Prison Industrial Complex Panel Brings Important Dialogue to Penn State

Students, faculty, and community members gathered Thursday to hear from a variety of panelists on the Prison Industrial Complex, presented by the Paul Robeson Cultural Center. The panel was comprised of Bakari Kitwana, Niaz Kasravi, Yusef Salaam, Amanda Klonsky, and Carlos Wiley, and the event was moderated by Jasiri X.

Here’s a quick rundown on each of the panelists:

Bakari Kitwana

Kitwana is a youth empowerment author, activist, & educator. His primary focus in on hip-hop culture + civic engagement. His belief in youth and the power that they hold for social change is evident through his many published writings.

Niaz Kasravi

Kasravi is the Deputy Director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a support and advocacy network for, and comprised of, formerly incarcerated men and women. Her past stops include the NAACP, where she served as the Criminal Justice Director.

Yusef Salaam

Salaam is a wrongly convicted and exonerated member of the Central Park Five, five black and Hispanic males accused of the assault, rape, and sodomy of Trisha Meili. Readers can learn more about this story by watching this documentary, directed by award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns.

Amanda Klonsky

Klonsky works as an education access for people in prison. She is the current Program Director of the Free Write Jail Arts & Literacy Program as well as a doctoral student as the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Carlos Wiley

A household name, Wiley currently serves as the director of Penn State’s Paul Robeson Cultural Center. Before Penn State, Wiley served as the director of the Multicultural Educational Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin – Platteville.

Jasiri X

Jasiri X is a current hip-hop artist and activist as well as emcee. He is known for his weekly internet news series, This Week with Jasiri X. As a hip-hop artist, he’s performed all over the world, from New York City to Berlin, Germany and many cities in between.

The panel opened with the importance of youth activism, both on campus and beyond. Carlos Wiley, director of the PRCC stressed the fact that student activism muct be followed by solutions. Wiley noted that when students have a problem they want fixed, solutions should be provided to those in authority.

Kitwana added that the most important thing that youth can do is to think about the world around them and ask what can be changed.

“Young people bring the change. Ask yourself, what is wrong? How can I change it?”

The conversation shifted towards the idea of active activism, specifically involving the mass incarceration of minority children at a young age. Amanda Klonsky mentioned that in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, the center that she has worked in extensively, is filled with 89% of African-Americans and fewer than 3% are white: “This isn’t because white kids don’t commit crimes in Chicago”.

Niaz, who served formerly as the NAACP Criminal Justice Director, spoke on the fact that now is really important time to have these discussions on racial profiling, incarceration, and the prison industrial complex. Niaz revealed the fact that the United States is the No. 1 country for incarceration. “We are 5% of the world’s population but have 25% of the world’s prisoners”. She suggested that analyzing the underlying causes of how America got to this point is necessary.

“I am not a believer for patting ourselves on the back for things you shouldn’t have done in the first place”, Niaz added.

Having been incarcerated himself, Salaam brought experienced eyes to the conversation. He told stories of when he was incarcerated, as well as the events that led up to up, and the media’s heavy involvement in the Central Park Five case.

“They wanted us to become the modern day Emmett Till. We were already the modern day Scottsboro Boys. It was a legal lynching they’d hope we’d never survive”, he added.

As the panel was wrapping up, Kitwana spoke on the relevance of hip-hop in the conversation of the prison industrial complex. He felt that in term of industry, hip-hop is playing a part in their own demise. He added that the freedom of expression is important, but those in charge of the major hip-hop labels are doing nothing to further the cause.

The panel concluded with a challenge to the audience to realize their part in the prison industrial complex. While students and faculty are knowledgeable on what the prison industrial complex is, divesting from these companies who play into it is vital.

The Paul Robeson Cultural Center wraps up their fall programming on December 2nd, 2015 with a discussion with activist Deray McKesson. 

About Adriana Lacy (64 Articles)
Adriana is from the oh-so-famous town of “Right Outside of Philly,” Pennsylvania currently double majoring in Public Relations and African-American Studies. She is a passionate sports fan, avid reader, and an obsessive tweeter. In her spare time, she enjoys writing about sports and social justice while drinking urban-framed, artisan crafted coffee. A proud black student, Adriana considers herself a social justice warrior and strives to promote racial equality and diversity in her community. Email her at and tweet with her at @adriana_lacy

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