Can a comic book get more Americans talking about prisons?

Sabrina Jones at her drafting table.  (Photo:  Brian Mann)

Sabrina Jones at her drafting table. (Photo: Brian Mann)

Sabrina Jones has been using art to get people talking about politics for a long time, beginning with a feminist performance collective in the East Village, continuing with a comic book project called World War 3, and now partnering on a series of comics about mass incarceration.

“I didn’t go through that kind of comics fandom,” she says, sitting in her studio in Ballston Spa, NY.

“I approached it as a form of political art, political activist art.  I realized, boy these comic books are handy.  They were cheap, portable and I didn’t have to be a performer and yet my work would go out there and hopefully make the world a better place.”

Jones say she first got interested in prisons as in issue through her mother, who worked teaching poetry to inmates in Vermont.

Then she was recruited by the Real Cost of Prisons Project to create a series of short comics designed to raise awareness about the drug war and its impact on black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The cover of the illustrated version of "Race to Incarcerate" (Image provided by Sabrina Jones)

The cover of the illustrated version of “Race to Incarcerate” (Image provided by Sabrina Jones)

“Comics are definitely an approachable medium. That’s something I’ve always  liked about them for talking about political issues.  It’s a disarming medium.  Before people even know what’s in it, when they hear it’s a comic book, their eyes light up.”

Jones says over the years she’s been surprised to learn just how few Americans know much about the prison system that grew at its peak to house more than 2.2 million inmates.

“What we have is an overuse of incarceration,” she argues.  “It’s not more kingpins and mass murderers that we’re bringing in. We’re bringing in people who are much more likely to be rehabilitated at much less expense to society.”

Jones’ hope is that her comics will at least get people talking about the choices and the values that shape our prison system.

“I’m stunned at how many people just don’t realize the scope of the situation.  They don’t realize what an outlier we are among nations in this emphasis on incarceration and what a large part of our economy is being used not particularly fruitfully that way.”

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