Archive | March, 2012

Matt Puckett, May You Rest in Peace; a post by Ashley Lucas

21 Mar

At 6:18 PM yesterday the state of Mississippi took the life of Larry Matthew Puckett.  His death was premeditated, and surely both Matt and his family were tortured daily by the knowledge of his impending death.  Since Matt was given a death sentence on August 5, 1996, he and his loved ones lived through sixteen years overshadowed by the terrorizing fact that his execution loomed before them.  Matt Puckett will never again suffer the agonies of this life, but his family surely will not ever be fully at peace again, just as the family of Rhonda Griffis, whom Matt was convicted of murdering, cannot ever be at peace.  We have added one murder to another.  Matt was killed in the name of a very misplaced notion of justice.  He was killed in the name of all Mississippi citizens, and in a sense all of us who live in the U.S. bear some guilt in his death because we are constituents of a federal government that condones state sanctioned murder.  We, the People, have done this to Matt, his mother, and the rest of his family and friends, and I, for one, am deeply sorrowful and ashamed of what has been done in my name, what will certainly be done again many times over until we demand a new kind of justice–one that seeks to make us more humane and less vengeful.

Many of Matt’s supporters believe that he did not commit the murder of Rhonda Griffis, but whether he did or not, his death will not bring her back to life.  Last night those who loved Matt have been cast into a shared category of grief with those who loved Rhonda.  All of these people now must mourn a person whose life was cut short by another person’s hand.

When I attended the Prisoner’s Family Conference a few weeks ago, I met an extraordinary woman named Charity Lee whose very existence is the best argument against the death penalty that I have ever heard.  Charity was six years old in 1980 when her father was murdered.  Her mother was tried and acquitted of murder-for-hire.  In 2007 Charity’s thirteen year-old son Paris stabbed his four year-old sister Ella to death. Charity, like most mothers, loves both of her children immeasurably, and she has, in different ways, lost them both.  Paris is incarcerated in a youth facility and will soon be transferred into an adult prison population where he will likely serve another twenty years before his release.  Charity works tirelessly to help both the families of murder victims and the families of people accused or convicted of murder.  As a member of both groups, she believes that healing and reconciliation among these families is not only possible but necessary.  She started the ELLA Foundation, named for her daughter, with a mission “to prevent violence and to advocate for human rights through education, criminal justice reform, and victim advocacy.”  Charity’s work and that of groups like Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation will one day bring about the end of the death penalty in the United States.  When those who have lost what is most precious to them because of violence demand an end to the state’s ability to kill its own citizens, we should listen to them.

Rest in peace, Matthew Puckett, Rhonda Griffis, and Ella Lee.  Those of us who remain must prevent future murders and seek ways to protect the safety of all people without further violence.

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Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Survey of Prison Chaplains Live Webcast on March 22

21 Mar

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

WHO:
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

WHEN:

Thursday, March 22, 12:30-1:30 p.m. EDT

ACCESS:

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.

Twitter: @pewforum

Facebook: facebook.com/pewforum

Matthew Puckett’s Last Day

20 Mar

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.

Thanks.

Matt Erickson

Free Legal Information Clinic, April 21, 2012 in Durham, NC

19 Mar

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

Main 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.

17th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners

14 Mar

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

Gallery Hours:

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

Help Prevent the Execution of Larry Matthew Puckett in Mississippi; a post by Ashley Lucas

12 Mar

Matt Erickson, a longtime member of the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), recently sent out a very moving email entitled “A friend of mine is about to be put to death,” the majority of which I’ve copied below:

Hi everyone,

I’ve been corresponding with a Mississippi death row inmate named Matthew Puckett since 2006.  He wrote to PCAP requesting any sort of support he could get in terms of helping his fiction writing.  I told him to send me some stuff to critique and we’ve gone back and forth every so often since then.  Of the course of 5-6 years we’ve become relatively good friends, keeping each other updated on our lives – despite the stagnant nature of his situation, he was a good enough writer to make it plenty vivid, and he was always respectful, not asking intrusive questions about my private life, but rather just showing genuine interest in knowing someone.

He’s the only one like this I’ve been writing to; you won’t get an e-mail like this from me ever again.

He always wrote more than I did and it seems I could delay responding for infinite reasons: doing the dishes, getting an oil change, going to the movies, etc.  A couple weeks ago I received a letter from him and left it unopened, because I was “busy” – and now I remember that instead of reading and responding to his letter, I spent most of last weekend organizing my iTunes music.

I finally read the letter this morning and learned that Matt is scheduled to be executed on March 20th, the day we are celebrating the opening of the [17th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners].  I had no idea the date was so soon – I thought he had described it as years off – and I’m guessing he didn’t know it was so soon either.  His best friend was executed February 8th – after a last minute reversal, then re-reversal – and says the state is really on the rampage now.

Anyway, he told me about this page his mom created: http://www.change.org/petitions/save-matt-puckett-stop-an-innocent-man-from-being-executed

If you could all go there, it takes like 5 seconds.  Maybe he could get 5,000 signatures.  Maybe it doesn’t matter in terms of stopping this from happening, but it’s what he asked me to do and now I’m asking you to do it if you think he shouldn’t be killed on March 20th.  The page says he’s innocent.  Matt and I haven’t talked about his crime or case in correspondence, and I haven’t pried.  But I don’t believe in killing people or throwing people in the garbage.  And he has described his situation as like a speeding car heading toward a cliff, and he’s pumping his brakes however he can.

Even if you don’t do it, I wanted you all to know about this man.  If you want to know more, please read the letter I’ve attached (Please let me know if you can’t open or read it and I’ll try re-sending).

If anyone would like to do more than sign the petition, let me know.  If anyone can THINK of anything we can do, please let me know.  If you want to write to him:

Larry Matthew Puckett
MDOC #65781
Unit 29-Jay
Parchman, MS 38738

Thank you,

Matt Erickson

Despite my strong commitment to activism, I am often tempted to pass over online petitions because they feel so far removed from the cause itself, but I urge you not to ignore the plea that Mary Puckett’s petition is making for her son Matt’s life.  Please sign the petition, and if you have a moment, write a letter to Matt Puckett.  People in prison need to know that folks in the outside world, even those who do not know them personally, recognize their humanity and think that their lives have value.

Matt Puckett, you and your family are in my thoughts today.  You are not forgotten.

Lucas to Give 2012 Merle Kling Undergraduate Lecture at Washington University in St. Louis on March 26

11 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.


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