The School to Prison Pipeline Project

It goes by many names: ‘The School-to-Prison Pipeline’, ‘The School-to-Confinement Pipeline’, ‘The School-to-Court Pipeline’, ‘The Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline’, etc. These names refer to sets of policies and systemic practices that lead to the over-representation of people of color, poor people, LGBTQ+ individuals, persons who have been in the foster care system, and people with disabilities in prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities.

Mothers on the Frontline is collaborating with Grinnell College on a project called “Digital Stories for Social Justice: The School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Professors Stephanie Jones (education), Tammy Nyden (philosophy) and Kesho Scott (sociology) received the Grinnell College’s Innovation Grant to create a story archive and new kind of course.

This project aims to document this social injustice by digitally recording stories of people touched by these policies and practices and providing a platform for their stories to influence public narratives about justice reform. The project is adopting the Mothers on the Frontline’s methodology of story work, which insists that the interviewer share salient lived experience with the interviewee, so as to prevent the violation of an outsider coming in and shaping one’s narrative. The interviewee determines how they are introduced, having full control over their level of privacy. Questions are designed so as to give space for the interviewee to take the conversation in any direction they want, while maintaining the natural contours of an informal conversation. These interviews are not a study: there is no particular research question to be answered. Such studies, despite their best intentions, necessarily start out with a narrative that the researcher imposes on the interviewee. This method, rather, is completely inductive. It allows a gathering of the stories the interviewee wants to tell in that particular moment. This methodology is built on the premise that more interesting themes will naturally arise if not held down by preconceived notions from current narratives. We believe that this archive will inform researchers about what qualitative and quantitative research questions need to be asked and studied.

This methodology is also built on the idea that when people are given a safe space, they will tell the story that they need to tell at that particular moment. This is where the story work becomes transformative for both the teller and the listener. This is where the healing of story work is found – in the agency, integration, and holism of story work. (Future posts will discuss these key principles of the Mothers on the Frontline story work methodology and its influences, such as Q’um Q’um Xiiem’s / Jo-ann Archibald’s book Indigenous Storywork.)

This School-to-Prison Pipeline project involves three main components:

  1. The creation of an online digital story archive that is freely available to the public and will be housed in Digital Grinnell. (A subset of the stories will also be housed at the Iowa Women’s Archive at the University of Iowa.)
  2. The creation of a new course: “Digital Stories for Social Justice” that incorporates a Digital Humanities lab in which students develop both story work and digital media skills to inform and influence public discourse on justice reform. The story archive serves as an important anchor for the course. While data stories and various digital story techniques will be studied and practiced, they will never be far removed from the reality that the numbers and visual representations are only meaningful to the extent that they intersect with and respect true, personal lived experience.
  3. Opportunities for students to work with activists, advocates, and scholars to practice the skills they learn in the lab and make real difference in the world.

Mothers on the Frontline is excited to be part of this project and particularly looks forward to co-facilitating two of its events:

October 26-27, 2018: The Digital Stories for Social Justice Archive Workshop: Participants with lived experience will learn how to record audio interviews in their communities for the archive.

May 8-10, 2019: The School-to-Prison Pipeline Story Center Workshop (co-facilitated by StoryCenter). Participants will create and produce their own 2-4 minute video based on their lived experience.

The grant culminates in the first teaching of the course Digital Stories for Social Justice in the Fall of 2019. Students will take a 4 credit interdisciplinary course on the school-to-prison pipeline along with the 2-credit digital storytelling lab. During fall break, students will meet with activists, advocates, and non-profit leaders during a two-day workshop, in which they work together to produce a public syllabus on the issue. Students will consult the organizations to create class projects (print and interactive info graphics, podcasts, and videos) that will become part of the public syllabus and freely available resources to those on the frontlines of this important justice work. Mothers on the Frontline looks forward to participating in that event as well.

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