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I walked into a prison expecting to meet criminals. Instead, I found a community of men.

How I learned more about the criminal justice system in one day than I did reading 100 books.

I walked into a prison expecting to meet criminals. Instead, I found a community of men.
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Open Society Foundations
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It's my first day as a creative writing teacher at the Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk, Massachusetts.

I'm waiting for the men who will soon fill the circle of brown, wooden desks around me. The sound of the air conditioner buzzes from a vent in the far corner of the room.

As a graduate student, I study the intersection of education and incarceration. But I believe that my work can't be limited to the confines of academic journals and archives, which is why I decided to volunteer at the Bay State Correctional Center.


On my first day, I tried to enter this prison without expectations about what the experience might look like, who the men might be, or what they might have done to end up here. But if I'm honest, I know I've been socialized to believe that to be “criminal" is to somehow be less deserving of humanity.

Without trying, I inevitably carry that bias into the classroom on my first day of teaching.

That's why I'm so startled when Daryl enters the classroom that first morning. He walks up to me, smiles so as to reveal a small gap between his teeth, and shakes my hand with the sort of firmness my grandfather had always demanded of me.

“I'm looking forward to learning from you," he says.

“The feeling is mutual," I respond, my eyes wandering to the books he holds securely on his hip.

Daryl holds a notepad consumed by a sea of ink, two pens, and several books, their spines worn from use. He sets his belongings down on the desk next to me to reveal a collection of texts ranging from 18th century poetry to contemporary political philosophy.

Over the course of the next few minutes, this ritual repeats itself.

Each man enters the room, shakes my hand, and drops a stack of impressive books on his desk.

Before class even begins, they chat eagerly with one another about what they've been reading.

They discuss the nuances of liberation theology, the value of feminist work, and whether a particular poem one of them was working on would be better as a sonnet or sestina.

The room is filled with the sort of intellectual curiosity a teacher dreams of.

Our society constructs ideas about what it means to be a prisoner.

Those ideas, in turn, teach us how to evaluate a prisoner's worth as a human being.

I've started to see it all around us: America's highly racialized "tough on crime" rhetoric suggests that the incarcerated inherently deserve to be treated with minimal respect. Television and film often depict prisoners as barbaric and subhuman people who need to be both physically and emotionally removed from our consciousness.

The proliferation of private prisons, in which companies generate a profit from housing as many people as possible, for as cheaply as possible, for as long as possible, indicates that we have prioritized financial capital over humanity.

Quite naturally, we internalize these images and ideas, and they soon become a part of our societal lexicon. Subsequently, the men and women in our prisons become caricatures.

But while teaching in this prison, I've found no such caricatures.

I don't know what they did to end up here. But I do know I've found friends like Leo, whose poems speak to the nostalgia of watching his daughter play in the backyard as a child, and Chad, who has an unapologetic love for both classic automobiles and geography, and can effortlessly name and pinpoint countries and capitals around the globe.

Together, we use literature to explore, question, and critique the world around us.

These men, most of whom have been incarcerated for decades, and few of whom ever received high school degrees, have pushed me to decouple what it means to be well-educated as compared to well-schooled.

I've learned more from them than I have in any class.

They've taught me that sometimes life is as much about what you unlearn as it is about what you learn.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Of the millions of Americans breathing a sigh of relief with the ushering in of a new president, one man has a particularly personal and professional reason to exhale.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has spent a good portion of his long, respected career preparing for a pandemic, and unfortunately, the worst one in 100 years hit under the worst possible administration. As part of Trump's Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Fauci did what he could to advise the president and share information with the public, but it's been clear for months that the job was made infinitely more difficult than it should have been by anti-science forces within the administration.

To his credit, Dr. Fauci remained politically neutral through it all this past year, totally in keeping with his consistently non-partisan, apolitical approach to his job. Even when the president badmouthed him, blocked him from testifying before the House, and kept him away from press briefings, Fauci took the high road, always keeping his commentary focused on the virus and refusing to step into the political fray.

But that doesn't mean working under those conditions wasn't occasionally insulting, frequently embarrassing, and endlessly frustrating.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.