Dear friends of the Emerson Prison Initiative,
Like colleges and communities across the world, EPI is faced with a range of challenges with the spread of Covid-19. On March 11, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections suspended all volunteer programs, which includes faculty and tutors teaching EPI courses. This suspension remains in place, and it is unclear when it will be lifted. Prior to Massachusetts state prisons being put on lockdown in early April, EPI students continued to meet with each other. Using instructions from their professors as a guide, they had group discussions on readings, engaged in peer-review of draft essays and screenplays, and took robust notes to document these lively meetings. Since the lockdown began, EPI students have been in their cells for 23.5 hours a day. 

Despite the tremendous stress and limitations associated with these circumstances, EPI students were able to complete their spring course assignments, and according to their professors, produced outstanding work. This is a remarkable accomplishment and a testament to their tremendous dedication to their studies. Like many college-in-prison programs across the country, EPI has had to cancel summer 2020 classes. We have three courses scheduled for the fall 2020 semester, and hope the conditions are such that we will be able to run them.
Mneesha Gellman

True Justice Screening

EPI Event Recap: True Justice Screening
By Scott Zeigler, Graduate Research Assistant for EPI
Prior to the closure of Emerson’s campus due to Covid-19, EPI hosted a screening of  True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality  on March 10, 2020. After the viewing, Professor Cara Moyer-Duncan moderated a discussion with two representatives from the Massachusetts ACLU: Rahsaan Hall, Director of the Racial Justice Program, and Tanekwah Hinds, Racial Justice Community Advocate. 
True Justice  tells the story of attorney Bryan Stevenson’s decades long fight against racial injustice. Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, which “is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”
After the screening, Hall and Hinds spoke about how the film reflected the struggle for racial justice and reform locally. Hall spoke about changes in the Johnson administration in the 1960s that included the war on poverty and war on crime. These programs did not address the structural impediments that existed in underserved communities including, “substandard housing, substandard education, and substandard employment opportunities.” Over-policing of these same communities led to the characterization of black communities as the problem while ignoring the systemic causes . Hall shifted his own thinking while he worked as a prosecutor with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. “For eight years I was in Dorchester District Court, I was handling cases out in Upham’s Corner, Codman Square, Grove Hall, all parts of black communities, and the people I was prosecuting looked just like me.” He felt obligated to work against the system that was overwhelmingly invested in prosecuting these people. He joined the ACLU, where he has been able to work to hold the system accountable and raise awareness. Hall added that it is important to recognize the work being done by Bryan Stevenson to attack the “racist nature of this system that leads so many black and brown people to be incarcerated in the first place, and the lengths of sentence that people receive [which] is the true injustice.”
Tanekwah Hinds spoke about the increased popularity in talking about criminal justice reform within District Attorney offices. She said, “I think for them it’s kind of like wearing cool shoes, they’re like, ‘we’re for lowering incarceration.’” However, she noted that these in-house programs result in the same outcome of incarceration when participants don’t meet expectations. Hinds works to provide community-based solutions that keep people struggling with addiction in their communities with support systems in place to help them change. These community-focused programs place the focus more on behavior and less on incarceration.
True Justice Screening Panel

Give to EPI

With the end of the academic year and in line with our mission of democratizing access to college education, we are focusing our efforts on keeping our current EPI students on track to graduate in the summer of 2022 and expanding our program to include additional incarcerated students. Please consider giving to the Emerson Prison Initiative. All donations are tax deductible and go directly to expanding course offerings for students at MCI Concord.

Please explore our website for further updates on the program
and for information on events at Emerson’s Boston campus.