Photo Credit: Sydney Steele
This fall, posters, sidewalk chalking, and student representatives advertised Student Advocates for Prison Reform (SAPRI), a new registered student organization (RSO) on Central Michigan University’s campus. This organization strives to educate the public about current issues in the prison system, while inspiring and supporting changes to the judicial system.
Sophomores Megan Lawrence, Sydney Harless, Morgan Barbret, and senior Ashley Powell are the passionate founders behind SAPRI.
I had a chance to speak to Lawrence about the organization start-up. Studying Neuroscience and Psychology, she has a passion for criminal justice. She even attended the American Psychology Law Society National Conference this past spring break. In addition to being a founder, Lawrence is the current treasurer of SAPRI. Here are some of her thoughts regarding SAPRI:
Q: How did the idea for SAPRI come about?
A: SAPRI stemmed from an Honors special topic course, “Service Behind Bars.” Through this class, Sydney, Morgan, Ashley and I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Saginaw Correctional Facility with men who had life sentences. After taking this course, we all developed a passion for advocating for the incarcerated population and promoting prison reform.
Q: Was it hard creating an RSO from the ground up?
A: There certainly were a lot of hoops to jump through. Recruitment was difficult at first, but we now have steady attendance at meetings and events. Incarceration seems to be an issue that lots of students are passionate about, and I am really thankful that we had the opportunity to bring those students together by founding SAPRI.
Q: What does a typical SAPRI meeting look like and how many students are usually there?
A: Every meeting, we have a subtopic of incarceration that we extensively talk about. Some examples of issues we have addressed in the past include the War on Drugs, private prisons, and capital punishment. Next week we are talking about plea deals. We usually have approximately 20 students at every meeting. As a new organization, we have new faces every week!
Q: What are some events that have been put on this school year that you are proud of?
A: Our first event was a showing of the documentary 13th, which I highly recommend, with the organization A Mile in our Shoes. We also hosted an interdisciplinary faculty panel on March 15 that examined issues surrounding the prison-industrial complex. Additionally, SAPRI is collaborating with ROC, NAACP, and MSA, and OWLs at the “Social Justice Through Storytelling” panel on March 28th at 7 pm in the Powers ballroom. Finally, my favorite event that we will be hosting this semester is that we are bringing Ashley Lucas, the director of the Prison Creative Arts Project at the University of Michigan, to perform her one-woman play, Doin’ Time Through the Visiting Glass. The play examines the challenges of the families of those who are incarcerated. She will be performing her play on April 13 at 7 pm in the Kiva auditorium.
Q: What can students expect from SAPRI next semester?
A: We are hoping to bring SAPRI members to visit a prison next semester! Hopefully we will be able to expand our membership and find ways that our organization can volunteer to promote our cause. Everything is still pretty up in the air.
Q: Is it true that SAPRI can set students up with a prison pen pal?
A: It is! SAPRI has connected over 50 CMU students with prison pen pals throughout the United States. There is an organization located out of Washington called “Beyond These Walls” that serves as a mediator for students and their pen pal. We always want to assure students that all of their personal information remains confidential by having your pen pal send their letters to a P.O. box in Washington, and then “Beyond These Walls” will email you their letter. This is a great opportunity to become more personally connected with an issue by hearing someone’s story. Additionally, communication with people outside of the prison is crucial for the rehabilitation of inmates, so you are greatly impacting someone else’s life, as well as your own, by having a pen pal. If you would like a pen pal, shoot us an email at email@example.com!
Q: If you had to pick, what is one issue that you would like students to know more about?
A: This isn’t really a specific “issue,” but it is just really important that we recognize the humanity in people who are incarcerated. One of SAPRI’s goals is to promote empathy for the incarcerated population throughout CMU’s campus. As Bryan Stevenson said in his novel, Just Mercy, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” and this is something that SAPRI stands for. Our prison system is really broken, and I hope that SAPRI can help communicate these issues and advocate for change.
SAPRI meetings are biweekly on Mondays at 9pm in Moore 107. Follow their social media @sapricmu on Instagram and Twitter, or find them on Facebook under Student Advocates for Prison Reform. Students can also contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org with any more questions.