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New Graphic Novel about Prison Grievances

1 Jun

An innovative new resource for prisoners has recently been written by Terri LeClercq, an advocate for incarcerated people in Texas.  LeClercq’s new book, Prison Grievances, is a graphic novel providing instructions on a fifth grade reading level for prisoners who wish to file grievances within the prison system.

For more information, click here.

Straight Talk: A Support Group for Prisoners’ Families in Durham, NC

13 May

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.

Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing, Vol. 5

7 May

 

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Every year for the last five years students at the University of Michigan’s Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) have volunteered to undertake the incredibly unwieldy task of soliciting, receiving, reviewing, and responding to creative writing submissions from hundreds of prisoners throughout the state of Michigan.  Every single person who submits writing receives personalized feedback on his or her work; PCAP sends no form rejection letters.  The result is a remarkable collection of writing called the Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing, published annually in conjunction with the PCAP Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners.  This year’s review is a particularly good one, and I highly recommend it to those of you might be looking for prisoner writing to teach in your courses next year and to those of you who just want something great to read.

To order this year’s review or one from a previous year, use this order form.  Each copy of the review is only $15, and all proceeds go directly back into making the next year’s review.

Support Resistencia Bookstore in Austin, TX

30 Jun

raulrsalinas and Ashley Lucas

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:

Resistencia Bookstore
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 revolu@swbell.net 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.

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

Prisoner’s Family Conference and NM Secretary of Corrections Commit to Strengthening Family Ties; a post by Ashley Lucas

25 Feb

The fourth annual Prisoner’s Family Conference, which was held over the last three days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been more productive and more moving than any conference I have ever previously attended.  An activist, rather than a scholarly, gathering, this conference brought together prisoners’ families, academics, prison ministry folks, lawyers, and advocates from all over the United States.  This small but highly diverse group of people is doing remarkable work in a wide variety of prison-related settings, and both individually and in the aggregate I found them to be highly intelligent, painfully honest, and overwhelmingly likable people.  Despite my eight years of performance and activist work connected to prisoners and families, I have never before been in a space where so many prisoners’ family members had gathered to support one another, and I greatly wish that many of my loved ones, including my mother, my father, and my friend and collaborator Jodie Lawston, could have been here to bear witness to all that transpired at the conference this week.  (Jodie was slated to attend the conference but could not because of an illness.  She is very disappointed to have missed the conference.)

At the opening session of the conference on Wednesday morning, Carolyn Esparza, the conference’s founder and chair, spoke about the challenges that she had see prisoners’ families face in Texas.  She described a mother and children who drive over three hundred miles one-way from their home to a prison once a month to visit their husband and father; the officials at this prison decided that the family was visiting “too regularly” and has further restricted their ability to see one another, despite the fact that no one in this family violated any of the prison’s rules.  Esparza also told another story about a man incarcerated in Texas who was bending over to retrieve his clothing after a routine strip search when a guard inserted the antenna of his transistor radio into the prisoner’s anus.  The prisoner filed a complaint, and his family hired a lawyer.  The warden on this unit tried to force the prisoner to sign a false confession saying he had fabricated this story of sexual violence, and when the prisoner refused, he was routinely punished by guards until the family’s attorney was able to get him moved to another prison, where he continued to experience restrictions on his visitation and phone calls because of sanctions put in place against him at the prison where he’d filed his complaint.  Esparza hears these kinds of reports from prisoners’ families because she runs a nonprofit called Community Solutions of El Paso, which helps families and children cope with the ongoing trauma and challenges caused by having an incarcerated family member.  She and her staff accomplish a great deal of good with very few resources.

New Mexico Secretary of Corrections Gregg Marcantel

After Esparza’s opening remarks, the first keynote speaker of the conference took the stage: Gregg Marcantel, the Secretary of Corrections for the State of New Mexico.  Secretary Marcantel was appointed to this post just a few months ago, after having spent decades in law enforcement as a Marine and a police officer.  The message of his address at the Prisoner’s Family Conference was that he understands the importance of preservation of family ties during incarceration and family reunification afterwards as key components in preventing recidivism among reentrants.  He expressed a strong belief that the vast majority of incarcerated people can safely return to their homes and communities if they have the right kind of support, and we, the attendees of the Prisoner’s Family Conference, offered to help him implement policies and programming to strengthen families divided by incarceration.  We promised him that first day of the conference that we would be working together both during the conference and afterwards to draft a Prisoners’ Families Bill of Rights and that we would deliver it to him when it was done.  We asked Secretary Marcantel if he would receive the document from us and work with us to create programming for prisoners’ families in New Mexico, and he immediately replied in the affirmative.  We are grateful to Secretary Marcantel’s commitment to preserving the rights of families, and over the course of two nights with over thirty conference attendees meeting as a working group, we crafted a first draft of the Prisoners’ Families Bill of Rights, which we will further revise before delivering it to Secretary Marcantel and his staff.  We will also make that document public on this website and as many others as we can in hopes that state and federal prison systems, community advocates, and legislators throughout the U.S. will find ways to use it productively.

Far more exciting things took place at this conference than I can report in a single blog post, and I will be posting more in the days to come.  Stay tuned.

Kathleen Ferraro

19 May

Anyone interested in issues surrounding women’s incarceration should be aware of Northern Arizona University sociologist Kathleen Ferraro’s work. Her 2006 book Neither Angels Nor Demons: Women, Crime, and Victimization (Northeastern) is an incredibly important contribution to the debate. (It was even reviewed, by your friendly neighborhood blogger, no less, in the Lawston-and-Lucas-edited issue of NWSA Journal that became, after much labor, Razor Wire Women.) Her most recent book is Women’s Lives. Her work is devoted to showing the complexity of the paths by which women become subject to the criminal-justice system: being physically forced to participate in illegal activity; killing an abuser/stalker/potential murderer after repeated refusals by local police to enforce restraining orders; etc. The stories she tells almost always belie the extremely simple terms by which we then refer to these women: murderers, inmates, trash. Ferraro’s work reveals such women as neither angels nor demons, but people.

(Tongue-in-cheek aside: If Ferraro ever wishes to study male antisocial behavior, she could do worse than turn her keen sociologist’s attention to the law enforcement professionals and legislature of the state where she lives and teaches. Their bizarre and aggressive behavior shows a much more profound resistance to explanation than most acts committed by women in prison.)

(Second tongue-in-cheek aside: I bet Kathleen Ferraro hears that joke a lot.)

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