LEWISBURG, Pa. — An incredible storytelling event raising awareness about the correctional community took place at the Larison Dining Hall on the Bucknell University Campus in Lewisburg on Sept 6. The event was called “Mass Story Lab: Lewisburg,” and was a collaboration between two non-profits: the Lewisburg Prison Project in Lewisburg and Mass Story Lab.
The Bucknell Campus event was intended to raise awareness about the correctional community as well as the voices of formerly incarcerated people in Lewisburg. In addition, the event was created to provoke the local community to “imagine alternatives to the current system that creates additional pain and trauma that perpetuates the violence that we’d like to see end,” said Deirdre O’Connor, director for Bucknell’s Writing Center and co-sponsor of the event, in a recent interview with Bucknell’s newspaper The Bucknellian.
The Bucknell storytelling event created an opportunity not only for formerly incarcerated inmates to share their stories, but also for the audience to participate in an interactive dialogue with the storytellers and those around them.
“Giving the different points of view that each represent a different facet of the experience gave it a much more real undertone and allowed for greater understanding,” said Zoe Lindahl, a student currently enrolled at Bucknell, in a recent interview with the Bucknellian. “Each person who spoke took responsibility for why they were incarcerated, but then gave more insight about the national epidemic of mass incarceration.”
The event was brought to campus by the Mass Story Lab, a participatory storytelling project designed by storyteller, educator and cultural organizer Piper Anderson, according to the website in collaboration with the Lewisburg Prison Project. The Story Lab was intended to facilitate discussion, participation and collaboration and to serve as community platforms to confront the impacts of mass incarceration.
The aim of the project overall is to “make stories an instrument of justice, where the stories of people directly impacted by mass incarceration become the transformative lens through which communities imagine a world beyond prisons,” according to the Mass Story Lab website.
Mass Story Lab aims to reach 20 U.S communities between 2016 to 2018. The Lewisburg Prison Project is a non-profit organization founded in 1973 and serves to protect constitutional and civil rights of prisoners in central Pennsylvania. The non-profit provides advocacy, information and legal assistance regarding prisoners’ conditions of confinement. The project assists inmates nationwide with the conditions of their confinement, especially in cases of illegal or inhumane conditions. The Lewisburg Prison Project provides legal bulletins to prisoners, responds to their requests for information, advises them on legal matters, intercedes on their behalf with prison staff and represents them in court — sometimes in class-action lawsuits.
The Bucknell-hosted Mass Story Lab event was initiated partially in response to the university’s first-year common reading assignment, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” by Bryan Stevenson, an influential lawyer’s account of what he deems a broken justice system. O’Connor worked with the first-year reading committee and the Lewisburg Prison Project to coordinate the event.