7 Stories From Incarcerated Writers for Juneteenth

7 Stories From Incarcerated Writers for Juneteenth

Juneteenth, which is also known as America’s “second independence day,” commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. Specifically, it recognizes the day, June 19, 1865, when the last group of 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were made aware of their freedom — over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

Juneteenth calls for reflection on some of the great themes of U.S. life — slavery and liberation, for example — and their connection to mass incarceration. While the 13th Amendment banned slavery, it still allowed for forced labor or indentured servitude as a punishment for crime. Several states provide no pay for prison jobs, and most others pay less than $1 per hour. 

On top of that, people inside prisons are disproportionately Black. Black people comprise 13% of the total U.S. population according to U.S. Census data, but make up 37% of the country’s prison population.They are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than white people.

But Juneteenth is also a moment for joy and celebration, a moment to mark how far we’ve come. In honor of Juneteenth, PJP is highlighting seven stories that show the connection between Juneteenth and modern life in prison.


Photo collage of writer with handwritten essay, notebook and pencils

The Auntie Who Helped Me Survive Prisonby Chanell Burnette: “She encouraged me to take advantage of the free education and self-help groups in prison. She showed me that it was possible to rise and be respected, regardless of the oppression threatening to snuff out my dignity. I think I’ve done well over my 19 years of incarceration.”

Emancipation Day parade on Main Street, Richmond, Virginia.

Celebrating Juneteenth at My Missouri Prisonby Antwann Lamont Johnson: “It’s my belief that enslaved Black people gave blood, sweat and tears to ensure we have a future they could only dream of having. Juneteenth allows me to reflect on the resilience of my ancestors who first lived in this country and on everyone who died trying to survive.”

My Black Skinby Charles Carpenter: “For the first time in my life after watching ‘Roots,’ I became conscious of my Black skin. I was able to grasp the often unspoken differences between Black and White, between privilege and oppression, between the powerful and the powerless.”

Ink drawing of Civil Rights icon John Lewis

How John Lewis Inspires Me to Be Betterby Scotty Scott: “After John Lewis got pummeled by Alabama state troopers, the man did not let hate for those troopers consume him or turn him into a revenge-seeking criminal — as I had for too many years of my life.”

A group photograph of 31 people at a Juneteenth Celebration in Emancipation Park in Houston's Fourth Ward.

On Juneteenth, Seek Out Stories Beneath Your Feetby M. Yayah Sandi: “Many Americans tell a rosy story to illustrate their humble beginnings: Determined, resilient immigrants from Europe risked life and limb crossing the Atlantic Ocean to escape persecution. But hidden in plain sight … are other stories, many stories, that tell of anguish, despair and torture felt by the Africans who were captured and shipped — in cramped, inhumane conditions — across the same ocean.”

Aerial view of San Quentin State Prison and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, California.

In California Prisons, Forced Labor Lives Onby Steve Brooks: “California’s government has effectively declared this truth to be self-evident: Not all of us are created equal.”

A Black man stands on a checkerboard with a large white finger pointing at him

Even in Prison, White Privilege Thrivesby C.R. Addleman: “But one day, the guards reprimanded my Black co-worker for having the same amount of food in his bag that I had in mine. Just moments prior, they’d let me pass by without a word.”


This article first appeared on Prison Journalism Project and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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