Viewing entries tagged
Social Justice

Dear MSL Community, we need your support

Dear MSL Community, we need your support

Dear Mass Story Lab Supporters

Do you believe stories can create justice?

Just 10 months ago, Mass Story Lab was still an untested idea but we were ready to stake a big claim on the power of community storytelling to create cultural change. So in June 2016, we partnered with JustleadershipUSA’s #CLOSERikers campaign to help shut down New York City’s most notorious jail complex. Less than a year later, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his support for the closure of Rikers Island. It took months and thousands of supporters to make it happen, but it was catalyzed by the stories of people who have lived the trauma of Rikers. That is how stories create justice.

Mass Story Lab has since traveled to Austin, Greensboro, and Miami. In each city, we’ve heard stories calling out the intersections of mass incarceration and mass immigrant detention, revealed the pitfalls in the pathways of prison re-entry, and witnessed communities collaborate in our labs to identify ways to support the most vulnerable targets of this administration’s policies.

Mass Story Lab restores connection and community where once there was isolation, stigma, and shame and we are ready to expand to reach even more communities. Our goal is to raise $25,000 over the next two months. The great news is a generous supporter of Mass Story Lab has already promised a matching donation of $5,000 once we’ve raised an initial $5000. So your donation will have double the impact. Speaking of impact…

When you donate to our #MSLSpring25 Fundraising Drive you’ll help us realize our vision for a world beyond prisons.

With your support, in 2017 we will be able to:

·      Train THREE new MSL facilitators-people with a personal connection to incarceration.  They will travel the country in 2018 facilitating labs to catalyze local action.

·      Focus future labs on three core issue areas: 1) The incarceration of women and girls. 2) Wellness and Re-Entry 3) Designing Safe Communities

·      Build strategic partnerships to connect our local community partners with the right resources and support to advance the solutions generated in their story labs.

This past year we’ve been supported exclusively by partners and donors like you. You are the power behind the stories. THANK YOU in advance for your support.

Here’s how to make a donation:

Write a check payable to our fiscal sponsor, “Fractured Atlas” in the memo line: Mass Story Lab. Mail to:

Create Forward

P.O Box 1070 New York, NY 10037

Mass Story Lab is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Mass Story Lab must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.


Piper Anderson, Founding Guide

Mass Story Lab


Raise The Age

Raise The Age

Words such as violence, corruption, brutality, and abuse only begin to describe the experiences of those incarcerated in New York City’s main jail complex, Rikers Island. While the experience of anyone who has been incarcerated at Rikers is no doubt horrific, what is more unsettling is the fact that amongst the imprisoned are children. New York and North Carolina are the only two states that prosecute all youths 16 years of age and older as adults. Adolescent brains, however, are still developing and highly receptive to change. Since their cognitive skills are continuing to develop, their decisions are often impulsive but they’re likely to grow out of negative behaviors. For youth, Rikers can do serious damage long term. More disturbing? Youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than a juvenile facility. It is time to raise the age.

In June 2016, we held a Mass Story Lab here in New York City with storytellers all previously incarcerated at Rikers. Storyteller Vidal Guzman was 16 years old when he was arrested and sent to Rikers complex. He expressed that his time on Rikers Island was full of violence and suffering.

“When I had to wake up, my first routine was do pushups, get ready to fight,” he says. “I was scared everyday but I couldn’t show that to anybody else. Not my mom, not my friends, not people that I’m incarcerated with, because if they see that, then I’m a target. I felt like I was an animal. [….] I was just trying to get home to my family.”
— Vidal Guzman
Vidal Guzman speaking at the Rikers Mass Story Lab

Vidal Guzman speaking at the Rikers Mass Story Lab

Vidal described his life after his release, where he recounts having violent nightmares, not knowing where he was, and hurting himself in his sleep. The trauma that surfaced incredibly challenging for him and his family.

“Being home didn’t feel so real. Waking up with my hands hurting from all the fights I had [while asleep]. For the first two weeks, I didn’t really look in the mirror because I got used to black and blues. Now that I’m free, I’m trying to get my mind back to society. But how could I when every time I closed my eyes I felt like someone would attack me? Jail made me not trust anybody. Not even my own best friends. It made me into a new human being, one that people disliked. It’s like jail made something different. I didn’t even know my own self. Jail destroyed my mind, body and soul.”
— Vidal Guzman

This is an unfortunate example of what is likely to happen when youth are sentenced as adults. When they are incarcerated in adult facilities, they’re more likely to suffer physical and emotional abuse, and don’t have access to age-appropriate rehabilitation services. Additionally, more than 600 children aged 13-15 are processed in adult criminal courts, taking a devastating toll on their futures. This is unacceptable, and action must be taken.

We must raise the age for justice to be achieved for young people such as Vidal in the criminal justice system. To take immediate action, call New York’s Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (631-361-2157), Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein (718-822-2049), Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (718-654-6539) and Governor Andrew Cuomo (518-474-8390) and make your voice heard. You can also send letters to representatives here: For more information about the #RaiseTheAgeNY campaign, check out You can follow the conversation and discover ways to get involved in real time by following @RaiseTheAgeNY on Twitter.

Additionally, we urge you to get involved in our efforts to close Rikers by donating to our partners, JustleadershipUSA’s #closeRikers campaign. To learn more about JustleadershipUSA’s efforts, check out and visit to find out how you can help us bring Mass Story Labs to 10 communities in 2017.

By Claire Zager, Mass Story Lab intern

Refuge to Rubble: The American Dream & Immigrant Detention

Refuge to Rubble: The American Dream & Immigrant Detention

The relevance of immigrant detention all throughout America right now is, unfortunately, evident everywhere we turn. On the news, social media, and through simple word of mouth, updates on Trump’s new immigration ban and his plans to build a wall are unavoidable. In addition to the effect of immigrant detention on the families of detained immigrants, as discussed on Tuesday, many victims of Trump’s legislation are forced to live in unacceptable and inhumane conditions within the walls of detention facilities. Immigrants seeking refuge from danger in their countries are shown no mercy. It’s imperative that we continue to speak up.

During our trip to Austin, six storytellers shared with us their intersecting experiences within the twin systems of incarceration and immigrant detention. Detention facilities are meant to be a holding center, but have proven to resemble a prison environment despite housing non-violent immigrants who pose no threat. It is said that they’re detained for national security reasons, but considering Hispanics are actively sought out near the border, it is essentially legalized racial profiling. In Spanish, storyteller Sulma Franco recounted her personal experience with immigration detention, which began on only her second day in the United States:

“I fled my country to escape persecution for my sexual preference only to come to America and be arrested by immigration for crossing the border, and then humiliated for having been arrested, not having a social security number, not having a driver’s license, not speaking English. 

Many immigrants, such as Sulma, attempt to escape from danger, hoping that in America they will find a better life. Survivors of torture, asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups including children, pregnant women and those with serious illnesses are in detention. The better life that they expected to find in the United States has been taken from them. Instead, they are subjected to harsh conditions. Sulma continues,

"We were held in a small room, many of us, all from different countries, huddled together on the cold cement ground. There was one bathroom for all of us with no door. Not even a shower curtain to protect our female bodies. If you wanted to do anything in the bathroom, you had to do it in front of everyone.”

 Immigrants are given shocking conditions in which to live and are treated inhumanely in the detention centers. The motives behind immigration detention are largely financial, which explains the cruelty and neglect. Sexual assault is prevalent within the detention centers, but justice is very rarely served. Immigrants are often denied health care. Additionally, detainees with lawyers are a minority. The right to an attorney is only a guarantee if you’re in criminal court. Due to the neglect and mistreatment of detained immigrants, a reported 115 people have died in immigration custody since 2003. There are countless heartbreaking stories. Sulma’s is just one of them.

In light of the recent inauguration of Donald Trump, action is more important now than ever. We urge you to donate to our Texas partners, Grassroots Leadership and other causes that will work to change, such as The National Immigration Law Center, and Americans for Immigrant Justice . Protest and speak out for people like Sulma.

On Saturday, Feb 4th, Mass Story Lab traveled to Miami, Florida to continue amplifying the stories of people surviving the intersections of incarceration and immigrant detention. Visit to find out how you can bring a lab to your city in 2017.

By Claire Zager, Mass Story Lab Intern


In Texas, A Daughter Tells the Painful Story of Her Father's Detainment

In Texas, A Daughter Tells the Painful Story of Her Father's Detainment

Not two weeks since Donald Trump’s inauguration and the damage has already begun. Via executive order, he issued an immigration ban causing chaos and protests worldwide. This order bans roughly 218 million people from entering the United States and halts admission of refugees. In addition to this ban, Trump has future plans to triple the number of ICE officers, detain and deport all immigrants, and build the infamous wall, among many other horrifying promises that will have devastating effects on immigrants and inevitably the prevalence of immigration detention.

Silvia Zuvietta-Rodriguez, Mass Story: The Texas Incarceration Maze

Silvia Zuvietta-Rodriguez, Mass Story: The Texas Incarceration Maze

In October of 2016, we traveled to Austin, TX to explore the intersections of mass incarceration and mass detention. Immigration detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in the United States, referring to the incarceration of immigrants while they await a determination of their immigration status or potential deportation. Texas is at the center of the expansion, as well as where for-profit detention centers got their start. Home to at least thirty privately operated facilities, it was a prime location to host a Mass Story Lab. Six storytellers recounted their experiences of how they were affected by incarceration and immigration detention in Spanish and English. Separation from family and harsh conditions was a common theme in their stories, revealing inhumanity and corrupt motives within the immigration detention system.

Seventeen-year-old Silvia Zuvieta-Rodriguez shared the story of her father’s detainment and eventual deportation. She spoke of the man behind his offence; how hard he worked, his crooked smile, and the way he would comfort her when she cried. Among her words of tribute, she emphasizes that she doesn’t even remember what he did. He was always her father first, never a criminal to her.

"It doesn't matter what was on [my father's] record,” she states. “That does not matter. We don't see the people behind… this thing that…. And I hate using the word criminal… we just see that title. We don't see the person behind it. The beauty. It doesn't matter what they did. We don't see the family. This man was an amazing man." -Silvia Zuvietta-Rodriguez 

Silvia recounts that her father’s detainment pushed her into a severe depression, eventual suicide attempt, and psychiatric hospitalization. Once she was released from the hospital, she discovered that her father had been deported, and she didn’t get that chance to say goodbye. She expresses that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) tore her family apart.

Sadly, stories like Silvia’s are all too common. Many immigrants are ripped from their homes and placed in detention facilities. Families are broken, many of them without the ability to see their loved ones while detained. If families are able to visit, they find themselves on two sides of glass, unable to touch. Wait time can be years, and it is very rare that immigrants inside holding centers are not deported.

Among her powerful story, she shares some wise words: "I'm not defined by the best thing I've ever done. I'm not defined by the worst thing. So how come the only people that are, are the people with a criminal record? Most of us, whether we want to admit it or not, have done something that has been against the law. But we don't get punished in the way immigrants do. They're separated from their families. We don't see that. We don't think of that. We don't think that immigrants have something to lose." –Silvia Zuvieta-Rodriguez

In light of the recent inauguration of Donald Trump, action is more important now than ever. We urge you to donate to our Austin, TX partners Grassroots Leadership, continue to protest, and contact your elected officials. We can create justice for families like Silvia’s.

On Feb 4th, Mass Story Lab travels to Miami, Florida to continue amplifying the stories of people surviving at the intersections of incarceration and immigrant detention.

Visit to find out how you can help us bring Mass Story Labs to 10 communities in 2017.

By Claire Zager, Mass Story Lab Intern