285. Howard Zehr and Barb Toews with Omari Amili and Freddie Nole: Stories and Portraits of Life Sentences in Prison


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Each night in the United States, more than 200,000 people incarcerated in state and federal prisons — 1 in 7 prisoners — will go to sleep facing the reality that they may die without ever returning home.

In 1996, criminal justice activist and photographer Howard Zehr published Doing Life, a book of photo portraits of individuals serving life sentences without the possibility of parole at a prison in Pennsylvania. The book gave a voice to the human beings in front of the camera lens, revealing their hidden emotions and painting an otherwise-unseen portrait of incarcerated people.

Twenty-five years later, Zehr revisited many of the same individuals in his new book, Still Doing Life, co-authored by criminal justice professor Barb Toews. Photographed in the same poses, Zehr and Toews presented two side-by-side photos of each individual along with interviews conducted during the two different photo sessions. The resulting work is sobering tableaux of people who, quite literally, have not moved for the past quarter-century.

Together at Town Hall, Zehr and Toews, along with Omari Amili and Freddie Nole, discussed the implications of the American criminal justice system and challenged us to think seriously about the consequences of life sentences.

Howard Zehr is a distinguished professor of Restorative Justice at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. He is the author of the bestselling The Little Book of Restorative Justice and Doing Life, among other titles.

Barb Toews is associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Washington, Tacoma. She is the author of The Little Book of Restorative Justice for People in Prison, and the co-author, with Howard Zehr, of Critical Issues in Restorative Justice. Toews is the editor of the Little Books in Restorative Justice series and lives in Tacoma, Washington.

Omari Amili is an author, educator, and father of six from Seattle, WA. With a childhood dominated by chronic instability rooted in his parent’s addiction, Omari found himself a product of the school-to-prison pipeline. After serving time on 30 felony convictions for bank fraud, he turned his life around and pursued post-secondary education, climbing from a GED to a Master’s degree. Omari’s journey is evidence that there can be life after incarceration and he has made it his personal mission to change the narrative and introduce new possibilities for individuals from backgrounds similar to his.

Buy the Book: Still Doing Life: 22 Lifers, 25 Years Later (Hardcover) from Elliott Bay Books

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