Free at last | Lessons learned behind bars

The United States is the incarceration capital of the world. According to statistics gathered by the International Center for Prison Studies, the U.S. incarcerates 724 people per 100,000, or an astounding 2.3 million people. That’s substantially more than second-place Russia, which incarcerates a “mere” 615 per 100,000. The irony, of course, is that Americans consider themselves “the land of the free,” while Russia is, you know, a police state. To put these numbers in even greater perspective, Ukraine and South Africa vie for a distant third, incarcerating fewer than half the people America does, at 350 and 334 per 100,000 residents, respectively.

That people survive long-term incarceration is a testament to the human spirit. A small percentage of them even manage to use the experience for self-transformation. Like carbon forming diamonds under extreme pressure, or monks in an ashram burning away ego attachments, these men and women put their years locked-up to powerful use, as the contributors to this month’s issue demonstrate.

Our interview this issue is with Kelly Orians, an attorney with First72Plus, a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated men navigate the treacherous first 72 hours after release and beyond, and the co-founder of Rising Foundations, which helps them launch legal businesses.

We’re thrilled to share award-winning memoirs, short stories, and poetry from PEN America’s annual prison writing contest. Arthur Longworth describes his chilling history with state-sanctioned foster care and group homes in How to Kill Someone; Robert Ives tells how he survived 600 Days of Silence in an isolated prison cell; the writer known as Ellis Acton Currer offers September, a heartbreaking story of escape by the only means available; while Benito Gutierrez writes of a young man trying hard to break La Cadena, the chain.

In poetry, PEN-winner Karol House shares I’m from Where, while two other favorite MOON poets, Joe Cottonwood and Alan Walowitz, write evocatively of prisons not made of concrete and barbed wire.

In our third memoir this month, Anna Alkin describes how her work with a man who survived 16 years on Death Row taught her many things about faith and freedom–and the possibilities for A Miraculous Life of More. We also recommend three powerful documentaries–plus a TED talk–in Movies You Might’ve Missed and, as always, provocative quotes in MOON Shine.

Dear readers, if you value this forum, please consider making a contribution to support its continued existence. The MOON’s online community of readers and writers presents a platform for sharing ideas, experiences, and intimate storytelling in fiction, poetry, and film. It particularly strives to elevate the voices of women, Indigenous, and so-called minorities whose contributions are too often overlooked in mainstream media. Your support will ultimately enable me to pay writers for their content; support a long-overdue website overhaul; and one day, add a print edition of The MOON, suitable for curling up in bed with. There are two ways to contribute: via our secure PayPal link, or our Patreon page, where you can become a continuing supporter of The MOON for as little as $1/month. It’s your support that keeps The MOON shining. Thank you!

Photo: Najib Kalil for

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