"I prayed, and said: 'Lord, I've got to get this hatred off my heart. It's a miserable feeling. You can't function right. So I forgave." — Wilson, recounting his experience watching an interview with Amos, from the Visiting Room Project.
Amos killed Wilson's son and his best friend in 1993 after a disagreement, and was sentenced to Life Without Parole (LWOP). "The Visiting Room Project is a digital experience that invites the public to sit face-to-face with people serving life without the possibility of parole to hear them tell their stories, in their own words. More than five years in the making, the site is the only collection of its kind, containing over 100 filmed interviews with people currently serving life without parole."
The project began as a collaboration between Marcus Kondkar and Calvin Duncan. Kondkar is chair of the Sociology Department at Loyola University. Duncan's expertise is in post-conviction law and media production, having worked at Angola in the TV department while serving a life sentence. Wrongfully convicted, Duncan gained his freedom in 2018.
Beginning the 1970s, after the federal moratorium on the death penalty, the criminal justice system at the state and federal levels has come to rely more and more on LWOP sentences. This bipartisan trend to rely on long, harsh sentences was amplified across the United States as the momentum of the so-called wars against drugs and poverty led directly to the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill. This now-infamous crime bill supported by the Clinton Administration and championed by then-Senator Joe Biden, was also an attempt to compete with the conservative movement over who was "tougher on crime." It expanded the definition of crime, increased the funding to militarize police forces and build prisons and jails, but also eliminated parole and incentivized states to do the same by enacting Truth in Sentencing guidelines that provide federal funding for jurisdictions that mandated serving at least 85% of a sentence. This effectively eliminated the possibility of parole for people convicted of non-life sentences.
These policies created the conditions and punishments targeting a particular group of young people categorized by the pseudo-scientific term "superpredators." The myth of the superpredator turned policy had the consequence of filling jails with children and teenagers. These interviews offer vital insights into the changes in the criminal punishment system. These folks do not mince words, take full responsibility for their choices, and provide narratives of dignity, hope, and transformation. The website has a resource page that dives deeper into these important issues of prison conditions, the impact of long sentences, and the costs of caring for aging prisoners.