After spending five years in Hudson, N.Y., collaborating with community members and local organization partners to document, interpret, present and create public dialogue around the history of the Hudson Correctional Center, Tracy Huling, founder and director of the Prison Public Memory Project, is continuing a project that began in Pontiac last year.
    During its first year, a bibliography was developed for the PPMP by Huling’s summer intern, Sara Millender. The document was created to catalog and describe the collection of information available about the historic Pontiac Correctional Center at the Pontiac Public Library.
    This year, in collaboration with the community of Pontiac, the PPMP proposes to “pop-up” an outdoor museum at Pontiac’s Farmer’s Market on a to-be-determined Saturday between Sept. 15 and Oct. 20. The museum, titled “A History of Harvest,” will feature the early history of the prison farms in Pontiac.
    According to Huling, farming was a critical aspect of the Pontiac Correctional Center from the very beginning. The farm fed the prison’s population, both inmates and staff, as well as acting as a training program for future farmers. At certain points in the history of the prison, Huling said their farm products also brought in considerable revenue.
    “As far as we know, the land of the prison farm is still being farmed today, but it’s being leased,” Huling said. “So this is more of a museum about how the prison farm was developed. What we’re hoping, is that we’ll do one or two interviews before the pop-up museum in the fall.
    “When everything is ready, we’re inviting community members to come to the pop-up museum where our intern will be stationed to record people’s short memories right there, on the spot.”
    One goal of the museum is to remind the community about the history of the prison farm and to provide an opportunity for community members to engage in learning, teaching and conversation with each other about the past, present and future of prison farms.
    “When we tried this in Hudson (N.Y.), it sparked a lot of conversations,” Huling said. “That’s part of what we’re aiming for, is for people to start talking about these memories and what they meant.
    “Our experience is that one memory triggers another. I think it will teach us and the community so much about a piece of history that currently feels lost.
    “We’ll have one pop up museum on the topic of the prison farm and in the future, there may be another subject. The history is so rich, we could investigate a variety of different subjects.”
    A second goal of the project is to provide a summer internship and work experience for young people. This summer, Huling is working with Pontiac Township High School junior and Pontiac FFA member Michala Matuszewski. Matuszewski first met Huling at her grandmother’s house. When Huling found out Matuszewski was an FFA member, she thought it would be a great fit.
    “This is my first time doing a project like this, but I’m excited to see all the hard work we’ve put in all summer be displayed and laid out this fall,” Matuszewski said. “All summer, I’ve been researching the prison farm, writing a couple articles for the website and posting on our social media.”
     Matuszewski is planning to conduct two community interviews before the pop-up museum debut in the fall. During the event at the local farmer’s market, she will be stationed at the museum to record people’s short memories.
    “We’re also hoping to have a community wall for people to share a memory,” Matuszewski said. “People from the community are invited to bring pictures, or write down a memory they have from the prison farm and then we’re going to pin them up on the wall so that people in the community can see other memories.”
    Matuszewski conducted her first audio interview for the project with Durell Pritchard this past Monday. Pritchard, a Pontiac resident, lived near the prison when he was a child and his uncle would drive the hay wagon by Pritchard’s house, with inmate trustees on it, out to the farm to work and would sometimes stop to talk with him.
    “I would say this project has been more interesting than I thought it was going to be initially,” she said. “There’s a lot more to this topic than I thought.”
    Although the information-gathering process has been going smoothly, Huling said there is still fundraising to be done before the pop-up museum event. Matuszewski and Huling have been meeting with various businesses and organizations around Pontiac to gain sponsorship. Money donated to the project is needed to process the interview recordings and put them up on the project website.
    “We’re raising money because it costs money to put this together,” Huling said. “There are a lot of printing costs and we try to provide the interns with stipends. So, we are still fundraising for the pop-up museum.”
    For further information about the Public Prison Memory Project’s goals and activities, the organization’s website is accessible at www.prisonpublicmemory.org.