Reporter's Notebook

Indianapolis, Indiana
Show Description +
Show None Newer Notes
Two women involved with Project Lia look up at windows they helped restore.
Two women involved with Project Lia look up at windows they helped restore. Courtesy of Jensen Productions and New America

More than 2 million Americans are in the country’s prisons and jails now, giving the United States both the largest number of prisoners and the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the world. For the U.S., the rate is well over 700 prisoners for each 100,000 of population. According to a recent BBC report, the only close contender is Russia, with an imprisonment rate of over 600 per 100,000 population. Most other developed countries are far behind—or ahead, in social-welfare terms. The rate for England and Wales, for instance, is under 150 prisoners per 100,000 population. Mexico’s rate is about 200 per 100,000. China, with a national population four times larger than America’s, has fewer total prisoners (at least according to official reports).

Just under 10 percent of America’s prisoners are women. Men and women who are “returning citizens” face some common challenges in restoring their place in economic, family, civic, and social life—for instance, the stigma of a criminal record. Some other barriers vary by gender. Women are statistically more likely to be expected to care for children or other family members, men more likely to have been arrested for violent offenses.

In Indianapolis, a program called Project Lia helps women who are leaving prison reenter economic and social life. As its mission statement puts it:

The Project Lia program is for women rebuilding their lives after incarceration. Program participants receive educational opportunities in financial literacy, communication, business ethics, and health and wellness, as well [as] support for a future job search.

Our program length is designed to be 6 months–12 months. As you advance through our technical skills and life skills program curriculum, you may advance in job title and pay, with the goal being a successful transition to a long-term career opportunity.


In two previous installments, we’ve shared videos from our friends at New America about civic-renewal projects in Indiana that are very important in the state but get little national attention. The first, about a successful job-training program called Build Your Future, is here. The second, about an ambitious public-arts project run by the Big Car Collaborative, is here.

Now a third video, about how Project Lia is trying to help previously incarcerated women regain their economic and social footing.

As you can see from Project Lia’s site, its emphasis is on “renewal” in the broadest sense of the term. Toward its aim of helping its graduates begin rebuilding their lives, many of its projects involve reviving disused or abandoned buildings, as you’ll see in this video, and recycling material that would otherwise just go to landfills.

Thanks to the videographer and editor Michael Jensen, the executive producer Fuzz Hogan, plus our other friends at New America.

Children at an event put on by the Big Car Collaborative in Indianapolis
Children at an event put on by the Big Car Collaborative in Indianapolis Courtesy of Jensen Productions and New America

This is No. 2 in a series of three videos from our friends at New America about the realities of community revitalization and economic recovery in the much-discussed Industrial Heartland of America. It’s based on an Indiana tour that Deb Fallows and I made this spring, co-organized by New America Indianapolis and Indiana Humanities.

Installment No. 1 was about an innovative, inclusive job-training program called Build Your Future. This one is about the topic on which Deb and I have most changed our minds—or, really, had our eyes opened—during our travels over the past few years.

That topic is the role of public arts, “place making,” cultural festivals, and other arts-based means of generating civic connections and promoting economic development.

A Big Car Collaborative arts event in Indianapolis (Courtesy of Jensen Productions and New America)

Half a dozen years ago, before we began these city-by-city travels, if you’d asked me about “the role of the arts,” I would have said something like: “Yeah, sure, arts are great! Everyone should like art [etc.].” Now we have a vivid place-by-place sense of the difference that ambitious public-arts programs can have. For instance:

The film below is about one of Indianapolis’s (many) answers to the question of how arts can renew a community.


Children at a Big Car Collaborative event in Indianapolis (Courtesy of Jensen Productions and New America)

The video focuses on the Big Car Collaborative, which is a multibuilding art space and civic-engagement organization in Indianapolis. Among its events are its First Friday gatherings and art tours. Check out the video for more.

Thanks to the videographer and editor Michael Jensen, the executive producer Fuzz Hogan, plus our other friends at New America.

Michael Brannon, a carpenter apprentice and graduate of the Build Your Future program in Indiana
Michael Brannon, a carpenter apprentice and graduate of the Build Your Future program in Indiana Courtesy of Jensen Productions Inc. and New America

This spring, Deb Fallows and I made a trip through Indiana for a series of events and meetings co-organized by New America Indianapolis and Indiana Humanities. We were in Muncie, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, and the small northern-Indiana town of Angola. You can read some of our series of reports here from Fort Wayne, here from Muncie, and here from Angola, with links to others.

While we were there, a video team from New America made a series of three short films. They’re about the up-close realities of issues that usually appear as slogans or abstractions in so many speeches, policy papers, and panel discussions.

These are issues such as “restoring opportunity,” “re-creating middle-class jobs,” and “bringing hope to the heartland.” Or about working with “returning citizens,” those who have been incarcerated, to increase their chances of a successful return to economic and family life.

To put it another way: Everyone talks about creating opportunity. Here’s what it looks like when people do something about it.

The first film, shot in Fort Wayne and around Indianapolis, describes the work of an innovative program called Build Your Future (BY, for short). It’s five minutes long, and you can see it below.

Thanks to the videographer and editor Michael Jensen, the executive producer Fuzz Hogan, plus our other friends at New America. Two more films shot in Indiana are ahead in the series. The next one is about an art-collaborative project in Indianapolis called Big Car.