Since launching in June 2016, Mass Story Lab has reached three states and more than 200 people committed to transforming our justice system. Our labs are designed to build and heal communities, activate civic engagement, and inspire future visions of justice.
Two weeks ago, I was standing onstage at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, NC. The space is a historical artifact. It is the F.W. Woolworth building, where four students began a lunch counter sit-in that would spark powerful demonstrations of civil disobedience to end segregation across the South.
Behind me onstage are six storytellers, each a person directly impacted by mass incarceration. A mother and wife who spent two years in prison only to come home and be told to pay $5,000 per month in restitution, a sum even her judge said he could not afford. A man who went to prison at 18 and came home at 33 realizing he had to quickly learn how to be a man in a new, highly technological world. A talented basketball player and football coach who was exonerated for a murder he did not commit after spending more than 20 years in prison, yet is still hampered by the invisible label of felon. A daughter whose father went to prison when she was two and came home when she was 18. Some 20 years would pass before a quiet revelatory moment on a lake in Minnesota, while he helps her bait her hook, finally they begin to bridge the long distance between them that incarceration has created.
Their stories are moving—and transformative, illuminating the violent contradictions of a system that claims to correct but only causes more trauma, more harm to the communities that it attacks like a virus.
The audience has heard their stories and now comes the moment of transition—the moment in which this audience makes the decision about how they will show up. The storytellers have given them the gift of their stories, and now it is time for them to decide how they will respond.
So I ask them, “Raise your hand if you believe that people deserve a supportive community when they come from prison,” and everyone raises their hand. Next, I say, “Now stand up if you are ready to become that supportive community.” Everyone stands. They look around to see who is standing with them. Everyone in the room is on their feet.
Just as those four young men refused to move from a lunch counter because segregation had stood for too long, this community was now standing up and deciding to be counted. Deciding that the new Jim Crow could not longer stand. They agreed that discriminating, isolating, and exploiting people who have been incarcerated is no longer acceptable. Moments like this is the reason I created Mass Story Lab.
In 2017, Mass Story Lab will travel to at least 8 cities including Miami, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Oakland, Detroit, and Boston. But we need your support to get there. Your donations will support each of these communities to host a lab, provide training for storytellers, and a listening session inside of prison so we can incorporate the visions, and dreams of our currently incarcerated community members. Will you stand with us?