MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN GANGSTER
The Museum of the American Gangster manages to be both engaging and educational at the same time. The museum exhibits feature a lot of familiar faces in America’s organized crime history, like Al Capone, while calling attention not only to the crimes that were committed by these people but to the cultural context within which these crimes were committed. Especially when it comes to early 20th-century gang violence, there’s a tendency for the public to forget that these big-wig criminal overlords of yesteryear were, in fact, real people whose crimes were not without victims. A trip to this museum will not only re-ground your perception of the Costellos and Capones of American history but will also provide a deeper insight into the politics and social crises of the time in which these terrible men lived. Also, there’s a student discount, so…y’know, take advantage while you can.
SING SING PRISON MUSEUM
Unlike the previous museum, the Sing Sing Prison Museum is not located in the city, but in (relatively) nearby Ossining, New York. The museum boasts a fairly small exhibit and it alone might not be worth taking the hike upstate, but it’s well worth stopping by (there’s no admission fee!) if you find yourself in Westchester County for some other reason. The museum is adjacent to the Sing Sing correctional facility, an active and fully-functioning prison which is one of the oldest in the U.S. (and has the sketchy history to prove it). A visit to the museum provides a reminder of the abuse that the prison-industrial complex is built on, as well as the way the system often fails those it’s meant to rehabilitate.
Walking tours tend to be looked down upon as generally “touristy” and illegitimate, and it’s true that they’re definitely not for everyone (I would argue it’s still less tacky than taking selfies at the Amityville Horror House or something like that, but that’s me). That said, if you are interested in true crime and don’t mind getting in some cardio during your learning experiences, there are a lot of walking tours in the city based on true crime and its place in New York’s history.
AUDIT A CRIMINOLOGY CLASS
…or a criminal justice course (we have both). This might be less “fun” than going on a walking tour or taking a quick visit to a museum, but if you’re genuinely interested in true crime as a subject — not just as a shock-and-horror fascination — then there’s no reason not to reach out to a professor who deals in either of these areas to ask them if you could sit in on one of their classes. Alternatively, you could formally enroll in one of these classes, but not all of us have the funds (or the room in our curriculums) for that.
WRITE A LETTER TO AN INMATE
If you’re passionate about criminal justice and the shortcomings of the American judicial system (both of which are impossible to remove true crime as a topic and phenomenon), why not do something productive with it? A busy schedule and/or shy demeanor might prevent you from physically volunteering at a correctional facility (though it’s worth mentioning that NYU’s own prison education program accepts volunteers), but if you were able to find the time to listen to Serial or binge-watch The Jinx, well…I imagine you can find the time to sit down and write a letter to someone, especially given how many helpful online resources there are to aid you in the process. Being incarcerated is oftentimes an isolating and alienating experience; for some inmates, your letters might be the only meaningful correspondence they get on a regular basis. Even if it feels like a relatively “small” or “insignificant” gesture on your part, it does a lot more good for society than obsessing over criminal cases that were solved and closed 30+ years ago.