Unprisoned: Stories From The System

Producer Eve Abrams asked students at Riverdale High School in Jefferson, La. about the criminal justice system, and their thoughts on redemption and punishment.
Credit Jason Saul

Independent producer and longtime WWNO collaborator Eve Abrams brings us Unprisoned: Stories From The System. From New Orleans and Louisiana, the world’s incarceration capital, we meet those serving time inside and outside the criminal justice system.

Unprisoned shares stories to incite conversation about the ways mass incarceration affects families, communities and notions of justice. What has Louisiana done to become the incarceration capital of the world? Is our criminal justice system making us safer? How are we all passively or actively supporting the current system? What do we want for our future?

We listen hard to the ways our criminal justice system engenders financial, legal and personal hardships for families, neighborhoods and larger communities, and how incarceration perpetuates cycles of poverty and violence. We focus in particular on how children — often from a very young age — are caught in the system of correctional control with little hope of ever escaping it, a cultural contradiction that at once elevates youth as exceptional and vulnerable while simultaneously criminalizing them at an alarming rate.

Unprisoned’s editors are Viki Merrick, Senior Producer/Editor for Transom.org and co-producer of The Moth Radio Hour with Jay Allison, and Katy Reckdahl, a New Orleans-based news reporter and frequent contributor to the New Orleans Advocate, the Hechinger Report, and The New York Times.

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Unprisoned is produced by Eve Abrams and brought to you by WWNO and Finding America, a national initiative produced by AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, Incorporated, and with financial support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Wyncote Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Ways to Connect

Producer Eve Abrams and students at Riverdale High School in Jefferson, La.
Jason Saul

WWNO New Orleans Public Radio is proud to announce the selection of Unprisoned: Stories from the System as a finalist in the 76th annual George Foster Peabody Awards.

Bring Your Own Presents: 'Telling My Parents'

Dec 8, 2016
Cheryl Gerber / Unprisoned: Stories for the System

Bring Your Own is a nomadic storytelling series that takes place in unconventional spaces within the community. Each month, eight storytellers have eight minutes to respond to a theme. BYO airs on All Things New Orleans and is a biweekly podcast on WWNO.org.

Courtesy: Center for Investigative Reporting

For several months, independent producer Eve Abrams, of Unprisoned, and WWNO news director Eve Troeh have been learning about and reporting on funding for public defense, and a drastic measure taken by the Orleans Parish Chief Public Defender this year.

The result: an hour-long collaboration with Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

Listen here to "If You Can't Afford a Lawyer."

Or catch it on 89.9 WWNO Thursday, December 8 at 8 p.m. or Friday, December 9 at 1 p.m.

Bring Your Own Presents: Leroy's Mission

Oct 5, 2016
Claire Bangser / Bring Your Own

Bring Your Own is a nomadic storytelling series that takes place in unconventional spaces within the community. Each month, eight storytellers have eight minutes to respond to a theme. BYO airs on All Things New Orleans and is a biweekly podcast on WWNO.org.

This story was told on March 3rd, 2016 at the Michalopolous Studio at a Bring Your Own event in partnership Unprisoned.  The story was later produced by Natalie Yahr. The theme of the evening was "Born on Parole". Here, Leroy Perry tells of the lengths he went to prove his innocence, and what he learned along the way.  

Now that Marlene Kennedy finally has her own apartment, she doesn't have to worry where she'll sleep each night.
Cheryl Gerber / Unprisoned

Louisiana is the incarceration capital of the world. But most people behind bars aren’t locked up forever. In fact, 90 percent of them will someday be released. So that makes Louisiana also the reentry capital of the world-- a role the state is ill-prepared for.

Bruce Reilly

Bring Your Own is a nomadic storytelling series that takes place in unconventional spaces within the community. Each month, eight storytellers have eight minutes to respond to a theme. BYO airs on All Things New Orleans and is a biweekly podcast on WWNO.org.

This story was told on March 3rd, 2016 at the Michalopoulos Studio, and later produced by Laine Kaplan-Levenson. The theme of the evening was 'Born on Parole' and Bruce Reilly talks the trials and tribulations of dating, while on Parole.

Calvin Manny Hills and his oldest sister, Johnnie Mae Hills Sylve, get together for a Father's Day party.
Cheryl Gerber / Unprisoned

In nearly every state, prison populations have exploded -- in large part, because of drug laws and the people, like Manny Hills, who are arrested and incarcerated for those laws. Over the last 25 years, Manny, an addict, has been convicted several times for drug possession and other petty crimes. His story is pretty typical of the people who fill up our nation's prisons.

15-year-old Jewel Williams, in Sunny Summer's third period English class at Sci High.
Cheryl Gerber / Unprisoned

Over the last forty years, as incarceration has surged across the nation, so has the number of children with a family member in prison. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the number of young people with a father in prison rose 500 percent between 1980 and 2000.


Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards at the rally at the Capitol on Youth Justice Day.
Sarah Hunt / Louisiana Center for Children's Rights

At all levels of government right now, laws about juveniles are rapidly changing. However, some states, including Louisiana, continue to prosecute and sentence juveniles for sentences of life without parole.

Asha Lane, high school senior.
Cheryl Gerber / Unprisoned

Asha Lane is an 18-year-old senior at the International High School of New Orleans, a charter high school. Asha wanted to find out why New Orleans charter schools don’t always feel nurturing. We live in a dangerous city, but when does security feel unsafe?

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