Our Favorite Essays of 2022

From Behind Prison Walls to a Container Ship Out at Sea to the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, Zócalo’s Contributors Traversed the World to Report on the Human Condition

In 2022, Zócalo’s contributors reported from the front lines of a changing world, looking to foster conversation—and curiosity—about the way we live now.

While selecting just 10 essays from the scores we’ve published this year is no easy task, the ones we’ve highlighted below reflect the best of Zócalo’s special, eclectic blend of ideas journalism with a head and heart. From a first-hand account of incarceration, to a case for how the global fight against authoritarianism can begin in your backyard, to even why, when feeling adrift, one might consider passage by …

California Is Closing the Wrong Prison | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

California Is Closing the Wrong Prison

Politics Dominated the State’s Move Toward Mass Incarceration. In Towns Like Susanville, It’s Dominating the State’s Move Away From It, Too

hen your town’s biggest business is punishment, how do you fight back when you’re being punished unfairly?

That’s the predicament facing Susanville, a small town that is the seat of Lassen …

The World Calls It a Prison Town—And I Call It Home | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

The World Calls It a Prison Town—And I Call It Home

A 20-Year Resident of Folsom, the Town Johnny Cash Made Famous, Reflects on the Relationship Between the Community and Its Prisons

 learned Johnny Cash songs because of my own frequent imprisonment in the backseat of the family station wagon. Dad played all the Man in Black’s hits on the Chevy’s 8-track. …

What I Learned From Being Sent to County Jail | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

What I Learned From Being Sent to County Jail

The Realities Are Different From Prison—And Here's Why That Matters

ust before I started graduate school, I was arrested and spent a night in jail. I wrote in my journal about the experience, but I put it behind me and …

Why Food Vendors Belong in the Prison Yard | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Why Food Vendors Belong in the Prison Yard

My Fellow Inmates and I Support Local Businesses and Charities—And Make the Case for Deepening These Relationships

magine a big box. You sleep in the box. Eat in the box. Work in the box. Exercise in the box. Your view is confined to what fits inside and …

Can a Maximum-Security Prison Be a Place of Connection? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Can a Maximum-Security Prison Be a Place of Connection?

How the Men in Pelican Bay State Prison Impact the Community Outside, One Another, and Inmates Across California

avid stands with his feet in the foamy water, his arms outstretched, smiling face turned up to the February sky. From where I’m standing among the driftwood, the line of …