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An Educational Resource on Mass Incarceration


Otis Johnson

Released in 2014 after serving over 44 years in prison.

I was released with $40, my criminal charge and my parole papers. Nothing else. I was dropped off in Times Square and I stayed there for almost an hour and a half just looking at people. A lot of people come out of prison and say that they want to give back to society. I don’t want to give back to society, I want to take away. I want to take away the crime that has happened, the drugs, the homeless problems. I’m in a shelter myself, and I want to build more shelters.


Spent three years on Rikers Island because he was unable to pay the $3000 bail and was unwilling to plead guilty to a crime that he did not commit.

Kalief Browder, from the Bronx, spent three years on Rikers Island because he was unable to pay the $3000 bail and was unwilling to plead guilty to a crime that he did not commit. Arrested in 2010, at the age of 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack, he was charged with robbery and assault. While at Rikers, Kalief was beaten by guards and other inmates and spent much of this time in solitary confinement. In 2013, all charges against him were dropped and he was finally released. In 2015, at the age of 22, unable to overcome the emotional and psychological trauma caused by his incarceration, Kalief Browder committed suicide.

Evie Litwok

EVIE LITWOK is a formerly incarcerated, aging, New York, Jewish, lesbian, feminist and child of two holocaust survivors. She has been to prison twice, both while in her 60s.

“Walking into prison is a shock to the system and the shock happens right away when you’re forced to strip naked and get strip searched. You suddenly realize that you’re really in another place. You can’t cry. You can’t feel. You can’t do anything. Sexual violence is so prevalent that it hits every single one of us. The guards walk over to you and they say, “ Do you want to see your kids? I want to see you.” “You want visitation from your mother. I want to see you.” There’s no such thing as consensual sex in prison. An officer who does anything with an inmate is committing a criminal act. But women are afraid of reporting this because the guards can retaliate. They can make you disappear very easily in the system. They can put you in solitary. They can limit your phone, email or any privileges. They control your ability to remain in contact with everybody that you know. Prisons create a medical health situation which is unhealthy and it’s a disaster. We don’t have PTSD but we do have post trauma prison stress. I will never be the same as I was before prison.”

Read Evie Story

T. Haywood

Lead Mentor Arches/ Next STEPS programs, The Osborne Association

RIP: Rest in peace? Rot in prison? Or re-invest in people? These are the choices that the young people I work with have. So why is more energy focused on the first two? A long time ago, I decided that if I was ever released, I would make it my mission to redirect youth away from prison. What people don’t understand is that these youth have trauma in their lives and we need to meet them there. We assume they have certain skills but they don't always. And their frustration comes out in the street. We have to offer them another world and give them choices.


Associate Vice President of Policy at the Fortune Society, a reentry organization whose goal is to build people, not prisons.

I was invested in by men who are going to die in prison. They had already accepted that and the way they give back to society is by investing in people like me who have an opportunity to go home. I landed in the maximum security prison with the most programs developed and implemented by men in that facility, not by the New York State Corrections Institution, but by men who knew what other men needed.If everyone had the same experience that I had and were given the same opportunities, more people would come out of prison and not recidivate. The hardest part of this work is investing in something when the likelihood of it happening in your lifetime is very slim. The system and society that I envision is much bigger than the criminal justice system, it is literally how we have not resolved the issue of how we founded this country. When you think of the Civil Rights Movement, you think ‘it’s amazing what Rosa Parks did’ but it couldn’t have only been her. ‘It’s amazing what MLK did’ but it couldn’t have only been him. There will be the MLKs and the Rosa Parks in this movement, the people whose stories will be idolized. But there will a bunch of other people too. I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I did something, not just that I made it out and that was it.

Read KHALIL Story


Formerly Incarcerated Person

I had never been to jail so I didn’t really know what was going on but something inside was telling that this can’t be right. I was in there with women who were doing twenty years for driving offenses. I’ve never met so many good women in my life. The experience inside opened my mind too. I had always envisioned people in jail as dingy, crazy people, but they are just regular people who did something minor. We all make mistakes and just because we make a mistake, it does not mean that we should be locked away for the rest of our lives, or for any amount of time. Prison is supposed to rehabilitate and it does not do that at all.


Impacted by incarceration in his family

My mother was incarcerated when I was 23. At that time, I also had two siblings who were 4 and 6 years old, very young. My mother was the head of the house. She was the one who took care of the family, paid the bills and all that stuff. I was a college student. The kids were going to school as well and so you can only imagine that when the breadwinner is taken out of the equation, there is no bread. If your mother is in prison, your father is in prison, your cousin, your brother, you feel that guilt. People look at you like you are from the same blood and assume you will end up doing the same things. Kids will make fun of you without knowing what they are laughing at. You are bullied for something that has nothing to do with you as an individual.


Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights

These are human beings forced to live for decades in a cage, denied the ability to touch their loved ones for decades, denied the ability to communicate face to face with anyone else. It is not a real form of living. We hope that our success in this case will lead to a drastic reduction in the use of solitary confinement in California. We feel like this lawsuit and this prisoner- lead struggle is just one piece of a larger movement against solitary confinement in this country and across the world.


Fled from Honduras to the US in 2014 with her two children.

One day when the gangs came to collect the tax, we couldn’t afford to pay. They left a note saying "you and your sister will die if we don’t get our money." The gang members had already threatened my son with a gun and shot my husband. I marched to the police station to file a complaint. They said that my home was unsafe and that I should leave immediately. At that moment I made the decision to flee to the United States. When I got here, they put an ankle bracelet on me and saw me as a criminal. People made fun of me every time I went out. God only knows why I had to leave my country and now they’re laughing at me. And here I am, fighting, because we too have rights, as human beings. And I am fighting more than anything for my kids.

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01 The Land of the Free Ranks First When it Comes to Locking Up Its Residents