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Updated Research Project

The Unknown's picture

What I am really interested in is voice, and breaking the silences. One of the most problematic aspects of prison is the separation, deciding some people can not function/ do not belong/ do not deserve to participate in society. People in power have decided that certain voices are dangerous or should be silenced. I do not want my research project to only be an opportunity to learn and expand what I hold is true, because there is room for stretching ideas in so many areas. As I have discussed previously and I understand and appreciate that I will not be taking on an easy or even just educational task, but what I would honestly really like to do is find a way to express inmates’ or an inmate's stories, thoughts, feelings, truths in a format in which they desired and would also expand people's understanding of incarcerated people. I want my knowledge and other people's knowledge of incarcerated people to be more personalized. I want to learn someone’s story to enrich my own and my knowledge, and expansion.

I did listen to my classmates and I appreciate that they do not want to "take advantage" or "use" our experiences in the prison to benefit their own or someone else's knowledge, but what if there is something more there, an in-between? What if I could work with one person in particular, who is currently incarcerated and be able to share one of that person's truths in a manner that represented the messages, thoughts, and feelings he or she was trying to convey in a way that she or he approved of and he or she designed? People who are locked away have something valuable, an essential to add to the conversation, and I want to try to spread those messages in a way that that person would feel most comfortable and encouraged. Is there a way to do this?

This project would be a process in all aspects, where I would constantly ask the person or people I am working with, what they envision, where I or we have strayed, and what it means to represent someone and the power I have in representation. I have also reached out to Noelle Hanrahan, the executive director of Prison Radio.

Can this be done? Is this a "white savior" project? Should this project be done? What should I do to move forward?

Could I ask someone I work with in the prison to be involved in this project? Is this inappropriate?

I have a couple of ideas:

One is that I could possibly get clearance to meet with one of the inmates at the prison, either that we work with or someone else.  I have been informed of the clearance issues, but maybe there still is a way to do this.

Also, there are two people I know who were incarcerated. I have their emails, and I could either tell their stories or incorporate their ideas, thoughts, feelings, and experiences into the final project. I know this is a lofty project, but I hope there is a way to connect to these people on a deeper level and help end some of the silencing, though I know it is inevitable that we, whoever that includes, leave pieces out, because fully accurate expression is impossible.

Also, I was talking with a friend and she gave me some great insights, one is that what if the final project did not have my name on it? I know that I am receiving a grade for this assignment and that means that there is some assessment, which involves a level of conformity to professor/societal/academic expectations, which is problematic.

Is there a way to use privilege in a way that benefits others?


jschlosser's picture

These are important and difficult questions, questions that I imagine Sheila and Noelle Hanrahan have thought about a lot. I'm sure they can also point you to other people involved in bringing the silenced voices of incarcerated people more into the public sphere. As you talk to them and identify these voices and how you might amplify or convey them, you might think about the process in terms of the metaphor of translation. As I imagine you know from learning Spanish, there's no such thing as a perfect translation; you can't be literal and you can't capture all of the nuance and complexity of an original. But we need translations and just because there's a loss (and a risk of some kind of violence) when translating shouldn't be a reason not to translate. So the question then is how to acknowledge the imperfections of translation and the role of the translator as the one who decides what is emphasized and what is neglected while also creating something worthwhile and stirring. Doris Sommer's chapter on Rigoberto Menchu speaks to this as well.