It’s easy to get lost in Chicago’s Cook County Jail, the size of seventy-two football fields. For many released into the harsh elements beyond the walls, it can be impossible to find their way home.

This haunting and powerful narrative reveals the intentionally disorienting tactics of the system and how the punishments meted out to prisoners, their families, and even innocent victims extend beyond the cages. Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, the award-winning author of Crook Country, exposes the moral, spiritual, legal, and psychological wasteland—inside and out—of the nation’s largest jail.

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve’s The Waiting Room, is part of Southside, a collection of five true stories about racism and reform, crime and corruption, justice and injustice in Chicago—from the Pulitzer Prize–winning team at The Marshall Project. With original photography by Carlos Javier Ortiz and Joshua Lott. Each story can be read—or listened to—in a single sitting.