Andrea Armstrong on Incarcerated People

Primary Sources is a podcast where writers and intellectuals talk about some of the greatest influences on their work.
“Every single one of my articles has come from a question or a situation or a conversation with somebody who was either currently incarcerated or had been incarcerated.”

Andrea Armstrong is a law professor at Loyola University and one of the leading experts on the conditions of incarceration in the United States.

When invited to talk about an influence on her work, Andrea could have chosen to discuss a fellow scholar. She is a graduate of Yale Law School, and she credits Derrick Bell, Reva Siegel, and Kathleen Cleaver—the only Black female professor she had at Yale—with shaping her thinking about America’s penal system. But Andrea decided to talk about the debt she owes to another, less conventional influence: the human beings caged inside of our jails and prisons. She says nothing has influenced her thinking more than talking to incarcerated people. In fact, incarcerated people have become such an important influence on her work that she regularly pays visits to jails and prisons across the country to survey the conditions and hear from the folks inside.

In this conversation, Andrea talks about how the insights of incarcerated people have shaped her worldview and professional agenda, and how listening to them has changed her understanding of the nature of punishment.



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Primary Sources is a co-production of Public Books and Type Media Center. Our show’s executive producer is Caitlin Zaloom, the founding editor of Public Books. Our producer is DJ Cashmere. Our engineer is Jess Engebretson. Special thanks to Kelley Deane McKinney, the publisher and managing editor of Public Books and Taya Grobow, executive director of Type Media Center. Our theme music is “Kitty in the Window,” composed by Podington Bear (Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License).


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