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Articles by Maurice Chammah

Redemption Songs: The Forgotten History of American Prison Music

Maurice Chammah

One morning in 2019, Kenyatta Emmanuel Hughes was released from Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York, and traveled 70 miles south to Carnegie Hall. That night, he stood before a crowd—flanked by a horn section, string quartet and backup singers—and sang words he’d written during his nearly ...

They Went to Jail. Then They Say They Were Strapped to a Chair for Days.

Allegations in a Missouri lawsuit shed light on how some jail officials use restraint chairs, which have been linked to dozens of deaths.

by Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project, published in partnership with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Shortly after Christmas in 2016, Albert Okal began acting strangely in the Wayne County Jail. He was “jumping around, seeing things,” his lawyer says. The 41-year-old was facing a charge of driving while intoxicated in southeastern Missouri.

Okal does not recall why he became so agitated, but his lawyer said Okal does remember how the jail staff responded: They cuffed his wrists and ankles to a “restraint chair,” where they force-fed him, covered his head with a blanket, addressed him with the n-word and refused to let him use the bathroom, leaving him to urinate and defecate on himself. He remembers being restrained for five days, his lawyer said.

Last fall, Okal sued Wayne County, the county sheriff Dean Finch, and a number of jail staffers, claiming this experience left him with physical pain and emotional trauma, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch previously reported. Wayne County jailers have denied placing Okal in the device.

Okal’s lawsuit is the latest keyhole into the ...

A Boy Among Men

What happens when you throw a teenager into an adult prison? Guess.

by Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project

Three years ago, the young man who would later be known as John Doe 1 shuffled into the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan. The town of 11,000 residents, which sits in the remote center of the state, houses five prisons, and over the years, it has earned the nickname “I Own Ya.” John, who was 17, had already gotten over the initial fear of going to an adult prison—he had spent several months at a county jail near Detroit and an intake facility in Jackson—but he also knew he would be spending longer at this lonely outpost, a minimum of three years for a couple of home invasions. It was still wintery in April, and his state-issued jacket was poor protection against the drafts coming through the broken windows, shattered by men who had passed through before. “It was pretty ragged,” he recalled recently, “a tear down.”

The rituals of intake were familiar. Standing in a line with several dozen other men, John stripped off his navy blue scrubs, squatted, and coughed to prove he wasn’t hiding anything. Once ...

The Slow Death of the Death Penalty

The public supports it, but the costs are lethal.

by Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project

Just before sunrise on a spring morning last year, Larry Maples shot and killed his wife, Heather. He had tracked her to the home of a former boyfriend, a ranch hand named Moses Clemente. Maples shot and wounded him. He then called 911, handed his Colt .45 revolver over to the sheriff’s deputies and confessed.

It was a shocking event for Van Zandt County, a largely agricultural swath of East Texas with roughly 50,000 residents. The local authorities had never sent someone to death row, but Maples — by shooting Clemente along with his wife and thereby aggravating the murder — qualified for the death penalty under state law. It was up to the young district attorney, Chris Martin, to decide whether to seek that punishment.

Martin had been telling reporters he might seek the death penalty, but behind closed doors with the victim’s family and Clemente, the D.A. now said he wasn’t sure the case was strong enough to convince a jury that Maples should be executed.

“He said, ‘If we go with the death penalty, Maples will get more attorneys,’” Lori Simpson, Heather’s ...