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Shaheen Pasha, co-founder of the Global Forum Online, working with PJP editorial associate Marcus Henderson in 2018. Photo by Eddie Herena.

This article was first published by Nieman Reports on May 6, 2021.

The first thing I noticed was the dirty plexiglass as I entered the visiting room of the New Jersey State Prison in 2005. My best friend had just been sentenced to 150 years behind bars and I was still in a state of shock and grief at the verdict. As I waited nervously for him to arrive, I realized that the glass wouldn’t be the only thing separating us.

He was now one of millions of people incarcerated in the United States and, for the first time in our friendship, I knew nothing about what life was like for him. As a young reporter back then, I covered court cases regularly. But I never gave much thought to what happened once the people in my stories left the courthouse and entered the prison system. I never thought about the fact that life went on behind prison walls, that there was a whole community filled with stories that were untapped and hidden.

“Everyone in here has a story to tell,” he told me during that visit.

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Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Shaheen Pasha is a founder and chief education officer of Global Forum Online.

Shaheen is an associate teaching professor at Penn State University, focused on mass incarceration and prison education. Prior to that, Shaheen was an assistant professor at UMass Amherst, where she launched an immersive explanatory journalism class at the Hampshire County Jail, bringing incarcerated and UMass students together to learn. Shaheen was awarded the Knight Nieman Visiting Fellowship in 2018 to expand her work teaching journalism behind bars.

She is a veteran journalist with over 20 years of experience at outlets such as Thomson Reuters, CNNMoney and Dow Jones/WSJ. She is currently serving on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project.