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Angelenos Incarcerated

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

The LA County Jail Oral History Project aims to document the conditions, culture, and recent history of the LA County Jail system through the oral histories of former and current inmates.

The oral history project and its public website will create an opportunity to grant an authoritative voice to the literally disenfranchised minority of the former and current local inmate population in Los Angeles County. Eighty to one hundred oral histories will be gathered from those incarcerated in one of the LA County jails from the 1980s to the present day, beginning with the nation-wide major surge of incarceration rates partially based on tough new sentencing requirements, such as the Three-Strikes sentencing law. The project endeavors to create a representative sample of former and current inmates, taking into account factors such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. An Omeka site created for the public and researchers will house the collected oral histories, and support inmate and researcher curated exhibits on topics related to the collective history and culture of participants. The underlying philosophical goals of the project are to provide an opportunity for inmates and former inmates to create authoritative narratives of their experiences in the LA County Jail system in a manner that supports inmates regaining and reimagining ownership of their life stories surrounding incarceration and to foster dialogue and understanding with the inmate community and the general public. The project aims to collaborate with the former inmate community on every level of project development, from using former inmates as oral history recorders and encoders to collaborating with them on website exhibit creation.

The project is presently in its prototyping phase. Five starter oral histories were collected in the summer of 2016, along with their accompanying visual media. The oral histories are being encoded using a customized TEI schema. The primary analytical interests of the TEI encoding are the marking of representations of trauma and identity as individual occurrences and ongoing sub-narratives. A prototype Omeka site is being developed to serve as a digital space to test the intersections of diverse media forms in the relation of these narratives. The site will be composed of curated video files, audio files, photographs, transcribed text, and interactive mapping features (i.e. Neatline maps).

Project site:

Project video:

Principal Investigator
Joanne Afornalli, Graduate Student, English

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