American University, Oral History Seminar: History 467/667

The criminal justice system in the United States has grown to such an extent that it has impacted the lives of thousands of individuals in many different ways. Reports from the Federal Department of Corrections and Federal Bureau of Prisons have shown an exponential increase in the number of incarcerated individuals for a myriad of offenses. Presently, the American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people where approximately 1,476,800 individuals are serving more than one-year sentences where half of the prisoners in jails are parents and have families back at home.

The Oral Historian Christopher R. Browning writes in Remembering Survival there are many forms of memory that constitutes are our understanding of history. The publics’ knowledge of criminals in the United States is often plagued by stereotypical, movie tropes that paint these individuals as heinous beings who are corrupt and rogue agents in society. This pervasive form of thinking has long been used as ammunition in political debates by parties who impose criminal justice reform and commutation of sentencing. Browning describes this as being apart of our public memory where memories are openly shared and contribute to the bulk of our understanding of the criminal justice.

The Project
The factors that lead to an individuals incarceration is more nuanced than some would like to believe. This oral history project aims to expand the publics’ understanding of the conditions that lead to imprisonment. The project also seeks to understand the relationships and dynamics of the family who have had to witness their loved one going through the system. It’s evident from the research that incarceration is not a singular event where all parties connected to the offender is adversely impacted. The project provides an exposé of the human experience and platform to elevate the voices of those affected by the system that is often not seen.

Interview Transcript
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Audio Recording