The stories produced by the WordsUncaged project are voices from prison not about prison, allowing incarcerated men to tell their own stories, in their own words and, therefore, to be heard as human beings. Most popular representations of prison life and prisoners are, at worst, sensationalized accounts of violent monsters, at best, sympathetic depictions that make prisoners objects of knowledge. Prisoners telling stories of prison life challenge dramatic media representations—that one prisoner describes as “nothing but one big event after big event”— by offering small, everyday stories of hope, transformation and compassion. The WordsUncaged Prison Journal will challenge stereotypical conceptions of prison life and expand the public’s understanding of prison culture by rethinking who incarcerated men are. Sharing these stories with the public is important, as it not only empowers prisoners to have their voices heard but also, just as importantly, expands our collective sense of the California story by telling it from the perspective of those who have largely been denied a voice in creating it.
The WordsUncaged Prison Journal is sponsored by Cal State LA’s Office for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good, and is coproduced by Cal State LA students and the Men for Honor organization at the LA maximum-security prison at Lancaster. The journal solicits submissions from prisons all over Southern California with the goal of becoming the premier journal of prison writing in the United States. The production process involves a semester-long dialogue between students and prisoners in order to shape and edit the submissions, design the layout, develop an aesthetic approach and, finally, print the journal and distribute it to local bookstores, libraries, galleries and educational institutions. The first annual edition of the journal is scheduled to be released in Spring 2017.