The Lives Beyond the Life Sentences

Jessica Pishko in JSTOR Daily:

In September of 1994, the editors and writers of The Angolite sought to identify everyone in America who had served two decades or more in prison in a piece titled, “The Living Dead.” They did not mince words describing men like Christensen, who was 74 at the time of the story: “[They are] grey and withered by decades of imprisonment. Faded men who plod prison yards with halting steps, nursing a spark of ersatz hope while they wait to die.”

In a special issue on “The Living Dead,” the publication details the stories of people who had served an unthinkable number of decades behind bars and astutely points out that the number of people serving sentences of two decades or more was only growing. That prediction proved painfully accurate, as Hope Reese writes in, “What Should We Do about Our Aging Prison Population?

In 1994, the problem of prison sentences that constituted life or de facto life (50 years or more) felt dire to theI writers of The Angolite article. They counted 2,099 “long-timers” compared to the then 775,624 total number of incarcerated people, or 0.3%. But those statistics pale in comparison to today’s. Now, that number is over 200,000 out of the 1.4 million total people in prison.

More here.