Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration

A convening for state humanities councils and their community partners

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March 14-16, 2024
David Rubenstein Forum at the University of Chicago
1201 E 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637

What do words like justice, safety, and freedom truly mean? 

How does the prison industrial complex permeate our culture? 

How might humanities councils engage with people and organizations most impacted by the carceral system?  And how can we work together to imagine a truly just future? 

Gather with colleagues from around the country to explore the roles that the humanities play in illuminating the impacts of mass incarceration, interrogating the dehumanizing nature of the criminal legal system, and paving a path toward restoration and healing. 

This three-day, in-person convening will provide dynamic opportunities to deepen our understanding of these issues, learn what state humanities councils and community partners are doing to address them, and collectively articulate essential practices for humanities councils as they pursue ways to engage and partner in this work. 

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Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration, hosted by Illinois Humanities at the Rubenstein Forum, will offer presentations and small group discussions led by humanities councils, community partners, and leaders from across the country. The convening will also feature a special performance of Felon: An American Washi Tale by Reginald Dwayne Betts.  

About Reginald Dwayne Betts
Betts Dwayne c Mamadi Doumbouya

2021 MacArthur Fellow, award winning author, poet, lawyer, and outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a 2021 MacArthur Fellow, 2018 Guggenheim Fellow, 2018 NEA Fellow, renounced author, poet, scholar, lawyer, and advocate for criminal justice reform. Betts transformed himself from a sixteen-year-old sentenced to nine years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate of Yale Law School. He has written four collections of poetry, Redaction, Bastards of the Reagan Era, Shahid Reads His Own Palm, and Felon, which he has adapted into a performance, “Felon: An American Washi Tale.” 

Betts has also penned a memoir, A Question of Freedom; A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison. He has earned the Soros Fellowship, Radcliffe Fellowship, Ruth Lily Fellowship, New America Fellowship, and an NAACP Image award. Betts has been featured in The New York Times MagazineThe New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, NPR, and MoMA PS1. He holds B.A. from the University of Maryland, an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College, where he was a Holden Fellow, and a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was awarded the Israel H. Perez Prize for best student note or comment appearing in the Yale Law Journal. 

Betts is a Ph.D. in Law candidate at Yale and, as a Liman Fellow, has spent a year representing clients in the New Haven Public Defender’s Office.  

The convening will cover topics such as: 

  • Higher education in prison
  • Humanities support in the re-entry process
  • Collaborations involving currently incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals
  • Narrative-shifting media such as podcasts, books, documentaries, etc.
  • Grant-making within impacted communities

For those newer to this conversation, there will also be ample opportunity to learn more about the context and history of mass incarceration, as well as an emphasis on past and present humanities-based projects that illuminate this issue. 

More information coming soon!

Who should attend

  • Humanities council staff: Program staff, grantmaking staff, and Executive Directors from state humanities councils.
  • Community partner representatives invited by state councils: Community partner representatives are individuals who have lived experience of incarceration and/or work extensively within directly impacted communities. A community partner representative might be a grantee of a state humanities council, a regular program participant/panelist/moderator, an educator or student involved in council-related educational programming, or another close colleague of the council. 
  • Community members: Individuals with a vested interest in the intersection between humanities councils and mass incarceration.

It is important to us to ensure that our convening is informed by experiential knowledge of both humanities councils and the impacts of the carceral state. 

How to register

Registration is now open! Learn about fees, travel, and lodging below, and sign up to attend. 
Questions? Contact us at

Register Today

Registration fees

  • The registration fee is $250/person for staff members of state humanities councils and other individuals who are invested in this work. 
  • The registration fee will be waived for up to two community partners invited by each state council. Each council may identify and invite additional community partners, though their registration fees will not be waived. 
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Illinois Humanities has reserved a block of rooms at The Study, a beautiful boutique hotel next door to the convening venue (The David Rubenstein Forum at the University of Chicago) so that attendees can easily access all the sessions, as well as coffee breaks and other informal gatherings. 

With the exception of two community partner representatives per state, registrants are responsible for the cost of lodging. Registrants will receive the link to make hotel reservations in your registration confirmation packet. 

The two hosted community partner representatives for each state are eligible to stay at the convening hotel on Thursday, March 14 and Friday, March 15 at no cost. Note: a credit card will still be required at check-in to cover incidentals and security deposit. 


With the exception of two community partner representatives per state, registrants are responsible for their own travel expenses.

Each hosted community partner representative will be eligible for a $400 travel stipend to offset the cost of attending the convening. Community partner hotel costs will be covered, not including incidentals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where and when is Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration taking place?

This convening is taking place in person in Chicago, IL from March 14-16, 2024. Convening activities will take place at the David Rubenstein Forum on the University of Chicago campus (1201 E 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637). Register today.

Is there a convening hotel? Why should I stay at the convening hotel?

Illinois Humanities has reserved a block of rooms at The Study, a beautiful boutique hotel right next door to the convening venue so that attendees can easily access all the sessions, as well as coffee breaks and other informal gatherings. The hotel will be a busy hub for convening activity. Please note: The Study is a small hotel and rooms will fill up quickly. We encourage you to book your stay as soon as possible to secure your room. Should the hotel become fully booked, Illinois Humanities will provide alternate lodging recommendations.The Study is one of the few hotels near the Rubenstein Forum.

Who is producing/organizing Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration?

Illinois Humanities is proud to produce this first-of-its-kind convening for state humanities councils and their community partners, with generous support from the Mellon Foundation.

Is there an opportunity for my organization to participate in sponsorship of Inside & Out?

Yes! We are on the lookout for additional funding and sponsorship to help ensure this convening is as accessible and engaging as possible. We invite humanities councils to underwrite the costs of community partners as well. Please view our sponsorship opportunities for more information or contact

Inside & Out Planning Committee

Illinois Humanities is incredibly grateful to the exceptional Inside & Out Planning Committee, which includes council staff and community partners from 9 states. Enormous thanks for your wisdom and vision in helping us to shape this convening! 

Nashid Madyun | Florida Humanities | Florida
Patrick Rodriguez | Georgia Coalition for Higher Education in Prison | Georgia
Steph Iacello | Georgia Humanities | Georgia
Rob Chang | Hawai’i Council for the Humanities | Hawai’i
Roseanne Propato | Public Safety Department, Hawai’i | Hawai’i
Johanna Bringhurst | Idaho Humanities Council | Idaho
Flor Esquivel | Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison | Illinois
Gabrielle Lyon | Illinois Humanities | Illinois
Jane Beachy | Illinois Humanities | Illinois
Martin Matsuyuki Krause | Illinois Humanities | Illinois
Willy Palomo | Illinois Humanities | Illinois
Sarah Ross | Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project | Illinois
Alesha Serocyzynski | Moreau College Initiative | Indiana
Megan Telligman | Indiana Humanities | Indiana
Sam Opsahl | Indiana Humanities | Indiana
Meghan Reedy | Maine Humanities Council | Maine
Linda Small | Women Transcending, Re-entry Sisters, New England Coalition for Higher Education in Prison | Maine
Cory China | Minnesota Humanities Center | Minnesota
Laura Adams | Minnesota Humanities Center | Minnesota
Zeke Caligiuri | Minnesota Justice Research Center | Minnesota
Robert Taliaferro | Odyssey Beyond Bars, The Prison Mirror | Minnesota
Alex Anderson | Re-entry Theater of Harlem | New York
Joe Murphy | Humanities New York | New York
Shannon Ross | The Community, Correcting the Narrative | Wisconsin
Jen Rubin | Wisconsin Humanities | Wisconsin