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.

Click here to visit Unprisoned.org.

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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

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?

Cheryl Gerber / Unprisoned

In the last few years, powerful images of police interacting violently with African Americans -- usually men, or teenagers, or even children -- have been on the news, all over the world.

In these images, black men are getting shot or choked or hauled away in handcuffs. There are others too, memorial photographs from happier times: of young boys with plump cheeks or wearing graduation caps. Photographs of Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald – the list goes on.

The Listening Post is back collecting thoughts and experiences from communities around New Orleans on a new series of issues. The past month we’ve been collaborating with Independent radio producer Eve Abrams and her Unprisoned project. 

Jahi Salaam
Cheryl Gerber / Unprisoned

“If you grew up struggling, then you my audience,” says Jahi Salaam, an 18-year-old rapper and a poet. Jahi is from New Orleans. His first name, Jahi, means dignity in Swahili. His last name means peace. When Jahi talks about poverty, school, and prison, he says: they’re all intertwined.

This is Unprisoned.  I’m Eve Abrams.

Touro Synagogue

We are all living with mass incarceration one way or another. It affects everyone, passively or actively.

I was recently sitting in the beautiful sanctuary of Touro Synagogue in Uptown New Orleans. It was Yom Kippur, and when I looked down at the holiday bulletin, there was a posting — about mass incarceration. It was an invitation to learn about the issue.

Sheila Phipps at the Unprisoned and Bring Your Own storytelling event held March 2.
Claire Bangser / Unprisoned

What do you do when a member of your family is locked up for a crime you are sure he didn’t commit? Sheila Phipps paints.

Bring Your Own and Unprisoned Present: 'Pig Tales'

Mar 10, 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.

Troylynn Robertson and Kortney Williams.
Cheryl Gerber / Unprisoned

Louisiana is the incarceration capital of the world. That means more families have a loved one behind bars than in any other place.

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