From the colonization of North America to mass incarceration in our present, the incarceration and criminalization of Americans has been a normal feature of United States society. “The United States warehouses more than 2.3 million humans in jails, prisons, and detention centers around the country. The prison is central to the reproduction of political and social life in the United States; it shapes how we experience race, class, gender, sexuality, and geography. For decades, this vast network of confinement has determined public policy and disenfranchised communities. Prisons, and related institutions, are at the heart of American life and governance. Simply put, we live in a carceral state.”


This digital exhibition broadly examines the nexus between the formation of prisons and American politics. Drawing upon the fields of history, this exhibit highlights the less familiar lives, voices, and experiences of incarcerated men at the State Prison of Southern Michigan (SPSM) in Jackson, Michigan during the twentieth century. Exhibits cover a broad range of topics, including educational and recreation activities, prison conditions, organized crime, resistance and uprisings, and prison reformers and personnel.


This digital exhibit is supported by Rutgers University’s (Newark) Humanities Action Lab/ States of Incarceration and the Michigan History Center.