2023 Excellence in Visual Digital Storytelling, Large Newsroom finalist

Life Inside, Animated

About the Project

“Life Inside, Animated” is a series of animations that bring the stories of incarcerated people and those who love them out from behind the prison walls. Adapted from a long-running Marshall Project series of essays written by those whose lives intersected with the criminal justice system, the animations provide an intimate, unvarnished look at the impact of the mass incarceration era. There’s the story of the incarcerated man who was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars and found solace and hope in a prison garden. Or the woman who visited her son in jail for the first time only to wonder if the gruff guards knew that he was loved. Or the man who emerged from prison to explain how an underground economy flourishes on the inside. The animated series was made for Inside Story, a first-of-its-kind video series created to engage with and bring information to one of America’s largest news deserts: prisons and jails. The show, a collaboration between The Marshall Project and the Emmy-winning VICE News, brings critical accountability and investigative journalism on the criminal justice system to those behind bars – and those on the outside, too. Series co-creators Lawrence Bartley and Donald Washington, Jr., from The Marshall Project, developed the idea for a show, knowing that the more accessible form of video would help overcome the low literacy rates in prisons. They drew from their own experience of incarceration and research into what incarcerated people wanted. Among their feedback was that they didn’t see stories in the news that reflected their reality, or that of their families and loved ones. With Life Inside, they could suddenly see themselves on the screen, the animated worlds pushing away the grinding reality of prison life to make room for their humanity and emotion. For the free world outside, the series delivered those voices in ways that had more resonance than the 1,000-word text version of the essay. Ari, a parent of an incarcerated person, said after watching the animated essay of the woman visiting her son in jail: “I bawled my eyes out after watching ‘I wonder if they know my son is loved’ because I’ve been here. That feeling of helplessness, of utter fear for your child, who this system views as an adult.”