The Marshall Project publishes stories about the experiences of those impacted by the penal system. It does so in the one place most incarcerated people don’t have access to: online.
That changed when Lawrence Bartley returned to society after serving 27 years in prison. He’s now the producer of Inside News Magazine, which shares stories, published on The Marshall Project website, in print form for people in prison.
Bartley hopes incarcerated people engage with the articles he’s compiled– about legal developments, prison programs, hope, social science and life inside– and build off them as he eventually did.
Sentenced to life when he was 17, the Jamaica Queens, NY, native started out blaming others for his predicament. Eventually he learned to take accountability and sought an education at Sing Sing, a prison just outside of New York City. Due to the fact that private funding has taken over where the Pell grants ended, Bartley managed to earn a master’s degree in professional studies.
In college at Sing Sing, he learned a valuable lesson: to always have a pitch ready.
Jim Ziolkowski, CEO of BuildOn, an international non-profit, visited Bartley’s class at Sing Sing. Ziolkowski had a great discussion with the class and left. Bartley said afterward, the professor “cursed the class out.”
“I brought this dude in here who’s been all around the world and none of y’all had a pitch ready,” Bartley quoted his professor as saying.
Bartley took the lesson to heart.
While at Sing Sing, Bartley also helped put together a TEDx Talk and, along with a small group of others, he invited legislators into the prison to discuss laws.
“The rate of parole releases doubled since our Senatorial meeting in 2011,” Bartley said. “I’d like to think we made some moves toward making that happen.”
Because of the positive moves Bartley made, the administration at Sing Sing called on him and his group of about five men whenever a VIP guest visited, which included Warren and Doris Buffett, ??? Usher, Harry Belafonte, Ice T, the department of probation and the chief of police.
Despite the success gained for incarcerated people, other residents called them a “secret society.”
“We made moves to put people down with it, and they weren’t ready to do the work,” Bartley said. “We never ostracized anyone though; we kept giving them chances.”
It was Bartley’s struggle to make parole that helped get him a job with The Marshall Project. Denied five times by the board, he wrote about his experience and sent the story to The Marshall Project, which published it in its “Life Inside” section. After he made parole on the next try in 2018, he walked through the doors of The Marshall Project’s offices to talk about his experiences and landed himself a job.
The lesson he learned in prison about pitching led to the creation of Inside News. Bartley prepared a pitch with help from colleagues Andrew Epstein and Alex Tatusian to get The Marshall Project into dozens of prisons.
“I lined up all my ducks on how we gonna do it, how much it was gonna cost, what pilot facility I was gonna use and laid out my pitch,” Bartley said.
The pitch Bartley gave was accepted, and he has rapidly expanded Inside News from one pilot prison to 38 and counting.
Just 14 months after coming home on parole, he bought a house in Connecticut for the wife who stuck with him through his incarceration and their kids.
However, 90 days later, New York parole hadn’t approved his transfer, so he had to stay in New York.
“I was used to not being around my family in prison, but it’s totally different when you’re around them everyday,” Bartley said. “The system is supposed to be there to help you when you’re doing good.”
Bartley has to wait to rejoin his family, but in the meantime, he is happy that they will get a good education in the upper middle class Connecticut neighborhood.
“I’m most proud of my children’s education,” Bartley said.