The image shows a white man wearing a dusty blue shirt and with a tan hat crouching down in front of some sprouting crops. He has a dog next to him.

Aaron Edward Olson is a multimedia prison journalist and host of The Abolition Christian podcast ( Incarcerated since he was 19, Olson is serving a life sentence at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Wash. 

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You Know Him as a Criminal. I Know Him as Noah.

by Aaron Edward Olson 02-15-2024
How my fellow inmate got trapped in an American immigration nightmare.
The illustration shows a man holding a suitcase and wearing a backpack standing in the frame of an open prison fence gate, looking out. There is a dark sunset behind him.

Illustrations by Hokyoung Kim

This article comes by way of Empowerment Avenue, a nonprofit that works to normalize the inclusion of incarcerated writers and artists in mainstream venues by bridging
the gap between them as a path to decarceration and public safety. — The Editors

IN A DIMLY lit room, Noah sits hunched over his half-finished masterpiece. The canvas comes alive under his skilled hand, revealing the weathered face of an old field worker — the grandfather of a dear friend. Every stroke tells a tale of resilience, etching lines of wisdom and hardship that speak to a life often overlooked. As the evening unfolds, Noah’s focused concentration becomes a beacon, drawing curious onlookers who gather around to witness the birth of art.

This is how I think of Bonifacio Alcantar-Maldonado, who I know by his prison handle, “Noah.”

Known outside by his childhood nickname “Junior,” Alcantar-Maldonado is incarcerated at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Wash., where I am serving a life sentence. His life is now defined by two cruel political realities — heartless immigration policies and harsh criminal laws. His story illustrates the waste of human potential by a politics that promotes fear of those struggling in other countries and at home.