Photo by Mark Rad
Photo by Mark Rad

Barrios Unidos and College Ten’s Social Justice Issues Workshop (CLTE 85) unveiled their replica model of a prison cell Feb. 20.

The event, titled “Locked Up: A Look Inside the United States Prison System,” was held in the College Nine/Ten Multipurpose Room from 7–8:30 p.m. The event included not only the opportunity to experience the prison model firsthand, but also a discussion featuring several key-note speakers that shared firsthand accounts of the realities of incarceration.

“We want the event to be a look inside the realities of incarceration and the prison system,” said Shelbby Bambrick, a fourth-year psychology major and the College Ten Social Justice and Community CoCurricular Programs Chancellor’s Undergraduate Internship Program intern. “A lot of times when we talk about incarceration itself, we’re talking systemically or politically but we forget that real people are experiencing these real things. These holding cells, these beds, these walls — they’re not just concepts, they’re realities.”

The Social Justice Issues Workshop, a two-unit course where students tackle a different social justice issue each week, contacted Barrios Unidos to fundraise for the project.

Barrios Unidos is working in collaboration with the College Ten CoCurricular Programs Office and the Social Issues Workshop to improve and finalize the prison cell model.

One of the integral features of Barrios Unidos is outreach done with youth in the Santa Cruz community. Programming involves kids as young as five. Whether it be through high schools, juvenile halls, jails or in prisons, Barrios Unidos staff seek to provide both a preventative and alternative measure to those at-risk academically.

The Barrios Unidos Prison Project has been a long-standing project, with its main architect working on this for nine years. The cell is meant to simulate a Pelican Bay prisoner cell.

“The people that are creating this model, those molding it or painting it, are not only volunteers and interns, but people that have been in the system,” Bambrick said. “This is their way of telling their story and saying this is what I went through and this is not what I want you to go through.”

“We are taking the prison cell to the community. We want to engage the community about the realities of the incarceration,” said Sarah Emmert, Prison Project coordinator.

Held outside the College Nine/Ten Multipurpose Room, students were able to participate in the cell. Most were there for an average of five minutes, however one student chose to stay in there for as long as 40 minutes.

“They first told me to put their uniform on. I suddenly realized how people are stripped of their individuality. I then started to pace back and forth, unsure of what to do and started to lose my perception of time,” said Gisselle Stayerman, a fourth-year psychology major. “I was in there for 40 minutes, but I realize for some people it’s their whole life.”

The Social Justice Workshop and College Ten CoCurricular Programs Office are still fundraising to improve and finalize the model.

“We want every sense connected to it — hear noises, smell things. Maybe through that simulation, people will want to create a change,” Bambrick said.

The completed Prison Project hopes to make appearances in courts, schools and even possibly Kresge College, Emmert said.

“This model will hopefully prove that incarceration is not only a theoretical or structural conversation, but something that’s real,” Bambrick said. “The model will probably outlive me.”