Tuesday, January 29, 2019
5 p.m. – 6:45 p.m.
Room 101, Stephen Robert Hall, 280 Brook Street
The United States holds the dubious distinction of the highest incarceration rate in the world. An estimated 1.5 million people passed through U.S. state and federal prisons in 2016 alone. The legal system mandates equal justice for all, but imprisonment in the United States often hinges on legal representation, judges, juries, and policing. These factors and others are intertwined with racial and class-based inequalities that are reflected in the composition of the incarcerated population, as well as on the transformative effects that imprisonment has on individuals and communities that are the targets of mass incarceration.
Since March of 2011, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has engaged in campaigns of widespread arrests and imprisonment as part of its militarized response to the popular political uprising in Syria. People have been detained, tortured, and forcibly disappeared for years. Syrians were detained due to their political views or even on the basis of whether their place of birth was seen by the government as sympathetic to the opposition. Many detainees did not survive the experience, while tens of thousands remain missing till today. Families have been devastated. Many Syrians who were not detained live in continuous fear of arrest and imprisonment, further propelling the exodus from the country.
Discussions of imprisonment often focus on mass incarceration as general phenomenon, but what happens behind the prison’s bars is often obscured and thus not widely known. This event centers the personal experiences of incarceration in the United States and Syria to explore the impact of imprisonment on individuals, families, and communities. It draws on the experience of imprisonment to draw connections, as well as to explore the differences between these contexts, including questions of how these experiences are shaped by the prisons themselves (how they are operated, their physical conditions, the prevalence of violence and abuse, and access to medical and other services) as well as factors beyond the prison walls (socio-economic and political conditions, family and social relations, mental health, and questions of race, religion, and ethnicity). It will also consider life after imprisonment and what the residual impact of incarceration may be in different contexts.
Our U.S. speaker is Jose Diaz, who was incarcerated in 2005 and served a total of 11 years in prison in various facilities in upstate New York. During his incarceration, he was involved in various prison-to-college pipeline initiatives and eventually matriculated into New York University. He is currently a BA/MA Track student majoring in Latino studies and social and cultural analysis at New York University.
Our Syrian speaker is Omar Alshogre, who was detained and forcibly disappeared by the Syrian security forces between 2012 and 2015, spending 3 years in the notorious Saydnaya prison and other security centers. After release, Omar sought rehabilitation in Sweden, where he is currently living and working.
Our speakers will reflect on their experiences of imprisonment in the United States and Syria, respectively, in the hopes of opening up conversations on the personal and communal impact of mass incarceration; the physical, mental, and emotional effects of incarceration; visibility and invisibility; and personal and social transformation.
The discussion will be moderated by Alex Winder, visiting assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies for Brown’s Middle East Studies program.
A collaboration between Brown Students Organize for Syria and Middle East Studies