The Prison Journalism Project is an initiative that aims to give a voice back to people in prison and allow them to express themselves by sharing their stories and the reality of their imprisonment in order to break down the prejudices that exist. This project is important because it is essential to hear the stories from inside prisons, to listen to these voices, which are often ignored, telling the reality of everyday prison life. As part of the project, prisoners are trained in journalism, but the project brings together all kinds of writing by prisoners, whether poetry, articles or songs about the realities and experiences of life in detention.

“If I died today”, Justin Cantwell

The poem “If I died today” was written by Justin Cantwell as part of the Prison Journalism Project. It is an exploration of loneliness and death in prison. In it, Justin Cantwell shares his fears and recounts the cruelty inherent in dying in total isolation. He also asks what will happen to him if he dies in custody. Will he be mourned? Will he have loved ones to remember him? Will he be forgotten, as he seems to think happens to people who die in detention?

The poet seems preoccupied by the idea of dying without a trace, of fading from the world into indifference.

If I died today, would anyone remember my face, or would I just fade away without a trace?

Justin Cantwell also faces these fears alone, and his poem is a cry from the heart in which he expresses his fears and his solitude in detention.

Does anyone realize that these are just a few of my fears?

Although this poem is set in the specific context of American prisons, which are experiencing specific difficulties (overcrowding and privatisation of prisons, for example), the emotions and fears evoked by the author are nonetheless universal. Throughout the world, death in prison is not just physical, but social: Justin Cantwell deplores the indifference shown to prisoners, and even more so to those who die in prison. In his poem, being in prison does indeed seem to be a form of death, as if being in prison means no longer belonging to the world. The despair engendered by this isolation explains the high number of suicides among deaths classified as violent in detention. As the GROW report points out1 , 125 people took their own lives in French prisons in 2022.

« If I died today », Justin Cantwell

If I died today, would anyone grieve for me tomorrow?

Is there someone who cares enough to express

sadness and sorrow?

If I died today, would anyone remember my face, or would I

just fade away without a trace?

If I died today, would anyone need to be consoled with a

hug or would I be cast away before my grave could

even be dug?

If I died today, would anyone tell stories about my life?

Will they reminisce on good times we shared

and stow away all the strife?

If I died today, would anyone stain their cheeks with

tears? I often wonder, does anyone realize that these

are just a few of my fears?

To go further…

Photo by Soroush Alavi on Unsplash

1 CAPITOLO, G., DELAHAIS, E., LEMOINE, J., OUATTARA, N. TOURE, A. (2024). Death in French prisons. Generation for Rights Over the World. [online] Jan. 2024. Available at:

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.