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This essay is an introduction to the 2013 National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, organized by the Saint Louis University Prison Program. It is a primer on the current state of higher education in prison, which provides a social-legal framework for the conference and the symposium essays that follow. Beginning with the recent history of the exponential growth of incarceration in the past four decades, it charts the unprecedented reliance on incarceration that, at present, distinguishes the country as a world-class punisher. It was in the middle of this shift that the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill was born, which effectively obliterated higher education in prison. In a single blast, hundreds of programs offering college courses to inmates were downsized to less than a dozen. Today, nearly two decades since this education apocalypse, the programs in existence struggle to survive. This essay provides a snapshot of the terrain twenty years after the blast.