Last summer, Marquis Palmer ’18 worked for the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) under the supervision of King Downing, the NLG’s national director of Mass Defense. When Palmer concluded his summer with the Guild, Downing challenged Palmer to go back home and carry on the fight for justice in his own community. “In a way, my Emerson project is an attempt to live up to this challenge, which I see more as an ongoing moral duty than an arduous task,” said Palmer.
For his 2017 Emerson project, Palmer is filming a short documentary, based in his home city of Utica, about the experience of losing a loved one to the prison system. Mass incarceration has had, and continues to have, a devastating impact on Utica’s most vulnerable communities, namely its black, brown, immigrant and refugee populations. Through his documentary, Palmer aims to shed light on this crippling reality by interviewing people who have lost loved ones to incarceration.
“I’ve been both a victim of and first-hand witness to the destruction it has caused and continues to cause in my community, and this project is my attempt to do something about it,” he said. By sharing first-hand accounts of loss, Palmer hopes to deepen our understanding of the impact of mass incarceration, emphasizing that the adverse impacts of incarceration are not isolated to the imprisoned individual alone.
“Recognizing the emotional, and often financial, impact imprisonment has on the loved ones of incarcerated individuals is crucial for assessing the overall human impact of mass incarceration in our society,” said Palmer.
Hometown: Utica, NY
High School: Thomas R. Proctor High School
So far, Palmer has filmed approximately 10 interviews, and plans to conduct 10 more by the end of August. “I chose the medium of film because it can capture the entire humanity of the people with whom I’m working in a way that scholarly literature and other creative arts have far more difficulty achieving,” he said. So often, the input of those directly impacted by the prison system is ignored in scholarly and political discussion on incarceration as punishment. “This documentary also serves as an indirect critique of this baffling phenomenon,” Palmer added.
Once he is finished with the filming process, Palmer will edit his footage throughout the fall and winter, completing the documentary for a screening in the spring. After presenting the film at Hamilton and in various venues around Utica, he will make the work available to online audiences.