Powerful ‘HONY’ Posts Remind Us Inmates Are More Than Just Criminals

by John Haltiwanger

A powerful new series of photos from Humans of New York is shedding light on one of the most pressing matters of our era: mass incarceration.

The photos and accompanying captions remind us inmates are more than the crimes they've committed -- they're human beings and, like all of us, subject to immense flaws.

For the next several days, I will be sharing stories of inmates from five different federal prisons across the Northeast—including Manhattan and Brooklyn. Posted by Humans of New York on Wednesday, February 3, 2016


The importance of humanizing America's prisoners cannot be overstated.

America leads the world in incarceration -- that's not exactly something to be proud of.

To put this into perspective: With only 5 percent of the global population, the US possesses 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

Indeed, the supposed "land of the free" imprisons more people than any country on the planet.

We also can't ignore the way in which the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts minorities and stands as a powerful reminder we've not escaped the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow.

Moreover, there are far too many nonviolent offenders in prison -- nearly 75 percent of the total US prison population. What's more, due to the illogical and inhumane policies surrounding the War on Drugs, there are people serving lifetime sentences for first-time nonviolent drug offenses.

Instead of dealing with the root causes of crime, this country has created a self-perpetuating system of mass incarceration.

Simply put, America's criminal justice system is broken, and we spend $80 billion a year sustaining it.

Prison is meant to rehabilitate people, but in the US it often just subjects people to a lifetime of stigmatization.

When people are released from prison, they are permanently branded as "ex-offenders." Consequently, they have trouble finding jobs (because no one will hire them), making it difficult to provide for their loved ones.

In turn, they resort back to crime in order to make ends meet, and typically end up back in prison in the process.

Recidivism rates in the US are staggering. In 2005, the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a study that tracked 405,000 recently-released prisoners across 30 states. Sixty-eight percent of these individuals were back behind bars within three years.

We've become a country where the concept of "second chances" is essentially non-existent. And this is largely because, as a society, we continue to view prisoners and ex-offenders as nothing more than criminals.

The new photo series from Humans of New York is a poignant representation of our need to end the stigma surrounding imprisonment.

It reminds us, once again, how important it is not to judge a book by its cover. There is always more to the story.

“I’ve got a daughter out there. I’ve been gone for 23 years now. It’s really hurt her. My sister told me that after... Posted by Humans of New York on Wednesday, February 3, 2016


“I was studying landscape architecture at Penn State and dealing drugs on the side. At the age of twenty, I got... Posted by Humans of New York on Thursday, February 4, 2016


Mass incarceration ruins lives, breaks apart families and erodes the values upon which this country was founded. Fortunately, the president has taken steps to change this, but far more needs to be done.

It's time to fix this broken system.