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Lena Schneck '23
By the time Lena Schneck ’23 reached her sophomore year at Hamilton, she had become disenchanted with classical literature. She wanted to read something more relevant — a story whose significance extended beyond its pages.

Then, during a course with her advisor and Professor of Literature Doran Larson, she discovered prison writing. These stories spoke to resilience. They spoke to hope, even amid the heartbreaking accounts of prisoner abuse. But more than anything, they revealed what Schneck says are the injustices of the American prison system. She is now looking further into American prisons, specifically in relation to inadequate healthcare treatment, through a Levitt Center-funded project.

“Incarcerated communities are often overlooked,” Schneck said. “I think healthcare is a right, and just because you’re incarcerated, doesn’t mean you should get any less treatment.”

Schneck, who is considering pre-med, decided to focus her research on healthcare to incorporate her passion for medicine into the project. When Roe v Wade was overturned, her research took on a more targeted focus: the lack of reproductive rights and inadequate healthcare services for incarcerated women. 

Female inmates face increased instances of sexual assault and receive insufficient pre- and post-natal care, Schneck said. These injustices can be traced back to the origin of prisons, which were built with men in mind. Their continual perpetuation, however, is a result of the prison system and governments today. She noted that more than a dozen states continue to allow the shackling of pregnant inmates during birth, according to NPR.

“It’s emotionally difficult content to read and write about, but I think it’s important,” Schneck said. “Prison justice has become a more prevalent issue in the past few years, but it’s still not prevalent enough.”

Schenck’s research involves reading secondary sources for information on how the healthcare system translates into the prison system. For primary sources, she looks for narratives by currently or previously incarcerated people, primarily women. Many of these she finds through the American Prison Writing Archive, a site founded by Larson that helps document the experience of prisoners and staff. 

Larson has been an essential source during this project. While a professor at Hamilton, Larson began teaching at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York during the evenings. There, he formed connections with his students, some of whom he introduced to Schneck. She plans to speak to more previously incarcerated people later this summer. 

“I think it’s one thing to read all these narratives, but it’s another to engage in a discussion with someone who has had this experience,” she said. 

Lena Schneck ’23

Major: Literature
Hometown: Denver, Colo.
High School: Colorado Academy High School

Schneck’s research will culminate in a paper that will highlight the experiences of female prisoners and consolidate information on healthcare in prisons. She hopes to publish the paper to sites like the Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism organization that covers criminal justice. That way, her research can benefit other people fighting for prison reform. 

“I obviously can’t enact that much change on my own,” Schneck said. “But I can help make people more aware of these issues, get them to hear prisoners’ stories, and try to foster empathy in whatever way I can.”

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