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Mar 29, 2022

This is the audio version of a panel discussion hosted on March 24 that explores the importance of physical mail in prison and how the prison industrial complex works to undermine imprisoned people's ability to meaningfully communicate with their loved ones.

You can watch video of the panel here:

Physical mail is a layered issue, and policies that eliminate physical mail are violent and cruel. They seek to destroy the loving and caring connections that people have. They “pile on” more separation than that which already exists and makes it even harder for people to remain in relationship and community with their support systems. They disproportionately affect poor people. They add another cost onto the already long list of things that prisoners and their loved ones pay for. They expand the surveillance mechanisms of the carceral state in ways that I’m not sure we have begun to grapple with.

Letter writing has always been an important form of communication between prisoners and their loved ones. Eliminating physical mail reveals the inhumanity of this system and illustrates that incarceration has NOTHING to do with rehabilitation or preparing people to return to their communities, and EVERYTHING to do with using incarcerated people and their loved ones as revenue streams.  

Letters exchanged between prisoners and loved ones offer a counter to the dehumanization that we experience. Letters, cards, drawings, and ephemera serve as proof of life in a system that seeks our erasure and death. These documents are how we build or rebuild relationships, how we share news (good, bad, and mundane), how we learn about the conditions inside, how prisoners are able to stay connected to the children and families that are outside, and how we prevent more harm. 

Hosted by the Beyond Prisons Podcast, NYU Prison Education Program and Study and Struggle. 

Introduction by Kim Wilson. Kim Wilson is an educator, self-taught artist, and cohost and producer of the Beyond Prisons podcast.

Moderated by Charlotte Rosen. Charlotte Rosen is a PhD Candidate in History at Northwestern University and a member of Study and Struggle, which organizes against criminalization and incarceration in Mississippi through mutual aid, political education, and community building.


Monica Cosby. Monica describes herself as a “gramma trying to do liberatory stuff,” subscribing to an abolition feminist mode of thinking, being and moving in the world. Her life and work have been shaped and informed by  the communities to which she belongs, including the community of artists, scholars, moms with whom she was incarcerated, and whose survival was/is an act of resistance against a system that would dispose of them. As an advocate and activist, she has collaborated, organized, and worked with Westside Justice Center, Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois, Women’s Justice Institute, Uptown People’s Law Center, and others. Monica is a scholar, thinker, and writer, having essays published or reprinted in TruthOut and In the Long Term (published by Haymarket Books). She also wrote Solitary Confinement is Used to Break People; On Leaving Prison: A Reflection on Entering and Exiting Communities; And, Restorative Revelations by Monica Cosby and Analise Buth–published in the St. Thomas Law Journal.


Lawrence Posey (He/Him). Lawrence is 44 years old and originally from Camden, New Jersey. He currently lives in the Bronx. He is a father of two children who are 18 and 15. He was previously incarcerated. Since his  release, he works as a manager at a company called Reserve Inc which is a covid-19 coalition. He is also a student at New York University studying at The Gallatin School of Individualized Study, majoring in Film and Business. He recently started his own publishing and production company called Legacy Works Enterprises. In addition to publishing, Legacy Works Enterprises focuses on youth educational programs and social justice. Lawrence is part of a social justice cohort At the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO Works) where he organizes with the Participant Advocacy Council (PAC for short). The PAC cohort has lobbied with Communities Not Cages (CCA) which has fought to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing,  and advocated for Second Look Act, the Earn Good Time Act, and the Clean Slate Act. Finally, PAC also is in association with Treatment Not Jail (TNJ), lobbying for mental health programs instead of prison. 

Mychal Pagan. Mychal Pagan (BA '24) is a student at NYU, and  is curious about the relationships between perception, memory, and narration. He is fascinated by the process of merging poetry with filmmaking, and the art of social photography with data-driven storytelling. His writing and photography have been featured in NYU publications including The Gallatin Review, Confluence, Fire in the Lake, and Missives. And his short documentary series Afternotes can be viewed at the NYU’s Prison Education Program website.

Sergio Hyland (He/Him). Sergio recently returned to society after serving nearly 21 years straight. He is an abolitionist, and Editor-in-Chief of THE MOVEMENT Magazine, the official magazine of the Human Rights Coalition in Pennsylvania. He also works for the Abolitionist Law Center.

Andre Pierce. Andre is a Black man that spent the last 25 years caged in Connecticut State prisons. He earned a Bachelor's Degree with a concentration in Philosophy. He writes,  “my strenuous efforts took place alongside my fight to maintain my sanity in a soul-crushing carceral institution.” He asserts that his extraordinary growth and development cannot be understood as rehabilitation but instead as Black Liberation. Dre, uses his intimate experience of suffering in prison to fuel his passion for prison abolition.

Ellis Maxwell. Ellis Maxwell is an educator and community member in Fort Worth, Texas. They believe in making organic political education available to people of all ages, and seek to work with anyone willing to look at their conditioning and try to move differently. Ellis is the editor of the Beyond Prisons podcast.

Maya Schenwar (She/Her). Maya is the editor-in-chief of Truthout. She is the co-author (with Victoria Law) of Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms and author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better. She is also the co-editor (with Joe Macaré and Alana Yu-Lan Price) of Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States. Maya is a co-founder of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, and she organizes with the abolitionist collective Love & Protect. 

Episode Resources & Notes

Watch video of the panel:

Learn more about this issue and campaign:


Created and hosted by Kim Wilson and Brian Sonenstein

Edited by Ellis Maxwell

Website & volunteers managed by Victoria Nam

Theme music by Jared Ware

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