UMass Amherst Public History Program and History Department’s Feinberg Series Team with Community Partners to Host ‘States of Incarceration’

National traveling exhibition on mass incarceration to visit Holyoke and Northampton
'States of Incarceration' opens March 1 in Holyoke.
'States of Incarceration' opens March 1 in Holyoke.

AMHERST, Mass. – The first national traveling multimedia exhibition and coordinated public dialogue to explore the history and future of mass incarceration in the United States, will make its Massachusetts premiere on March 1 in Holyoke.

States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories”will be displayed March 1-12 at The Wauregan at 420 Dwight St. and hosted by Wistariahurst. From March 13-30, the exhibit will move to Northampton, where portions of the exhibit will be on view at Forbes Library, 20 West St., and Historic Northampton, 46 Bridge St.

“The exhibit is the outgrowth of two years of planning and discussion,” says Jessica Johnson, UMass Amherst history department outreach director. “It explores one of the most pressing civil rights and racial justice issues facing our country.”

The exhibit was created by the New School’s Humanities Action Lab, a coalition of 500 university students and formerly incarcerated individuals from 20 cities, including students and faculty from UMass Amherst public history program. “It delves into the history of incarceration by focusing on human stories from 20 different local communities from across the U.S., including right here in western Massachusetts,” says Johnson.

UMass Amherst’s contribution to the exhibit includes a panel titled “What are Women’s Prisons For?,” which looks at the history of women’s jails and prisons in Massachusetts, and a five-panel mini-exhibit titled “The Carceral Commonwealth” about how incarceration impacts families and communities in our state. “The long and rich history of prison justice activism in our state is a theme throughout. Graduate students in our program worked with local community organizers to produce the panel and mini-exhibit,” notes professor Marla Miller, director of the public history program.

In addition to the exhibit, UMass students also developed a website featuring interviews with local and national activists from OutNow, Arise for Social Justice, the Real Cost of Prisons Project, Prison Birth Project, and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Coalition. Wistariahurst created a photographic exhibit about Holyoke-based community organizations, and Historic Northampton has a two-panel exhibit on the history of Northampton jails, researched and developed with UMass students. Historical artifacts from Northampton’s jails will also be on display when the exhibit is at Historic Northampton.

The public history program and Wistariahurst worked with local translator María José Giménez andgraphic designer Maggie McDonald of the Idea Collectiveto create a Spanish-language guidebook to “States of Incarceration,” making western Massachusetts the first site where the exhibit will be accessible to Spanish speakers.

Simultaneous to the exhibition, each of the host venues are offering public programs on this theme, including field trips, film screenings, workshops, and lectures. Some offerings will be interactive and educational, including a youth-led workshop for school-based professionals led by Pa’lante, a restorative justice group from Holyoke High School on March 11, and a Know Your Rights workshop led by local civil rights and defense attorney Luke Ryan on March 9. There also will be performances, such as readings and performances of “Getting Out,”a play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman presented by the Holyoke Community College theater department. In addition, several local libraries have teamed up to present Hamptons + Holyoke Read, featuring a community read of the book “Orange is the New Black” and other related programs.

For the UMass Amherst history department, the exhibit is the culmination of its yearlong Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series, which has hosted more than two dozen public programs on the theme “The U.S. in the Age of Mass Incarceration” throughout 2016-17 academic year. “More than a thousand western Massachusetts residents have attended one or more events, with upwards of several hundred attendees at many of the offerings” Johnson says. “The events were planned in collaboration with several dozen academic departments and local community organizations. We also offered a workshop series for K-12 teachers on the theme, and more than 20 Five College faculty incorporated the events into their syllabi.”

“The community and university collaboration in creating the exhibit and hosting these programs has been tremendous,” says Miller. “We’ve learned so much from the activists and formerly incarcerated people we've worked with, and from the scholars, activists and artists who’ve visited our region as part of the series. We hope that the Feinberg series and exhibit, along with the upcoming community programs developed by Forbes, Historic Northampton and Wistariahurst, have served to support and amplify ongoing work by community groups in our region.”

The opening reception for “States of Incarceration” in Holyoke will be at The Wauregan on Wednesday, March 1 from 6-8 p.m. and will include remarks by Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and UMass Provost Katherine Newman. In Northampton, the opening receptions will be held on Monday, March 13, from 5-8 p.m. at Forbes Library and Historic Northampton. There will be a guided tour of the exhibit at 6 p.m. at Forbes, led by local residents who are featured in the exhibit, and at 7 p.m., there will be a public reading by Voices from Inside at Historic Northampton. A full calendar of events across the region can be found at