Stories are the building blocks of our society. We look to them to experience the struggles and conflicts of others. Through them, we realize we are not as different from other people as we think. The stories we curate here describe loss and pain, but also describe redemption and triumph. Listen to or read them here.
As director of the MSU Civil Rights Clinic, Daniel Manville teaches Michigan State University law students how to defend the civil rights of prisoners. He knows how important this is because he spent four years in prison himself in the 1970s for manslaughter. In prison, he earned two college degrees, then went on to law school after he got out. Manville now dedicates his time to litigate for prisoner’s rights.
Robert Sanchez was an 18-year-old star baseball player attending the High School for Art and Design in New York City when he was caught in the apartment of a drug dealer during a raid. Despite having no drugs on him and no prior convictions, he was sentenced to 15 years to life and spent 15 years behind bars. A relationship with a mentor saved him from despair and propelled him to get an education in prison. When he got out, he devoted himself to helping other prisoners make successful transitions back into the community. When he saves others, he says, he is saving himself.
The first time Robert Vincent heard classical guitar music was when he was serving a 15-year-to-life sentence in a prison in Tracy, CA. It was a lightening-strike moment. Who would know that a wooden box with strings could make that kind of sound? He devoted his remaining years there to learning the art of guitar making through a California Arts in Corrections program. Out for 12 years now, he has a studio in his garage and is sought after by classical guitar dealers.
Lawrence Bartley was sentenced to 27 years in prison at the age of 17. During his time in prison, he started writing for the Marshall Project, and is now the creator and director of “News Inside,” a print publication that highlights the physical, mental, and spiritual concept of freedom. He spent his time focused on fighting the stigma of being a prisoner and is an inspiration to those that are convicted under the age of 18. He is passionate about giving a voice to those incarcerated.
After spending six years in prison, Tim Arnold was determined to help others avoid that fate, so he decided to launch Lawnlife, a nonprofit that employs formerly incarcerated individuals and at-risk youth. He has since hired over 700 people, in the process teaching them a strong work ethic and business skills so they can stay out of the criminal justice system. Arnold believes that everybody in prison deserves an opportunity at a second chance – they just have to earn it.
Buddy Harrison was arrested at age 19 for armed robbery and sentenced to 19 years in prison. Released after 10 years, his faith and devotion to his family led him to turn his life around. He decided to open up his own boxing gym to help local youth stay off the streets. Buddy says he used to be known for how bad he was; now he is proud to be known as a “good guy.”
Tracy Brumfield’s addiction to opioids and heroin landed her in jail in 2012. Once she got out, she fought to beat her addiction and determined that she was going to help others. A grant helped her start Rise newspaper, a paper distributed in local jails to provide information inmates will need once they get out.