Tuesday, January 29, 2019
5:00 – 6:45 p.m.
Stephen Robert '62 Hall, Watson Institute
280 Brook Street, Providence, RI 02912
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.
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.