New York state officials recently decided to humanize the headstones of deceased prisoners by including their names, and dates of birth and death, rather than just identification numbers. This change was made to acknowledge the humanity of those who were incarcerated.
However, the new policy was not publicly announced. It only came to light when Matthew Hahn, a formerly incarcerated man, visited Green Haven Correctional Facility's cemetery and noticed that maintenance staff have been attaching new plaques with names, birthdates, and dates of death to old gravestones. He tweeted about his visit in February.
"In many ways, the way that we talk about people who are incarcerated, the way that we treat people who are incarcerated, the way that we bury people who died while incarcerated is an attempt at depersonalizing them, and depersonifying them," Hahn said.
Hahn discovered that there were indeed some gravestones that lacked names. But at the cemetery he also encountered a prison employee who — before politely kicking him off the grounds — told him that names were in the process of being added to the gravestones.
On a recent afternoon at the cemetery, maintenance staff solemnly tacked new plaques — with names, dates of birth and dates of death — to old gravestones that only had prisoner ID numbers etched into them.
Rev. Alfred Twyman, a state prison chaplain, emphasizes the importance of remembering those who were incarcerated as individuals deserving of remembrance. The new policy ensures that their names will be etched in stone forever.