By Katie Pattenaude, LSJ Student Communications Assistant
This January, LSJ Professor Steve Herbert released his new podcast, Making Amends. Featuring six men incarcerated at the Oregon State Penitentiary, this series explores atonement, accountability, and justice in the age of mass incarceration.
Making Amends was, in part, inspired by the extensive interviews Herbert conducted with lifers and prison staff for his 2019 book, Too Easy to Keep: Life Sentenced Prisoners and the Future of Mass Incarceration. After encountering compelling stories of transformation, Herbert wanted to share more, and decided that a podcast would be a powerful medium through which to do so.
The podcast is built upon two foundational pieces: the class “Making Amends”, and the accompanying one-on-one interviews.
For several weeks at the beginning of 2020, Herbert taught “Making Amends” at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon. The goal of the class was to think about what it means to respond to wrongdoing. More specifically, Herbert asks, “If we have committed harm, what are we obligated to do in response?”
Herbert hoped the questions raised would spark a more philosophical discussion among the students. “I was quite confident that the class members would include reflections on their own experiences as part of our class discussions. That’s exactly what happened,” Herbert said.
Beyond the classroom, Herbert conducted one-on-one interviews with each student in order to learn more about their individual stories and the particular challenges they face in their efforts to make amends.
“What many listeners might be surprised to learn is that there are a lot of incarcerated people who do want to take accountability, but are frustrated that the only form accountability typically takes is incarceration,” Herbert explained. The class members, Herbert shared, strongly believe that there are more active and meaningful ways to take accountability.
Herbert says his principal goal in creating Making Amends was to challenge dominant stereotypes surrounding incarcerated people.
“The first and most important thing is to remember is that even if someone has made a horrible mistake or committed a very serious wrong, they haven’t left our community. They are still members of our community. And, many of them want back in,” Herbert explained.
Herbert underscores the importance of defining incarcerated individuals as people who are worthy of a return to full standing in our communities. “I hope to make clear that many people in prison are trying really hard to atone for their wrongs and we owe it to them to recognize that,” Herbert said.
While the last few episodes of the podcast set the stage for a wider discussion surrounding policy change, Herbert is more suggestive than prescriptive. “I trust that listeners will be moved in whatever way feels most appropriate to them, and to act on their experience in a way they see fit,” he shared.
Herbert expressed his gratitude for the contributions of LSJ students willing to assist in the making of the podcast. Students have supported the project by transcribing audio recordings, maintaining the website, and managing the social media for Making Amends.
“The ease with which I was able to recruit LSJ students to help me out and the level of energy that they brought to that, was, to me, another reminder of the special nature of the LSJ community,” Herbert said.
To listen or learn more, you can visit www.makingamendspodcast.com. Making Amends is additionally available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Youtube, Google Play, and other streaming services.