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FROM THE INSIDE OUT: The Power of Language to Incarcerate

September 21

Saturday, September 21, 2019

9 AM – 7 PM

The Andrew Freeman Home
1125 Grand Concourse,
Bronx, NY 10452

Event Description: 
The Center for Justice at Columbia University and The Confined Arts presents From the Inside Out: The Power of Language to Incarcerate, a one-day justice conference in New York City that will meet and resist linguistic methods of dehumanization, which foster implicit and explicit biases about people in the criminal justice system.The mission of the conference is to explore the attachment of labels used to describe individuals with justice system contact, which are coupled with negative imagery, and provide re-humanizing counter narratives using the power of storytelling to highlight true-lived experiences. More specifically, the audience will engage with stigmatized labels coupled with (mis)representative imagery and be given a historical context of how labels foster misconceptions about incarceration and the people that are incarcerated.



This conference demonstrates the urgent need to facilitate discourse around dehumanizing labels, linguistic rights, and language marginalization for people in the criminal justice system. Further, it demonstrates the crucial importance of understanding how the general public forms perceptions of different groups of people based on the common language and labels used to reference them. Labels carry stigmas and stereotypes. They allow us to acknowledge social, cultural, or physical differences between one another. Labels also inadvertently influence our perceptions of one another depending on the social significance of the label that is attributed to a person.

The conference goals are to:

  1. Provide a historical review of how language and media has been used to shape public perceptions of people in the criminal justice system.
  2. Provide a historical review of how law, policy and popular discourse has shaped punitive attitudes.
  3. Understand how the popular (current) philosophy of justice and incarceration and current media representation of people in prison in the US intersects with and is reflected in the law and policy of today.
  4. Determine the influences on public opinion of people in prison – is it the legal framework, popular media or personal opinion and experience?
  5. Provide re-humanizing counter narratives inspired by true-lived experiences.

Conference Objectives

  1. Present research information through performances and presentations
  2. Engage directly with dehumanizing language and imagery
  3. Facilitate public discourse to gain a better understanding of the influence of public opinion towards people in prison
  4. Present a call to action for all conference attendees

Conference Activities will include:

  1. Keynote Address by Pastor Isaac Scott)
  2. Panel Discussions
  3. Breakout Sessions
  4. Arts Engagement: Performing Arts and Visual Arts


Headline Performance
SPOKEN PEN “The Monologue.”
This monologue performance is a creative writing project produced by four (4) condemned prisoners from the State of Arkansas as a collection of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction works of literature. Created entirely by: Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Reams, LaTavious Johnson, and Justin Anderson. What’s significant about this project is that these condemned writers are forgotten individuals in a forgotten place trying to show the rest of the world that they exist. The performance is something that’s fresh, unique, and unusual. It is not a strike against the judicial system, a system that all four men have spent a vast majority of their lives grappling with. Instead, this monologue show is a richly detailed and personal glimpse inside the minds of four (4) talented writers who happens to be death row inmates.

° Kenneth Williams, author of The Unrelenting Burdens of Gang Bangers and an ordained minister. He was executed on April 27th, 2017.
° Justin Anderson, creator of (Art by Anderson) and author of Soul of a Panther. His work has appeared in national publications such as Compassion and Human Rights.
° Kenneth Reams, social justice activist, poet, public speaker, artist, and founder of the non-profit organization Who Decides, Inc.
° LaTavious Johnson, co-author of the upcoming book Spoken Pen. He is a “mighty talent” who is bridging the gap between poetry and rap.

We are now accepting applications for:

  1. Break-Out Session Facilitator: We are looking for individuals to engage with and promote discussion amongst conference participants on the negative impact of labels and marginalization.
  2. Organizational Information Blitz Facilitator: We are looking for individuals to share information about their social justice work and discuss how they believe labels negatively or positively impact that work.
  3. Spoken Pen Performing Artist: We are looking for performing artists to perform “Spoken Word”, a creative writing project produced by four condemned prisoners from the State of Arkansas.


Click here to begin your application.

Event Collaborators

  • Justice in Education Initiative at Columbia University
  • Broadway Advocacy Coalition
  • How Our Lives Link Altogether (H.O.L.L.A.)
  • Love Thyself First
  • Life Unbolted Inc.

Event Sponsors

  • Humanities New York
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University
  • Center for Justice at Columbia University
  • God’s Touch Healing Ministry


Andrew Freedman Home
1125 Grand Concourse
New York , 10452 United States
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