ABOUT THIS PROJECT
About 25% of Americans have some sort of criminal record.
That is, one in four people in the United States has some kind of criminal record for something other than a minor traffic violation (NELP, 2011, p. 4), and technology has made it dramatically easier and cheaper for anyone to access these records. This project focuses on a single issue—the challenges faced by people living with a criminal record, or “collateral consequences”—by examining the human and social costs of the invisible powers operating in many unexpected places.
In an ideal world, once a person has served their sentence, their slate is wiped clean and society gives them a second chance to prove themselves a good citizen through education and/or hard work. But that's not the reality we live in. The reality is that we have set up a system that allows one's criminal history to follow a person for the rest of their life. Though the War on Drugs and incarceration itself are beyond the scope of this project, those issues are discussed within the larger context of the social ideologies and invisible web of laws, rules, and policies that stem from the buildup of American prisons. This contextualization allows us to look at the wide range of subtle methods of social control, and ultimately social exclusion, employed to shame people into obedient behavior in pursuit of an ideal society.
The burden of the label "criminal" is life-long, even when an arrest is not followed by a conviction or when a conviction is not followed by a prison sentence—even a misdemeanor charge can, and often does, exact a price. When people talk about the costs of crime and punishment, they are usually talking about economics—the unsustainable costs in the billions spent annually on incarcerating criminals. Yet there are many hidden and unacknowledged costs.
Through an exploration of the collateral consequences that affect people with a criminal history, which locks them into a cycle of oppression and marginalization, this narrative seeks to reframe perceptions of the lived experiences of people living with the burden of a criminal record; to inspire empathy for those disproportionately affected by their records; and to ignite social change by challenging our understanding of the human costs of extrajudicial punishment and disrupting the barriers that separate those of us with a record and those of us without.
Article One: Blinded by Definition
This post explores what’s in a name—a label. Because there is no word that means, I was a law-breaker, but no more. Not “reformed," nor "rehabilitated"; we use tinted, tainted terms: Felon, ex-offender, ex-con, former prisoner, inmate. All of these have charged and negative connotations / associations. This is (I think) part of what perpetuates the stigma of being considered a felon in perpetuity.
Article Two: More Harm Than Good
At the heart of the carceral system lies a paradox between punishment and rehabilitation. This post explores the shortsighted thinking that leads us to foreground punishment at the expense of rehabilitation in ways that lead to high rates of recidivism and compromising our morality as a culture.
Article Three: Shadenfreude: Celebration of Humiliation
This post performs an in-depth analysis of the fascination with public humiliation under the guise of public safety / law & order. What is the effect of this invasion of privacy on those with criminal records?
Article Four: The War on Felons Well Executed
This post opens with a short film, “Locked Out,” to explore ways in which individuals trying to become contributing, productive, and responsible members of society are perpetually undermined by the extrajudicial stigma of a conviction.