Prison Renaissance

If you’re looking to support a worthwhile organization doing important work this holiday season, consider Prison Renaissance.
Prison Renaissance was founded by three incarcerated artist-activists who believe one of the biggest barriers to dismantling mass incarceration is a collective failure to see incarcerated men, women, and children as actual people. For too many Americans, incarcerated people are merely scowls and sweaty muscles—despite contradicting realities like the record-breaking numbers of women filling prisons. Incarcerated people have been rendered into caricatures—so much so that, as one concerned educator recently noted, rape jokes about incarcerated people earn laughter and cultural approbation. Prison Renaissance’s founders saw the need to close the gap between the caricature and reality of incarcerated people. And so they began to develop programs that connect incarcerated people to communities. It is their belief that the more people see and hear the human beings in prison, the closer we can come to ending legal injustice.

“I want people to know that there’s very talented human beings in here,” said Anouthin Pangthong in an interview. Pangthong is an incarcerated Laotian refugee who contributed political poetry to Prison Renaissance’s online journal. “The walls usually mute that,” he says. “But the work in here matters.”

Prison Renaissance began in 2015 with one volunteer and an online journal. Today, it is a small but effective national organization with 30 volunteers and college chapters at Stanford and UCLA. The college chapters are providing a space for live events where incarcerated artists and activists can call in and lead dialogues about incarceration, but they need funding to sustain this effort. The organization is currently planning two spring call-in events and a communications campaign to support the Voting Restoration and Democracy Act of 2018, an initiative to restore voting rights to incarcerated people in California.