Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration

A convening for state humanities councils and their community partners

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Thursday, March 14 - Saturday, March 16, 2024

Convening Venue
David Rubenstein Forum at the University of Chicago
1201 E 60th St, Chicago, IL 60637
Convening Hotel
The Study at the University of Chicago
1227 E 60th St, Chicago, IL 60637

What do words like justice, safety, and freedom truly mean? 

How does the prison industrial complex permeate our culture? 

How might humanities councils engage with people and organizations most impacted by the carceral system?  And how can we work together to imagine a truly just future? 

Gather with colleagues from around the country to explore the roles that the humanities and humanities councils play in illuminating the impacts of mass incarceration, interrogating the dehumanizing nature of the criminal legal system, and paving a path toward restoration and healing. 

This three-day, in-person working convening will provide dynamic opportunities to deepen our understanding of these issues, learn what state humanities councils and community partners are doing to address them, and collectively articulate essential practices for humanities councils as they pursue ways to engage and partner in this work. 

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Who is attending?

Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration will convene an array of state humanities council staff and community partners from over 25 states and territories across the country. It is important to us to ensure that our convening is informed by experiential knowledge of both humanities councils and the impacts of the carceral state. 

Humanities council staff

Program staff, grantmaking staff, and Executive Directors from state humanities councils.

Community partner representatives

Invited by State Humanities CouncilsCommunity partner representatives are individuals who have lived experience of incarceration and/or work extensively within directly impacted communities. A community partner representative might be a grantee of a state humanities council, a regular program participant/panelist/moderator, an educator or student involved in council-related educational programming, or another close colleague of the council. 

Community members

Individuals with a vested interest in the intersection between humanities councils and mass incarceration.


Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration, hosted by Illinois Humanities at the Rubenstein Forum located on the South Side of Chicago, will offer presentations and small group discussions led by humanities councils and community partners from across the country. The convening will also feature a special performance of Felon: An American Washi Tale by Reginald Dwayne Betts.  

The convening will cover topics such as: 

  • Higher education in prison
  • Humanities support in the re-entry process
  • Collaborations involving currently incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals
  • Narrative-shifting media such as podcasts, books, documentaries, etc.
  • Grant-making within impacted communities

For those newer to this conversation, there will also be ample opportunity to learn more about the context and history of mass incarceration, as well as an emphasis on past and present humanities-based projects that illuminate this issue. 

Agenda Overview

Thursday, March 14th
  • 12:00 - 4:00 p.m.: Arrivals, Check-Ins, and Optional DIY Site Visits
  • 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.: Happy Hour Mixer 
  • 6:00 - 7:00 p.m.: Dinner and Welcome
  • 7:00 - 8:30 p.m.: Showcase 
  • 8:30 - 10:00 p.m.: Jam Session
Friday, March 15th
  • 8:00 - 9:30 a.m.: Ambient Breakfast 
  • 9:30 - 10:15 a.m.: Home Room
  • 10:30 - 11:45 a.m.: Breakout Sessions A
  • 11:45 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.: Lunch 
  • 1:00 - 2:15 p.m.: Breakout Sessions B 
  • 2:30 - 3:45 p.m.: Breakout Sessions C
  • 4:00 - 5:15 p.m.: Experiential Activations
  • 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.: Dinner
  • 7:00 - 8:30 p.m.: Felon: An American Washi Tale by Reginald Dwayne Betts 
    • Read about Reginald Dwayne Betts here.
    • This is a ticketed, public event. All Inside & Out attendees will receive a complimentary ticket. All non-attendees must purchase tickets here.
    • Damon Williams and Daniel Kisslinger of AirGo and Respair Media will lead a post-show discussion that will be released as an AirGo Live podcast episode.
  • 8:30 - 10:00 p.m.: Reception and Book Signing
Saturday, March 16th
  • 8:00 - 9:00 a.m.: Ambient Breakfast 
  • 9:00 - 10:00 a.m.: Home Room
  • 10:15 - 11:30 a.m.: Reflection and Future Building Sessions
  • 11:45 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.: Lunch and Close-Out 
  • 1:30 - 5 p.m.: Optional DIY Site Visits

Session Details

Breakout Sessions A: Friday, March 15th, 10:30 - 11:45 a.m.

Mass Incarceration 101
Presenters: Robert Taliaferro and James Kilgore

This will be an introduction to mass Incarceration in the United States for those who are new to the subject or who would like to see other areas of mass incarceration that are usually not discussed. Effects on the family and community will be discussed as well as other subjects that are consistent with mass Incarceration practices.


BOTH/AND: Dialogue, Dialectics, & Liberation
Presenters: Damon Williams and Daniel Kisslinger

How do we make sense of the distance between our ideals and our reality? Respair Production & Media co-founders Damon Williams and Daniel Kisslinger lead a teach-in exploring how to create an anticolonial practice of media-making and archive-building built on dialectical dialogue that supports radical transformation, and the unique importance of media in the fight for a liberatory future. Participants gain hands-on tools to navigate the contradictions and power dynamics in their conversations and workspaces, as well as frameworks around the media's role in building transformative possibilities.


Reentry Support and the Humanities
Presenters: coming soon

Description coming soon.

Journey to Youth Liberation: Organizing, Healing and Hip Hop
Presenters: AnnMarie Brown, Alicia Brown, Sheriff Polk, and Destinee Bell

Circles & Ciphers and The Final 5 Campaign will be facilitating a workshop that will inform participants about the current Juvenile Justice system and what it looks like in Illinois. We will also have an immersive experience where participants will be able to see how Circles & Ciphers uses hip-hop to connect with impacted young people, build community, and create space for healing.


Queering the Family: Love & Solidarity, Inside & Out
Presenters: Dr. Edna Benítez Laborde, Samantha Dunn, Monica Cosby, Anastazia Schmid, and Elizabeth Nelson

This panel features formerly incarcerated LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies who will speak about queer lives in prison and the making of "chosen families" – to borrow anthropologist Kath Weston's phrase – as a necessity for survival. These families can include lovers, partners, and friends who are the true sources of "rehabilitation," safety, and healing inside prison. The concept of "chosen family" can also be expanded to include educators, artists, advocates, and volunteers who work with incarcerated populations to promote learning, creativity, and activism--even as the criminal "justice" system heavily polices these relationships and alliances, both inside prisons but also during re-entry.

Breakout Sessions B: Friday, March 15th, 1:00 - 2:15 p.m.

Speaking to the Artistic Legacy of the Incarcerated in Minnesota
Presenters: Dr. Corey China, Antonio Espinosa, and Zeke Caligiuri

Join the Minnesota Humanities Center, Art from the Inside, and the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop (MPWW) to explore the transformative power of arts and humanities programming within carceral settings. This session will offer insight into the logistics, challenges, and impacts of conducting creative initiatives within detention facilities, from artmaking to writing, and showcasing that work to the public in narrative-shifting ways. Through a blend of practical expertise, lived experience, and empowered narratives, attendees will gain a more detailed understanding of what it means and takes to navigate prison bureaucracy, foster meaningful engagement, and build bridges between inside and outside through the arts and humanities.


From the Inside: A Panel Discussion on Humanities Programs and Agency
Presenters: Linda Small, Brandon Wyatt, Jamal “Cincere” Jones, Panelist A, and Panelist B

Four people currently incarcerated in US facilities will talk about how they work with their state Humanities Council to participate in, create, and contribute to humanities programming in their communities. They’ll discuss what they do, how they do it, and why it matters.


College-in-Prison: A How-To Guide for the Humanities
Presenters: Dr. Alesha Serocyzynski, Jessica Neptune, Sheila Meiman, and Patrick Rodriguez

This session will cover the nuts and bolts of offering a college-in-prison (CIP) program. We will discuss partnering with humanities councils, interfacing with the Department of Corrections, and curriculum development for the humanities. Funding your courses and grant writing to expand the reach of your CIP will also be considered. Finally, we will answer questions about the reinstatement of Pell funding for college students who are incarcerated, including the shifting role of the DOCs, national trends around building college programs inside correctional facilities, seeking and obtaining accreditation, and assessment of best practices. Colleagues from five states will facilitate this session, so bring your questions and ideas for a lively discussion!

Grantmaking in Impacted Communities
Presenters: Joe Murphy, Mark Hallett, Kyes Stevens, Alison Cornyn, Cynthia Boykin, and Laura Adams

What is the ideal grant-making program for bringing the humanities to bear on mass incarceration? Surely such a program surely (re-)center “the human” in conversations about incarceration, opening space for reflection about the interlocking systems of incarceration in the United States. Yet the answer will largely depend on the political culture of the state or jurisdiction in which the program operates; a universally-applicable grants program clashes against the reality of America’s decentralized legal, political, and constitutional order. In large part due to these variations, state humanities councils across the United States find themselves at different stages in the creation and implementation of grant-making programs relating to incarceration. This panel is designed less to solve the riddle of the ideal grants program than to consider the patterns of convergence and divergence that characterize the national humanities grant-making landscape as it now stands, all in the spirit of community and collaboration.


Navigating Political Challenges
Presenters: Johanna Bringhurst, Yahusef Medina, Dr. Nashid Madyun, and Phoebe Stein

This breakout session will focus on developing strategies for navigating the variety of political challenges throughout the country. As humanities councils, our founding legislation charges us with the responsibility to ensure the humanities are for everyone, including the incarcerated population. We will learn more about this charge and the balance between advocacy and support.

Although the humanities are non-partisan, humanities-related issues have become increasingly politicized and divisive. We will confront these challenges with open minds and appreciation of the differences in each state. Join us for an authentic discussion that will inspire you with new approaches to tackle these challenges.

Breakout Sessions C: Friday, March 15th, 2:30 - 3:45 p.m.

Out of Sight: Prisons in Rural America and the Role of Arts and the Humanities
Presenters: Alex Keefe, Alexandra Antoine, Leanne Trapedo Sims, Angel Pantoja, and Stephanie Hensen

This session will discuss the challenges facing individuals incarcerated in rural prisons, the limited resources available in rural towns, the cultural dissonance, and the legal ramifications. Panelists will also talk about their work and some effective programs they have been involved with. In the session's second half, we will invite participants to share their experiences and highlight any successful programs or partnerships taking place in their states.


Dreaming in Dollars
Presenters: coming soon

How are funders currently supporting the humanities to reach people and organizations most impacted by the carceral system? What is - and isn't - working in the status quo? Gather with colleagues from around the country for a conversation designed to inspire us to think about ways we can strategically use funding to bring about the transformations we envision.


Healing, Restoration, and Community-Built Solutions
Presenters: coming soon

This session will feature a panel of artists and advocates whose work encourages the wellness and self-determination of individuals and communities affected by violence, divestment, and incarceration. The discussion will uplift various community-based interventions, shed light on existing obstacles, and prompt attendees to reflect on their potential contributions to reparative efforts prioritizing the voices of those most impacted by mass incarceration and other forms of state-sanctioned violence.

Language Matters
Presenters: Meghan Reedy, Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, Faylita Hicks, Laurie Zierer, Dr. Corey China, Joe Murphy, and Shannon Ross

Language Matters! The words we use, the dynamic contexts we use them in, and the powerful narratives that come from their use shape our understanding of the world and the systemic impact of mass incarceration on our society. How can humanities intersectional engagement with history, philosophy and religion, modern and ancient languages and literature, fine and performing arts, media and cultural studies--via our public programs, initiatives, and collaborative discussions--help in the ongoing work of noticing and shifting our understanding of language's influence on carceral practices in our communities?  What methods and strategies can humanities councils and others adopt that center the human as they engage and partner in work with people, communities, and institutions involved in and impacted by mass incarceration?


Creating Liberatory Spaces: Humanities Education in Prisons
Presenters: Patrick Rodriguez, Robert Taliaferro, and Yahusef Medina

This session will do-a-dive into the lived experiences of those who have served time in prison and the professional expertise of people who curate programming for prisons. This discussion will create a place for participants to listen and engage the panelists as they define liberatory spaces, share examples of their experiences with liberation, and share how these spaces can be made.

Experiential Activations: Friday, March 15th, 4:00 - 5:15 p.m.

Tea and Letters for Liberation

The Tea Project invites you to stop, sit, sip, and reflect over a cup of tea while writing a letter to imprisoned torture survivors. From Illinois to Guantánamo, despite the well-documented use of police and military torture to extract forced confessions, many survivors remain imprisoned. To break through their enforced isolation, and as a gesture of compassion and solidarity, you are invited to write to a torture survivor in Illinois or in the US military prison in Guantánamo. Insights and guidance on writing the letters will be provided by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Chicago Torture Justice Center.

As you write, you will be served tea in porcelain-cast Styrofoam teacups. These teacups are inscribed with floral patterns based on stories of the people imprisoned in Guantánamo who carve Styrofoam cups as a form of personal expression and resistance. The tea you drink will be prepared based on selections from the 48 recipes and traditions featured in the Tea Project archive and recipe book Invitation to Tea.


Ritual4Return: A Homecoming Rite of Passage for Returning Citizens
Presenters: Alex Anderson, Dr. Kevin Bott, Edwin “Chino” Ortiz, Carmelo Ortiz, and Al-Tariq Witcher

Ritual4Return's New York and New Jersey chapters invite you to bear witness to our collaboratively devised homecoming rite of passage. Following the performance we will have a facilitated dialogue between the performers and the audience. This event is made possible through the support of Humanities New York and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.


Try Think
Presenters: Rob Chang

Often, programs provided to incarcerated communities originate from outside the walls and are brought in. Try Think, a facilitated community conversation program, was developed inside and has been brought out. Join us to hear more about the lessons we have learned about community building inside the walls, how these lessons have shaped Try Think, and how this program is helping to shape community building through conversation outside the walls. This session will be interactive and filled with discussion. Bring your questions, share your thoughts, and participate in a Try Think conversation.

Storytelling 101
Presenters: Jen Rubin and Nestor Gomez

In this workshop, you will learn how to find, shape, and present stories. We will discuss the five main elements of a story and how to discover them. By learning dynamic storytelling elements, you will gain the tools to pull short stories out of everyday life. Learn how to turn an anecdote or experience into a story that illuminates a central truth about your life. This will be an interactive class with a mixture of mini-lecture, 1:1 dialogue, and small group work.


Printing Power: Visualizing Abolition
Presenters: Pablo Mendoza and Sarah Ross

This activation will demonstrate a model of using humanities and art to engage the voices of directly impacted people in the struggle to shift the conversation around the incarcerated community. You will engage in print-making activities –aprons and supplies will be provided!


Bending the Bars: Exploring Strategies for Teaching & Learning in Prisons
Presenters: Alice Kim, Taji Chesimet, Aliza Gonrig, Erica Meiners, Neomi Rao, and James Soto

Given the more-than-physical walls of prison, what possibilities do programs have to create more just and free educational spaces inside? What challenges do education practitioners encounter in prison and what are strategies for navigating them? This workshop is for and by people working in prison education programming to engage in community over the constraints and possibilities of teaching and learning in Illinois prisons.

In this workshop, we invite you to reflect on your work, share insights ranging from pedagogy to logistics, explore existing and new strategies for unsettling the ‘inside-outside’ power dynamics, and build community with others actively involved in education programming in prisons.  

Note: Session locations and presenter bios will be available in the program book shared at check-in.


Illinois Humanities has reserved a block of rooms at The Study, a beautiful boutique hotel next door to the convening venue (David Rubenstein Forum at the University of Chicago) so that attendees can easily access all the sessions, as well as coffee breaks and other informal gatherings. 

With the exception of two community partner representatives per state, registrants are responsible for the cost of lodging. Registrants will receive the link to make hotel reservations in your registration confirmation packet. 

The two hosted community partner representatives for each state council are eligible to stay at the convening hotel on Thursday, March 14, and Friday, March 15 at no cost. Note: a credit card will still be required at check-in to cover incidentals and a security deposit.


With the exception of two community partner representatives per state council, registrants are responsible for their own travel expenses. If you are flying, we recommend flying into Midway Airport (MDW), as it is significantly closer to the convening venue and hotel than O’Hare Airport (ORD). 

Each hosted community partner representative will be eligible for a $400 travel stipend to offset the cost of attending the convening. Hosted community partner hotel costs will be covered, not including incidentals.

We recommend that you plan to arrive in Chicago by the afternoon of Thursday, March 14th. Official convening activities will kick off at 4 p.m. 

We recommend that you plan to depart Chicago in the afternoon of Saturday, March 16th. Official convening activities will conclude at 1:30 p.m.

How to register

Registration is open! Learn about fees, travel, and lodging below, and sign up to attend. 
Questions? Contact us at

Register Today

Registration fees

  • The registration fee is $295/person for staff members of state humanities councils and community members. 
  • The registration fee will be waived for up to two community partners invited by each state council. Each council may identify and invite additional community members, though their registration fees will not be waived. 
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Frequently Asked Questions

Where and when is Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration taking place?

This convening is taking place in person in Chicago, Illinois from March 14-16, 2024. Convening activities will take place at the David Rubenstein Forum on the University of Chicago campus (1201 E 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637), officially kicking off on Thursday, March 14th at 4 p.m. and concluding on Saturday, March 16th, at 1:30 p.m. Register today.

Is there a convening hotel? Why should I stay at the convening hotel?

Illinois Humanities has reserved a block of rooms at The Study, a beautiful boutique hotel right next door to the convening venue so that attendees can easily access all the sessions. The hotel will be a busy hub for convening activity. Please note: The Study is a small hotel and rooms will fill up quickly. We encourage you to book your stay as soon as possible to secure your room. Should the hotel become fully booked, Illinois Humanities will provide alternate lodging recommendations. The Study is one of the few hotels near the Rubenstein Forum.

Who is producing/organizing Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration?

Illinois Humanities is proud to produce this first-of-its-kind convening for state humanities councils and their community partners, with generous support from the Mellon Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Polk Bros. Foundation.

Is there an opportunity for my organization to participate in the sponsorship of Inside & Out?

Yes! We are on the lookout for additional funding and sponsorship to help ensure this convening is as accessible and engaging as possible. We invite humanities councils to underwrite the costs of community partners as well. Please contact for more information on sponsorship opportunities.

What should I do when I arrive at The Study?

Check-in at the front desk. Illinois Humanities staff will also be onsite to greet you.

I’d like to reach out about a question. Who should I contact?

Please email inquiries to

Inside & Out Planning Committee

Illinois Humanities is incredibly grateful to the exceptional Inside & Out Planning Committee, which includes council staff and community partners from 13 states. Enormous thanks for your wisdom and vision in helping us to shape this convening! 

Nashid Madyun | Florida Humanities | Florida
Patrick Rodriguez | Georgia Coalition for Higher Education in Prison | Georgia
Steph Iacello | Georgia Humanities | Georgia
Rob Chang | Hawai’i Council for the Humanities | Hawai’i
Roseanne Propato | Public Safety Department, Hawai’i | Hawai’i
Johanna Bringhurst | Idaho Humanities Council | Idaho
Flor Esquivel | Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison | Illinois
Jane Beachy | Illinois Humanities | Illinois
Martin Matsuyuki Krause | Illinois Humanities | Illinois
Gabrielle Lyon | Illinois Humanities | Illinois
Willy Palomo | Illinois Humanities | Illinois
Brandon Wyatt | Illinois Humanities | Illinois
Sarah Ross | Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project | Illinois
Sam Opsahl | Indiana Humanities | Indiana
Megan Telligman | Indiana Humanities | Indiana
Alesha Seroczynski | Moreau College Initiative | Indiana
Meghan Reedy | Maine Humanities Council | Maine
Linda Small | Women Transcending, Re-entry Sisters, New England Coalition for Higher Education in Prison | Maine
Laura Adams | Minnesota Humanities Center | Minnesota
Corey China | Minnesota Humanities Center | Minnesota
Zeke Caligiuri | Minnesota Justice Research Center | Minnesota
Robert Taliaferro | Odyssey Beyond Bars, The Prison Mirror | Minnesota
Carol Andersen | Mississippi Humanities Council | Mississippi
Joe Murphy | Humanities New York | New York
Alex Anderson | Re-entry Theater of Harlem | New York
Laurie Zierer | PA Humanities | Pennsylvania
Yahusef Medina | Virginia Humanities | Virginia
Shannon Ross | The Community, Correcting the Narrative | Wisconsin
Jen Rubin | Wisconsin Humanities | Wisconsin


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