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Incarcerated content producers challenge the myth of prison reform

Photo of a concrete fenced-in prison yard.
Todd Lapin
Creative Commons

The purpose of incarceration in America is supposed to be a balance between punishment and reform, with the scales tipping toward reforms that can lead to redemption and a second chance after release. But that’s not been the experience of many currently and formerly incarcerated people.

Incarcerated influencers are sharing a view of prison life through TikTok videos, podcasts, and journalism that shows a more nuanced look at prison life, including the network of support, friendships, and mentors the incarcerated share with one another in the absence of significant reform.

The content challenges misperceptions about incarceration that are often depicted in popular culture, and it exposes the lack of formal opportunities available to help the incarcerated prepare for life after release.


  • Emily Bazelon: Staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and the co-host of the Slate Political Gabfest; she recently started The Prison Letters Project
  • Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein:freelance writer who writes about American life for numerous publications including The New York Times, The New Republic, and The Baffler
  • John J. Lennon: An incarcerated journalist writing from Sullivan Correctional Facility; he is a contributing editor at Esquire magazine and a frequent contributor to The New York Times
  • Justin Paperny: A prison consultant, the co-founder of White Collar Advice and Prison Professors, and the author of Lessons from Prison

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Colin McEnroe, Jonathan McNicol, Cat Pastor, and Lily Tyson contributed to this show.

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Betsy started as an intern at WNPR in 2011 after earning a Master's Degree in American and Museum Studies from Trinity College. She served as the Senior Producer for 'The Colin McEnroe Show' for several years before stepping down in 2021 and returning to her previous career as a registered nurse. She still produces shows with Colin and the team when her schedule allows.
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