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More Beautiful 

humans  of

More Terrible

life  row

Photography by Olivia Mikolai Ridge

American    history   is   longer, larger, more   various, more   beautiful, and   more   terrible   than   anything   anyone   has   ever   said   about it.      -  James Baldwin

More Beautiful, More Terrible: Humans of Life Row is a counter-narrative, a sustained act of resistance, an exhibition that reveals the intimate experiences, transformative ideas, and beautiful dreams of people facing the stark realities of life sentencing in Illinois. These sentences are commonly described as death by incarceration because they condemn people to confinement until their death. Nevertheless, as contributing artist, Reginald BoClair, states, “Though sentenced to die in prison, we are alive.” 


In the United States, more than 200,000 people are serving life sentences. In Illinois, approximately 4,300 people are serving life or de facto life, a sentence of forty years or more. In 1978 Illinois eliminated parole, making it one of the six states where all life sentences are imposed without the possibility of parole. Of the people serving life without parole in Illinois, 67% are Black and 53% are 55 years old or older, statistics that underscore the racism and decades-long impact of life sentencing. Yet, every human represented in these numbers is so much more than a statistic. 

Inspired by the popular Humans of New York photography project highlighting stories and photographs of the varied people on the streets of New York, More Beautiful, More Terrible: Humans of Life Row explores the views, hopes, worries, aspirations, and everyday lives of the diverse array of people concealed by the logics and structures of mass incarceration. Through personal narratives, artistic expressions, installations, and poetic verse, this exhibition shines a light on the people who inhabit 'life row.'


The collected works create space for contributing artists, family members, policy makers, public officials, and the wider public to learn more about themselves, each other, society, and the consequences of life sentencing in hopes to inspire alternative forms of justice, accountability, and healing.

Read the PNAP Think Tank's Statement on Harm, Art, & Healing.

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Artwork, Prose, & Poetry

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Everyday Objects

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One Sentence

A Day

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Sound Pieces

Photography by Olivia Mikolai Ridge

Featured Contributors

Carlos Barberena, Michael Bell, Reginald BoClair, Stephanie Bonds, Sarah Brannon, Dorothy Burge, Carri Cook, Monica Cosby, Robert Curry, Michelle Daniel Jones, Devon Daniels, Dignidad Rebelde (Jesus Barraza & Melanie Cervantes), Christian Dior Noel, Joseph Dole, Raul Dorado, William Estrada, Darrell W. Fair, Charles Hill, Renaldo Hudson, Candace Hunter, Antonio ‘TK’ Kendrick, Darnell Lane, Lisa Lee & the National Public Housing Museum, Damon Locks, Rodney Love, Lucky Pierre, (Kevin Kaempf, Michael Thomas, & Mary Zerkel), Juan Luna, Breanna Maldonado, Jerel Matthews, Shaneva McReynolds, Pablo Mendoza, Ryan Miller, Lakeshia Murph, Leslie Peace, Daniel Perkins, Maria Pike, Fernanda Ponce, Steven P. Ramirez, Erika Ray, Olivia Mikolai Ridge, Benny Rios DonJuan, Sarah Ross, Carlvosier Smith, Lonnie Smith, James Soto, Michael Simmons, Michael M. Sullivan, Johnny Taylor, Devon Terrell, Chip Thomas, Antwon Tyler, jina valentine & Sylvan Palm Valentine, Connie Vantlin, Angie Varriale, Decedrick Walker, Eric Watkins, Anna Martine Whitehead, Carl Williams, and more

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This exhibition is presented by Co-Prosperity, the Prison+Neighborhood Arts/Education Project, and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture’s Beyond Prisons Initiative at the University of Chicago and is supported in part by Illinois Humanities, Woods Fund Chicago, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 


Special thanks to Antony Ablan and Rebirth of Sound, Victoria Alvarez, Ben Austen, Ahniya Butler, Anaga Dalal, Raphel Jackson,  Noah Karapanagiotidis, Tierra Kilpatrick, S.Y. Lim, Tracye Matthews, Pablo Mendoza, Marilyn Richardson, Arianna Salgado, Gina Samuels, Indigo Wright, and Nick Wylie.

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Exhibition Team 


Aaron Hughes & Alice Kim


Fernanda Ponce

Events and community organizer

Eliza Gonring

Writing editor

William Ayers

Organizing team

Audrey Catalano

Taji Chesimet

Neomi Rao

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"More Beautiful, More Terrible: Humans of Life Row"

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