About 25 students gathered for a Prison Creative Arts Project workshop Wednesday in East Quad Residence Hall to hear Pulitzer prize winner Heather Ann Thompson speak on injustices in the incarceration system.
One of the nation’s largest prison arts programs, PCAP has volunteers who run weekly workshops to allow for joint projects between students and incarcerated individuals. The program encompasses various art forms such as painting, theater, creative writing and more.
Thompson began by discussing the country’s deep history of an unjust incarceration system, as well as the measures that have been taken to combat the injustice. Thompson said although recent years have shown an increase in awareness for problems in the incarceration system, current data reveals an increased severity of the issue.
“What is new is that even in the last five years there has been a pretty dramatic grassroots, community-based effort to do something about this,” Thompson said. “But somehow from 1972 to the present day we came to lock up more people than any other country on the globe. We lock them up for longer, we have more children serving life sentences than anywhere else. Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of the leaders in that.”
According to Thompson, PCAP has been critical in developing an understanding for the issue as well as ways to address the problem.
“PCAP is one of the few organizations that was paying any attention whatsoever to what was going on on the inside,” Thompson said. “Meanwhile, PCAP expanded, got bigger and bigger and started doing more and more work inside, introducing more and more Michigan students, such as you, to what’s actually going on on the inside. That’s why these workshops are so important.”
Kinesiology junior Dwyer Loughran said she hopes people understand the importance of the work done by PCAP.
“I hope people understand how important it is and why it matters,” Loughran said. “It’s a small time commitment, but it’s like Christmas for people who are inside. I feel that this is necessary to improve the quality of their lives.”
In response to the lack of a large database highlighting stories and experiences of incarcerated individuals, Thompson highlighted the Carceral State Project, a project started in 2016 that creates a database depicting images of confinement in the U.S.
“PCAP has also been instrumental in working to help me and several other people to create something at Michigan we’re calling the Carceral State Project,” Thompson said. “The one thing data doesn’t do is tell stories. It doesn’t tell what this experience really looks like. We’re going to initiate the first ever major documenting of criminalization and confinement in America.”
LSA junior Liv Naimi, a PCAP executive board member, said the work PCAP does may not solve the problem in its entirety, but it does allow for personal connection and growth for incarcerated individuals.
“When you’re involved with PCAP, we’re not solving all of these problems at a college level, but that connection that we get to build in that space matters so much in the moment,” Naimi said.