Sociology Department goes “Face-to-Face with Life Without Parole” in a Presentation about the Criminal Justice System

A billboard comparing Sammie Robinson’s mugshot taken in 1953 to the last photo he took at Louisiana State
Penitentiary in 2019. Robinson was the longest serving inmate. ZOE DEFAZIO/ THE QUADRANGLE

By Zoe DeFazio, Web Editor

The sociology and criminology department partnered with E3MC to bring The Visiting Room to Manhattan College on March 3.

The Visiting Room is a multimedia storytelling project with interviews from over 100 inmates. The presentation conducted at MC consisted of a 30 minute film of inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary who are serving life sentences without parole. The inmates involved in the clips were all charged with second degree murder. 

Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known as Angola, is the largest maximum security prison in the United States. 

The prisoners within Angola vary, most of them are men and disproportionately black. Most men who are a part of The Visiting Room have already served over 20 years.

Sammie Robinson was incarcerated in 1953 at age 16 for aggravated rape. Robinson was sentenced for 10 years, but after murdering a fellow inmate during his fifth year his 5 more years would turn into a lifetime. 

Robinson passed away at age 83 at Angola in 2019. He was the longest serving inmate at Louisiana State Penitentiary. 

Charles Amos was incarcerated for 28 years at Louisiana State Penitentiary for murder charges. Now a free man, Amos works towards prison reform.

Amos was able to speak to the Quadrangle on his hopes towards the future of United States Prisons and the racial disparities within prison walls.

“ Most of the white counterparts had prestigious jobs, very few of them had hard labor,” said Amos. “In fact, some of them would come inside of the prison and never see the field. And what I mean by the field, is that they would never go out into the field where they are picking cotton, they wouldn’t do it. They would go straight to the office.” 

The Louisiana State Penitentiary was built on top of a cotton plantation. Many incarcerated individuals still haul cotton till this day, only making about 2 cents an hour. 

Amos continued by talking about the mental implications of solitary confinement and what he has personally witnessed from his former fellow inmates who have undergone behavior changes from it. 

“I have witnessed people eat their own feces,” said Amos. “I have witnessed people throw feces on other people. I have witnessed people looking into the ceiling and talking to themselves, just standing in cells buck naked, unaware of them being naked there. So many things, even imaginary dogs. I remember one guy, I couldn’t talk to him unless I acknowledged his dog, Spot.” 

Amos hopes that solitary confinement will be banned from prison. 

Cassidy Recio, sociology student at Manhattan College, commented on Amos and his second chance at life.

“It was outstanding to see this and knowing that he [Amos] was able to like get out and have this process of rehabilitation. I was really grateful to hear that he had that opportunity that not a lot have,” said Recio. 

Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology, Dennis Kalob reflected on The Visiting Room project and what it entailed. Kalob encourages Manhattan College students to take way more than the facts that were provided. He emphasized what it means to rehumanize someone, and that their experiences do not take away the fact that they’re people.

“We certainly have to humanize various aspects of the criminal justice system,” said Kalob. “These are human beings, and we need to make a judgment as to how they are being treated and if it’s fair and a sense of compassion. We need healing in this world. And so, you know, knowledge and listening to stories that people tell us. We can learn from people like Charles [Amos]. If we listen and learn and feel then we can build something better together.”