Kevin Reese was incarcerated for 15 years, and during his last six years in prison, he organized with the other imprisoned people to ask, “Why?” Reese began his second speaker session talking about how the question “why” isn’t a part of America’s prison system, but he believes it’s an integral part of making change. He discovered through asking the question that, as he said, “hurt people hurt people.” Before opening the session to questions from students and teachers, he said, “We have all of this human capital that’s not a part of the [criminal justice] discussion.”
Reese is the Director of Criminal Justice at Voices for Racial Justice and the founder of Until We Are All Free, a human rights organization managed by formerly incarcerated criminal justice experts. He is a recipient winner of the 2018 Associate of Writers and Writing Programs Intro Journals project for his poetry published in the Hayden Ferry Review. He has also been featured in Emily Baxter’s book, “We Are All Criminals,” and has a column in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.
Reese recommended the book “Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era” for people interested in learning more about the prison system and its connection to the Civil Rights Movement.
Through answering student and teacher questions, he talked about the reality of prison. He recalled that they were told repeatedly that the reason they were in prison was for public safety. The stereotype of prison, and the partial reality of prison in the past, is that incarcerated people leave prison having done 100 pushups a day and reading dozens of books. Now, each cell has a tv connected to cable, which people watch for hours on end to avoid thinking about why they’re there.