In October 2013, the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the highest in the world. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners. Furthermore, our citizens face longer prison sentences and probation periods than other countries. In the last forty years, incarceration has increased with rates upwards of 500% despite crime rates decreasing nationally. Our prisons are only getting bigger. If we truly are the land of the free and the home of the brave, why are we so quick to throw so many behind bars?

The sad fact of the matter is that far too many Americans have been forced to spend far too many years in prisons. And these prisons are underfunded, overcrowded, and too often ignored. Prisons should be encouraging, positive environments where prisoners can find value in themselves and progress towards a more positive future. Too often, we will incarcerate young men and lock them behind walls that are more crime ridden and negative than the streets from which they came, completely incapable of rehabilitation. We force them behind bars bursting at the seams violence, sexual assault, corruption, fear, and negativity. We are essentially telling our prisoners that we have given up on them, and they have to fend for themselves for the duration of their sentence, and once they have served their time, reintegrate into a society with very little support, or resources.

A Voice 4 the Unheard has narrowed its focus to this population, the incarcerated. A neglected and abused sect of Americans that have been in dire need of attention for decades. These prisons destroy the beauties of human life and prohibit people from becoming their best selves. Where they should be nurturing change and promoting inner growth, prisons are encouraging negativity and the very crimes they are meant to eradicate. Any creativity or individuality that a prisoner has going into prison is quickly overcome by a quest for survival. They feel abandoned and abused within a scary place. There is very little space for self-reflection and hope when all you are thinking about is survival. People are too often worse version of themselves by the end of their sentence and become living contradictions of prisons intended function once they are back in society. Behind these walls there exist misguided, but sometimes innocent citizens, who, with every day within prison feel their life slipping through their fingers and hope going along with it. These people deserve support, and this voiceless population needs to be empowered. Prisoners need to better understand themselves and their circumstances if we hope to fix the problems that made them wind up in the unforgiving American criminal justice system.

These prisoners need to be educated about their situation and understand how to pull themselves out of the deep hole America has essentially discarded them into. They need to become smarter than they ever have before if they hope to make a better life for themselves being an ex-con in society. They need to educate themselves in the way they see fit, because no one can hope to understand someone better they can understand themselves.

By refurbishing prison libraries and highlighting the empowering nature of literature, prisoners could nurture aspects of their beings that are too often neglected in prison, or even discover aspects of themselves they never knew existed. When we physically trap these prisoners behind walls, we are also trapping them mentally. Trapping them within systems of corruption, violence, and a lack of trust.

The real life experiences of John Bunn highlight the immense power of reading. Through books, he was able to elevate his mind to a place he hadn't thought was possible. His story has inspired many, and we believe it is important his message is heard by as many people as possible, perhaps inspiring others who feel their voice is unheard. By providing books to prisoners and any other people who are cut off from educational opportunities, A Voice 4 the Unheard seeks to inspire self-improvement within individuals and continue the dialogue on the nation's prison problem.