Nearly 7 million individuals are currently under correctional supervision in America, with around 2.3 million confined in county, state, federal, and private correctional facilities. For those who are not currently and likely never will be incarcerated – including the majority of lawmakers and policymakers and myself – popular media in part defines our understandings of the American corrections system, from policing to the courts to imprisonment. In order to interrogate the ways in which such popular media can lift up or drown out the voices of those who are incarcerated, I critically analyze three case studies: a popular television show, an acclaimed podcast, and a recently released feature film with an accompanying documentary. Broadly, I argue that all texts constituting the incarceration media genre produce varying positionalities along an exploitation-empowerment spectrum, and by situating my chosen texts in dialogue with one another, I explore how these shifting relationships operate through popular mass media.
About Rachel Thompson
Rachel Thompson earned her bachelor’s degree in Social Anthropology and Comparative Literature from Harvard University. Her honors thesis explored literature’s evolving role in the digital age through an ethnographic study of an online literary magazine. She also co-founded and directed the Harvard Organization for Prison Education and Reform, a network of eight volunteer groups that tutor in prisons across Massachusetts and work on advocacy initiatives relating to mass incarceration and education.
Before joining CMS, Rachel worked in Boston-area art museums — the Harvard Art Museums and the Peabody Essex Museum — with a focus on developing teaching curriculum for makerspaces as well as integrated digital media experiences for visitors.
At MIT, she worked as a Research Assistant in the Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab under the direction of Lisa Parks.
Thesis: Incomplete Sentences: Exploitation and Empowerment in American Incarceration Media