‘Human Powered’ explores how access to art, literature and storytelling impact people in prison

Conversations about incarcerated people often focus on statistics, how people in prison are treated and the many deficits they face. But poet Dasha Kelly Hamilton says these conversations often miss an essential part of the story: the humanity of those impacted.

Kelly Hamilton is the co-host of a podcast from Wisconsin Humanities, called Humanity Unlocked. For her and co-producer Jen Rubin, this project is an opportunity to reimagine the incarceration system, changing the perspectives that often surrounds it by focusing on the humanities.

“The humanities are everything that’s in between the bricks: how you think, how you feel, how you understand the world,” says Kelly Hamilton. “So, it’s philosophy. It’s art. It’s literature. It’s all of the things that we’ve been told that don’t translate into skills. But we are way more than our job applications. So, the humanities are everything that make you a person.”

Kelly Hamilton continues, “So often, we tell the story of incarceration in general through statistics, through crime reports, [and] through fear and deficits. And all of those things are also facts. And they’re also, to some degree, true. But it’s missing the fact that these are parents who made a mistake. These are someone’s former neighbors. These are former high football stars. These are people that we have work to do with and for, but they’re still people.”

This season features six episodes and has a community-focused perspective. Rubin explains, “We’re going to be looking at painting arts [and] visual arts. And then we’re also going to be looking more clearly at humanities and reentry.”

The United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other nation on earth. Kelly Hamilton says there has to be something at the root of this issue that is leading to many people ending up incarcerated.

She says, “There’s something in our construction that is flawed and those flaws have flawed entire communities which have flawed whole generations, subsequent generations of humans. And we don’t have that conversations.”

Rubin adds, “No one’s going to want to change what’s happening inside prisons until they see them as people. And they’re not gonna see them as people until they see the people. And so partly how we frame the stories and the narrative is sort of key to that.”

The current and previous seasons of Humanity Unlocked can be found here.

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