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Election 2020

Millennials, Meth and Mass Incarceration

We asked incarcerated people to weigh in on the biggest issue facing the country today. Here is what they said.

In our first-of-its-kind political survey inside prisons, The Marshall Project and Slate asked respondents three open-ended questions: What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today? How much does your race affect your political views? Have your political views changed since being incarcerated?

The Marshall Project partnered with Slate to conduct the first-of-its-kind political survey of prisons and jails across the country. Read more about Trump's incarcerated supporters, how prison can change your political outlook and how one man became politically engaged in Louisiana’s Angola prison. Here's more on how we did it.

Respondents told us how they’ve relied on—and sometimes come to disagree with—opinions of friends or family members. One man told us, for example, that his mother read him the news over FaceTime. Some said they had become more political just by virtue of having more time to read the news—one wrote that he primarily got his news from NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” and “Saturday Night Live’s” Weekend Update. The more than 8,000 voices behind the statistics expressed nuanced and provocative thoughts on the state of the world. (This survey was distributed in December, before several candidates dropped out.)

Here are some of their answers.


We asked: What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?

Taking GOD out of the society. Everybody searching for something to be offended by. And revisionist historians.

Bernie Sanders supporter in Arkansas


Donald Trump supporter in Montana

Democrats slapping the face of 63 million people who voted for our president. Why? Because they refuse to submit to him.

Trump supporter in Montana

The political divide. I am confused by the different information between CNN and FOX. I am not greatly educated or informed on a lot of political issues. As I try to engage as much as I can from here I feel thwarted by this. How can half of a seemingly rational and educated society hold opposite views of reality?

Undecided in Maine

People getting punished for an addiction rather than giving them help.

Trump supporter in Arkansas

I’m transgender and have tried to get the treatment I need to prevent me from suicide. If I had been incarcerated in eleven Democratically held states, I would have received that treatment with little problem, but I’m in Kansas, a tea party Republican state and I’ve had to fight tooth and nail for every little bit of treatment I’ve received.

Elizabeth Warren supporter in Kansas

China’s build up of their military, and global warming.

Trump supporter in Kansas

Mass incarceration. The way we treat each other once locked up. We are still a part of the community. … Most of the men I have met in prison, including myself, need help maturing. Not [to be] treated like we are broken and disposable.

Andrew Yang supporter in Kansas

Reparations for black people. We need our money.

Kamala Harris supporter in Kansas

Considering my current living situation … prison reform.

Trump supporter in Kansas

Pollution is a major problem that doesn’t get recognized enough, from the garbage in the ocean to the garbage on land.

Sanders supporter in California

Hunger should not exist in this country. I am in prison and eat better meals, etc., than 65% of the world population!!!

Sanders supporter in Michigan

Too many white people.

Undecided in California

Lack of empathy for our fellow man. Political tribalism at the expense of the greater good. Lack of vision.

Joe Biden supporter in Illinois

The corrupt, fascist government we live under. Especially in New Jersey.

Undecided in New Jersey

Home grown terrorism. Mass shootings are becoming such a problem with the only proposed solution being to violate our 2nd Amendment.

Sanders supporter in Nevada

Greed, hatred, envy, power, no one wants to be poor. No one wants to struggle, everyone wants to have control.

Sanders supporter in Florida

Teens growing up without their parents, lost in prison systems, and following their footsteps.

Undecided in Florida

If other countries want our help, they should surrender and become part of the U.S. Otherwise fix your own problems.

Trump supporter in Florida

Pay inequality is a big problem. If you can’t take care of yourself legally you will resort to the means necessary to do so!

Michael Bloomberg supporter in New York

Not enough police on the streets. We need the Armed Forces on every block.

Amy Klobuchar supporter in Florida

Race! This country doesn’t really like to discuss its history on the black race. Yes, things are a little better, but not nearly enough to calm the tension that’s been going on since the capture of this country.

Sanders supporter in New York

The rise of white nationalism and the imbalance of power. The New Jim Crow. The unbridled institutionalization of people of color.

Cory Booker supporter in Connecticut

All celebrities.

Trump supporter in Wisconsin

For a country which is so rich to have so much homeless is a shame. Everyone should have a place to call home, a job, a meal without begging, etc.

Warren supporter in Virginia

Cyber security and 5g/4g web security infrastructure.

Trump supporter in Texas

The wrong president in the White House. Need to try a female.

Klobuchar supporter in Virginia

Crystal meth.

Trump supporter in California

We asked: How does your racial identity inform your political views in prison?

I was born Native American and at one point in time we were looked at as heathens and savages. It’s hard because no matter what’s in the history books it reminds all of us about the times when we were treated unfairly. … I still follow the news. The crazy thing is I know who the president is, but if you ask me if I knew my social security number, I couldn’t tell you.

Native American man in California

America will never accept any race as an equal to white people.

Black man in Arkansas

I feel that being white puts more stress on me to be more aware of how I view what goes on around me. I personally may not have caused the injustice, but I feel it IS my duty to fix or at least not add to the problem.

White woman in Montana

I feel like because I’m brown I should be on guard because all this hate toward my Mexican heritage.

Latino in California

I grew up American so I don’t allow color to influence my opinions.

Black man in Kansas

Personally, maybe because I’m a white midwestern American, I never really questioned race as a factor in my politics. Even in prison I’m still not sure even why it SHOULD be a factor. ... I am willing to acknowledge that minorities of all kinds face special pressures (I myself am LGBTQ+ and know that all too well), but we must come to view the issues, not as one race or another, but as one people, one nation, or we consign ourselves to an endless cycle of division.

White, gender non-conforming person in Michigan

I’m not sure but I believe if you’re white it goes a lot further in here.

Latina in Utah

I am a white, American citizen, born and raised in rural Maine. I have never experienced racial injustices or biases. My political views have nothing to do with my race.

White man in Maine

My racial identity is very strong coming from a Mexican family. All the laws Trump is trying to pass with border security it’s turning, well in my opinion it’s turning other races against us and giving them a reason to look differently at us.

Latino in Idaho

As a black man I’m considered guilty no matter what.

Black man in Washington

I am half Hispanic and with the President that’s currently in office I feel that he is a racist against the Hispanics. I feel he done Puerto Rico terribly wrong and this stupid wall on the border is a waste of money.

Latino in Arkansas

I identify as a transgender and nothing is for us at all.

White gender non-conforming person in Kansas

Because I’m black, it’s harder. We’re viewed as bad people regardless, drugs was put in our communities intentionally to destroy the black community, we don’t have access to the same education or resources as whites … we don’t get any other options other than prison, which almost never solve the problems, but make a man worse, because of the hardships of gaining employment or housing due to having a felony.

Black man in Illinois

Honestly never thought about it. I know back in the day before I was born blacks couldn’t vote.

Black man in Illinois

We asked: How have your political views changed since being incarcerated?

At first I was always pro-Democrat even though I’m not a Democrat I just used to like what they did for the people now all they do [is] lie. … It seems like all the Democrats cared about is impeaching Trump and now that it happened they seem like they don’t know what to do next.

Booker supporter in Michigan

I wish I still mattered.

Undecided in Arkansas

Even as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I was far more socially and financially conservative prior to incarceration. I now support a number of societal reforms, especially in the areas of healthcare, education, and justice reform that I did not support before. I still consider myself a Republican, though what one might call a “Purple Elephant.”

Biden supporter in Michigan

I used to think the Democratic party was for black [people]. Then I realized their party is responsible for mass incarceration for blacks.

Booker supporter in Michigan

I want to vote now.

Sanders supporter in California

I always wore the Democrat hat. Since being locked up I have come to realize my beliefs, ideals and opinions actually are Republican. I am a believer in upholding our Constitutional rights first and foremost.

Trump supporter in Utah

You have a lot more thinking time and a lot of things don’t make sense.

Klobuchar supporter in Michigan

I used to be a Democrat, however while in prison I’ve had the time on my hands to actually study and zero in on who does what. Democrats talk a good game and make huge promises they never meet. In my opinion Republicans are the ones that get their hands dirty and actually get things accomplished. … Actions speak louder than words and when I think of the Republican party I think action when I think of Democrats I think nothing but words.

Trump supporter in Maine

I used to think Donald Trump was a good president. Now after reading the newspaper I think he has misused the office and should be impeached.

Undecided in California

The Dems have taken more of my rights away through the crime bill that Pres. Clinton signed which took my appeal rights away. This allowed the courts and the justice system to get away with too much.

Trump supporter in Montana

The laws are set and I have no say so in them being passed or denied.

Warren supporter in California

Most of my family is Republican. I only voted once before coming to prison, but when I did, I voted Republican. After coming to prison, I started taking college courses, and started seeing the world differently. I started voting Democrat, even though Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was responsible for the 1994 Crime Bill, which ended the federal Pell Grant program for incarcerated people. I guess I’ve been hoping that the Dems would come around, see the folly in the war on drugs, and tough on crime movements.

Undecided in Maine

I was a criminal chasing money. I was hedonistic, self-serving, and a master bullshitter. I did not pay attention to what was going on outside my sphere. I started paying attention to world happenings around 30 years ago.

Sanders supporter in Michigan

I am now a socialist.

Warren supporter in California

I almost didn’t have a political view when I got locked up. But since then I’ve been forced to be around people who are very different from me both “racially” and culturally. And I’ve noticed that while there are many differences between my life and theirs, there are many many more fundamental similarities than differences. We all love our families and want to vote for officials who are going to do the best for them since our lives personally are pretty much toast now.

Sanders supporter in Arkansas

Katie Park Twitter Email is a developer and data journalist who creates data visualizations and digital features at The Marshall Project. Her work has been recognized by the Society for News Design, the Society of Professional Journalists, Malofiej Infographic Awards and the White House News Photographers Association. She previously worked at NPR and The Washington Post.