The Long Term

Between 2016-2018, artists, writers and members of the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project created a series of thematic works around long-term sentencing policies and the other long terms they produce: long-term struggles for freedom, long-term loss in communities, and long-term relationships behind the prison wall. These projects emerged out of classes and collaborative work at Stateville prison, where people are serving extraordinarily long prison terms (60, 70 and 80 years), often for crimes for which they would have already been released, had they been sentenced 30 years earlier, or in a different country.

Implemented in the 1990s and 2000s, long-term sentencing policies were ushered in as bipartisan reforms and an extension of the “tough on crime” logic. Recent state and federal efforts to reduce mass incarceration have focused on “non-violent drug offenders”. However, if the United States were to free all people incarcerated for what are called “non-violent offenses,” mass incarceration would still stand at just over 700,000, and the racial disparities of criminalization would be even more evident. While freeing people is cause to celebrate, these proposed reforms neglect half of the nation’s state prison population and forget that at one time, long-term sentences were not the norm. The Sentencing Project reports that 1 in 9 people in prison are serving life sentences, and 1 in 7 have sentences of fifty years or more. People locked in, or headed to, maximum security prisons are marked for death-by-incarceration.

The Long Term includes body of creative work that includes: a 13 minute hand-drawn animation made by artists serving long term sentences; a series of video interviews with people impacted by long term sentencing; an audio installation documenting a conversation among formerly incarcerated leaders about carceral policy; a portfolio of risographic prints made by 15 Chicago artists; a series of miniaturized “survival kits” for the long term, made by artists surviving long term sentencing and a series of works on paper. Each project represents one of the many ways we seek to make visible how punitive policies and incarceration shape our communities, families, and ultimately, life-chances.


A series of works on paper comprise of a visual vocabulary developed as research and preparation for The Long Term animation. Using watercolor, pen and pencil, artists highlight slang terminology for long and life sentences. An experimental graphs, charts and images represent the numbers and percentages of who serves long prison terms. The color and design is a dramatic departure from the otherwise orderly and typical graphs, indeed this data represents not some distant, studied population, but the life of the artists themselves.
Long Term Studies


This portfolio of risograph prints designed by fifteen Chicago artists who responded to an essay written for a book titled “The Long Term: Resisting Life Sentences, Working for Our Freedom”. This work offers a powerful visual language alongside the words written by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, scholars and activists who resist the long reach of the prison nation. This project was supported by Dominican University.
Long Term Risographs


The Long Term is a hand-drawn animation developed by artists serving long term sentences. The video uses personal narrative and research to describe the scale and impact of long term sentencing policies. The work tells the stories about the fear of dying inside, the feeling of being programmed by prison and the impact on family life, from the perspective of 11 artists serving life or long term sentences.


A series of video interviews shares stories by people impacted by long term sentencing. Orlando Mayorga spent 20 years in prison and tells the story of bonds and family built in prison after years and years of being locked up together. Marshan Allen recounts his long struggle of legal appeals and changing laws that eventually freed him from a life sentence. Julie Anderson, mother to a son who was sentenced to life shares her experience of parenting a child in prison and maintaining intimate family bonds over two decades of her son’s incarceration. Julian Thompson describes some of the political stagnation to change long term sentencing policy, and the structural inequities people face after prison.


An audio installation documents a conversation among formerly incarcerated leaders about carceral policy. Audiences can sit around a set table to drop-in on the conversation. Eight plate settings line the table, each plate has a quote from speakers heard in the conversation.


A series of miniaturized “survival kits” for the long term made by artists surviving long term sentencing offers a view of essential items for each artist. Small sculptures made of everyday materials depict material things people in the free world might not think twice about. In one “kit” the artist includes a chocolate bar saying it allows “a small sense of normalcy, freedom.”
Passing Time: (In)significant Moments