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O Prisioneiro da Grade Ferro: A Meditation on a Documentary Film and How We Encountered It in Rio

14 Jul

100_1754The UniRio campus has some great graffiti, but this bit is my favorite so far: POUCA VIDA, MUITA ARTE (SO LITTLE LIFE, SO MUCH ART).  The sentiment sums up my feelings about being here.  The students and I have had so many amazing opportunities to see and participate in theatrical activities since our arrival here that we really do feel quite conflicted about choosing which things to do in the few weeks’ time we have.  Already some of us are more than halfway finished with our trips.  (We all had different travel schedules, so Liz Raynes arrived first and is due to return home soonest.  When she leaves in a few days, we will sorely miss her!)  Each day there are more interesting things going on than we could possibly attend or that I could fully write about on this blog.  Today’s post is about just one of our recent adventures.  More will follow shortly in posts to come.

On Friday nights the Teatro na Prisão program shows movies related to prison issues in Brazil.  Professor Fiche and her students gather to watch a different film each week and to discuss issues surrounding incarceration in their country.  Andy, Renee, Liz, Sarah, and I attended last Friday night’s screening of O Prisionero da Grade Ferro (called  Prisoner of the Iron Bars in English).  This documentary, released in 2004 and directed by Paulo Sacramento, depicts the conditions inside the infamous Carandiru prison in São Paulo.

In 1992 a fight amongst several prisoners in Carandiru escalated into a riot which involved an estimated 10,000 prisoners in the vastly overcrowded prison.  Carandiru was at its height the largest prison in Latin America, and at the time of the riot the prison housed more than double the number of prisoners it was built to hold.  Though prisoners offered their surrender when the prison was surrounded by police in riot gear, the police took the prison by force.  111 prisoners were killed, almost all by bullets (which, of course, only the police possessed).  These men were trapped inside a building they could not escape, gunned down by the dozens by their own countrymen.  In 2013, more than twenty years after the massacre, twenty-three police officers were convicted of killing just thirteen of Carandiru’s slain prisoners.

Drauzio Varella, a doctor who had been volunteering at the prison infirmary for more than a decade to try to curb the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS within Carandiru, wrote a popular book about the prison and the frighteningly bad conditions there.  The book, Estação Carandiru (published in English as Carandiru Lockdown: Inside the World’s Most Dangerous Prison), first published in 1999, was a critical success and was later made into a very popular Brazilian film called Carandiru (2003), directed by Hector Babenco.  My students and I had watched this film, which is not a documentary and is a bit glossier and sexier version of the actual events, in Michigan before we came to Rio.  We found the film to be very moving, and it gave us a bit of the history of Brazil’s prisons before we entered one ourselves.

O Prisionero da Grade Ferro, the documentary that we watched with the Teatro na Prisão folks here in Rio this past Friday, offered an even more disturbing look at Carandiru prison.  Filmed in the seven months prior to the prison’s demolition in 2002, this documentary showed similar conditions to those depicted in the more popular movie, except the truth was more devastating than the fictive version of events.  The team of documentarians taught a course on filmmaking inside the prison during the months that they were gathering footage, and some residents of Carandiru were given handheld cameras to record their own observations of prison life.  The final version of the film combines footage taken by the prisoners with that of the filmmakers.

The  most troubling scenes in the film depicted the “isolation cells.”  Ironically, isolation cells in Carandiru held up to fourteen men in a closet-sized space.  Their bodies were so tightly packed into the cells that the prisoners had to take turns sleeping.  They were not allowed to bathe or to leave these cells for months at a time, and they showed the filmmakers the rotting food that served as their meager sustenance.  The men looked into the cameras and pleaded with international human rights organizations to intervene.

Another portion of the film showed families visiting prisoners on the weekly visiting day. An incarcerated photographer would take snapshots of prisoners and their families in the central courtyard that defined each of Carandiru’s nine buildings.  The same photographer was also forced to take pictures of the bodies of the men murdered by fellow prisoners.  At times this man had taken a picture of a prisoner with his loved ones just hours before being called upon to photograph the same man’s body, riddled with stab wounds.  The documentary showed quite a few of these gruesome photos of corpses. Both before and after the massacre, Carandiru was a terrifying and brutal place to live.  Some of the men in the documentary held up giant knives the size of machetes and reported that most men kept two of them for protection–one for each hand.  Their accounts of the prisoner-on-prisoner violence in Carandiru reminded me of things I’ve read about Anogla Penitentiary in Louisiana.  In the 1970s when Angola was one of the most dangerous prisons in the United States, prisoners often slept with a phone book on top of their chests because of the likelihood that someone might try to stab them during the night.  Thankfully, my father has never had to live in a prison with this kind of reputation for bloodshed, but seeing this film rekindled anxieties that never quite dissipate for most prisoners’ families.  The contrast between the photos this incarcerated man took of the prisoners with their families and the ones he took of their mangled bodies starkly depicted what so many of us fear lurks behind the snapshots we carry home with us from prison visiting rooms.  Prisons are places where the potential for this kind of violence always exists, even though most prisoners don’t see this sort of thing happen every day.  No one is ever truly safe inside a cage.

After we watched the documentary (which thankfully had English subtitles), the Teatro na Prisão students and Professor Fiche had an energetic discussion about what we’d seen in the film.  Unfortunately, Sarah had had to leave a bit early to return to the student hostel where she serves as the emergency contact person for all of the University of Michigan students traveling in Rio right now.  (Brazil Initiative folks, you can be very proud of Sarah’s attentiveness and responsibility to her work for you!  She didn’t even get to see the end of the film.)  Since Sarah is by far the most fluidly bilingual person in our group, we had to make do with my mixture of Portuguese and Spanish and our best efforts as a group to discern the various Brazilian accents of the members of Teatro na Prisão.  (Many members of Teatro na Prisão speak excellent English, but none of those folks were on hand on Friday night.)  Despite our language barriers, we had a very productive conversation about the differences and similarities between prisons in the U.S. and Brazil.

The Brazilians were eager to find out what surprised us about the documentary, and the thing that surprised me most was that the film exists at all.  I cannot imagine U.S. prisons allowing filmmakers or even photographers that kind of access to the human rights abuses that exist inside our prisons.  In most states in the U.S. you cannot even take photographs of the exteriors of prisons without risking punishment.  In 1997 Ken Light put together an incredibly powerful book of photographs called Texas Death Row, showing portraits of all of the men who were awaiting execution in Texas at that time.  He also took pictures of death row itself and the few material belongings of the condemned, including family letters and photos.  The final image in the book shows the cross-shaped table to which prisoners are strapped before receiving lethal injection.  The book was so disturbing that the state of Texas vowed not to let cameras back inside their prisons again.  In fact, maps are also banned in Texas prisons because they might give prisoners a sense of where they are and help them to escape.  The fact that this Brazilian documentary could show images of dead bodies and men piled up like firewood inside overcrowded cells is something that I could never imagine happening in such a film made in my own country.

To be sure, documentaries and reality television shows are allowed to film inside U.S. prisons on a regular basis, but that footage  and the filmmakers are strictly monitored by prison authorities.  In this Brazilian documentary, incarcerated men at Carandiru and the filmmakers recorded footage of moonshine being brewed and crack being prepared for sale within the prison.  The prisoners in Carandiru filmed guards sleeping while on duty, and the prisoners provided candid commentary on what the guards do and do not do at the prison and how they treat those under their supervision.  This, too, could not happen in the U.S.  I cannot imagine a scenario in which prisoners could film guards or comment on their behavior in a negative light.

The UniRio students and Professor Fiche told us about a prison in Rio, which, like Carandiru, was demolished.  This prison was closer to the university and to the city center than the prisons where they now conduct their theatre workshops, and it was also more conveniently located in terms of enabling families to visit their incarcerated loved ones.  Rio has an extensive public transportation network, including many different bus lines and a rather limited subway system (which is currently being renovated in anticipation of next year’s World Cup).  However, riding public transportation here can be quite an ordeal.  One of the Teatro na Prisão students told me that he transfers between several different buses to travel between his home and the university and that the journey takes about two hours in each direction.  Here he was at UniRio on a Friday night watching this film with us until after 10 PM, only to face two hours of bus riding to get home.  The fact that prisons in the center of Rio are closing means that it’s more difficult and more time consuming for Teatro na Prisão to do their work.  We face the same problem at the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP).  The Michigan Department of Corrections has closed several of the prisons in Detroit, where most incarcerated people’s families live, and is shipping even more prisoners to remote parts of the state, especially Michigan’s Upper Peninsula which is rural, distant from the urban centers of the state, and difficult to navigate during our brutal winters.  Prisoners in rural and isolated locations get far fewer visits from loved ones and receive much less programming from volunteer organizations, like ours.  PCAP students, faculty, staff, and volunteers sometimes drive up to two hours each way every week to get to some of the prisons where we hold arts workshops.  The more time we spend in transit, the less time and energy we have to do our best work.  The closing of prisons in Detroit, which is only forty-five minutes from our campus in Ann Arbor, give us fewer options for nearby sites for PCAP’s work.

The more I see of prisons outside of the U.S., the more struck I am by how much all carceral systems have in common.  What is it in human nature, in globalization, or in our systems of national governance that enable so many of the same problems to reoccur in so many different parts of the world?  I am deeply convinced that we have to keep having public conversations of a detailed and informed nature about systems of punishment if we hope to stem the tide of mass incarceration worldwide.  There has to be a better way to deal with crime and violence, and we will only find potential solutions if we share information and continue to seek the humane treatment of all people.

 

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Ashley Lucas to speak in El Paso on June 27, 2013

14 Jun

Doin’ Time: Families and Incarceration
A public lecture and performance
by Ashley Lucas

Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 7 PM
Hanks High School Theater
El Paso, Texas

Proceeds from this event benefit Community Solutions of El Paso (an organization that provides services to prisoners’ children) and the Prisoners Family Conference

Tickets: Adults $20, Students & Children $7

Click here to see the poster.

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.

Good Friday, Medical Care in Prison, & the Anniversary of Pepper Ramirez’s Death

29 Mar

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.

Luke 23:34

                  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.

The Impending Execution of Robert Avila

28 Oct

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.

Iris and Robert on January 2, 2012, visiting through the glass.

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:

Robert Avila
#999391
Polunsky Unit
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.

Kerry Max Cook: An Innocent Man Still Seeking Exoneration; a post by Ashley Lucas

4 Mar

Kerry Max Cook with a copy of his autobiography Chasing Justice

In 1978 in Tyler, Texas, Kerry Max Cook was convicted of a murder he did not commit.  He remained in prison until 1999 a court finally released him after he pleaded “no contest” at the conclusion of his fourth trial for this crime.  Cook agreed to plead “no contest,” after maintaining his innocence for more than two decades of legal battles, because he believed at the time that he would likely be wrongfully convicted yet again and sent back to prison if he did not.  The District Attorney all of a sudden offered him a deal: a plea of “no contest” would enable Cook’s release for time served.  Cook took the deal and later found out that the District Attorney in question had recently acquired the results of new DNA tests of the crime scene evidence which definitively proved that Cook did not rape and murder Linda Jo Edwards.  Cook and his legal team only learned of this exculpatory evidence after the plea of “no contest” had been entered, and because of this, Cook has never been legally exonerated.  The murder conviction remains on his record, and at long last Cook is fighting a new legal battle to clear his name.  An excellent blog posting on the Grits for Breakfast site provides further details.

Cook’s autobiography, Chasing Justice, published in 2007, describes in detail the junk science, prosecutorial misconduct, and shoddy police work which contributed to his wrongful conviction.  Cook is also featured in the documentary play (and subsequent Court TV film) The Exonerated by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, despite the popular misconception in Cook’s case that DNA proof of actual innocence would lead automatically to legal exoneration.

When I was an undergraduate at Yale in 2001, I took a seminar about the death penalty, taught by two men who were at the time Yale Law School students.  Our final assignment for the class was to research a death penalty case and write a twenty-page paper on it.  I wrote about Kerry Cook, and in the course of my research, I made contact with him, and with the help of Stanton Wheeler–a law school professor and then Master of my residential college–I brought Cook and one of his lawyers to campus to speak.  Kerry and I have since lost touch, but I remain deeply moved not only by his story but by his willingness to continue telling it despite how much it obviously hurts him to expose himself, his wife, and his son to continuing public scrutiny and judgment.

May you finally receive some relief from the courts, my friend.  I watch your struggle with admiration and hope.  Your continuing work against the death penalty and wrongful conviction serves a cause much larger than your own case, and I am among a great many people who are grateful for your life and your efforts.

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.

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