From History to Change

The suite of essays, along with the associated timeline and other supporting materials, is the work of Colorado College students. For all participating undergraduates, the assembly of Past, Present, Prison has been a first venture into archival research. One student was a senior History major, a few were first-years exploring this discipline, but all came to our project as citizens concerned to acquire knowledge supporting their agency in public discourse on the contemporary crisis of American incarceration.

Colorado College alumnus Peter Enns, a professor of Government at Cornell University, writes in his Incarceration Nation (Cambridge University Press, 2016) that the confinement of more than two million Americans is the responsibility of all of us. Rather than cast blame for harsh sentencing laws nd racialized injustice on politicians, legislatures, or judiciaries, Enns argues that public opinion has driven the growth of prisons across the past forty years. To understand how today’s Cañon City is grounded in its past opens the possibility that we collectively transform the prison of public policy that has made the United States, as Enns’s subtitle calls it, “the most punitive democracy in the world.” Past, Present, Prison begins, for us, that difficult process and invites readers in Colorado and around the country to engage with our regional past.