The Graying of Mass Incarceration

By Victoria Law, The Progressive, December 3, 2020.

Mary Fish turned sixty-eight in September. She did not celebrate with her sons or grandchildren. No one sang her happy birthday; nobody baked her a cake. Instead, she spent that day as she has her previous seventeen birthdays—behind bars. 

Mary Fish

Mary Fish after participating in The Messages Project, which allows incarcerated people to record themselves reading books to their children or, in Fish’s case, grandchildren.

In 2002, Fish received two prison sentences totaling forty-eight years for assault and burglary. After entering prison, she stopped using drugs and alcohol. She’s participated in self-help groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and various prison programs. 

At age fifty-three, Fish began working in the prison’s laundry room for $11 a month. For twelve hours a day, she pushed carts crammed with clothes and sheets, loading them in and out of the institutional washing machines and dryers. “I now have two herniated discs in my back,” she tells me in a letter from prison. She also enrolled in college courses, earning two associates degrees, which helped her shave some time off her sentence for good behavior.

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