Despite the fact that we number in the millions in the U.S. alone, prisoners’ families do not have very many opportunities to come together to share our experiences. Fortunately, some folks in Durham, North Carolina, have formed an organization to support one another. Read more about it here.
The following post was originally delivered as a reflection on Good Friday as part of a service at St. Titus Episcopal Church in Durham, North Carolina, in 2011. My husband and I had been asked to write reflections based on Bible verses connected to Good Friday, and this was mine. A dear friend of my father’s died in prison shortly before Good Friday the year that I wrote this, and I post this here today to honor his memory and to remark upon the sad state of medical care in Texas prisons, which only appears to have gotten worse since I wrote this. –Ashley Lucas
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
We tend to think of forgiveness as something personal—a thing we ask of those whom we have wronged directly: the person whose car we rear-ended, the loved one to whom we spoke in anger, the acquaintance about whom we thought unkind things. This sort of forgiveness gets us through each day by helping to mend our relationships with those around us, repairing and strengthening our ties to those with whom we interact each day. Without it we would be in shambles, but God’s forgiveness is much larger than we can imagine.
When Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. He was not addressing his executioners, who had just nailed him to the cross. He was speaking to God, his Father, asking a parent to forgive not just those who were there that terrible day at Calvary. Jesus asked God to forgive each of us throughout the millennia that would follow his death because he knew we would continue to harm one another and that we would need to be forgiven for an enormity of offenses.
As the child of a prisoner and a scholar who studies incarceration, I think often about the fact that Jesus was a prisoner executed by a government with the approval—indeed the zealous insistence—of the populous. We in North Carolina are subject to both state and federal governments which execute those around us, and the majority of our fellow citizens are in favor of this practice, though few of us know much about life on death row or the individuals who are being killed. However we personally feel about the death penalty, the fact that it is part of our culture and our system of government is well-known and at times hotly debated. We know that this is a thing we do, even if we don’t fully understand it.
I awoke this morning wanting to speak about offenses that we almost never realize we have committed. Just before last night’s Maundy Thursday service, I learned that my father’s best friend had died. My father has been held captive in Texas prisons since 1994, and over the years he has grown close to a fellow prisoner named Pepper Ramirez. I never got to meet Pepper, and all I know of him is what my father has told me in letters and in visits. From what I understand, Pepper ended up in prison because he killed a man who was harming his sister. Though I do not know the length of his sentence, I am sure he served well over a decade, perhaps two. Pepper was a good friend to my father, told funny stories, and made big plans for what he would do when he got out of prison. He had a large and loving family who desperately wanted him home and who remained steadfast throughout the many years of his incarceration.
In the last few years, my father’s news about Pepper always had to do with his health. Pepper suffered from severe glaucoma which required medical treatment. Medical care in Texas prisons is a terrifying thing. In order for a prisoner who is held in a rural area to receive treatment, he or she must be handcuffed, shackled, and chained around the waist to another prisoner. These patients are then loaded onto a bus and driven to another prison where they may spend a week waiting to be transported to the medical prison. For men on my father’s unit, the Robertson Unit where the men wait before they are taken to the medical unit is one of the most violent prisons in the state. Several years ago when my father’s friend Pepper was on his way back from the medical unit where he had been treated for his glaucoma, he was held at Robertson for several days. The violence surrounding him at Robertson was so stressful that he had a heart attack and was taken back to the medical unit for open heart surgery. Pepper never received even one doctor’s visit for follow up treatment after his open heart surgery. He would not risk enduring the trip back to the medical prison. My father tells me that many men would rather die from their ailments than have to take that trip. It is widely believed by both prisoners and staff that the process of receiving medical care in Texas prisons is deliberately constructed to discourage the ill from seeking treatment. It costs the state less to let the elderly and infirm die of their own accord.
Earlier this week my father’s prison was undergoing a shake down. Pepper has been very frail in the years since his heart surgery, and he collapsed after carrying his possessions either to or from the gym. I do not know if an emergency response team could have saved his life, but there was not one on hand. The only doctor on staff is the elderly country doctor who delivered most of the guards who work in that prison, and even he is not on duty every day. Pepper Ramirez died this week on a cement floor far from his family, and I feel responsible for his passing.
We live in a country where we think we know what justice is, where we are told that get-tough-on-crime legislation makes us safer, where we are encouraged not to think of prisoners as people but as beings not like us who have forfeited their civil and human rights by being irredeemably bad. The jury that convicted Pepper Ramirez likely did not know that he would not be given adequate health care. They may not have considered what his family would endure year after year as they watched him deteriorate. Even if they had thought about these things, they may have felt that he, and perhaps also his family, deserved what they were getting. I am not a witness to Pepper’s crime, but I am a secondary witness to his character and his suffering. He was a good friend to my father, and for this I will be forever grateful. Please pray today for Pepper’s family. Pray for my father and the other men who lost a friend and who saw too well the fate that might await each of them. Pray for all of us that we might not forget the lives and struggles of those who are deliberately hidden from us. Pray that we find ways to end violence, addiction, and suffering through compassion, treatment, and forgiveness. Pray for guidance to stop cycles of institutional violence. Pray that we may learn not to be passive bystanders to the suffering of others.
Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.
Journal of Prisoners on Prisons
Call for Papers
Special Issue on Prisoners,
Their Families and Loved Ones
The Journal of Prisoners on Prisons (JPP) is a prisoner written, academically oriented
and peer reviewed, non-profit journal, based on the tradition of the penal press. It brings
the knowledge produced by prison writers together with academic arguments to
enlighten public discourse about the current state of carceral institutions. This is
particularly important because with few exceptions, definitions of deviance and
constructions of those participating in these defined acts are incompletely created by
social ‘scientists’, media representatives, politicians, and legal and justice industrialists.
These analyses most often promote self-serving interests, omit the voices of those most
affected, and facilitate repressive and reactionary penal policies and practices. As a
result, the JPP attempts to acknowledge the accounts, experiences, and criticisms of the
criminalized by providing an educational forum that allows women and men to participate
in the development of research that concerns them directly. In an age where `crime` has
become lucrative and exploitable, the JPP exists as an important alternate source of
information that competes with popularly held stereotypes and misconceptions about
those who are currently, or those who have in the past, faced the deprivation of liberty.
Prisoners, Their Families and Loved Ones
While imprisonment has been the focus of a number of important studies, the impacts of
imprisonment on the families and loved ones of prisoners has rarely surfaced in
academic discussions. The difficulties faced by prisoners who wish to maintain links to
those outside prison walls has also been under-researched. The Journal of Prisoners on
Prisons invites prisoners, their families and loved ones to contribute articles that discuss
their experiences of enforced separation including the challenges and negotiations of
maintaining relationships affected by imprisonment.
This issue will offer prisoners, their families and loved ones the opportunity to voice their
concerns so their life experiences can be acknowledged and their insights appreciated.
In doing, so it will shed light on the struggles of population that has traditionally been
overlooked in society and to a greater extent within criminology.
Prisoners and former prisoners are encouraged to submit papers, collaborative essays,
discussions transcribed from tape, book reviews, and photo or graphic essays.
The journal also encourages submissions of illustrations, drawings, and paintings to
appear within the special issue or as cover art. Artistic work should also include a short
description of the inspiration for the work.
The journal does not usually publish fiction, and does not generally publish poetry.
The journal does not publish material that focuses on the writer’s own legal case,
although the use of the writer’s personal experiences as an illustration of a broader topic
The journal will not publish any subject matter that advocates hatred, sexism, racism,
violence, or that supports the death penalty.
Articles should be between 1,000 and 10, 000 words, and maybe handwritten (legibly) or
typed, in English, French or Spanish. The author may elect to write anonymously or
under a pseudonym.
Editors look for developed pieces that address topics substantially. Manuscripts go
through a preliminary reading and then are sent to review by the board, and those of
suitable interest are returned to the author with comments or suggestions. Editors work
with writers on composition and form, and where necessary may help the author with
referencing and bibliographic information, not readily available in prisons.
If your submission is not accepted for publication in the special issue, the Editorial board
will consider it for a later publication.
If you are interested in contributing to the JPP please your writing and/or art to:
Journal of Prisoners on Prisons
c/o University of Ottawa Press
542 King Edward,
Please include: a clear and accurate contact details for the author, and a brief
description of the work. Once your work has been received and reviewed you will be
notified by the JPP.
For more information regarding this project or the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, feel
free contact the editors of the special issue through mail at the JPP office or at the e-mail
addresses listed below:
Wilfrid Laurier University
Queen’s University Belfast
We look forward to hearing from you,
Stacey and Erin
A few years ago I had the privilege of directing an undergraduate honors thesis written by Anita Rao, who was then a senior at UNC Chapel Hill. Anita took on an ambitious original research project, interviewing formerly incarcerated women in the Triangle Area of North Carolina about the time they spent as part of an arts workshop in a women’s prison in Raleigh. Anita’s senior thesis was awarded highest honors and now sits in bound form in the UNC library. Her research inspired me to write an article about the same prison arts workshop for a forthcoming special issue of the academic journal American Music.
After graduating from UNC, Anita went to work for National Public Radio’s StoryCorps program, where I know she is doing wonderful things. She recently sent me an email with this link to a StoryCorps clip in which a formerly incarcerated mother and her daughter interview one another about their experiences of the mother’s imprisonment.
Thank you, Anita, for the great work you are doing! We need many more thoughtful young people like you to help bring stories of women and families’ experiences of incarceration to light.
Those of you who know something about the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) might recognize at least one of the very silly people in this picture.
Buzz Alexander–the taller of us–founded PCAP in 1990 at the University of Michigan, and in the years that followed Buzz built this extraordinary program into the largest organization in the U.S. (and perhaps the world) that links university students and incarcerated youth and adults through arts programming. PCAP sends undergraduates into Michigan prisons, juvenile detention centers, and urban high schools to facilitate arts workshops. PCAP also hosts the Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners, which displays over four hundred works of visual art from every prison in the Michigan Department of Corrections. PCAP’s annual literary review publishes writing by Michigan prisoners, and the organizations many workshops host dozens of performances each year. In fact, last week PCAP celebrated the performance of its 600th play.
Now I have the honor of succeeding Buzz in running this incredible organization. As of January 1, 2013, I am a new Associate Professor of Theatre & Drama at the University of Michigan and the Director of PCAP, and I am deeply grateful to Buzz and to Janie Paul (the other long-serving member of the PCAP faculty and Buzz’s wife) for the years of preparations that went into the process of getting me hired at Michigan. Many other people worked very hard to get me to Michigan, including Priscilla Lindsay, chair of the Dept. of Theatre & Drama; Dean Christopher Kendall of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, & Dance; and Angela Dillard, chair of the Residential College. Half of my faculty appointment at Michigan is in Theatre & Drama (the field in which I was trained), and the other half is in the Residential College (RC) where PCAP will soon be moving.
PCAP has long lived in Michigan’s English Department because that’s where Buzz founded it. Though PCAP will maintain connections to the English Department through Buzz and my husband Phil Christman, who will be teaching as a lecturer in the first year writing program in English, the PCAP’s administrative operations will move into the RC in Fall 2013. The PCAP staff–Sari Adelson, Shannon Deasy, and Vanessa Mayesky–and I will all have offices in the RC, while Buzz and Phil will be the PCAP faculty with offices in English. I also have an office in Theatre, and Janie, of course, has an office in Art & Design, which gives PCAP a strong presence on North Campus as well.
Buzz is considering retirement in the coming years but has not set a date for his retirement. We hope to have a few semesters or years of working together before he stops teaching, though he will never truly leave PCAP or stop participating in its activities. (Thank goodness!) Though I will undoubtedly do many things differently than Buzz has in the past–because I could never hope to fill his shoes completely–I endeavor to honor the incredible work that he has done and continues to do with hundreds of students, volunteers, and incarcerated people. Buzz’s main purpose in bringing me to Michigan, and mine in coming here, is to protect PCAP’s sustainability so that this organization can thrive for twenty more years and beyond.
My husband Phil–a writer and former lecturer at North Carolina Central University–will play a significant role at PCAP as well. Starting with the 2014 issue, he will be the editor of PCAP’s annual Review of Literature by Michigan Prisoners.
We have taken up residence in Ann Arbor, though neither of us will start teaching until Fall 2013. Though we already miss many friends and colleagues at UNC, we are very happy to be at Michigan and plan to be here for years to come. The PCAPers, colleagues at Michigan, and our neighbors have done much to welcome us and make us feel at home here. We are grateful for all the good will and kindness that is being shown to us, and we look forward to meeting all of the current PCAPers and to teaching our first Michigan students in the Fall.
My friend and colleague Professor Kathy Perkins is hosting a performance of excerpts from my one-woman show Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass at the end of this month. Kathy is a renowned lighting designer, and her students this semester needed something to light for their final project. I will perform about half an hour of my play in conjunction with an hour-long student performance directed by Joseph Megel, who is also the director of Doin’ Time. The performances are free and open to the public. Please join us if you are in the area!
Drama 468 (Lighting Design) cordially invites you to our final design presentation on Nov. 29th (Thursday) at 5:00pm & Nov. 30th (Friday) at 7:00pm in the Kenan Theatre where we will present:
Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass, a one woman show, written and performed by DDA faculty
member Professor Ashley Lucas. Through a series of monologues, Lucas will perform excerpts from her play
that examine the impact of incarceration on families.
“RITES OF SPRING” – PERFORMING MODERNISM DEVISED BY COMM 263 CLASS
Using the historic rupture of the opening performance of the Rite of Spring as a prism, this performance of modernist
prose and poetry includes the works of James Joyce, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolfe, T.S. Elliot, William Carlos Williams,
Marianne Moore and Samuel Beckett.
Both performances will be directed by Joseph Megel -Artist in Residence Department of Communication Studies
Iris Morgenstern has to figure out how to say goodbye.
In her decades of teaching high school in El Paso, Texas, Iris has only had a few students who have stayed in her heart and her life for many years after they graduated. She taught a boy named Robert Avila in the late 1980s, and today he is even dearer to Iris than he was when he captured her heart as a witty, energetic teenager with a knack for writing.
In an email to me about Robert, Iris wrote:
I met Robert was he was a sophomore in my English class at Bel Air High School. He was crazy enough to sign up for my class when he was a junior and again as a senior. He has a very quick mind and was able to analyze literature without any help often looking at different aspects of readings. His writing is usually humorous.
We have kept in touch on and off since then. He was in the Navy and has a 15 year old son.
Those are the basics by they don’t tell anyone about his kind gentle nature and his humorous spirit. He was always making comments about having to bend in half whenever he gave me a hug and asked where I could grow just a couple of inches — tall not wide with a twinkle & laugh in his eyes.
I have seen Robert help kittens who were only days old. His huge hands held the tiny creatures while he fed them with a dropper or bottle. There was one I truly believed he willed to live.
These are the things Iris wanted me to know about Robert as she tried to figure out what to say to him in their last visit. Robert now lives on death row, and on the day after his birthday–a few weeks ago–he was given an execution date: December 12, 2012. Iris, Robert’s family, and some Catholic death penalty activists in El Paso lobbied to have Robert’s execution date changed because December 12 is also the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe. The state of Texas acquiesced and changed the date of the execution, but for a few agonizing days we did not know if his date would be postponed or moved earlier. This morning Iris wrote to let me know that Robert’s new execution date is April 10, 2013. The faithful among us might say the Virgen gave him one more Christmas and four more months to live.
Iris is on her way to visit Robert this week, and before she found out about the new execution date, she believed this would be the last time she saw Robert alive. Before he had the chance to invite her to witness his execution, Iris told Robert that she cannot watch the state kill someone she loves. It would break her. Instead, she planned this trip but does not know how to say goodbye. Now perhaps she will have the chance to see him again before April, but her dilemma has not been solved. The state of Texas still plans to take the life of a person Iris helped to nurture into adulthood, and these months of reprieve will prove all too short.
I didn’t know how to advise Iris when she called me asking for advice about how to say goodbye to Robert, but I was able to tell her about a young man named Matthew Puckett who was killed by the state of Mississippi on March 20, 2012. I never knew Matt Puckett, but we had a mutual friend in common–a man named Matt Erickson who asked a whole lot of people to write letters to Matt Puckett in his last days. I wrote to Matt Puckett shortly before his execution, and after his death, Matt Erickson told me that Matt Puckett had said that my letter and the others he received comforted him in the days leading up to his execution. Matt Puckett’s mother received those letters after her son’s death and also relayed her gratitude for them to Matt Erickson.
I proposed to Iris that we do the same thing for Robert in these months that remain to him. If you are reading this blog, chances are that you oppose the death penalty. I have no idea what crime Robert Avila was accused of committing, and it’s not my job to try or judge him. What I do know is that I don’t want him or anyone else to die in the name of justice. The death penalty compounds one tragedy with another, and as a Texan, I do not want Robert to die in my name. What I know is what a great person Iris Morgenstern is and that she truly loves Robert. I stand with Iris, with Robert’s family, and with the many families, like my own, whose loved ones are kept from us by concrete, razor wire, and a legal system that values vengeance more than either compassion or public safety.
I’m asking you to write to Robert Avila while he is still with us. It can be awkward or even intimidating to write to someone you don’t know, so don’t over think what you might say. Just let him know that you care, that you oppose his execution, that he will not be forgotten. You can send letters to Robert at this address:
3872 S. FM 350
Livingston, Texas 77351
Keep Robert and Iris in your thoughts. When we see people for their full humanity, it ought to be harder for us to condone their deaths. Out of context, Robert might just look like a death row prisoner, but more than that, he will always be one of the students Iris Morgenstern loves best.
About a year ago, a woman named Sherrin Fitzer contacted me out of the blue, asking if she could get a copy of the script of my play Doin’ Time to share with a group of women in an Illinois prison. Sherrin works at Lincoln Correctional Center for Women and leads a theatre troupe comprised of incarcerated women; they call their ensemble Acting Out. Sherrin and I exchanged many emails and conjured up a plan to collaborate. Janet Wilson, director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University in Bloomington, has collaborated with Sherrin and the women of Acting Out for many years, and Janet extended an invitation to me to perform Doin’ Time on her campus. With support from many corners of the university, including the School of Theatre and Dance, Latino Studies, Crossroad’s Project, Honor’s Program, School of Social Work and the Department of Criminal Justice Sciences, Janet and Sherrin arranged a week-long residency for me:
- On Tuesday, September 18, 2012, from 10 AM to noon, I will lead “Writing Social Justice: A Writing Workshop for the Community” in Stevenson Hall, room 133.
- On Tuesday, September 18, 2012, from 5 to 6 PM in Centennial West 207, I will speak about UNC’s Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (MURAP) and diversity issues in higher education.
- On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, at 7:30 PM, I will perform Doin’ Time in Westhoff Theatre. Click here for more information about the performance.
My time at Illinois State will be very exciting, but what will happen at Lincoln Correctional later that week is the most amazing opportunity I’ve had in eight years of touring with this play. The women in the Acting Out troupe have read my script and written their own monologues about visitation and families. Sherrin has been emailing me drafts of their monologues, and in this manner the women and I have been able to respond to one another’s work. They have written some very powerful pieces, which they’ve been rehearsing with Sherrin. Doin’ Time‘s director, the incomparable Joseph Megel, will travel to Illinois with me, and we’ll spend all day on Thursday, September 20th in rehearsals inside the prison with the women of Acting Out. We’ll weave their eleven monologues into my play, and we’ll all perform together on the afternoon of Friday, September 21st for an audience of 150 to 200 incarcerated women. Two more incarcerated women will run the tech cues for the show.
I have performed in a handful of prisons now in the U.S., Ireland, and Canada, and I’ve seen prisoners perform plays of their own in Michigan, North Carolina, and Louisiana. I’ve also conducted and participated in improvisational theatre workshops in quite a few prisons, but this will be the first time that I’ve actually performed in a play with incarcerated theatre makers and the first time that anyone ever wrote or performed new material in response to my play Doin’ Time. I have never performed Doin’ Time with other actors, and though I haven’t yet met any of the women of Acting Out, I am already deeply moved by their words and their willingness to enter into this adventure with me.
If you are going to be near Bloomington this week, please come to the show! I’ll be posting more about my time in Illinois after my trip there.
My favorite bookstore in the whole world is a little place called Resistencia in Austin, Texas. They have a fantastic selection of rare and out of print books as well as a wide variety of titles by Native American, Latina/o, and black authors. They specialize in literature by people of color, poetry, Southwestern writers, and nonfiction on social justice issues, particularly incarceration. (Those of you who know me can see clearly why this is my kind of bookstore!) The books are just the beginning. A very active and progressive community organization called Red Salmon Arts also resides in this bookstore (which is in truth more of a community center than anything else) and hosts a ton of really exciting readings and social justice events. If I lived anywhere near Austin, I would be there all the time.
Resistencia’s founder, raulrsalinas (also sometimes written as Raul R. Salinas) was one of the greatest human beings I have ever known, and his life and legacy are honored every day by the work of the good folks who keep Resistencia and its programming going every day.
I first encountered raul’s poetry when I was in high school–about a year and a half after my father entered prison. raul spent many years in prisons all across the US and wrote some of the most enduring poetry of the Chicano Movement from solitary confinement, including his landmark poem “Un Trip Through the Mind Jail.” His poems were the first pieces of writing that helped me begin to understand what my father experiences every day behind the walls. raul’s strength, fortitude, and passion for life gave me hope that my father and our family might be able to endure this particular form of devastation. After he got out of prison, he went home to Austin and spent the rest of his life doing work that served others–those in prison, struggling youth, and the people of his beloved Austin.
I cannot do raul justice through mere description. Here’s a taste of him performing some of his poetry:
My senior honors thesis when I was an undergraduate at Yale dealt with the subject of poetry written by Latina/o prison–a project inspired by raul’s writings.
By the time I actually met raul in person, I was a graduate student at UC San Diego, living in Sherman Heights–a historic Chicana/o neighborhood in the heart of the city. The next neighborhood over from mine hosted a Barrio Book Fair in 2004, and raul was one of many distinguished speakers. I introduced myself to him and told him how much his work had shaped my understanding of incarceration and its impact on communities. By the end of the day, he had invited me to perform my then very new play about the families of prisoners, Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass, at Resistencia. He was one of the earliest and strongest supporters of the play, and in hosting my performance, he not only provided opportunities for my work to grow but also introduced me to the incredible community of folks who make up Resistencia and Red Salmon Arts.
raul left this earth in 2008, and those of us who loved him continue to raise his name and honor his life by doing the kinds of community work he taught us to do. The folks at Resistencia do an unfathomable amount of service for the people of Austin, for youth, for the queer community, African Americans, immigrants, Chicana/os, Native Americans, prisoners, and a whole bunch of other gente, and now in these tough economic times they need our support. Here are a few things you can do:
- BUY THEIR BOOKS! You don’t have to be in Austin to do that. I order books from them through the mail on a regular basis. You can also order by phone: (512) 416-8885. If you are lucky enough to be in Austin, check them out in person:
1801-A South First St.
Austin, TX 78704
- GET THEIR EMAIL NEWSLETTER! I often learn of new book titles from the newsletter, which is awesome. It also provides listings of all the exciting events happening in connection with Red Salmon and Resistencia. Like I said, if I lived within driving distance of Austin, I’d be there every week. Send an email to email@example.com to sign up for the newsletter.
- DONATE TO SUPPORT THEIR WORK. You can mail a check made out to Resistencia Bookstore to the above address or use their PayPal account.
Pa’ la gente de Resistencia, with gratitude and admiration.
The Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) is an amazing program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, that takes undergrads into prisons, juvenile facilities, and urban high schools throughout Michigan to conduct collaborative arts workshops. One of their other programs, the PCAP Linkage Project supports formerly incarcerated artists, writers, actors, dancers, and musicians who worked with PCAP during their imprisonment. Working with returning citizens is far more difficult than working with folks in prison. Though life in prison is terribly unpleasant, the incarcerated don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, how they’ll find work and make an income, or where they will sleep that night. Returning citizens often find the free world very changed from what they knew before they entered prison, and those of them who became artists while in prison struggle to continue working creatively after their release because other concerns take precedence over the desire to make art.
On April 5, 2012, the PCAP Linkage Project held an amazing conference, organized by staff member Heather Wilson, for formerly incarcerated artists. I had the privilege of getting to attend the day’s events in Detroit, meet the artists, and see some of their work. Many of the artists brought drawings and paintings to the conference, and all the works of art collected that day are now on display at the Ridge Point Community Church at 340 104th Avenue in Holland, MI. (That’s in the western part of the state, not far from Grand Rapids.) Click here for more information about the exhibition which runs from now until May 5, 2012. If you’re out in that neck of the woods, don’t pass up the opportunity to see these wonderful works of art.
All About My Mother: A Mother’s Day Tribute to the Woman Who Raised Me in a Prison Visiting Room; a post by Ashley Lucas13 Apr
Children with an incarcerated family member have little choice about whether or not they will be able to maintain meaningful and regular contact with an imprisoned loved one. The adult(s) who raise that child in the absence of incarcerated family members get to make all of the decisions and bear the many burdens of enabling a child to build relationships with his/her incarcerated relative or of choosing to keep that child from the person behind bars. Either way, these adults inevitably struggle emotionally and intellectually (and almost always financially) with the many convoluted difficulties of parenting a child whose life is shaped by incarceration. This Mother’s Day I pay tribute to all moms and grandmothers (biological, foster, adopted, or otherwise) raising children of incarcerated parents.
My mother never dreamed that she would one day be a prisoner’s wife. My father’s incarceration came as a shock to our entire family–one that we are in some ways still reeling from seventeen and a half years later. Our family was economically devastated by the legal battles we waged for years before my father’s conviction, and my mother had given up her teaching career when I was born so that she could stay home to raise me. With my father gone from our home, she had to return to work and became the sole breadwinner for our family. I was fifteen years old and very frightened and disoriented by the radical changes in my life. My mother was certainly overwhelmed, confused, and bereft, but she dedicated herself to raising me and to enabling my father to continue to raise me from inside prison.
For my remaining years of high school, she drove me once a month eight hours in each direction to and from the prison. She bought me stamps and stationary at every gift-giving holiday and helped me to scour craft stores for rubber stamps and ink pads to decorate my daily letters to my father. She photographed practically every moment of my senior year of high school so that my father could see all that I was doing. When I was accepted to Yale University and considered declining their offer, she convinced me that I had to take this opportunity, though it meant leaving her alone and not being able to visit either of my parents more than twice during the school year. She helped me send back my financial aid package three times until they finally gave me enough scholarships and loans to make my tuition affordable, and she went further into debt herself to make sure I would be able to complete my undergraduate education. She made me see that living each of my days to the fullest would ultimately be a greater gift to both her and my father than my staying home to be near them.
In the beginning, we understood nothing about how prisons operate, what my father’s days looked like, which of our fears were overblown, and which things we had not yet learned to fear. My mother faced the challenge of not just figuring these things out for herself but also of finding ways to explain them to me. She bears my suffering along with her own and never complains about the burdens I have given her to carry. Together we learned this world of visits and lawyers and collect phone calls and the nightmares we do not name. She taught me to pay attention to what the people around us also endure, to talk to the other families in the visiting room and listen to their stories. She made me realize that we are not alone in this experience and that in many respects we are much more privileged than most.
One day when we were driving away from the prison, my mother stopped on the side of the road to pick up a woman who was walking down the dirt road into town. She had obviously just had a visit at the prison, too. She had no coat on that cold day, but she wasn’t hitchhiking, just walking home. My mother drove her ten miles to the shabby house where she rented a room, and in the course of that car ride the woman told us that she had moved to this dusty little spot in the middle of nowhere Texas just to be near her husband in the prison. Her whole family was in Oklahoma, and she couldn’t keep more than a part time job because of her disabilities. She volunteered at a nursing home and walked the ten miles to the prison and back once a week. She didn’t own a car, and the soles of her shoes were worn thin. For months after that, every time we went to the prison, my mother scanned the road for that woman and always asked my father for any news he had of her and her husband. My father contacted a prison ministry group who visit the prison and asked them if they would help find a coat and rides to and from the prison for this lady, but we never knew if any of the prison ministry folks ever caught up to her. My mother watches all the families we see in the visiting room and is so grateful when she finds a way to help one of them, mostly in the form of information or advice about the prison system. She works as an administrator for a public school district, and often teachers will send kids to talk to my mother about what is happening to their incarcerated siblings, parents, or uncles. She joined a prison ministry team at her church and helps folks coming home from prison navigate their new lives.
My mother always encouraged me to speak my mind and to have no shame about my father’s incarceration. Her faith in me and her support of my scholarship and performance work enabled me to write my play Doin’ Time. When I performed at the women’s prison in Dublin, Ireland, my mother came with me. During the post-performance discussion, the women in the prison seemed even more moved by my mother than they had been by my play. They were in awe of her support of my work, and many of them felt that their own families would not have wanted them to speak publicly about incarceration because of how its stigma reflects on them. My mother’s pride in my work moved them to tears, and many of them wanted to shake her hand or hug her after the show.
I hesitated to get engaged to my now husband, long after I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, because I couldn’t bear the thought of my father not being present for my wedding. When the time came, my mother walked me down the aisle, gave me away, and sat next to a beautiful sign she had made, which stated that that seat was reserved for my father and the many other incarcerated people we love who could not attend the wedding. She has never tried to replace or ignore my father’s presence in my life, and she always finds a way to honor him and the love we share.
My mother gave me my relationship with my father after he went to prison. If she had not accepted his phone calls, taken me to visit, encouraged my letter writing, I would not have continued to know him as well as I do now. The prison has taken much from each of us, but it cannot take our family; my mother wouldn’t let that happen.
What does “justice” mean in our work to end sexual violence and support survivors?
Please join community activists and volunteers from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center for an exciting discussion about community-based strategies for accountability and healing. This interactive discussion will address the pros and cons of the criminal justice system as a means of responding to sexual violence, and explore alternatives beyond it. Panelists will discuss transformative and restorative justice, alternative models for redressing harm and holding aggressors accountable, and our experiences with these processes in our own communities. Don’t miss this opportunity to re-imagine justice as we work together towards a world free of gender violence and all oppression!
Monday, April 16th
Orange County Rape Crisis Center
1506 E. Franklin Street Suite 302
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Prison Family Bill of Rights
A coalition of prison family members and representatives of secular and faith based organizations serving prison
families from across the United States in attendance at the 2012 National Prisoner’s Family Conference affirmed
The Prison Family has the right to be treated with respect and dignity by any and all representatives of the prison
system at all times.
The Prison Family has the right to expect and be assured the utmost care is established and maintained to provide
a healthy and safe living environment that promotes effective rehabilitation, reintegration and parole planning
throughout a loved one’s incarceration.
The Prison Family has the right to be treated and integrated as a positive resource in the process of rehabilitation
and reintegration preparation and parole planning of an incarcerated loved one.
The Prison Family has the right to receive consistency in the enforcement of rules; regulations and policies
affecting a loved one’s incarceration.
The Prison Family has the right to receive consistency in the enforcement of rules; regulations and/or policies
affecting visitation and/or all forms of communication with an incarcerated loved one.
The Prison Family has the right to be informed in a timely, clear, forthright and respectful manner of any changes
in rules; regulations and/or policies affecting visitation and/or communication with an incarcerated loved one.
The Prison Family has the right to be informed within 24 hours and in a compassionate manner regarding the
illness; injury and/or death of an incarcerated loved one.
The Prison Family has the right to extended visitation during the hospitalization of an incarcerated loved one.
The Prison Family has the right to be informed within 24 hours of the security status change and/or transfer of an
incarcerated loved one to a new facility.
The Prison Family has the right to be provided specific written and evidenced-based reasons for a loved one’s
security status change; clemency denial and/or parole denial.
The Prison Family has the right to have their incarcerated loved one housed within a distance from their
permanent address that provides reasonable access for visitation and/or to facilitate serving as a resource in the
rehabilitation and reintegration preparation and parole planning of their incarcerated loved one.
The Prison Family has the right to be provided the current specific name or names and direct phone numbers of
prison officials to contact for questions about their incarcerated loved one.
The term “Prison Family” is herein defined as including, but not limited to, a blood or adopted relation, spouse,
domestic partner and/or trusted friend designated by an incarcerated person upon or during a period of
confinement as one who will serve as an outside contact on his or her behalf for the relaying of any communication
regarding the medical and mental health, security status and location of the incarcerated person and/or for making
critical decisions on behalf of the incarcerated person in the event of his or her incapacitation.
For further information: http://prisonersfamilyconference.org/ and http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prisoners-Family-Conference
Denise Johnston of the Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents and Megan Sullivan of Columbia University are putting together a book of stories written by adults who experienced the incarceration of a parent when they were children. Please contact them directly for more information.
Call for Stories from Children of Incarcerated Parents
Are you an adult who experienced the incarceration of your parent as a child? Are you interested in sharing your story, in your own words, with others?
Do you have an adult child who experienced your incarceration? Would your adult child be interested in sharing his/her story with others?
We are editing a book of life stories by adults who had a parent in jail and/or prison when they were growing up. The book will describe adult perspectives on parental incarceration. This will not be a book ABOUT children of incarcerated parents, it will be a book BY adults who experienced the incarceration of a parent as children.
There is no requirement that contributors have ever lived with their incarcerated parent. There is no requirement that contributors have ever had an active relationship with their parent who has been in jail or prison. We are particularly interested in stories from individuals who have been involved in the juvenile or criminal justice systems themselves.
We will provide editorial assistance to help contributors write the story they want to tell. Contributors can send us their written work electronically or by mail.
Individuals who are interested in sharing their stories and participating in this important project can email or write to us at:
Denise Johnston & Megan Sullivan
c/o Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents
Eagle Rock, California 90041
Please contact us by June 30, 2012. We look forward to hearing from you!
Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
To Release New 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains During Live Webcast
Study Provides Rare Window into Religion Behind Bars
Washington, D.C., March 21 — On Thursday, March 22, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life will release the findings from a new 50-state survey on prison chaplains during a live webcast from 12:30-1:30 p.m. featuring an event discussion with the survey’s lead researchers as well as expert guest speakers.
State prisons hold nearly 1.4 million inmates, the bulk of America’s convicted prisoners. Correctional authorities routinely release statistics on the age, sex and racial/ethnic composition of this population. But little information has been available to the public on religion in state prisons. What do chaplains say about their evolving roles in prisons, the changing religious composition of the inmate population, religious extremism and the effectiveness of rehabilitation and re-entry programs?
“Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains,” presents a rare window into religion behind bars from the vantage point of professional prison chaplains. It was conducted from Sept. 21 to Dec. 23, 2011, using Web and paper questionnaires.
Live Webcast Details
Stephanie Boddie and Cary Funk, Senior Researchers, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life
John Dilulio, Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society, University of Pennsylvania
Tom O’Connor, CEO of Transforming Corrections and former Research Manager for the Oregon State Department of Corrections
Alan Cooperman, Associate Director of Research, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life
Thursday, March 22, 12:30-1:30 p.m. EDT
Available at www.pewforum.org
The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. As part of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, non-advocacy organization, the Pew Forum does not take positions on policy debates or any of the issues it covers. It is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Larry Matthew Puckett is scheduled to be executed early this evening by the state of Mississippi. Read an earlier post on this blog for more information. The message below is from my friend Matt Erickson who has been Puckett’s pen pal of several years.
Words from a friend who is in close contact with Matt’s family:
“The execution is scheduled for tonight, 6:00 ET, 5:00 Matt’s time. They are answering the phone at the Governor’s office if you’d like to call, 601-359-3150. This is a first as I’ve been calling daily but only able to leave a message, his name is Gov. Phil Bryant and as I understand from one of Matt’s attorneys, he is NOT running for re-election, so he has nothing to lose politically if he grants a stay. I haven’t seen anything on the net thus far about the decision on his clemency hearing. Matt’s mom said that everything was hand delivered this past Wednesday.
There is a huge rally today at the Miss. state capitol, then they will go to Parchman. And I rec’d a letter from Matt yesterday. His spirits are up, his faith is so strong. Over 5000 signatures went to the Gov. yesterday.”
If anyone wants to do anything else about this situation, now is the time to do it.
FREE LEGAL INFORMATION CLINIC
Sponsored by North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Inc.
North Carolina Bar Association’s Professionalism Committee
N.C. Advocates for Justice – Civil Rights Section
The Durham and Orange Prisoners’ Resource Roundtable
SATURDAY, APRIL 21, 2012
10:00 AM –12:00 PM
DURHAM COUNTY LIBRARY
300 N. Roxboro Street
Durham, North Carolina 27701
For more information, please call (919) 856-2200
Free legal consultations about civil legal matters governed by N.C. law will be offered at this clinic for people who have been formerly incarcerated or, for organizations that serve the formerly incarcerated community. Volunteers will be available to provide general information about legal issues or refer you to an agency or organization that can provide the information you need. The volunteers cannot offer to represent you, but, if you are eligible, you may be referred to one of the legal or social service agencies in the Raleigh/Durham area to seek additional assistance and/or representation.
Please bring all of the documents concerning your legal problem to the Clinic
For additional information and assistance, please visit http://www.lawhelp.org/nc.
The 17th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners
March 20-April 4, 2012
Opening Reception: March 20, 5:30-8 pm
Duderstadt Center Gallery
University of Michigan North Campus
2281 Bonisteel Blvd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Tue-Sat 10 am – 7 pm
Sun-Mon 12 pm – 6 pm
Prison Creative Arts Project
for more information about our event schedule, visit www.prisonarts.org
“I believe that your program gives the public a glimpse into the type of things that inspire even the most downtrodden of us all. When people see our work, for a few moments they forget that this work was done by a felon, but by another human being. A human being who has the same thoughts, emotions, and inspirations as they do, and for that one moment, a major social and political barrier is shattered.”
— Anonymous artist featured in the exhibition
Lucas to Give 2012 Merle Kling Undergraduate Lecture at Washington University in St. Louis on March 2611 Mar
Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, offers an undergraduate fellowship to five of its top students to encourage them to engage in high quality research throughout their academic careers. The Merle Kling Undergraduate Honors Fellowship provides students with the mentoring and support to conduct independent research on topics of their choosing. One of the current Kling fellows, Ezelle Sanford, III, came to my home institution, UNC Chapel Hill, in the summer of 2011 to participate in the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (MURAP), where I taught him in a public speaking workshop that is part of the program’s roster of activities designed to prepare minority undergraduates for doctoral study in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Working under the direction of Dr. Reginald Hildebrand, Ezelle wrote a very fine research paper about community hospitals for African Americans in Durham, North Carolina, which he presented at one of the weekly MURAP seminars. This school year Ezelle nominated me to be the annual speaker for the Merle Kling Fellowship, and I am humbled by the invitation and delighted to be able to visit Washington University and meet Ezelle’s mentors and colleagues. The talk will take place on March 26, 2012 at 4 PM.
The 2012 Merle Kling Undergraduate Honors Fellowship presents
“Prisoners, Families, and Performance: Community Engagement Through the Arts“
A lecture/performance by Ashley Lucas
The United States currently incarcerates 2.3 million people, yet seldom do politicians, the media, or other forms of public discourse address what happens to the families, neighborhoods, and communities which are disrupted by the displacement of this extraordinary number of people. Women disproportionately bear the brunt of maintaining families which have lost income, stability, and continuity due to the imprisonment of loved ones. In an attempt to open up spaces for community dialogue about these issues, scholar, activist, and theatre maker Ashley Lucas developed an interview-based play, Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass, about the families of prisoners, which she has toured as a one-woman performance since 2004. This talk blends moments of performance with scholarly analysis of the effects of the prison industrial complex on women and families and argues that the arts can enable types of civic engagement and community dialogue which neither activism nor scholarship alone can engender.
On the morning of the first day of the 2012 Prisoner’s Family Conference in Albuquerque I had the good fortune to sit down next to really smart and very kind man named Seth Ford. He’s a social media consultant who spent five years as a political lobbyist. A series of events in his personal life led him to become concerned about the toll that violence and incarceration take on so many communities in the United States. He now lives in Denver and works for an amazing organization called the Pendulum Foundation, which works to end juvenile life without parole in Colorado. He also blogs about this and other juvenile justice issues on his website PolitiVisor.com.
From 1992 to 2005, kids could be given a sentence of life without parole in the state of Colorado. The legislature came to its senses in 2006 and ended this barbaric sentencing practice, but because the change in law was not retroactive, the fifty children who had already been sentenced to life without parole remain in the system. Now all of them are adults who have never lived independently outside a prison. What kind of nation believes that people who are too young to be trusted to vote, drink, or serve in the military should be judged unfit to live among us for the rest of their lives? As I wrote in an earlier post about the sentencing of Laurence Lovette, giving life sentences to young people is a poor investment in the future of our children, our country, and our public safety. The Pendulum Foundation’s battle against juvenile life without parole is vital.
At the Prisoner’s Family Conference Seth Ford led a workshop entitled “Community Organizing.” I’ve always prided myself on knowing a thing or two about community organizing. I’ve marched, demonstrated, leafleted, petitioned, been to sit-ins, and done my share of street theatre. I can sing “We Shall Overcome” with the best of them, but I had no idea how to do the kind of community organizing that Ford was teaching at this conference. He showed an enraptured (and Luddite) audience how to use Twitter to reach an audience as broad as a local news outlet, which is precisely what he’s done for the Pendulum Foundation. His Twitter handle is @PolitiComm, and thanks to him I’m now @razorwirewoman. I have a deep mistrust of the sound byte levelof information that can be conveyed in 140 characters, but I have learned that tweets can lead folks to sources of information that provide more context, like blogs and other websites.
I’m still a deep believer in the power of live interaction, in sitting in and demonstrating for justice, but I’m learning the power of electronic media to connect us to those whom we cannot reach directly. Thanks, Seth. The next time you need a friend to march beside you I’ll repay the favor.