Closing Keynote: Brandon Brown (Facilitated by Alison Castel)
“Many Sides of Silence: Polarized Narratives as Blockades to Justice and Healing”
“You have the right to remain silent,” a statement, made to thousands of people placed under arrest every day in the United States, signifies the beginning of a process where diametrically opposed narratives will, more than likely, take hold. On the one hand, silence is meant to protect the possible offender yet can have deafening consequences for a victim who seeks to make sense of a harm they endured. On the other hand, silence can be a mechanism of oppression and dehumanization for people in prison, those reintegrating back into society, or those in various marginalized communities. Drawing on my experience of being incarcerated for over a decade, alongside the privilege of conducting ethnographic research inside of a maximum-security prison, I will share my findings of the various ways that silence polarizes narratives to the detriment of justice, and offer the “violence of silence” as an overarching symptom of the conflict of mass incarceration in the U.S.
Brandon Brown M.S. received both his Associate and Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Maine at Augusta while confined in a maximum-security prison. After realizing his passion for learning and storytelling, Brown was introduced to restorative justice through a workshop offered inside of the prison, which compelled him pursue his master’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution with an emphasis on the intersections of narrative and justice—becoming the first person in Maine to complete a graduate degree while incarcerated, and leading to his enrollment in the doctoral program at George Mason University’s newly named “Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution.”
Possibly the first incarcerated student in the U.S. to receive IRB approval to conduct human subject research inside of a prison, Brown’s research documents, analyzes, and explores the narratives of current prisoners within the facility where he was housed for nearly eleven years. This groundbreaking work dives into the authentic voices of incarcerated men, uncovering themes around narrative suppression and the expectations of silence arising from a diverse group of participants, uncovering what he terms “the violence of silence”, and what happens when human voice is almost completely suppressed. Brown hopes to advance the utilization of narrative theories of conflict resolution across a wide spectrum of conflict scenarios and contexts, including social justice advocacy and activism around issues of mass incarceration and the United States’ history of systemic violence. Brown has also been the recipient of the Davis Putter organization’s Marilyn Buck Award (2018), the Stephen M. Cumbie and Druscilla French Graduate Fellowship Award (2019), and the Lester “Les” Schoene, MS ’92 Scholarship Award for Service (2019).