As a prison and jail reporter in Houston, Keri Blakinger has spurred action on improving conditions for incarcerated individuals. And nearly 90 people have 3D-printed dentures thanks to prove it.
Blakinger, a Houston Chronicle reporter, will speak at a criminal justice reform event beginning Saturday at 2 p.m. at Grandview United Methodist Church.
The event is open to the public and ties into a series within the church’s worship on “witnesses,” in the religious sense and generic sense, Grandview’s lead pastor the Rev. Andrea Brown said.
Blakinger will speak about prison conditions, from her point of view as a journalist and also as a formerly incarcerated person. She spent nearly two years in prison in New York, just months before she was to graduate from Cornell University. Her experience in prison shaped her interest in covering prisons and the death penalty in Texas, she said.
“It’s easy to dismiss people who have done horrible things,” Blakinger said.
Some of her most notable work is in an investigation into the Texas prison system denying dentures for people unless they were “dangerously underweight,” Blakinger said. So most people with severe dental problems would get their food pureed. Since her investigation’s publication last year, Texas began to 3D print teeth for inmates.
“At the time when I started writing about it, people started being like, ‘How are you gonna get readers to care?’” Blakinger said.
This is just a taste of the accountability reporting Blakinger has done to improve the conditions within prisons and jails, plus covering executions. Texas had the largest number of executions in 2018. She has previously reported at the New York Daily News, and her work has appeared in the Marshall Project, VICE, The Washington Post and The Appeal. She’s also written essays about how her identity as a white woman improved her chances from recidivating once she left prison.
Years before she was improving the prison conditions for some of Texas’s 137,223 inmates, Blakinger was a national figure skating star at Lancaster Country Day School and named to the 2001 Chevrolet/United States Figure Skating Association Scholastic Honors Team, according to LNP archives. And she had her start in journalism as a contributor to the Intelligencer Journal’s Freestyle section, she said.
It’s Blakinger’s first time returning to Lancaster for a speaking engagement, although she has visited several times to see her family that still lives here. Her father is Dan Blakinger, a partner at Lancaster-based law firm Blakinger Thomas.
Blakinger said Northeastern residents often have a misconception that southern states have worse criminal justice system issues.
“We tend to think as people in the northeast, ‘Oh criminal justice in the south is really bad and backwards,’” she added. “And it is, but it’s not that these things don’t happen elsewhere. It might be in a more limited capacity, but these are truths we see in the criminal justice system elsewhere."
Brown invited Blakinger after reconnecting with her on Twitter in recent months. Brown had also written to Blakinger while she was in prison, because her parents are members of the church. Blakinger’s story connects with Grandview’s mission to support reentry management and criminal justice reform, Brown said.
“She’s a very talented person,” Brown added.