Unlocked: Understanding Mass Incarceration

Unlocked is a series of conversations to better understand and address the problem of mass incarceration featuring perspectives from 4 preeminent scholars and award-winning authors from different disciplines who will share their work. 

Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration with Reuben Jonathan Miller

February 3, 2023 | 4:00 p.m. | Geddes Hall, Andrews Auditorium (view map)

MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow and University of Chicago sociologist Dr. Reuben Miller is the author of Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration, a “persuasive and essential” (Dr. Matthew Desmond, Evicted) book that offers a “stunning, and deeply painful reckoning with our nation’s carceral system” (Heather Ann Thompson). As a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago and as a sociologist studying mass incarceration, he has spent years alongside prisoners, formerly incarcerated people, their families, and their friends to understand the lifelong burden that even a single arrest can entail. What his work reveals is a simple, if overlooked truth: life after incarceration is its own form of prison.

Halfway Home is a portrait of the many ways mass incarceration reaches into American life, sustaining structural racism and redrawing the boundaries of our democracy. Drawing from fifteen years of research, over 250 in-depth interviews with citizens whose lives have been touched by the criminal justice system, and his own experience as the son and brother of incarcerated Black men, Miller shows how the American carceral system was not created to rehabilitate. Instead he reveals how its design keeps classes of Americans impoverished, unstable, and disenfranchised long after they’ve paid their debt to society.

Why Attica Matters with Heather Ann Thompson

February 10, 2023 | 4:00 p.m. | Geddes Hall, Andrews Auditorium (view map)

Heather Thompson

Heather Ann Thompson is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian on faculty at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She is the author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy as well as Whose Detroit?: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City, and she writes regularly on the history of policing, mass incarceration and the current criminal justice system for myriad scholarly and popular publications including The New York TimesThe Washington PostTimeThe Atlantic, and The New Yorker. Thompson has served on a National Academy of Sciences blue-ribbon panel that studied the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the United States and has given congressional staff briefings on this subject. She currently runs the Carceral State Project at the University of Michigan and is on a Guggenheim Fellowship completing her next book on the long history of the MOVE Bombing 1985 in Philadelphia.

Punishing Places: The Geography of Mass Imprisonment with Jessica Simes

April 14, 2023 | 4:00 p.m. | Geddes Hall, Andrews Auditorium (view map)

Jessica Simes

Jessica T. Simes is Assistant Professor of Sociology with a Secondary Appointment in the Faculty of Computing and Data Sciences at Boston University. Her scholarship broadly examines the consequences of mass incarceration for communities and neighborhoods in the United States. Her research to date has focused on racial inequality and health disparities in the criminal justice system, from policing to solitary confinement. She is the author of Punishing Places: The Geography of Mass Imprisonment (University of California Press, 2021), winner of the 2022 Robert E. Park Best Book Award from the American Sociological Association. Simes’s research has been published in a wide range of academic outlets, including PLOS One, Science Advances, Journal of Urban Health, City & Community, and Criminology. Her work has been supported by grants from National Science Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Arnold Ventures, and the Social Science Research Council. Simes received her B.A. in Sociology from Occidental College and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University.

Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration with Nicole Fleetwood

April 21, 2023 | 4:00 p.m. | Geddes Hall, Andrews Auditorium (view map)(link is external)

Nicole Fleetwood

MacArthur “Genius” Nicole R. Fleetwood is a celebrated writer, cultural theorist, curator, and art critic. Growing up in Hamilton, Ohio, she witnessed the vulnerability of her community to excessive policing, punitive surveillance, and mass incarceration, and the direct impact these had on her family, especially her male cousins. The concept for her groundbreaking book Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration started in 2010, when she hung photographs of her cousins in Ohio prisons on the walls of her Harlem apartment. Marking Time explores the impact of US incarceration on contemporary visual art, highlighting artists who have been incarcerated alongside artists whose art examines US institutions and systems of confinement. Based on interviews with currently and formerly incarcerated artists, prison visits, and the author’s own family experiences with the penal system, Marking Time shows how the imprisoned turn ordinary objects into elaborate works of art. 

Partners: Department of American Studies, Department of History, Department of Sociology, Initiative on Race and Resilience