April 17, 2017

Google these poems and change the way people think of Miami’s inmates


It’s a fact that the United States incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any country in the world. But thinking about the problem as numbers instead of people is part of the reason why so little is done to help them. In his 1902 address to the inmates of the Cook County Jail, legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow argued:

If I looked at jails and crimes and prisoners in the way the ordinary person does, I should not speak on this subject to you. The reason I talk to you on the question of crime, its cause and cure, is because I really do not in the least believe in crime. There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there is any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail. One is just as good as the other. The people here can no more help being here than the people outside can avoid being outside. I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they are in no way responsible.

Our prisons are populated with people aspiring to the same goals as so many of us — a family, a good job, pursuit of a hobby, a free and purposeful life. Some are victims of draconian drug laws, others simply citizens who’ve made mistakes — sometimes mistakes the more privileged among us get away with everyday.

Thanks to a new project, the world might get a new window into those hidden lives. View-Through is a poetry project involving 110 inmates in Florida Correctional Institutions in Miami-Dade County. It’s being organized by the nonprofits O, Miami, whose mission is to “build community through literature,” and Exchange for Change, which “provides opportunities for creative and intellectual engagement,” along with artist Julia Weist. Its goal is to affect the Google algorithm so that when people look for information on “Miami inmates,” the search engine will auto-fill with terms that lead to the inmates’ poetry.

Hannah Sentenac of the Miami New Times writes that the program “encourage[s] people to look beyond traditional, limiting labels such as ‘prisoner’ and ‘inmate.’ When one of every 35 Americans has a family member or friend who’s been locked up or on probation, incarceration becomes pretty personal.”

By putting these lines on this blog, we’re trying to do our part to help Google index (and hopefully over index) the terms below. If everyone reading this types in one of these phrases into a Google search, we’ll be well on our way to adjusting the algorithm to shine a light on these prisoner’s words.

Here are the suggested search terms:



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.