Speech Matters spring 2017:

The Return Home

Each year, more than 700,000 individuals are released from prison. Another 9 million are sent home from local jails. Within three years, chances are strong that each of these individuals will re-offend and find themselves back in jail, suggesting that the school-to-prison pipeline only works in one direction. What can we do to improve the chances for those who have served their time?

This spring, Speech Matters will examine the pipeline in reverse. We will visit jails and prisons to see how inmates are prepared for life after incarceration. We will talk to superintendents who believe that inmates deserve a second chance, to case workers who are working to make the transition more successful, and to the brave men and women who are negotiating the big step back to society. At some point in the semester, we will travel to Amsterdam, to speak with experts, case workers, and activists about the Dutch policies on re-entry.

As with last year’s highly-acclaimed pilot of Speech Matters, which focused on the language being used to describe addiction, this year’s program looks at how politicians, social service providers, community members, and the recently incarcerated talk about responsibility, redemption, and the opportunity to move forward. We’ll look at the principles behind the various political arguments—libertarian, liberal, and conservative—and see which metaphors and political values are being employed. Most importantly, we’ll look for opportunities to reframe the debate so that the return trip seems as inevitable as the journey to jail. 

Film and Lecture Series

  • 13th, screening of a chronicle of racial inequality in the criminal justice system, February 1
  • Criminal Justice Reform, Criminal justice leader Glenn Martin will speak on his work for JustLeadershipUSA, February 8
  • Everett Company Freedom Café, a dance theater performance and dialogue examining mass incarceration in America, February 15
  • Incarcerating US, screening of the documentary followed by presentation by Richard Van Wickler on the issue of mass incarceration, February 22

An Incurable Pain: Islamic perspectives on addiction, by Amer Latif

what to expect

Speech Matters is a semester-long program for any college student or graduate who dreams of being a journalist, running an influential YouTube channel, becoming a talk radio commentator, making a game-changing documentary, working for a policy think-tank, or otherwise making public policy more humane.

Participants will spend the first half of the semester visiting jails and talking to people who are moving back to society. We'll also attend legislative sessions in Montpelier, Vermont, that focus on life after incarceration. A speaker series will bring first-hand accounts of life behind bars and proponents of criminal justice reform from across the political spectrum. The final trip to Amsterdam will provide an important comparison as we look at how a country committed to decarceration successfully transitions its citizens back to society.  

The final part of the semester will be devoted to presenting our findings to the community at large. We'll speak to students and counselors at the local high school and to social service providers working with ex-offenders. Students will also produce podcasts, op/eds, and other publishable work. By the end of the semester, all students will have some professional work to add to their resume.

For more information see the specific courses involved, explore your eligibility and costs, based on where you are a student, and learn how to apply.

Program Philosophy

Professor Meg Mott's grandfather, Archibald MacLeish, was one part poet and one part statesmen. A Librarian of Congress and Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, MacLeish was skeptical of any higher education that did not believe in the human spirit. “Without the belief in man,” noted MacLeish, “the university is a contradiction in terms.” Speaking in 1969, he worried that students had become “overwhelmed by accumulated but uncontrolled knowledge,” making it impossible for them to have perspective on themselves and the world. The role of the university, he argued, was not to help students accumulate facts but to provide the means for restoring faith in humankind.

Following her grandfather’s priorities, Meg and her colleagues at Marlboro College have designed a semester-long, intensive program that uses critical theory, ethnography, and non-violent communication to reframe national issues. In the spring of 2017, Speech Matters will focus on ways to end the stigmatization of people who spend time in jail.