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Book Club Discussion Questions: The Voice of Witness Reader

The Voice of Witness book series amplifies the stories of people directly impacted by—and fighting against—injustice. We use an oral history methodology that combines ethics-driven practices, journalistic integrity, and an engaging, literary approach.

The books explore issues of inequity and human rights through the lens of personal narrative. Each project aims to disrupt harmful narratives by supporting historically marginalized or silenced communities to tell their own stories in their own words.

Book clubs are useful tools for engaging and interacting with these oral histories and the issues they highlight. Find our handout with guidance on planning and facilitating one here.

Use the questions below to start a book club for The Voice of Witness Reader: Ten Years of Amplifying Unheard Voices.

Discussion Questions:


  1. Chris says that in prison, “you learn not to trust people.” How does trust factor into his story, and why might he develop a distrust of people as a result of his experience? How does an individual’s identity shape their trust in the government and their peers?
  2. Beverly compares Agent Riley’s threats and scare tactics to “holding a gun” to her head. How can psychological trauma manifest in a physical manner?


  1. Dan describes prisoners being left in their jail cells to die during the storm. Does this connect to the way prisoners are viewed and treated on a broader social scale? If so, how?
  2. How has reading Dan’s narrative shaped how you understand the events that took place during and after Hurricane Katrina? Were you surprised by the stories, or did they confirm what you already understood about the crisis? How has the story of Katrina continued to unfold in the ensuing years?


  1. According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year, like Lorena. What legal protections exist for undocumented minors? How does Lorena’s narrative connect with current political
    discussions surrounding undocumented students?
  2. Mr. Lai crisscrossed the country to find work, listing over a dozen states as former places of employment. In some cases, he only remained in place for a few days. What is the role of workers like Mr. Lai in the economy of the country? How do you think this constant
    displacement affects the job market? How does it affect undocumented workers?


  1. Achol’s story is full of hardship and struggle. What are some of the sensory details from her narrative that make it possible for you to connect or empathize with her?
  2. How many examples of “internally displaced” exiles or refugees within the United States can you think of? What do you know about these people or groups?


  1. What prior understanding did you have about Zimbabwe before reading Pamela and Themba’s narrative? How has the narrative altered your perception of the land, people and politics that make up this country?


  1. Kyaw says of when he was in prison, “I didn’t think of my family or my country at that time;
    I just thought, We have to work together. We have to resist the torture together.” What do
    you think are some of the factors that shaped his perspective?


  1. Adama Bah was detained by the FBI at age 16 for being on a suspected terrorist list. They kept her for six weeks before releasing her on house arrest. What do you imagine this experience contributed to Adama’s understanding of her place in this country?


  1. Prison doctors gave Ashley Jacobs a medically unnecessary Cesarean section, keeping her shackled during the operation. She was then sent back to the prison, leaving her newborn baby at the hospital. Think about the long-term effects of this type of trauma on Olivia, her
    baby, and her family. What do you think prisons should do with women who have babies while incarcerated?
  2. Several of the narrators from Inside This Place were raped or sexually assaulted by prison guards. Given the power dynamic and the fact that institutions are more likely to believe their employees than inmates, what should be done in prisons to prevent this from happening?
    How should these acts be brought to light?


  1. Sergio Díaz and his family suffer personal abuse from actors on both sides of Colombia’s civil conflict, with Sergio losing his leg to a FARC landmine and government Marines frequently harassing the Díaz family on their property. What does Sergio’s narrative reveal
    about the position of Colombia’s rural poor in the conflict between the government and guerrilla forces that claim to represent rural interests?


  1. How might a refugee’s ideas of “home” shift and evolve during and after resettlement? Mahmmoud says that “home is where you feel safe.” Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Why or why not?
  2. Felix says that his ideas about America were vastly different than the realities he found when he arrived. How do you think “the American dream” is portrayed across the globe? Discuss the myths and realities of acclimating to life in America.


  1. How do you think Chicago’s high rise buildings were viewed by outsiders who observed them versus by insiders who lived in them? What does this discrepancy say about insider/outsider dynamics?
  2. Should housing be considered a basic human right? If so, what social and economic responsibilities do we have in providing it, and how might that responsibility be shared?


  1. Hye-Kyeong’s mother attributes a lot of the difficulties they had trying to get worker’s compensation to the power which Samsung has in South Korea. What are the ramifications of a government’s allegiance to “those with money and power”?
  2. Based on the two narratives from Invisible Hands, how do you think globalization has impacted worker’s rights and labor conditions internationally? Has reading the personal stories of workers impacted your position on these issues? If so, how?


  1. In her narrative, Ibtisam says “I’ve traveled across Europe, but I prefer to live in Palestine . . . if people I love die, then I want to die with them; if they live, I want to live with them.” Where do you think this deeply-rooted loyalty to Palestine comes from? Is it unique to
    people living under occupation or war, or is it a universal impulse? Explain your thoughts.
  2. Does any person or country have an inalienable right to land? If two or more countries believe they have the right to the same piece of land, what, if anything, can be done to resolve the conflict? How is this problem complicated by religion?

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