Friday, December 28, 2012

Prison Letter

Sometimes I cannot find the right words to convey the deep emotions I have reading their words...
....I only hope one is touched as deeply
Prison Letter
M.A. Jones
You ask what it's like in here but there are no words for it.
I answer difficult, painful, that men die hearing their own voices. That answer isn't right though I tell you now
that prison is a room
where a man waits with his nerves
drawn tight as barbed wire, an afternoon
that continues for months, that rises
around his legs like water
until the man is insane
and thinks the afternoon is a lake:
blue water, whitecaps, an island
where he lies under pale sunlight, one
red gardenia growing from his hand-
But that's nor right either. There are no
flowers in these cells, no water
and I hold nothing in my hands
but feare, what lives
in the absence of light, emptying
from my body to fill the large darkness
rising like water up my legs:
It rises and there are no words for it
though I look for them, and turn
on light and watch it
fall like an open yellow shirt
over black water, the light holding
against the dark for just
an instant: against what trembles
in my throat, a particular fear
a word I have no words for.
Arizona State Prison-Perryville
Buckeye, Arizona

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Prisoner Abuse in NC prison

Update: Prison warden suspended amid hot sauce abuse report

2012-12-04T17:58:58 Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Updated 05:58PM

RALEIGH (AP) — The warden of a state prison has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations that inmates were forced to rub hot sauce on their genitals, officials said Tuesday.
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Pamela Walker said today that Sampson Correctional Institution administrator Lafayette Hall has been placed on paid leave while the State Bureau of Investigation reviews what happened at the Clinton facility. A correctional officer, David P. Jones, has also been put on leave, officials said.
“I have zero tolerance for unprofessional conduct by any state employee,” Gov. Bev Perdue said Tuesday. “I have directed the Department of Public Safety to cooperate fully with the SBI review of the allegations and to take appropriate action if these allegations prove to be true.”
In July, six inmates from Sampson sent a hand-written letter to the U.S. District Court in Greensboro complaining that staff had forced them to perform numerous humiliating acts for the entertainment of guards, including stripping nude and pretending to have sex. The medium-security facility houses about 500 male inmates in Clinton, which is about 60 miles southeast of Raleigh.
The inmates also reported being forced to gulp a super-hot “Exotic Hot Sauce” purchased off the Internet and slather it on their testicles, as well as being forced to grab and kiss wild snakes while working on a road crew and throwing captured bunnies in to oncoming traffic.
Those who performed for the guards were rewarded with preferential work assignments, food, cigarettes and beer, the inmates alleged. Both tobacco and alcohol are banned in North Carolina’s prisons.
In their letter, the inmates ask for the court’s assistance in finding lawyers to help them file a lawsuit against the state and said they feared retaliation from the prison staff.
It is not immediately clear if the inmates have a lawyer.
Walker said the prison system first learned of the allegations through internal grievances filed by the inmates, not from the letter to the court.

Documentary Screening and Panel Discussion at Guilford College: Reflection and Appreciation

A Changing Lens: Exploring Educational Necessity Behind Bars

Documentary Screening and Panel Discussion

Reflecting on the construction and implementation of our efforts
(panelists included: Max Kenner, Executive Director of the Bard Prison Initiative, Sean Pica Executive Director of Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, Anthony Cardenales, former inmate and graduate of Bard, Dr. Anne Hayes, researcher and professor in VA prisons)

November 2012 marked the year anniversary of my initial and building work towards spearheading

a Higher Education Prison Initiative through Guilford College. Walking into Bryan Jr. Auditorium on

November 8, 2012 to address the educational need for those incarcerated to the Guilford and

surrounding communities seemed surreal. I had spent the previous year tirelessly writing emails,

making phone calls, writing letters and writing proposals to leaders in higher education programs

throughout the country, foundations, administrators, researchers, people incarcerated and their

families, sometimes waiting to no avail for an answer . Other times (and most often )I developed

friendships, encouragement, guidance, advice ,support and collegiality .

The event on November 8 was a product of dedication, collegiality , and heart in our shared vision of

educational opportunity to those incarcerated. Throughout my research and planning efforts I had been

inspired by the people that came to speak on the panel , their resilience and continual efforts great and

small initiating change while advocating for higher education in prisons. And I was overwhelmed with

gratitude for those supporters right here at Guilford that helped to bring those strong voices together in

one place .

The documentary screening gave many of us an insight into the realities of those incarcerated and

undoubtedly the powerful effects of education. At one point , with a heavy and aching heart I looked

around with tears rolling down my cheeks to see the audience reaction to the film. It was inspiring. I

was able to see others recognize the humanity in the persons before them . I could see the challenge

in their eyes they were ready to take to understand and promote a solidarity in this initiative.

The panelists spoke following the documentary on an array of topics structured around prison

pedagogy, program models, sustainability assessment tools, bringing strong background experience

and expertise to enrich and promote our goals.

With resounding testament: one panelist said “our greatest error would be to do nothing, even if it’s just

one class one semester, get in there and do it.” The next day following the panel, there were meetings

with the event’s panelists to discuss further groundwork for the initiative . After hours of strategizing,

questioning and planning the meetings ended with greater support and recognized need than before.

This event has led our efforts to be recognized by crucial supporters in higher education in prison s.

Hence, an excited Executive Director of the North Carolina Department of Corrections wants to meet

with Guilford to strategize implementation of this program.

Furthermore, I received a phone call that Guilford’s name will be in the mouths of funders as an

innovative school in North Carolina that is pushing and striving for valuable educational parity in

correctional institutions.

Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

We are doing it....

A vist from Dr. Rev. Kaia Stern, Executive Director of Harvard Prison Studies Project

In April of 2012 we began to lay the foundation for a movement at Guilford to inform our community of

the realities of prisons and the transformative power and value education has for those incarcerated.

In my research for rallying allies for our efforts at Guilford, I came across an article in the Fellowship

of Reconciliation newsletter titled

Shackles and Sunlight by Dr. Rev Kaia Stern who is also Executive

Director of Harvard’s Prison Studies Project .

As I read her piece, her words spoke to me with such conviction I felt obligated to share the experiences

of her lifetime work within prisons as well as her encouraging “call to action”.

I reached out to Dr. Stern via email and informed her of Guilford ‘s mission . I informed her that I tired

of waiting for a change in one of America’s great institutions of oppression. And a fire was lit towards

our collegiality and friendship.

Dr. Stern came to meet with Guilford administrators and faculty to guide us in our efforts to spearhead

our own program. In a craze of excitement , anxiety and frustration she reminded us through a quote

by Desmond Tutu that “ crumbs of compassion cannot satisfy our hunger for justice” . We must act. We

must fight and keep fighting to dismantle oppression in the name of justice. Dr. Stern then gave a talk

to the Guilford community the following evening .

As she fed our momentum at the previous meeting she did as well in her talk to the community.

Allowing us to visualize a day in the life of a prisoner ,his solitude. . Confined by the limitation s within

his own understanding and society’s indifference. In closing, Dr. Stern challenged us to understand the

effects knowledge has on liberation ; challenged us to dismantle a system of oppression , like a termite

destroys a home...through the inside out. Through education by educating.

Dr. Stern’s visit to Guilford was a momentous step in spearheading our efforts for our Higher Education

in Prison Initiative. I am here , to defend education to those our society has underserved and often

times locked up and thrown away. I am here, working on this initiative because I believe with great

conviction that an excellent education is a basic human right and the “most fundamental method of

social progress.”

Some days it seems like an uphill battle saturated with political cynicism, social apathy and economic

restraints...but I remind myself of the stories, the lives who have touched me , and the lives not only in

need of a second chance but those who never received a chance at all to maximize and nurture their

potential. And I keep pushing, relentlessly...because to those “ we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow’ we must

answer ‘Today’.”