Better than a Pulitzer
Last week, Vice published my article about second chance employers and the barriers people face when looking for work after prison. I worried a lot over whether I had accurately portrayed the stories of the people I interviewed. Trauma-informed journalism is a term that has gained traction in recent years, and it’s a word that I turn over a lot in my mind as I’m reporting a story. Having been interviewed by a journalist who said some pretty offensive things during an interview about homelessness, I work extremely hard to maintain a sensitive appreciation for the vulnerability that subjects entrust to me when I write about their lives. It’s a big responsibility that I don’t take lightly. After all, I’m human and I make mistakes, but I try really hard to be a good human.
All this is to say that I am immensely grateful to the people I interviewed for this story about labor rights after prison and the life sentence that a criminal record carries. When a few of them emailed me to say they liked the article and that I had written their stories accurately, it felt better than any literary award in the world. No Pulitzer can compare.
This is probably also a good time to announce that I’m working on a book about this same subject (prison, labor, and second chance employers) that will uncover the ways in which our prison system endangers us and makes all of us less safe. So far, there’s a chapter about the exploitative Koch Family, the 13th amendment’s slavery loophole, a hundred years of McDonald’s history and real estate, COVID-19 and homeless shelters, and stories of how other countries who don’t imprison one third of their population are statistically safer and happier. I’ll be interviewing people for the book over the next year while I research, and I’m looking forward to meeting more amazing carceral system survivors.
I promise it won’t be as depressing as it sounds! The book will also cover the phenomenal work that groups like the Clean Slate Initiative, Un-Loop, and Defy Ventures are doing to repair the violent damage of our prison system.