On March 27th, PEP was proud to host the 2023 Maggie Garb Memorial Lecture, “Working at the Intersection of Art, Activism, and Anti-Carcerality,” a discussion featuring playwright, trauma-informed journalist, and activist Sarah Shourd alongside Shubra Ohri, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center. The discussion was moderated by PEP Director Kevin Windhauser. The wide-ranging discussion found Shourd and Ohri examining topics ranging from efforts to eliminate the use of solitary confinement as a tool of political oppression, the role of the arts in resisting mass incarceration, and ongoing efforts to combat mass incarceration in St. Louis and nationwide.
The lecture began with remarks from Kevin Windhauser on the legacy of Dr. Margaret “Maggie” Garb, PEP’s co-founder. Reflecting on PEP’s growth in the years since its founding, he noted that PEP’s growth into one of the largest higher education in prison programs in the Midwest was only possible thanks to Dr. Garb’s initial vision, and her tireless work to ensure the program came to fruition.
The discussion opened with Shourd and Ohri sharing some of their current projects, including Shourd’s publication and tour of The Box, a play examining the experience of solitary confinement in the United States, and Ohri’s ongoing litigation of a case on behalf of people incarcerated in the St. Louis City Detention Center. A lively discussion of The Box and its accompanying End of Isolation Tour led to a continued discussion of the power of art, especially the performing arts, to shift public thinking around incarceration and to open a space for radical change.
In addition to insights the speakers brought from their own work, both Shourd and Ohri shared ways for attendees to engage with anti-carceral work in their own communities, taking up Maggie Garb’s legacy of bringing together academic expertise with public action to create change.
Ohri detailed the importance of bringing together people with a variety of backgrounds and skills in order to innovate and create imaginative solutions to systemic problems, pointing out that “you have to have imagination and you have to have that willpower to be able to dream something that’s better than what we have today. That involves artists, that involves educators, that involves community members, people who have been directly impacted. You have to have those conversations and you have to engage in that type of change work. Anytime that I’ve been a part of something bigger than a single case, it’s because I worked with other people who had the imagination, who had the energy, who had the ability to educate and move people beyond the courtroom.”
In an engaged question and answer session following the panelists’ discussion, audience members spoke about the role of economic factors in perpetuating mass incarceration, their personal connections to PEP’s mission, and the crucial need to center system-impacted people in discussions around anti-carceral work. PEP alumnus Jameel Spann took the opportunity to remind the audience of the importance of lifting up the voices of people who have experienced incarceration, saying that “Dr. Garb empowered me to be able to recognize that it was about us.” Spann also took the opportunity to reflect on Maggie Garb’s impact on his own life: “I wouldn’t be right here today. I wouldn’t be a few months from going to law school. I wouldn’t have graduated in 2020. I wouldn’t have been able to start a family and change the trajectory of my life.”
Sarah Shourd Speaks with MECC Students
Prior to speaking on the Danforth Campus Monday evening, Sarah Shourd traveled to the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center, where she held a workshop on writing, publishing, and processing lived experiences for PEP students. With over half of PEP’s current student body at MECC in attendance, Shourd spoke with students about her personal experiences of incarceration, her work creating and publishing writing about incarceration, and her work as a journalist.