Power & Punishment

An interview series on prisons, their role in punishment, and ways to transform our society


I present these stories, narratives, and thoughts not because I am an an expert, but because I am an everlasting student of society and the systems in which we operate. I began researching the prison industrial complex two months ago. Here, I share the compilation of eight (***note: this website was originally published with eight interviews but is now reduced to seven by request***) beautiful discussions, detailing everything from the cost of a phone call in prison to the ways in people can find a place of healing through restorative justice. A brief note before you peruse this website: please review language guidelines when discussing those involved in the carceral system here (thank you, Jonathan Simon). Throughout this interview series, it is made evident that the language we use and the ways in which we discuss something have tremendous power over various groups and populations.

I also would like to note that within the interview transcripts, I sought to preserve as much of the speakers' original language as I could. Specific diction, such as profanities, were all retained in the transcription process as to not dilute the power and clarity of the speakers' messages.

This website was designed with the intention of making these stories and information as accessible as possible. The fully transcribed interviews each are an average of fifteen pages, and my entire document of all of the interview transcripts totals 125 pages. No one is going to read that. As Dan Marshall said, it is not enough to have good data; one must present it in an effective and non-critical way in order for the data to be recognized as legitimate. Here, I strive to do this by categorizing the information as much as I could. Of course for you avid readers, head to the Full Interviews tab to read the full transcripts start to finish with each of my eight speakers.

You are also able to view various snippets of conversations across my eight interviews through the lenses of eight different topics. One may ask why power and punishment are not distinct topics in this section; after all, that's what this interview series is titled. Besides wanting to include some fun alliteration, I found that power and punishment served as a main framework, through which all other conversations were built upon. In other words, the entire interview transcripts would be included into the power and punishment topics if that was the case.

There were also so many moments while I was listening, transcribing, and rereading these interviews that I really wanted to savor. There were lines where I wanted to just grab the person next to me and say, "You need to listen to this!" Find these gripping dialogues in the Must-Read Passages section. Each piece is named by me with a title that I found captured its essence.

One of my favorite sections of this website is the Messages tab, in which you will find the key takeaways from each speaker and the answer to the crucial question: What is your message to people?

Lastly, find even more information, resources, and articles about our individual speakers as well as ideas that they referenced throughout their interviews. The full transcripts of each interview also contain direct links to outside resources if they were mentioned. The Even More page is also sorted into five different topics for ease.

With all that being said, feel free to navigate the tabs above or look below for more insight into the idea behind this interview series and interviewing, the process, as well as book recommendations! Scroll even further for my biggest reflections on this project as a whole.

The Idea

How did it all begin? Find out my impetus for learning about prisons and why I chose an interview series.

On Interviewing

Interviewing is no strong suit of mine. Click to see my journey from beginning to end.

The Process

Read about the process of finding interviewees, interviewing them, and transcribing the interviews.


Browse must-read book selections made by interview guests, ranging from forced sterilizations to electronic monitoring.

Some Reflections

So, after eight weeks, what did I learn? What did this process mean to me? What are things I will take away, and what is my own message I would put in the Messages section?

I first want to say that it has been incredible. Two years ago, I knew I wanted to be a pre-medical student at Berkeley. I was pretty grounded in my aspirations of becoming a doctor. All of that is still true, but I didn't think of all of the other things that would blend into it. My career choices are now informed by my understanding of oppressive systems, of a backwards political system, and of a fundamental lack of community care. My aspirations in the future are now fueled by a desire to know people—to listen to their stories and amplify their voices. I've always known that I loved listening to people's stories, but I didn't realize how essential it was. Stories carry on the humanity of another being; they make someone's essence eternal and heard. Storytelling is extremely powerful in that way. And that's something I didn't realize two years ago when I was entering college as a pre-medical student.

Lessons I Learned:

Prisons represent power and punishment. There was a wide range of topics discussed across the eight interviews, but one uniting factor was the idea that prisons don't actually provide any safety to our society. Going back to Rachel Caidor's interviewshe mentioned that often, there are higher rates of domestic abuse after someone came back from prison. It makes complete sense. People are taught to be violent, dehumanized, and punished in prison. Prisons reflect a larger societal issue that we have of how we deal with any problem that comes our way, even if it is a kid just being a kid. We punish for mistakes—some way more harshly than others—and let "othering" get in the way of our shared sense of humanity.

We need more care. We outsource so much of our care today, even when all of us are born with a never-ending store of it, one that is able to produce endless amounts of care. When I asked the interviewees about abolition, the answers I received were something along the lines ofrelease people and ignore crime. Release people who don't have high-level and violent offenses. Get all of those people out of prison. They often didn't do anything wrong. They're being criminalized for being poor, for being too hot in the middle of the day, for not doing their homework. You don't need to call somebody every single time something goes wrong. You don't need to tell somebody in authority that your neighbor did this inconvenient thing. Why are we farming out every avenue of concern to police, who don't know us? Don't know our community? Start ignoring low-level crimeeveryone has a story, and no one benefits from having one more Black or Brown body in prison.

Healed people heal people. We need to remember what Orlando Mayorga said and continue to change the narrative around how we talk about crime. Stop focusing so much on the hurtfocus on the healing. In peace circles, it can be hard to confront someone who has caused a lot of harm in your life, but as soon as we start listening to people more, the more we can understand the things that are broken, the things that our community needs to come together over, the things that are perpetuating cycles of harm. We can actually start listening to each other and taking care of one another. Incarcerated people are not "inmates", not "prisoners," not anti-society. We are all people trying to survive and find ways to heal from our own traumas; Black and brown people are caged for doing so.

Prisons are a money-making business. Prisons seize on any opportunity where money is involved: phones, families and visitation, Commissary, money transfers, medical care, prison labor. It's a doubly exploitative system. First, I'm going to isolate you and make you work as a slave. Then, I'm going to make sure that you don't have any money, skills, or humanity left when and if you leave this place. It only serves to preserve the status quo and protect those that are untouched by the system.

Society and science influence one another. I still have yet to fully form my opinion on how social interactions and science interact with one another to form narratives of crime. On one hand, Jonathan Simon dismantles the medical model of eugenics, the idea that something biological can cause greater inclinations toward crime—a genetic marker, if you will. On the other hand, David Stephens' work revolves around the ideas of brain fuel deficits and glucose treatment, highlighting that psychological trauma and head injuries can lead to the very same discriminatory ideas that are promulgated by society. It's important to think about both of these things and notice how they can cause vicious cycles.

Things I learned about myself:

I love storytelling. Not much of this website has much of my own voice in it, and that's okay. I've never experienced incarceration, and I've never written to somebody on death row—why should my voice take up more space than those that have? I'm here to listen to other people's stories, amplify them, and present the information in those stories the best way that I can. It's also a crazy thing to realize that something you just heard is going to change your life forever. Thank you all, for giving me that moment in every single interview.

I could be more efficient. I think in general, I'm a pretty productive person, but this interview series took a great deal of time. For each interview, I prepared for 2 hours, met the interviewee for about 2 hours, and transcribed for an average of 4 hours. Then I spent probably that same amount of time putting the whole website together, reading and rereading for grammar and playing around with aesthetics. I love this final project. I'm just not sure when I'll have the energy to do it again.

Find that sweet spot. I realized very quickly in this interview series that many times, what I want to talk about isn't what they're going to want to talk about. If there's any sort of mismatch, it's not going to be a fulfilling interview! Someone will be left with some tension within them. Make it about them! Flow with their line of expertise. Don't make it fit into any one template. Let it flow, and the sweet spot will reveal itself.