Amanda Hwu had found her passion for prison justice from her experiences of writing to a man in prison, her first intimate glimpses into the inequalities and injustices within our incarceration system. She was writing to this man who was sentenced when he has 17 years old because of a charge of assault and armed robbery. This mistake that he made when he was younger meant that he will be punished until he’s older than Amanda’s parents.
The stories these men told compelled Amanda to understand why our system works this way and why penal punishment is accepted and not questioned in our society. Amanda knew that these stories needed to be heard. Her passion for social justice was ignited. In March of 2013, The Prison Justice Project was born.
Discussing mass incarceration became so important to Amanda she began to realize how it intersects with every social and environmental issue from reproductive rights to climate change to sustainable farming to immigration. “It’s all connected to the incarceration system, because that’s how we solve or not solve our problems,” she said. For Amanda the creation of the Prison Justice Project (PJP) became a way of interrogating and engaging with these complex issues.
At the time when the YMCA was accepting applications for student groups to join the Y community, then YMCA Board Chair Ellen Dahlke had learned about PJP and approached Amanda during an education justice symposium, encouraging PJP to apply. Since they’ve been at the Y, Prison Justice Project has seen immense growth and a huge amount of engagement in their programming. Included among their many accomplishments this year is the establishment of CU Succeed, a mentoring program aimed at disrupting the school to prison pipeline.
"People here at the Y believe in our growth and give you the tools to lead. This is where you get real education, real world experience that all too often the classroom does not provide."
Although saying her goodbyes have been difficult, Amanda is feeling good about moving on and continuing her education in the Master’s Program of Social Work Administration at the University of Chicago. She continues her work in prison justice and community-based alternatives to incarceration with the goal of starting a non-profit.