I investigate urgent stories and tell them in creative ways.
Published by The Atlantic, January 2021
After The 911 Call:
For Americans struggling with mental illness, it’s far too easy to wind up in jail—and once they do, their families can no longer protect them.
By Sarah Shourd
I’m an award-winning playwright, trauma-informed investigative journalist, author, and former Stanford John S. Knight Fellow based in Oakland, CA. For over a decade my work has focused on exposing the impact of mass incarceration and exploring alternatives. My approach to my work in many ways reflects my unique life experiences. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I became actively involved in the antiwar movement while finishing my undergraduate work at University of California, Berkeley. During this time, I also lived as an International Human Rights Observer in Zapatista indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico. In 2008 I moved to Damascus, Syria, to study Arabic, teach English to Iraqi refugees, and start out as a journalist. In 2009 my life took a dramatic turn when I was captured by Iranian border guards while hiking near a tourist site in Northern Iraqi Kurdistan and imprisoned as a political hostage. I was psychologically tortured and imprisoned in incommunicado, solitary confinement for 410 days at Iran’s Evin Prison. After my release in 2010, I became an internationally known advocate against the overuse of solitary confinement in US prisons and a critic of our carceral system as a whole. As a UC Berkeley Visiting Scholar, I conducted a three-year investigation into isolation in US prisons, interviewing 75 prisoners in 13 prisons across the country. Based on this investigation, I wrote and produced a play, The BOX, based on true stories of resistance to solitary confinement, which premiered in San Francisco in 2016 to sold-out audiences. I also co-authored an anthology, Hell Is a Very Small Place, comprised of the stories I collected from incarcerated Americans. In 2018 I hosted a podcast, Of Two Minds, on divisiveness in America, and in 2019 I co-created a nonfiction graphic novel called Flying Kites: A Story of the 2013 California Prison Hunger Strike (Haymarket Books, 2021). My op-eds and journalism have been published by The Atlantic, The New York Times, Mother Jones, the Daily Beast, CNN, San Francisco Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Reuters, and more. I am now working with the Pulitzer Center to organize a national End of Isolation Tour (see endofisolation.org)