confinement [in particular] needs to be reduced, because personally, I think it’s inhumane and unconstitutional.”

McConkie talked about the effects of solitary confinement and debated with a few students in the crowd about how the nation could improve this epidemic but always concluded the solutions require money.

He said people in the nation do not feel sympathy for those in prison, which is a problem, because they don’t want to fund changes to better the living conditions of those in institutions.

At the event’s final station, students were asked to write a note to a prisoner to provide hope and inspiration for them. Massman stressed the importance of this and said many prisoners don’t get visits from family or friends, and this could be the only contact with the outside world they have.

“You get put into this system and you’re dehumanized,” Massman said. “You’re given a number; you’re given a cell, and you’re told what to do, where to go and when to do it. You’re just taken away from society completely, [and] writing a letter to prisoners kind of gives them a little hope, and we want to give them that hope. And that’s what this is about.”