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W&L to Host Millennial Prison Reform Kickstart Event on Feb. 5

Washington and Lee University will host a Millennial Prison Reform Kickstart event, “Look Behind the Wall of Incarceration in America,” on Thursday, Feb. 5, at 5:00 p.m., in Northen Auditorium, Leyburn Library. The event, which is co-sponsored by the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability and StrongReturns.org, is designed to build a bridge between the campus and prison communities through encounters with the prison system and the individuals affected by it.

The evening will feature a video interview with Bill Smith, a formerly incarcerated individual from the Lexington community, as well as remarks from Strong Returns co-founders Pete Davis and Scott Johnston, W&L professors Caleb Dance and Kelly Brotzman, Strong Returns student ambassadors Emma Swabb and Brett Bauer and Gary Wilson of Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), an organization that provides reentry services to incarcerated individuals and ex-offenders.

“It’s an unfortunate reality that many students here are in no way connected to the greater Lexington and Rockbridge community, especially to our most disadvantaged members,” said Swabb. “It’s often hard to convince people why they should care about prisons and the individuals in them, but I think hearing Bill’s truly inspirational, honest story will help open some eyes and some hearts, and help people realize that our criminal justice system and issues surrounding it, such as addiction and poverty, touch the lives of people all around us every day.”

The event will conclude with a panel discussion on prison reform featuring Bill, Brotzman and Wilson, as well as Lynn Murphey, of Blue Ridge Court Services, Mary Reinman, of the Virginia Department of Corrections and Sam Coles, of the Total Action for Progress Virginia CARES Program.

StrongReturns.org is an organization working to make prison reform the millennial generation’s issue in the 2016 elections, joined by ex-prisoners, reentry experts, prison reform organizations, prison system scholars and student advocates. Bauer chose to join the organization as a student ambassador because he believes that prison reform is a pressing issue that needs more attention.

“After spending my Shepherd Internship with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and writing my poverty thesis on mass incarceration, I consider myself well versed in the area of prison reform,” he said. “Having witnessed many of the problems and flaws within the criminal justice system firsthand, I believe this must become a central issue in the 2016 political cycle.”