The rate of incarceration in the United States is among the very highest in the world, but despite mass incarceration’s pervasive effect on American culture and communities, the reality of the human condition both behind bars and upon release is too little seen and too often misunderstood. In California’s Central Valley, a region with one of the largest incarcerated populations in the country, Michael Burroughs is leading the Humanities Beyond Bars Project in collaboration with California State University’s Project Rebound and Historical Research Center to deepen understanding of the historical roots of imprisonment and its material and philosophical implications on people who live through it.
Following a tradition of influential thinkers turning a humanities lens on incarceration, from Socrates to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Antonio Gramsci, Malcom X, and Michel Foucault, Humanities Beyond Bars builds on a series of public programs begun in 2018 featuring luminaries such as Angela Davis, incarceration scholars such as Dr. Brady Heiner, and formerly incarcerated CSU students. Burroughs and his collaborators will use the Fellowship to expand this public programming to include a symposium on mass incarceration and reimagining public safety, bringing together formerly incarcerated scholars, activists, and other thought leaders for community dialogue.
Humanities Beyond Bars will also initiate an innovative oral history project focused on formerly incarcerated students, introducing a wider public to their life stories, experiences of re-entry after prison, and their unique successes and challenges while pursuing higher education. The recollections of formerly incarcerated students have never been systematically collected and, thus, this initiative will fill a substantial gap in historical knowledge related to the experiences of formerly incarcerated persons while serving as a central outlet for formerly incarcerated students to tell their stories. Their interviews will be audio- and video-recorded and stored on an open access web page hosted by the CSUB Historical Research Center.
Through a combination of live events, hands-on learning, and community-based research, Humanities Beyond Bars will fill significant gaps in public understanding of incarceration while building lasting relationships between formerly and non-incarcerated individuals.