Upending the Narrative of the Great Man of History

The Voice of Witness project spearheaded by Dave Eggers and Mimi Lok gives the victims of crisis a megaphone

(Timothy Archibald)
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After Ashley Jacobs’ positive experience with Voice of Witness, she risked going public as an advocate for the rights of pregnant women in jail, even feeling confident enough to eschew her pseudonym in favor of her real name. One of VoW’s success stories, Jacobs also trains interviewers in how to reach out to people like her. “The book actually gave me a voice,” she said recently by phone from Tampa. She has stood in front of throngs on the steps of the Georgia state capitol to speak on behalf of a bill that would end the shackling of pregnant prisoners. “It opened up the doors for me to be able to speak about what I went through, for people to see me for who I am.”

For Eggers, Jacobs’ story is one of a growing list of unforgettable narratives gathered by Voice of Witness. As a teacher, he introduced her narrative to his high-school students at 826 Valencia. “They were so drawn to her story and blown away by it,” he says. The class voted to include the story in Best American Non-Required Reading, yet another Eggers’ endeavor. Jacobs’ experience surprised and confounded the students. “Everything they thought they knew was overturned,” Eggers says. "And eventually they came to understand how somebody they would have seen as a statistic or a ghost behind bars is someone they could fully identify with and root for and love."

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