The United States has the highest incarceration rate per capita in the entire world. With only approximately 5% of the population, the U.S. imprisons 25% of all inmates across the globe. A significant portion of these individuals were sentenced for nonviolent offenses.

Now, hundreds of YAL chapters across the country are organizing “Incarceration Nation” activism events to raise awareness about our broken criminal justice system, educate students about the problems, and take action to solve them. #FixTheSystem

The three goals of every “Your Life. Your Right.” activism event are to:

  1. Educate new students in the ideas of liberty
  2. Recruit new members for your YAL chapter
  3. Earn media attention for your event to expand its outreach
  1. Reach out to YAL’s Leadership Team for support: YAL’s Leadership Team is your number-one tool for success. Find a YAL leader near you who can help you execute your activism event. Your Regional Director and the State Chairs in your area are your best resource for learning how to organize an effective activism event. If either position has not yet been filled, learn more and apply to join the Leadership Team here.
  2. Apply for resources: YAL is offering FREE resources and recommendations to every participating YAL chapter:
    • An activism grant for up to $100
    • A recruitment kit packed with materials, clip boards, sidewalk chalk, books, flyers, a political quiz and chart, and everything else you’ll need to draw students to your chapter.
  3. Always recruit for liberty: With every activism event you do, you should recruit new members. Print out plenty of YAL sign-up sheets to sign up interested students. When your event is over, use the Member Upload Tool to upload all your new members’ information to your chapter page. Once you upload member information, each new member will get an email asking them to join your chapter.
  4. Make your plans: Meet up with your chapter members and plan the dates and details for your activism event. Take some time to brainstorm and put your ideas on paper. After a productive meeting, you should walk away with a clear and executable plan with specific tasks assigned to your members.Ask yourselves some basic questions: What do you want to do? Who is going to do what? When are you going to do it? How much preparation time is needed? When are you going to meet again to prepare?

Always keep in mind the three most important goals for any activism project:

1. Recruit new members
2. Educate your classmates
3. Earn media attention

For each activism event, there are two major components:

  1. An on-campus tabling exercise, including visual display and/or interactive quiz, to recruit new members and promote your upcoming Incarceration Nation meeting/event.
  2. A large chapter meeting/event to educate all attendees and discuss the issue you are addressing. This could be a speaker, PowerPoint presentation, politician, professor, movie, and/or general discussion.

Reserve a high-traffic area to table on campus once you have picked your dates for execution. As a recognized student organization, it should be as simple as contacting your student affairs office and jumping through the necessary hoops to receive permission to table.

If your YAL chapter is not yet officially recognized by your university and it won’t let you reserve tabling space, don’t fear. Get creative, and always remember that the table doesn’t get recruits: you do.

If your campus gives you any trouble and tries to relegate your activism to a “free speech zone,” please contact us so we can help you defeat these unconstitutional regulations.

Reserve a classroom and the necessary video equipment, so you can host a film screening of the “The Story of Weldon Angelos,” which is available for free online. Predict how many students you think will attend the film screening, and reserve a room to accommodate.

Pro tip: Always reserve rooms that are only big enough to accommodate 75% of the amount of people you expect to show up. It is better for everyone to think that your event ended up having standing room only when you host it in a smaller room rather than think that hardly anyone showed up when you host it in a large auditorium.

We strongly suggest that you walk through the room before the event, so you understand how the equipment works and how to set up the room properly.

Get all of your materials together, and get your YAL chapter members together to help build your Mock Prison (detailed video and instructions below.) Students will pose behind bars once you demonstrate to them that they are a criminal under the law, just like everybody else!

Contact your Regional Director ( to discuss different options for the appearance of your mock prison. Here is an example:

Materials from YAL. Check your mailbox for the Incarceration Nation activism kit.

The following supplies will be provided in your kit:

  • Incarceration Nation Editable Flyer
  • 2 copies of “Three Felonies in a Day”
  • 10 Congressional Petitions
  • 25 “Millennials Behind Bars” pamphlets
  • 250 “Ten Rules for Dealing with Police” cards
  • 250 “Are you a criminal?” quizzes
  • #FixTheSystem Poster for your Mock Prison
  • 50 “#1” post-cards for your follow up meeting

YAL will also provide approved chapters with a $50 activism stipend to purchase everything you need to build your mock prison at a local hardware store:

  • Silver spray paint – $8
  • PVC pipe glue – $6
  • 30 feet of PVC Pipe (1 inch diameter) – $10 (Lowes/Home Depot)
  • Have the store clerk cut the 30′ of PVC Pipe into the following sizes: twelve 9″ pieces, ten 8″ pieces , and six 12″ pieces.
  • PVC connectors (eight 4-way connectors, four 3-way connector, twelve end caps) – $1

Lay out pipes

Steps to build the jail:

  • Take the PVC Pipe home, lay it outside, and give one side a full coat of spray paint.
  • Wait one hour, rotate the PVC Pipe and give the other side a full coat.
  • Wait a final hour, then touch up the missing spots.
  • After the paint is dry, create six rows in the following order: 9″, 12″, 9″.

Lay out pipes

Lay out the 6 rows and connect them to each other by using the 8″ pieces.

IMPORTANT: You need to print out a sign to attach to your mock jail so the project name and follow up information is easily recognizable on campus and in pictures.


  • Depending on resources available, print out one of the signs below and attach to your jail using strong tape or string.
  • Recommended: Print out the full color sign on poster 24″ x 18″ poster paper. This will look the most professional. [DOWNLOAD TEMPLATE HERE]
  • Other options:
    Print out the sign in color on multiple pieces of 8.5″ x 11″ paper. tape together, and secure onto the mock jail. [DOWNLOAD TEMPLATE HERE]
    Print out one 8.5″ x 11″ full color sign [DOWNLOAD TEMPLATE HERE]
  • Once the PVC pipe is assembled it should look like this:
Incarceration Nation Jail Dimensions

Preparing for earned media hits:


Send out press releases at least one week leading up to your event. You can find a sample press release here.

With an Activism Project like this, it should be easy to earn some media attention, especially from your campus paper. Earned media is a great way to reach more people with our message and increase visibility of your chapter. Read up on all our media resources here.

In order to maximize the success of your Incarceration Nation event, here are some tips for you to follow and build upon:

  • Set up your Mock Prison along with your YAL sign-up table in a high-traffic area on campus.
  • Approach students asking them, “Are you a criminal?” Regardless of their response, have them take our “Are you a criminal?” quiz (provided in your free resources kit). Once they discover they are indeed a criminal, use this opportunity to explain why your chapter is doing this event. Discuss incarceration rates and encourage them to help you raise awareness. Ask them to step into the jail cell to take their Incarceration Nation Mugshot with one of the case study slates. Post their photograph on social media, and have them share/retweet.


                                                               Mock Prison 1 3722 3727
  • Sign up new recruits. Have everyone who gets their picture taken sign up so that you can tag them in their mugshot when you upload it to your chapter’s Facebook page. That way, you’ll get new sign-ups for your chapter and plug students in to your social media at the same time.
  • While you have the attention of students, ask them to join your chapter and attend your next meeting (your next meeting should be scheduled in advance, and you should make sure they leave your table with the information they’ll need to attend.) Always have plenty of sign-up sheets and challenge your chapter to sign up 50, 100, or even 500 new recruits! Make sure you upload all your sign-ups to your chapter page on the YAL website.
  • Distribute educational materials. Your Incarceration Nation Activism Kit is filled with literature. If a student seems interested, give him or her a Flex Your Rights card with “Ten Rules for Dealing With Police” on it and a flyer to learn more about your chapter. Encourage him or her to come out to your follow-up meeting and learn more about over-criminalization.

Host an Incarceration Nation themed meeting to educate your new recruits and get them plugged in to your chapter. Make sure you plan in advance, schedule a room and time, and go over the plan with your chapter’s leadership. Contact your Regional Director ( to discuss a strategy and choose a topic, speaker, or film for your meeting. We have a great seven-minute documentary you can show. This is your opportunity to lock in new members and expose interested students to the ideas of liberty.

Host a productive follow-up meeting/event

You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Your first meeting after your tabling event should set the proper tone you want to convey as a chapter. That’s why YAL created a guide to running a successful meeting so that you can know exactly how to retain your new members with your meeting.

Here are some great resources for your informational meeting.

Request a YAL University speaker for a live, virtual presentation

Follow up or fail

Sign-ups are worth nothing if you don’t execute a proper follow up with each new contact you have and get them to your follow-up event.

This is the perfect time to talk with the new students that you engaged with during your project about the importance of understanding the dangers of wealth redistribution.

Follow up in multiple ways

Don’t rely on email follow ups: no one reads them besides the government. Be sure to give each interested student a personal phone call and ask them if they can come to your next meeting. Remember, students are more likely to follow through with something that they verbally commit to do.

After you’ve called everyone, send a follow up text the day of your event to round up any stragglers who wouldn’t show up otherwise. Try something like this:

“Hey [name], this is [name] from YAL. Thanks for stopping by our Incarceration Nation event the other day. It was great getting meeting you. We’re all getting ready for our follow-up meeting and social right now. Can’t wait to see you at [time]!”

Email will only serve as a good reminder to those whom you’ve already reached by phone, text, and social media.


Host your event to featuring a speaker, a documentary screening or a presentation as soon as possible. Your event should be within a couple days of your tabling activities so students don’t forget.

Schedule the meeting during an evening time slot which will conflict with the fewest number of classes possible, and don’t schedule events (other than socials) on weekends — don’t give your new recruits any reason not to attend!

At the meeting, begin by introducing YAL and explain how to get involved in your chapter. Next, screen your film or give your speaker the floor. After the meeting, offer an opportunity to socialize by going out for pizza, drinks, or whatever works best for your chapter to discuss the meeting and the ideas of liberty.

Suggested Documentaries

Suggested Speakers

Conduct follow ups consistently even after students have come to their first YAL meeting. Consistent communication with students is the only way to ensure that they establish lasting friendships within your chapter, and therefore, stay involved after their first exposure to YAL. Use the Member Upload Tool to upload all your new members’ information to your chapter page.

You can greatly increase the impact of your chapter’s activism efforts by documenting and sharing your story with other YAL activists on the YAL national blog. If you’re a chapter officer, it’s simple: Click here.

Learn how to properly document your activism event. Read this quick guide or watch this short (and funny) video to learn how you can submit the best activism blog posts.

  • Have detailed reports: Post all your pictures, give us all the details, and share with us how students reacted to your Incarceration Nation event.
  • Include your best pictures and video: Take as many photos as you can including action shots and group photos. Aim for at least 5 awesome pictures in your report. Include short videos (about 3-4 minutes). Make them upbeat, and mix in some music. Post your video to YouTube and embed the video in your chapter report.
  • Include how many recruits you got: A primary goal of every activism event is to recruit new members into your YAL chapter. Share in your blog post how many sign-ups you got, how many participants you had in your event, and how many students you engaged overall.
  • Include all of your earned media: Chapters that earn media attention reach a much wider audience and greater respect on campus. Include links to all of your media coverage in your report.

Once your chapter has conducted a successful Incarceration Nation, it will pay to have a social to bring everyone together, celebrate your hard work, and provide an opportunity for your new recruits to feel welcomed into the group.

After your follow-up meeting, consider hosting a social. You can go out to a local pizza pub, a nearby bar, or do something more creative like go to one of your school’s football games together.

People may first become interested in your YAL chapter because of the ideas of liberty, but no one will stay as a member unless your chapter proves to be a source of camaraderie and friendship for them.

Use this momentum for your next activism project!

Through conducting Incarceration Nation, you won’t convince everyone to join your chapter, but you’ll see your membership grow quickly. You’ll be thankful you put in the effort when you have a record-setting turnout at your next chapter meeting!

Remember, every event you do on campus should be used as a launching pad for your next big project so don’t let your momentum end with Incarceration Nation! Use this energy to mobilize for your next big activism project. Check out YAL’s most recent National Activism project.

Contact your Regional Director with any questions you have!