"Mass Incarceration: Missing in America" Finds Its Presence on Campus

When it’s brought to public attention that our homeland, the quintessential "Land of the Free," leads world with the highest prison inmate population, our natural response as Americans is to be alarmed—and that’s just the reaction that an impassioned group of Boston College sophomores is hoping to evoke with their up-and-coming movement on campus. 19 students from across all of BC's schools and departments have come together for a common passion: shining a light of awareness on the political and social travesty that is mass incarceration.

During their six week experience in a summer PULSE program, these students volunteered at various sites around the city of Boston, such as local prisons and homeless shelters. Through weekly sessions of reflection, the group came to an overwhelming consensus: No matter where they spent their hours volunteering, they were collectively struck by the immensity of mass incarceration and its effects across socioeconomic lines.

“I, personally, had never been confronted with the injustice that is mass incarceration before,” says Alexandra Mills, MCAS '18, “so imagine how many other students at BC have no idea what this is either.”

Mass incarceration is the ultimate product of a discriminatory and corrupt system of social justice. Poor people in America, especially those of color, are being targeted by this system and are finding themselves caught in a cycle of institutional oppression. These people are being arrested in an alarmingly high frequency for minor crimes—those that are often ignored when committed by members of the middle and upper classes.

Though presidential front-runners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both recently brought the issue to light, people of all political affiliations are starting to realize that a change needs to be made.

Thus, a movement was born: after long hours of discussion and deliberation, these sophomores created "Mass Incarceration: Missing in America" through the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program in conjunction with eighteen other co-sponsors. With their efforts directed towards awareness on BC’s campus, the group is gathering support and gaining the traction needed to become a club within the next year.

Their main goal is to evoke empathy from students on campus by pushing them to recognize their own vulnerabilities as well as the fact that these convicts are not all that different from us—they just come from underprivileged socioeconomic backgrounds. Rachel Simon, CSOM '18, adds that “this issue should be on the forefront of everybody’s mind because it affects so many different aspects of life.” So, in an effort to help raise student awareness, the sophomores are turning to the power of poetry.

Photo courtesy of Mass Incarceration: Missing in America

Photo courtesy of Mass Incarceration: Missing in America

After the group attended a spoken word event put on by ex-convicts in the local homeless shelter Haley House during their summer PULSE program, they were struck with the need to make a change on campus. “We could definitely feel it,” notes Ameet Kallarackal, CSOM '18. “It was pretty obvious that we needed to do something including slam poetry as our kickoff event.”

On Tuesday, October 20th, "Mass Incarceration: Missing in America" is coming together with external social justice groups to put on their own spoken word event on campus. The event is free (with complementary cookies provided by Haley House), and will include speakers from Strength of Doves, Flatline Poetry, and BC Slam.

The group hopes that this will light that same spark of passion in the minds of their fellow students, and help to show them that even if they are not directly affected by the issue, it’s still ever-present and still so real. In the words of Mariah Larwood, CSOM '18: “We’re really just trying to start the conversation.”

Inquiries and points of interest are welcome and can be directed to the group’s email: [email protected].

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Meg Loughman