Poems from Prison: Untold Stories from the U.S. Criminal Justice System | The American Word

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Poems from Prison: Untold Stories from the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Angeline Rosato | 11/17/15 12:10pm
| Updated 11/17/15 12:10pm

Courtesy of Bleakhouse Publishing 

American Word Magazine

Approximately one in every 35 adults in the United States was under correctional supervision—either in jail, in prison, on probation, or on parole—in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. There were 54,148 minors in juvenile detention that same year. With numbers so high, it can be easy for those controlled by the criminal justice system to lose their voices and their identities in the masses. Tacenda Literary Magazine, a D.C.-area publication, looks to personalize these individuals and tell their stories.

“It’s important to remember they are people. They do come from various backgrounds, a lot of them disadvantaged,” said the magazine’s editor-in-chief Marisa Fein, a junior at AU studying literature and women’s studies. Tacenda, through BleakHouse Publishing, presents creative works focused on a variety of social justice issues: crime and punishment, poverty, racial injustice, and the prison population. The independent, not-for-profit press was founded in 2006 by Robert Johnson, a Justice, Law, and Criminology professor in SPA.

The word “tacenda” refers to “things not to be mentioned or made public, that are better left unsaid.” It is the “elephant in the room,” the issues that nobody wants to talk about. Centered around criminal justice reform, Tacenda discusses topics less acknowledged in society today. The publication’s goal? To deter the public’s generalized views and biases towards inmates and gear much-needed conversation towards social change. “[We take] a critical approach to how our system works right now and how it treats… the people who go through it,” said Fein.

With its main base here at AU, Tacenda draws most of its staff and writers from current students or alumni. Members usually learn about the publication through Johnson’s classes, visual displays of print editions on campus, or word of mouth. However, in keeping with one of its main focus of humanizing the prison population through a “softer, more person-centered lens,” Tacenda also actively searches for individuals who have experienced the criminal justice system firsthand. Reaching the voices of imprisoned individuals past and present, while a source of pride for the magazine, is also one of its most difficult challenges. Fein said that once incarcerated, it is difficult for a person to reach the outside world, and for the outside world to reach him/her.

The magazine’s level of success in interacting with prisoners varies with each correctional facility. While prisons and jails with education programs often make inmates more accessible, these programs are hard to find. Additionally, the institutions’ rules and regulations under state and local law can make contact difficult. Through experience, Fein has found that it is easier to work with the Maryland corrections system than with D.C.’s.

Despite these challenges, Tacenda has been able to publish the works of many currently or formerly incarcerated citizens. In partnering with local nonprofit organizations such as Free Minds and Justice Not Jails, the magazine has been able to receive more narratives from inmates and build a larger network. Without a doubt, Tacenda’s diverse set of writers is an aspect of the magazine that makes it stand out.

Serving as an open minded platform for a unique pool of writers,Tacenda encourages readers to look at inmates from a different light. In bringing up these various issues, it is adding to the national discussion on social change and reform. And it is exposing the tacenda of our criminal justice system, once and for all.

Check out Tacenda here:


Interested writers can contact Marisa at:

[email protected]