My Issue is Yours; Yours is Mine
By Karima Amin
This past weekend marked the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Not celebrating this administration, women, men, and children participated in Anti-Trump marches that marked the one-year anniversary of the “Women’s March” that took place in Washington, DC following Trump’s swearing-in last year. On Sunday, January 21 this year, hundreds of thousands showed up in NYC, Las Vegas, Palm Beach, Paris, London, and downtown Buffalo with signs and chants expressing Anti-Trump sentiments and more.
BaBa and I were there. I spoke briefly in front of the Erie County Holding Center, stressing the importance of being a voice for the voiceless. BaBa carried a “Restorative Justice” sign and spoke at length with several individuals who asked about his interest in the principles of this healing practice. I don’t know how many participated in the Buffalo march but my guess is ten thousand. This was a spectacular event that brought, all races, ages, genders, and faiths together. As the marchers flowed from City Hall, to the Holding Center, to Main Street, it was obvious that our issues are varied but, no doubt inter-connected. Advocates espoused women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and rights for seniors and veterans. Some reminded us about DACA and the Dreamers and Immigrants. While there were signs highlighting Unity and Democracy the key word seemed to be Justice.
“Justice for all” is an oft-repeated phrase that isn’t always fulfilled. Opportunity is what we’re working for. One of my community brothers is well-known for frequently saying, “Working together works.” We have to work together, overcoming the differences and difficulties that keep us apart. I was pleased to be a part of the Women’s March. The weather was a blessing but I would have been there anyway. Seeing and hearing so many people expressing a willingness to work for justice really made me feel good about 2018.
Our next regular meeting, on the last Monday of the month, will take place on Monday, January 29, at the Rafi Green Community Resource Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue, @ Glenwood in Buffalo, from 7:000-9:00pm. For more information: Karima, 716-834-8438, email@example.com; BaBa, 716-491-5319, firstname.lastname@example.org. Our website is: www.prp2.org.
It’s Just Around the Corner
By Karima Amin
We are approaching year’s end and we will have our last monthly meeting on November 27. By now, everyone knows that we have our regular meetings once a month on the last Monday. We do
not meet in December, as the winter holidays tend to make regular meetings difficult.
There is no doubt that local issues are inextricably linked to state issues, and they are massive. When we take time to think about criminal INjustice issues, the list of concerns can be daunting. Feeling that these issues are insurmountable leaves us feeling that we can do nothing to make right what is wrong. We encourage you to believe in hope and victory. We were nearly victorious in advocating for Bernie Tolbert to be our next Sheriff. He did well in the recent election and he might have won if we had started our efforts sooner. During 2017, we have engaged our readers and attendees with monthly programs that centered on: parole reform (Lobby Day in Albany); political prisoners (Jalil Muntaqim, Robert Seth Hayes, and Herman Bell); organizing for liberation (Black Panthers, Attica Rebellion 1971, and Black August); and reentry (Fonz Carter, Entrepreneur, Thearthur Duncan, Lawyer and Wayne Oates, Social Worker); and restorative justice (“Life Stories: Restoring Justice” and continuing RJ training in schools and with neighborhood youth in conjunction with My Brothers’ Keeper).
During 2018, we anticipate continuing to highlight the above-mentioned subjects. They will be further illuminated by our membership in the NYS Prisoner Justice Network, #FREEnewyork, and the Alliance of Families for Justice. We will move forward with information regarding Y.E.S.T…Youth Education for Social Transformation, mental health treatment in prison, and a recently organized campaign demanding bail reform. Our next regular meeting will feature a film about Kalief Browder, an African American male who went to prison at age 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was held at Rikers Island for almost 3 years, awaiting trial. Most of that time was spent in solitary confinement. He committed suicide 3 years after his release at the age of 22. Kalief’s story is important and it relates to three of our 2018 initiatives: juvenile justice, bail reform, and mental health.
As always, the public is welcomed to join us on Monday, November 27, 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Rafi Greene CAO Community Center, 1423 Fillmore @ Glenwood. For more information: Karima, 716-834-8438, email@example.com; BaBa, 716-491-5319, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do You Really Want Sheriff Howard for Another Four Years?
By Karima Amin
Bernie Tolbert, a Democrat, is running for Sheriff this year. His platform is about bringing dignity and integrity to the Sheriff's Office.
Since 2005, Timothy Howard has been the Sheriff of Erie County. We have lived with his incompetence, his lack of transparency and his descriptions of conditions and incidents at the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden that rarely reflect the truth. I just took a look at an article that I wrote, just before the last election in 2013, entitled: “Who Will Be Our Next Erie County Sheriff?” I could have written it yesterday. Not much has changed. I urged you then, as I am urging you now to VOTE! In 2013, improving conditions at the Holding Center was a real “hot button” issue. This time there’s not much excitement about the Holding Center or about the upcoming election on November 7.
By 2013, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. and the ERIE COUNTY PRISONERS’ RIGHTS COALITION, had invested a lot of time advocating for prisoners to receive humane and professional treatment. We were among several entities that led the push to bring in the Department of Justice to investigate Erie County’s Jail Management Division after a suspicious spate of suicides. We also urged the Commission on Correction in Albany to be more vigilant in its oversight, as it was discovered that Sheriff Howard was guilty of misreporting and simply not reporting issues at both the Holding Center and the jail in Alden.
Those who find themselves confined to either of these facilities deserve better that they are getting. In the early days of our advocacy, there were those who said that we wanted “4-star hotel accommodations” for prisoners. That was a ridiculous assertion, made in an attempt to make us look ridiculous. When we held our rallies, and speak-outs, and teach-ins, forums, and press conferences, there were media people and others who asked if we were being paid to do the work of advocating for the voiceless.
Election Day, November 7 is almost here. Sheriff Howard has one opponent. You need to know who he is. You need to be aware of his platform. He wants to bring change to county law enforcement. You must come to our next meeting to be informed. Your vote is vital in making this community a place where justice prevails and those in power are held accountable. Don’t ever assume that the criminal justice system will never touch you.
PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO will hold its next monthly meeting on Monday, October 30, 2017, 7:00 – 9:00pm, at the Rafi Greene C. A. O. Community Center in Buffalo, 1423 Fillmore @ the corner of Glenwood.
“LIFE STORIES: RESTORING JUSTICE”….We have presented
this twice before and we’re presenting it again in conjunction with Buffalo State College’s “Anne Frank
Project.” This two-day Social
Justice Festival, "Sharing Stories/Connecting Communities," will feature PRP2 this
Wednesday, October 4
Buffalo State College
1300 Elmwood Avenue in
Student Union Social Hall
4:45pm - 6:30pm
Hear our storytellers: Sandi Green, Danielle Johnson, and Marquita Nailor share their stories of loss and restoration. Sadly, losing a loved one to gun violence has become a part of the “new normal” in some communities. What can we do to begin to heal ourselves, our families and our communities? This production will give you food for thought and an opportunity to ask questions and to share your ideas.
This is a FB event. Check out this link: https://www.facebook.com/events/542672519409253?%3Fti=ia&__mref=mb
Out of Sight…Out of Mind
By Karima Amin
Program- September, 2017
Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. is an organization that takes the time to acknowledge those behind the wall. Men, women, and children who are imprisoned are important. Sadly, we have a tendency to forget that they even exist. On a national scale, the numbers are staggering. The US has the world’s highest prison population, with 2.3 million people behind bars.
I thought about this when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit the islands and the mainland. There was a lot in the news about our most vulnerable populations….the children, the sick, the elderly, and the undocumented immigrant. I wondered about the prisoners. What happened to them when jails and prisons were flooded? Free Speech TV reported on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now,” that some prisoners were evacuated, while others stood in water that was 3 to 4 feet deep. Some were mistreated and others faced retaliation for reporting their conditions to family on the outside.
We plan to show a clip from Democracy Now’s September 8, 2017 program at the next regular meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. on Monday, September 25 at the Rafi Green Center, 1423 Fillmore at Glenwood, at 7:00 to 9:00pm. We also plan to further discuss membership and the importance and value of our standing committees. Also, there will be an update of the “March for Justice,” sponsored by the Alliance of Families for Justice which started in Harlem on August 26 and ended with a rally in Albany on September 13, the anniversary date of the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion. A few of us went to Albany for the rally while others had the opportunity to enjoy a “live streamed” version of the rally at the Rafi Greene Center via Skype.
For more information: Karima, 716-834-8438, karima @prp2.org; BaBa, 716-491-5319, email@example.com. Or visit our website: www.prp2.org.
Remembering Black August
By Karima Amin
In 1961 at the age of 18, George Jackson was accused of stealing $70 at gunpoint from a gas station. Although there was evidence of his innocence, his court-appointed lawyer urged him to plead guilty in exchange for a light sentence in county jail. Since George had a record of two prior instances of petty crime, he ended up spending the next ten years in Soledad Prison (California) with most of that time being in solitary confinement. Instead of bowing down to the dehumanization of prison life, he transformed himself into the leading theoretician of the prison movement. Letters he wrote from 1964 to 1970 were published in his first book, Soledad Brother, which became a bestseller. His second book, Blood in My Eye, was published just days after his being assassinated by prison guards at San Quentin State Prison on August 7, 1971. He was 29.
Every year in August, millions around the world, celebrate the life and work of George Jackson, a man who said, “We must establish a true internationalism with other anti-colonial peoples. Then we will be on the road of the true revolutionary. Only then can we expect to seize the power that is rightfully ours, the power to control the circumstances of our day-to-day lives.”
George’s younger brother, Jonathan, like so many of today’s youth, had a rebellious spirit. He was inspired by George’s spirit of resistance and revolutionary fervor but he lacked the kind of instruction that could have channeled the “warrior” in him. Jonathan was a victim of circumstance, without the kind of guidance that could have saved his life. Unfortunately, like Jonathan, many of our young ones today are misguided and misdirected victims of circumstance. They often lack the kind of nurturing and discipline that could save them and add value to their lives. Too many of our youth are criminalized at birth and throughout their lives by the systemic racism that leads to poverty, mis-education, poor nutrition, substandard housing, and stop-and-frisk policies. Jonathan was murdered by the police in a fatal and futile attempt to negotiate freedom for his brother. He was 17. That was August 17, 1970.
This month’s meeting will look at the lives of George and Jonathan and we’ll hear from some local men who believe in our youth and what they can accomplish with the proper love and guidance. I have invited Mr. Duncan Kirkwood who is on the road to becoming the Erie County Legislator for District 2. He will share his thoughts on the state of our youth and what he hopes to accomplish in improving their condition. I have also urged Mr. Tommy McClam to speak at our next meeting. He is the “Say Yes Director of Boys and Men of Color.” He will describe this program and speak about what it hopes to achieve.
Remembering George and Jonathan Jackson and their spirit of resistance, State prisoners in California held the first commemoration of Black August in 1979. Prisoners and outside community groups have continued this practice across the nation.
Join us for the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. which will be on Monday, August 28, from 7:00 to 9:00pm, at the Rafi Greene Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @ Glenwood. For more information: Karima- 716-834-8438, firstname.lastname@example.org; Brother BaBa- 716-491-5319, email@example.com.
June 25, 2017
by Karima Amin
For the last two years, I have been trying to figure out a way to link activism with art. I knew that there must be a way to show on stage, that storytelling, which I have been doing for almost 40 years, could work with the activism that I embraced as an educator and as the founder/director of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. From the day that Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. was launched, it has provided a platform for formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones to tell their stories. Over the last twelve years at our monthly meetings we have entertained all kinds of stories from men and women. Guest speakers delivered some of these stories, while others came unsolicited from the hearts and mouths of audience members who could no longer keep silent.
Everyone has a story and those stories have power. I always say, “Tell a story; save a life.” I wanted “Life Stories: Restoring Justice” to provide an opportunity for the community to hear stories from three women who turned to restorative thinking and restorative behaviors after losing loved ones to gun violence. I wanted the audience to have a better understanding of the value and benefits of restorative justice. As these women told their stories, parenthetically framed by their musical choices, bolstered by a poem that linked all three, and a talk-back that allowed the audience to share their feelings, the spiritual energy and emotion in the room was palpable. Tears flowed, people sighed, bodies rocked and unexpected stories came from the audience as “Life Stories: Restoring Justice” became a vehicle for healing.
As our DJ, Patrick Cray, gave us just a little bit of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” the first storyteller, Sandra “Sandi” Green, stood silently for a moment next to a photograph of her beautiful babies, Steven and Corey, her only children, two sons, both lost to gun violence in 2010…one in Atlanta and one in Buffalo. She talked about her anger and the depression that nearly consumed her when she thought she was “all right.” Sandi, who spent 27 years as a corrections officer, learned that the path to wholeness includes forgiveness.
Danielle “Dani” Johnson followed with “Sunshine to the Rain” and a story about her nephew, Devon, who was killed at the age of 19 in New Orleans. Despite the distance from Buffalo, Devon and Dani were very close. She described the darkness of anger and bitterness that threatened to change her from the inside out until she discovered restorative justice at a peace circle at her church, facilitated by Baba Eng who later trained her in Restorative Justice Practices. She gave credit to BaBa and to Jerome Wright, a formerly incarcerated man whose story about transformation and redemption inspired her, a few months ago, to take an interest in working with Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. A large format poster in the staging area, depicted a three-year old Devon, held lovingly in the arms of his father, Dani’s big brother, whom Dani further acknowledged as a person who has been instrumental in her healing process.
Marquita Nailor lost her eighteen year old daughter, Sh’merea, to gun violence in 2014. Sh’merea was a star athlete, looking forward to her high school graduation, with a scholarship to Syracuse University. She was walking home from school with friends when someone mis-identified her, shot and killed her, and then “ran off before her body hit the ground.” Marquita ‘s grief was still apparent when she talked about the police who still have her daughter’s personal belongings and when she described the things she does to heal and keep her daughter’s name alive. She organizes annual fundraisers which allow her to give scholarships to promising high school students. She also created a van service, “Sh’merea World Transportation,” which she uses to transport people who want to visit their incarcerated loved ones around the state. The audience visibly responded to the heartbroken strains of Marquita’s musical choice, Wiz Khalfa’s “See You Again.”
Angela Woodson-Brice’s poem, “Beacon of Hope,” was a salute to the mothers and others who grieve; and a reminder to say the names of the children, gone but not forgotten; and a thank-you to the activists who work unceasingly in the name of Restorative Justice.
I expected this evening to be informational and inspirational. It was further described as strong, uplifting, and beautiful. I have to say that it was all that and more.
Program- May 2017
It’s June Again!
by Karima Amin
Without even looking back at my notes, I can recall, almost word-for-word, what I wrote a year ago. I wrote about this being a month of celebrations, graduations, weddings, family reunions, my birthday (June 1), BaBa’s homecoming (June 2013), Juneteenth, our Ma’afa (formally honoring our Ancestors), “Git on da Bus” (our annual Storytelling Crawl), Bro. Gerrod Bennett’s release from prison (June 2016)…I could go on and on about June but we have some May business to speak about.
On last Wednesday, May 10, we went to Albany with a contingent of activists, from Buffalo and Rochester, to speak truth to power at the Legislative Office Building. With hundreds of others from organizations and campaigns from across the State, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. and Burning Books Independent Bookstore, we were united in our call for parole reform, releasing aging people from prison (R.A.P.P.), ending prisoner abuse (e.g. solitary confinement) and more. This was “Lobby Day.” We participated in a full day of rallies, speak-outs, networking and meetings with our State Legislators. We personally thanked those who support prison reform and, using data and personal stories, we encouraged the naysayers to consider bills that fight mass incarceration. Our Program Director, BaBa Eng, was invited to speak out at a rally at West Capitol Park. Later, in the State Capitol Building, he was urged to share his words again on parole reform and restorative justice.
We thank Judith Brink and Carol Morley, from the Prison Action Network in Albany, for attending PRP2’s April meeting in preparation for this lobbying event.
There are two important dates coming up: May 22 and May 25. Mark your calendar. Because of Memorial Day, we will not be meeting on the last Monday of the month. We will be meeting on Monday, May 22 at the Rafi Greene Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue at Glenwood Street in Buffalo. “Lobby Day” attendees will talk about their lobbying experience.
On Thursday, May 25, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will sponsor “Life Stories: Restoring Justice,” from 7:00 – 9:00pm at 1412 Main Street, in Buffalo, formerly known as “Buffalo East,” formerly known as “Steel Drums Jamaican Restaurant,” formerly known as the “A Train Jazz Club,” diagonally across from the “Oakk Room.” This storytelling event will highlight the value and benefits of restorative justice in repairing harm and healing pain after a wrong has been perpetrated. The powerful stories of Sandra “Sandi” Green, Marquita Nailor, and Danielle “Dani” Johnson will inform and inspire. You will leave with a better understanding of Restorative Justice and an elevated regard for turning a negative into a positive. (Freewill donations appreciated.)
More information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438, firstname.lastname@example.org; BaBa Eng, 716-491-5319, email@example.com.
(Photo: Wayne Oates and BaBa Eng, Albany,
May 10, 2017, "Lobby Day")
Unite for Parole Reform and Prison Justice
By Karima Amin
In less than a month, “Lobby Day” will be here. On Wednesday, May 10, Prisoners Are People Too. Inc. will go to Albany to raise our voices and to stand up for justice. We will join with several statewide initiatives, challenging mass incarceration and the abuse that impacts incarcerated people and their families and communities. More than 50 organizations and campaigns will come together on that day to speak truth to power for those who are often voiceless.
In preparation for “Lobby Day,” more information and legislative trainings will be provided within the next two weeks in New York City and Albany. Buffalo will get that information and training at the next regular meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, on Monday, April 24, at the Rafi Greene CAO Masten Resource Center, 1324 Fillmore Avenue @Glenwood, 7:00-9:00pm.
A team from the New York State Prisoner Justice Network will be present to provide the information that we need to make our trip to Albany a success.
“Together we will be demanding a more humane parole system. The day will include a rally and speak-out, a march through the Capitol, and legislative advocacy with your elected officials. We will unite to demand that Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature bring our friends and family members home and abolish the state-sanctioned violence and oppression that has plagued New York for far too long.” (NYSPJN)
Whether you are traveling by bus with us or driving to Albany, you must RSVP. Please advise me of your intentions by e-mail or phone by May 3.
For more information, contact Karima, firstname.lastname@example.org, 716-834-8438 or BaBa, 716-491-5319 or email@example.com.
Program- March 2017
Organizing for Liberation (Part 2)
by Karima Amin
Last month, we screened the beginning of “Panthers” (1995). This film, though fictionalized, showed the beginnings of an organization, “The Black Panther Party for Self-defense,” that was organized by a group of young people, stressing racial dignity and self-reliance. In my last article, I viewed this organization as having a place in the long line of liberation movements that largely impacted people of African descent from the Plantation System to the present day. Viewing this film, was our way of acknowledging February being Black History Month and viewing the second half of the film on March 27 reminds us that every month is a time for acknowledging the history and culture of Black people. Given the history of Black people in this country, respectful recognition should happen everyday.
The fight for “prison justice” is an ongoing battle….not relegated to a special time. It is intense and necessary. It is hard work to engage a moral imperative. In the second half of this film we see these young people stepping up their efforts to change the gun laws by confronting lawmakers at their State Capital in Sacramento, CA. This is what we will do on May 10 when we speak out in Albany, uniting for Prison Justice in “A Day of Advocacy and Action.” This is “LOBBY DAY” and it will be a day of speaking truth to power. The list of our concerns regarding mass incarceration is extensive. You will find information about the issues that top the list of our concerns at our website. Go to: www.prp2.org. Check the page listing “CURRENT INITIATIVES.” Isolated (solitary) confinement, parole reform, RTA (raising the age of criminal responsibility), and RAPP (releasing aging people from prison) are most concerning at this time. The mass incarceration landscape is formidable. Our concentration on these four issues may only make a dent in a system that denies the humanity of prisoners as well as their families and communities but it is our responsibility to stand up and speak out.
On May 10, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. will have a bus going to Albany. Stay tuned for details.
The next meeting for PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. will be Monday, March 27, 7:00-9:00pm at the Rafi Greene Center, 1423 Fillmore Ave. @ Glenwood in Buffalo. We will view the second half of “Panthers” (1995) and participate in a follow up discussion regarding the importance and value of organizing for justice. More information: 716-834-8438, firstname.lastname@example.org.
PLEASE NOTE: This film is rated R for strong language and violence.
Program- February 2017
ORGANIZING for LIBERATION
by Karima Amin
As Black History Month begins to draw to a close, I am compelled to review the kinds of presentations that I have delivered and witnessed which referenced the African’s desire for freedom. From the time that African people were kidnapped from their homes and transported to the Western Hemisphere, they fought to be free, died to be free, and struggled to rid themselves of the shackles that held their bodies, the opinions that chained their progress, and the laws that limited their successful strivings.
On the slave ship “Amistad,” in 1839, a 25-year-old enslaved African known as “Cinque,” broke out of his shackles, released the other 52 Africans and led a revolt. Though the rebellion was unsuccessful, it highlighted the African’s determination to be free. There are more than 300 documented slave ship rebellions. As a result of these rebellions, fifteen to twenty percent of the slave ships, which left Africa, never made it to the so-called “new world.” In my work, I sometimes refer to famous uprisings on American soil, and the men who led them. These serve as powerful examples of a people yearning to be free: Gabriel Prosser (1800), Denmark Vesey (1822), and Nat Turner (1831). Some enslaved Africans simply walked away or ran away from plantations where their lives were made miserable by torture, abuse, and dehumanization. Harriet Tubman’s story is well known, as the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. After freeing herself, she organized nineteen more trips to liberate others.
Any study of the Prison Industrial Complex, draws similarities between it and the Plantation System as well as the Convict Leasing System that followed. Most Africans in America came involuntarily and endured decades of pain and intimidation. But the desire to be free did not stop the struggle. Organizing for liberation has continued as a way of life.
As we move forward into more modern times, the Black Liberation Movement became front-page news in the 1960’s. After Rosa Parks said, “No” in Montgomery, Alabama and Emmett Till was lynched in Money, Mississippi, both in 1955, the modern-day Civil Rights Movement was in full-swing and in 1966 the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was born. Originating in Oakland, California, its founders were Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The Black Panthers stressed racial dignity and self-reliance.
At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. on Monday, February 27, from 7:00-9:00 at the Pratt Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, we will screen the movie “Panther” (1995). A discussion about organizing will follow. This movie is rated R for strong violence and language.
More information: Karima Amin, email@example.com; 716-834-8438.
Welcome to 2017
by Karima Amin
Happy New Year, Family! We trust that the last month was good for you. Ours was filled with family, friendship, fun and a focus on the life-affirming principles of a productive Kwanzaa celebration. The principles: Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith were emphasized as principles to be honored all yearlong.
I took the time to reflect upon the topics that were highlighted during 2016 at our monthly meetings and I was both saddened and encouraged. The Restorative Justice Developer, our Program Director, BaBa Eng, is still hard at work, sharing information about Restorative Justice Practices. 2016 saw two more “peace hubs” being established and the total number of individuals being trained in restorative practices reaching 70 trainees who are capable of facilitating peace circles and peace conferences.
Topics that we have highlighted in the past were emphasized again. Positive movement in these areas has been slow as many in the general public fail to view them as critical issues until an issue “hits home”: solitary confinement, juvenile justice, recidivism, and mental health during incarceration and reentry. Needless to say, we have work to do as prisoners and formerly incarcerated people tend to be marginalized and stereotyped. During 2016, we featured eleven guest speakers who helped us to reach a better understanding of the ways in which the criminal justice system functions, too often ignoring the importance of valuing an individual’s humanity. Prisoners are people, too.
As I am typing this, I am remembering those guest speakers who volunteered their time and energy to talk to us about their prison experience. They also shared what they have encountered since their release. Some of our guest speakers have never been to prison. These were young people working hard to help others avoid the traps that sometimes lead to incarceration. Among our speakers, we also hosted two clergy people, a teacher, and a former councilman who all talked about crime-generative factors (such as drugs, high unemployment, and poor health care) that have led to crime in this community.
Our next monthly meeting will be held on Monday, January 30, 2017 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, from 7:00 to 9:00pm. We will have a guest speaker who has been with us in the past. Alfonso “Fonz” Carter, a native of Niagara Falls, NY, has a
gift when it comes to connecting with the youth and the streets through music. As a hip-hop artist, he shares the stories of his life, talking about his youth, his drug selling days, and the 2004 arrest that resulted when the FBI and the Amherst police, working together, brought his street journey to a halt. He also talks about finding his true identity during his incarceration. “Fonz” is an entrepreneur with a clothing line that features his distinctive label and post-incarceration attitude, “Brand New Life.” Hear about the twists and turns that led him to a brand new life and be inspired.
For more information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or BaBa Eng, 716-491-5319.
Ending On a High Note
(Photo: TheArthur Duncan II, Esq.)
Every year in November, at our last meeting of the year, we try to end on a high note. The work has been good but the New Year seems uncertain to many of us, especially so soon after the presidential election. “Stop and frisk” may become legal policy nationwide. No doubt this would increase the number of Black and Latino men and women in prison, as “stop and frisk” is code for “racial profiling.” Under a Trump administration, this could lead to more arrests, convictions, and higher rates of incarceration. In November 2015, Obama “banned the box” on federal job applications—the box being a standard question about prior convictions—because former prisoners often find their criminal history is a barrier to employment. A simple executive order from Trump could erase Obama’s banned box. This would lead to higher recidivism rates, as this barrier to employment may force a former prisoner to leave a law-abiding path. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences juveniles to life without parole. At this time, more than 150,000 men, women, and children are serving life without parole. Under a Trump administration, that seems unlikely to change. President-elect Trump, ran his campaign as the “law and order” candidate but it should be obvious that he has no interest in criminal INjustice reform.
Last year in November, our guest speaker was Mr. Sha-teek Howze from Buffalo, NY who spent 20 years incarcerated in New York State. He shared his thoughts about mass incarceration as well as some insights regarding solitary confinement. Mr. Howze, who was released 4 years ago, recently published a book, WHAT DID I SAY?: IT’S SOMETHING LIKE POETRY, which chronicles his struggles as well as his successes. This year we have another author, willing to share his thoughts with us. TheArthur A. Duncan II, Esq. is the author of FELON-ATTORNEY.
Mr. Duncan is also from Buffalo, NY but he was raised, for a time, in South Central Los Angeles. Upon returning to Buffalo, his grandparents had a hand in his upbringing. In spite of that, he fell in with the wrong crowd and he started dealing drugs. After 3 years in prison, he left his drug-dealing days behind. After some ups and downs and close calls, he attended Erie County Community College, earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Buffalo, completed law school, and passed the bar. I’ll let him tell you about his life, his family and his plans for the future.
We know that people can change for the better. PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. has shared many examples over the years. I began by saying that we want to end this year on a high note. Mr. Duncan’s story should make you feel good about life and give you hope for the future. Next year, Erie County Community College will honor Mr. Duncan with its Distinguished Alumni Award. A few copies of FELON-ATTORNEY ($20) will be available at our next meeting which will be Monday, November 28 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, from 7:00 – 9:00 pm.
This is the last meeting for the year. We are ending on a high note. Need more info: Karima Amin, email@example.com, 716-834-8438.
Program - October 2016
Young Folks Steppin’ Up
By Karima Amin
I hate labels but I have become more accustomed to a few as I’ve earned some perks because of my age. I am a “Baby Boomer.” Depending on the data you use, we “Boomers” are identified as those individuals between the ages of 51 and 69. Many of us have retired or are close to retiring and we are rapidly being replaced in the workforce by the “Millennials” (ages 18 to 34) and “Generation X” (ages 35-50). As we “Boomers” are graying, more and more younger people are stepping up to take the reins of government and community leadership. Some say by 2030, the “Millennials” will outnumber the “Boomers” by 22 million.
The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will afford us an opportunity to hear from some young people in the community who are working diligently to help other young people avoid the “left turn” that could lead to unwanted involvement with the criminal justice system. What they have to say and what they are doing is beneficial for all, and not just for their peers.
Mercedes Wright and Eric Rose are siblings who share the desire to see a brighter future for all of us. In the summer of 2014 they acted on this desire by creating “Young Visionaries.” Starting initially as party promoters, they now mentor children left behind after loved ones have been lost to homicide.
Duncan Kirkwood is the Chairperson of the “Black Lives Matter” affiliate in Buffalo. He credits Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux, activist and founder of Young Black Democrats of Western NY, for guiding and supporting him in the local work of a national movement that is designed to celebrate Black lives and to increase community understanding.
Dave Harder is a man seeking to share his vision of a community where cooperative learning is the norm. He is working to create an environment where we are all stakeholders, learning, building, and growing together. His idea of “knowledge fire” is bolstered by the fact that every individual brings value to the world.
Dayatra Hassan is the young woman who serves as coordinator of the Food for Thought Teen Program. This FREE program at the Gloria J. Parks Community Center seeks to build resiliency and self-esteem through a curriculum that is actually shaped by the teens themselves.
This should be an interesting meeting. Come out and sit with us in the circle. Learn, discuss, and bring a friend. Our guest speakers this month are young people who understand the power of positive and productive work. Let’s listen to them and network with them to support their community efforts. As usual, we will meet at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo on Monday, October 31, from 7pm to 9pm.
For more information, contact Karima Amin: firstname.lastname@example.org, 716-834-8438.
Attica 1971…..Never Forget…
By Karima Amin
For 11 years, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. has devoted time and space to the Attica Uprising of September 1971. At our September monthly meetings, we have featured films, live guest speakers, and panel discussions that have helped us to have a better understanding of why the revolt occurred, how it evolved from September 9 to September 13, who were the major figures involved, and what happened to make this one of the best known and most significant rebellions of the Prisoners’ Rights Movement. Though commonly referred to as a riot….this was NOT a riot. It was a demand for political rights and better living conditions.
It was a revolt against the insensitive prison administration. It was a rebellion that happened as a result of the abuse, brutality, violence and racism that prisoners experienced on a daily basis. The evil that defined Attica then, is a critical part of the Attica we know today, forty-five years later. Articles have been written, voices have been raised, and petitions have been signed about closing a place that is “infamous for bloodshed.”
In 1971, the prisoners issued a “manifesto of 27 demands” which included a call for legal representation at parole hearings, improved medical care, adequate conditions for visiting family members, and an end to racial, political, and religious persecution. There were demands for better food, an end to overcrowding, opportunities for education and vocational training, and a policy giving working prisoners wages that conformed with state and federal minimum wage laws. Most working prisoners made less than fifty cents an hour. Prisoners were allowed only one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper each month. The New York state correction commissioner, Russell Oswald, ignored this “manifesto.” The prisoners, mostly Black and Latino also demanded that the prison’s warden, Vincent Mancusi, be fired and that all participants in the uprising receive full amnesty. Outside observers, requested by the prisoners, had minimal input but they were there to mediate and negotiate. Buffalo’s Arthur O. Eve, who was then the Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly, was a well-known voice for the prisoners. He was the first official to enter this maximum security facility to hear the demands of the prisoners. At a PRP2 meeting in September 2012, Mr. Eve (now in his 80s) said that it’s hard for him to talk about Attica but he understands the importance of the history and he urged us to never stop fighting for justice.
Negotiations came to a halt when the prisoners took 39 prison guards and employees as hostages. Gov. Rockefeller refused to meet with the prisoners, following President Nixon’s directions. Oswald, Mancusi, and Rockefeller stood together when the governor ordered the State Troopers and National Guardsmen to retake the prison. In the massacre that followed, 43 hostages and prisoners were killed.
Recently, a new book about Attica was published by Pantheon Books, BLOOD IN THE WATER: THE ATTICA PRISON UPRISING OF 1971 AND ITS LEGACY by Dr. Heather Ann Thompson. A major part of her research was done right here in Buffalo at Erie County Hall, after discovering some long-forgotten documents related to the trials of the Attica Brothers. I have invited Dr. Thompson to come back to Buffalo next September when we remember Attica and say, “ATTICA IS ALL OF US.”
This month, we will remember Attica with a previously screened film (2011), “Against the Wall,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Clarence Williams III, on Monday, September 26 , 7 – 9pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. More info: Karima, email@example.com, 716-834-8438 or BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org, 716-491-5319.
SIDE NOTE: Within four years of the revolt, 62 inmates had been charged in 42 indictments with 1,289 separate counts. One state trooper was indicted for reckless endangerment.
August 2016 Program
Your Vote Matters
by Karima Amin
Every four years, our interest in the U.S. Presidential Election is revived. Many of us have mixed emotions about this event. Some relish the opportunity to have a vote that is a voice in local, national, and global issues while others ask, “Does my vote really matter?”
African American males were given the right to vote on February 3, 1870 by the 15 Amendment to the United States Constitution. While this amendment aimed to give all Black men this freedom, several states in the South unfairly limited Black participation by enforcing deterrents such as literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, inconvenient polling places and other obstacles for almost 100 years. In some state and local municipalities, the racial discrimination of Jim Crow continued to impede Black participation in the electoral process with outright intimidation. Eventually, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, removing some local roadblocks to voter registration.
The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), this nation’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized civil rights organization, has always been associated with voting rights. Founded in 1909, the NAACP's stated goal was to secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law, and universal adult male suffrage, respectively. It should be noted here that the 13 amendment mandates that there shall be no slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” Are prisoners enslaved? Are they exempt from 13 Amendment protections?
The NAACP was also actively engaged in the fight for women’s right to vote, which was finally granted in 1919. As laws governing the right to vote have changed over the years, the NAACP has been in the forefront of positive change. More Black people have registered to vote and more are actively exercising that right.
Mr. Frank Mesiah, President of the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP, will be our guest speaker this month. SPREE Magazine described him as a man “who has worked in the trenches for civil rights all his life.” This Buffalo native and Army veteran has been a factory worker, teacher, and police officer. He retired as Regional Administrator in the Division of Equal Opportunity Development of the New York State Department of Labor. He will speak about the value and importance of voting and will answer questions about voting as it relates to criminal convictions.
Be an educated voter. Come to the next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. on Monday, August 27 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo @ 7 – 9pm.
For more information, contact Karima: email@example.com, 716-834-8438.
(Photo: Mr. Frank Mesiah, President, NAACP Buffalo Chapter)
July 2016 Program
by Karima Amin
When someone is paroled, they serve part of their sentence under the supervision of their community with an eye toward the parole candidate’s becoming a productive member of society. Frustration abounds when prison staff imply that the parolee will be returning to prison, sooner or later. On the outside, despite best of intentions, the parolee may be confronted with issues that sent him to prison in the first place, poor mental health, unemployment, drug and/or alcohol addiction, unsettled home life, etc. To further complicate one’s return to society, the parolee has to navigate a minefield of negative attitudes, framed by stereotypes, that are often based on misconceptions, attitudes that malign the parolee, limiting his potential.
We have shown films and have discussed recidivism before. This is an important topic. Previously, we screened “The Very Same House,” a film about recidivism in Buffalo, by Canisius College student, David Goodwin. At our last monthly meeting, our guest speaker was Gerrod Bennett, a recent parolee who was released on June 14 this year, after 22 years in State Prison. His family is helping him to navigate the many pitfalls of this brand new world. He is becoming a successful reentry candidate.
The Center for Employment Opportunities (C.E.O.) in Buffalo works hard to assist parolees who are seeking gainful employment. According to the C.E.O. website, “While nearly everyone will eventually be released, recidivism rates are stubbornly high: more than 40% will be reincarcerated and more than two thirds will be rearrested within three years. Employment challenges, sobriety, housing, mental health, and a lack of strong social ties are among the premier reasons that people return to jail or prison.”
Our next monthly meeting will address the issue of recidivism with a film, “Revolving Door? Does the System Play Fair?” by Charles Duncan and a speaker, Pastor Charles Walker from Back to Basics Outreach Ministries. Pastor Walker is the Reentry Coordinator at Back to Basics. He works with parolees, helping them to become assets, not liabilities, in society.
The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will take place on Monday, July 25, 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Rafi Green CAO Masten Resource Center, 1423 Eillmore Avenue @ Glenwood in Buffalo.
For more information: Karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org or BaBa at firstname.lastname@example.org. (PLEASE NOTE: We are meeting at a different site this month!!!!)
June, 2016 Program
The Journey Continues
By Karima Amin
This is our anniversary month. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. held its first monthly meeting in June of 2005. We screened the film “Angola,” about the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary. Our guest speakers were three local ministers who thanked me for my willingness to undertake the task of educating the community about the evils of the prison industrial complex. There were 15 attendees who encouraged me to “keep on keepin’ on,” though my knowledge was very limited. PRP2 has covered many more topics than I ever imagined in 2005. I have met more prisoner justice advocates than I ever imagined and we have stood up for more prisoners and prison families than I ever thought possible. The work has been gratifying as we have garnered some successes, and as we have acknowledged some disappointments that have threatened to derail our efforts.
Not everyone supports or appreciates what we do. Simply saying “prisoners are people,” shouldn’t invite naysayers but it does. Acknowledging a prisoner’s humanity is something that is completely foreign to some people until the criminal justice system accuses a beloved family member of wrongdoing. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. stands ready to enlighten, support (if we can), and advocate for the reforms that would improve a system that puts profits before people.
Without taking a look at the programs that have been delivered since last June, certain guest speakers and topics immediately come to mind. Mr. John Boyd, who was at Attica in 1971, helped us to commemorate the Attica Rebellion last September. Mr. George K. Arthur (former City Council President), Bishop Dwight Brown, Ms. Donna Lewis, and Mr. Sha-teek Howse shared their personal stories about growing up and living in Buffalo’s East Side where crime generative factors, such as poverty, under-employment, and mis-education, have contributed to the level of crime that is part and parcel of East Side living for many residents. Mr. Howse shared excerpts from his recently published book, What Did I say? It’s Something Like Poetry, a collection of personal stories and poems, delineating his thoughts and feelings, prior to, during, and following incarceration. Mental Health, Restorative Justice, and Solitary Confinement, all received our attention during the last year. Mr. John Walker talked about his ongoing fight to clear his name after a wrongful conviction in the 1970s. Our Program Director BaBa Eng was featured in a documentary film about Recidivism produced by David Godwin, a Canisius College student. While we mourn the fact that Robert “Seth” Hayes was recently denied parole for the 10 time, we celebrate the recent release of Gerrod Bennett who will be returning to our community after 20 years behind bars.
At our next meeting, we will look back, look forward, and celebrate life. Join us on Monday, June 27, from 7:00 to 9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo.
For more information contact Karima Amin, email@example.com or BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 2016 Program
Immersion East Side
by Karima Amin
Just about a year ago, I became acquainted with Canisius College’s Immersion East Side Ignatian Seminar though meeting Dr. Devonya Havis, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Canisius. At the forefront of this immersion project, Dr. Havis and her colleagues “inspire and challenge students to experience solidarity with persons who have been marginalized by unjust institutions, economic conditions, and social and political structures.” In the past, these white, suburban students spent time exploring Buffalo’s East Side, through visiting churches, restaurants, performance venues, etc. and talking to community leaders to gain a better sense of the “rites, rituals, and celebrations” that have helped to shape the lives of a people who have been routinely marginalized and criminalized in Buffalo for decades.
I am a native Buffalonian. Since the 1950’s, I have watched my city rise and decline with my East Side community barely managing to thrive. At the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC., I will talk about the organization’s beginnings and mission, successes and disappointments. One guest speaker will talk about the history of Buffalo in general and the history of Black Buffalo specifically. The other guest speaker will share her life story defined by poverty, troubled teen years, drug addiction, incarceration, release, successful reintegration, education, and leadership. This year, according to Dr. Havis, one area of focus will be criminal justice and its associated issues.
The Immersion students from Canisius will be in our circle on May 23. No doubt they will have pertinent questions about a part of the city that is completely foreign to them. You need to be a part of this conversation. Join us in the circle on Monday, May 23, 7:00 – 9:00pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo.
April 2016 Program
The Struggle Continues
By Karima Amin
I received some good news last week. I was elated to learn that John Walker is no longer on lifetime parole. At first, I was in total shock. John’s life had been totally relegated, for nearly two decades, by a system that basically ignores the humanity of formerly incarcerated people. I called John immediately to confirm what I had heard and he verified for me that his life on lifetime parole was over. I have spent a week, remembering the many times that John was a guest speaker at our PRP2 meetings. I recalled numerous occasions where I had heard him speak at rallies, forums, speak-outs, teach-ins, panel discussions, and conferences over the years at schools, colleges, churches and other public spaces. His call for justice was always strong, clear, humble, and correct. The need to overturn Indictment #41-413 has been a rallying cry that many have heard and, unfortunately, many have ignored, failing to recognize the fact that injustice for one is injustice for all.
John Walker will be our guest speaker at this month’s Prisoners Are People Too meeting. He will talk about being wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to 17 years when he was 16 years old in 1977. He will talk about what happened to his co-defendants. He will describe the 22 years that he spent behind bars in three New York State prisons. John was released on lifetime parole in 1998 and for 18 years he has been in a fight to reverse his conviction and clear his name. A sitting judge, the Honorable James A. McLeod (who was a lawyer in 1977) has publicly stated that there is evidence to prove that John Walker and his friends could not have committed murder on a night in early January of 1976.
I plan to invite Judge McLeod to this meeting. His perspective and the reasons for it are important. I am also extending an invitation to Judge Timothy J. Drury who was the District Attorney at the time of John Walker’s trial. Perhaps he will come or send someone from his office who can explain why the Court has been so unwilling to consider exoneration for John Walker.
For 40 years, John Walker has been punished for a crime he did not commit. His struggle continues.
This meeting will be held on Monday, April 25, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, in Buffalo, from 7:00 – 9:00pm. For more information: Karima Amin, email@example.com, 716-834-8438; BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org, 716-491-5319.
by Karima Amin
Sadly, some of us have a bad habit of ostracizing and marginalizing people who don’t fit our opinions of who is beautiful, good, acceptable, and worthy of our respect, humanity, and value. The way that we view mentally ill individuals is a case in point. Our community is filled with people who suffer from mental illness and not all of them are able to access the proper medical attention or intervention that would help then to deal with their condition. Among those who are so marginalized and ostracized are prisoners and formerly incarcerated people who live with incarceration or the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Mental illness further complicates their situation.
Today more mentally ill persons are in jails and prisons than hospitals. It has been this way in America for a long time. In the 1950’s, the process of deinstitutionalization began. This involved the emptying and closing of state mental hospitals that were overcrowded and old. With the advent of new medications, the symptoms of about half of the patients were improved. Unfortunately, the sickest patients were unable to make informed decisions about their own need for medication.
By the 1970’s, it was obvious that mental illness was becoming viewed as criminality, which resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of mentally ill individuals in jails and prisons. This nation’s jails and prisons have replaced hospitals as the primary facility for mentally ill individuals. What happens when they are released?
We will consider this question at the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC., on Monday, February 29, at the Pratt-Willert Center, 422 Pratt St in Buffalo, from 7pm to 9pm, with the screening of a PBS film, “The Released.” Produced in 2009, this film follows the stories of several mentally ill men who struggle with getting their lives on track following release from prison. Additionally, we will have a guest speaker, Ms. Artelia “Tia” Lewis who is a Peer Advocate with the Mental Health Peer Connection of the Western New York Independent Living Project in Buffalo, NY.
Many men and women suffering from some form of mental illness do not display overt signs or symptoms. These people could very well be your neighbor, the person in line with you at the supermarket, or at the bus stop. These people could be with you in school, at the library or the beauty salon or barber shop, or in your religious institutions. These are our people in our community...in our families. Come out to this meeting to gain a better understanding of the problems they face that could also touch your life.
For more information contact Karima Amin, email@example.com or BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taking Care of Business
by Karima Amin
Happy New Year! 2016 is here and we are good to go! 2015 was jam packed with actions and movements, some frustrations and disappointments but we accomplished much. Restorative Justice is becoming much more than just a catch phrase as a total of twelve “peace hubs” have been established throughout the city and more are on the horizon. Twice monthly “peace circles” are being conducted with small groups of Youth at the Erie County Correctional Facility and I have been appointed to the Erie County Conditional Release Commission, which will give twenty-five parole-ready and parole-eligible men and women the opportunity to come home early with wrap-around services all set up to ensure a successful reintegration.
Our Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders is still functioning and happy to report success in our mission of bringing two more reentry candidates home after more than two decades behind the wall. Regarding State Prison issues, we’ll continue to work with Prison Action Network, the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, the Drug Policy Alliance, and more. In May, we will return to Albany to address our State lawmakers on issues of mass incarceration that affect all of us: parole reform, mental health care in the prisons and solitary confinement. Three months ago, I openly asked for your help in an article entitled “The Work Needs YOU.” Things haven’t changed and the need is great.
The title of this article, “Taking Care of Business,” refers to the business of caring for each other. Unfortunately, when one thinks of “prisoners,” all too often that person is not thought of as being fully human. I am a woman, a teacher, a mother, an activist, an artist, a friend…and the list goes on. A prisoner is more often viewed simply as one convicted of a wrongdoing. This person could be a son or a daughter, a parent or a chef, a musician or a writer…someone worthy of a second chance and willing to be a community asset. The work that we do honors the prisoner and his/her family, believing that they are deserving of humane and professional treatment. Prisoners are people who are behind bars because of a perceived wrong. The work that we do recognizes the prisoner’s humanity, encouraging understanding, respect and empathy. I would like for our first meeting of the new year to be really inspirational. I am looking for individuals who are willing to discuss the hardships of their imprisonment, the challenges of reintegration, and the obstacles they faced in seeking to establish a legitimate business while dealing with the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Get in touch with me if you are willing to be a guest speaker at our next meeting, Monday, January 25, 2016 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, from 7:00-9:00pm.
For more information, e-mail or call Karima Amin, email@example.com or 716-834-8438.
(Note: Our Program Director, Bro. George BaBa Eng, was in a car accident on January 13. His car was totaled but he will be OK…no broken bones….no fractures. He is badly bruised and in significant pain but he is recuperating at home. Your prayers and healing thoughts are welcomed. Thank you…..-ka)
November 2015 Program
Breaking Down the Box
by Karima Amin
At its monthly meeting on November 30, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. will consider “breaking down the box,” not to be confused with the campaign to “ban the box.” Banning the box is about ensuring that people with criminal convictions have a fair chance to work. To date, 19 states and over 100 cities (including Buffalo) and counties have taken steps to remove barriers to employment for qualified workers with records. Breaking down the box is about dismantling solitary confinement, a form of imprisonment that isolates a prisoner from any meaningful human contact. While it has been cited as a measure of protection for a prisoner, it is a form of punishment that has far-reaching ramifications. Men, women, and children, who are subjected to this form of punishment, experience a form of psychological torture that can be abusive to mind, body, and spirit.
When a prisoner is relegated to isolated confinement, aka solitary confinement, this person is confined to what is commonly known as the box, the hole, the bing, the shu (special housing unit or secure housing unit), [pronounced “shoe”], or lockdown. Generally speaking, this means that a person will spend 22 to 24 hours a day in segregation, in what is typically a 6’ by 9’ cell. One or two hours may be used for showering or exercise. Time in the box may be one day or several decades.
In the past, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. has devoted several programs to increasing our understanding of solitary confinement and what we can do to fight against this practice. Most recently, in January of 2014, CAIC (the NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement) came to Buffalo and conducted two workshops to share information about this form of extreme isolation, in our state prisons and local jails, and the campaign against it. Although it has been proven that solitary confinement is a damaging practice, New York utilizes this mode of punishment at rates well above the national average.
On Monday, November 30 at the Pratt Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 7 – 9pm we will gather for a screening of “Breaking Down the Box,” a documentary film about solitary confinement, produced by NRCAT (the National Religious Campaign Against Torture). Relative to this topic, in the past we have screened “Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard” (also a NRCAT film) and “Herman’s House,” a film about Herman Wallace, a political prisoner who died in 2013 after 41 years in solitary confinement.
Join us for our last meeting of 2015. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org or BaBa Eng, email@example.com.
Dear PRP2 Folks: At our monthly meeting on Monday, November 30, in addition to the film, BREAKING DOWN THE BOX, we will also host a guest speaker. Mr. Sha-teek Howse from Buffalo, NY, spent 20 years incarcerated in New York. Some of that time was spent in solitary confinement. He will share his thoughts about mass incarceration as well as some insights regarding isolated confinement. Mr. Howse, who was release 3 years ago, has recently published a book, WHAT DID I SAY?, which chronicles his struggles as well as his successes. You are invited to see the film, meet Mr. Howse, and learn more about the campaign to reform solitary confinement.
October 2015 Program
The Work Needs YOU!
by Karima Amin
Here in Buffalo there are meetings, forums, panels, rallies, gatherings, demonstrations, teach-ins and conferences everyday. On a daily basis, those of us who care about social justice are scrambling for time, stretching our energies, and striving to make Western New York, and the world, better. There is so much work to be done and it often appears that the workers are few. No doubt, most of us have discovered that our solo efforts may be minimally productive. Coalitions can be chaotic at times but a strong coalition with a defined mission can be successful in a major way. That is why Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. joined VOICE-Buffalo two years ago.
In 1996, VOICE-Buffalo was born when a group of clergy identified congregation-based organizing as a strategy for change. Moving forward, with the motto: “Faithfully bringing forth Justice,” VOICE-Buffalo has been able to bring people together in an interracial, urban-suburban coalition of more than 45 faith-based congregations, as well as community, business, and labor leaders throughout Buffalo and Erie County. VOICE-Buffalo has a proven track record of rallying local leaders, congregations, and businesses together in holding policy makers and power players accountable. In 2013, VOICE-Buffalo stood with us in our desire to improve conditions at the Erie County Holding Center as well as our aim to bring restorative practices to our county jails. In 2014, VOICE-Buffalo championed our desire for conditional release that would allow some individuals in our county jails to be released before the completion of their sentences with certain conditions and wrap-around services in place for successful reentry. This year, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. is especially concerned with the need for providing healthcare to returning citizens. VOICE-Buffalo agrees. This means that more than 45 entities agree with us. As one organization, we have power. With VOICE-Buffalo we have more power and a stronger community presence.
If you are not a member of PRP2 and you don’t know VOICE-Buffalo, then you need to come to VOICE-Buffalo’s annual Public Meeting, which will be held on Monday, October 26. As you know PRP2 usually meets on the last Monday of the month. This month, we will participate in the VOICE-Buffalo Public Meeting. On October 26, we will meet at Elim Christian Fellowship, 70 Chalmers Avenue in Buffalo, at 7:00-8:30pm. Doors open at 6:30pm. Last year we had 700 attendees. This year we are aiming for 1100 attendees who value community enhancement and who believe in the power that we have to hold our public officials accountable. These public officials will be at the Public Meeting and we will define our public agenda. We will ask them to stand up and publicly state their degree of willingness to work with us.
In addition to providing healthcare to returning citizens, on the local front, we are working toward the following:
·Addressing Violence in the Community (Buffalo Peacemakers)
·Workforce Diversity and Workforce Development
·Extending Public Transportation
Come out, come early, learn more, and join us. The work needs YOU! If you plan to attend, please respond to this message with an e-mail, or give me a call, or inbox me on Facebook. Please note again: WE ARE NOT AT PRATT-WILLERT this month. We will be at ELIM CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP.
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
Karima Amin, 716-834-8438; firstname.lastname@example.org;
September 2015 Program
ATTICA: Yesterday and Today
By Karima Amin
On September 9, 1971, a group of courageous Black prisoners at Attica Prison in Wyoming County, New York, instigated a 5-day prison uprising that would shock this nation and the world. In this rebellion, the bloodiest prison rebellion in America’s history, 10 prison guards and 39 prisoners were murdered by New York State Troopers and soldiers from the New York National Guard, who had been deployed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller at the behest of President Richard M. Nixon. The prisoners stood up and demanded better medical treatment, fair visitation rights, better sanitation, improved food quality, and opportunities for education.
Their feelings and a list of 27 demands were summed up in a now famous quote delivered by a prisoner, Elliot L. D. Barkley who said: “We are Men! We are not beasts and do not intend to be beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace has set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United States. What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed.” According to some reports, Barkley was shot in the back by an officer a few days after the uprising.
Every year in September, Prisoners Are People Too Inc. devotes its monthly meeting to remembering the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971. Often referred to as a “riot,” this event was much more than that. It was a rebellion, an uprising that was orchestrated by a group of prisoners who were frustrated with trying to survive in an environment of racism and unrelenting brutality. Previous monthly meetings in September have featured films and guest speakers that have helped us to have a better understanding of what happened in 1971. Prof. Terri Miller and her students from SUNY Buffalo have shared films they were allowed to produce after meeting prisoners at Attica in recent years., “Encountering Attica” and “Attica: The Bars That Bind Us.” We have screened Cinda Firestone’s “Attica” which was produced in 1974 as well as “Against the Wall, “ featuring Samuel L. Jackson, produced in 1994. We have had the pleasure of hosting the former Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly, Mr. Arthur O. Eve whose compassion for prisoners was first recognized in the late 1960 ‘s. During his tenure, Mr. Eve did not fear political backlash or avoid prison reform issues. He served as an observer and negotiator in the wake of the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion. He was critical of Gov. Rockefeller’s decision to ignore the prisoners’ requests and to pursue the tactical measures that resulted in the massacre of so many officers and prisoners.
This year, we have the honor of hosting Mr. John Boyd who was a prisoner at Attica in 1971. He remembers what happened in 1971 and he realizes, 44 years later, that very little has changed. In a 2013 report, the Correctional Association of NY, which advocates for a more humane and effective criminal justice system, by educating the public about what goes on behind prison walls, described Attica Prison as being a symbol of what is wrong in prisons across the state with its “…systemic and brutal staff-inflicted physical assaults, verbal and racial harassment, threats, intimidation, and excessive use of punishment and solitary confinement.”
Come to our next monthly meeting. Hear Mr. John Boyd’s story and sign a petition to close Attica. Our next monthly meeting will be on Monday, September 28 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, from 7:00-9:00pm For more information: Karima Amin, email@example.com, 716-834-8438; BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org, 716-491-5319.
August 2015 Program
Recidivism: What Does It Tell Us?
By Karima Amin
While America incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world, it is also a fact that recidivism rates among the states are among the highest in the world. These numbers indicate that the US prison system is a failure. Major prison mandates are five: care custody, control, deterrence, and rehabilitation. When it comes to care, it seems that this mandate is frequently NOT fulfilled as I receive letters weekly from people who share stories of their incarcerated loved ones being physically and verbally abused by officers. This nation’s criminal justice system fails again when data demonstrates that deterrence seems to be of low priority and rehabilitation is practically non-existent. Both are factors that support high rates of recidivism. The kind of custody and control that ignore the humanity of persons confined, generally means that those who are released often return to society with the negative mindsets and behaviors that defined them in the past. When we see two-thirds of those released ultimately return to prison within three years, something is wrong.
Recently, a student from Canisius College produced a short documentary film entitled “The Very Same House: Recidivism in Buffalo.” This film will be screened at the next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. and its producer, David Goodwin, will be our guest speaker. With the assistance of Canisius College’s Video Institute and its director, Dr. Barbara Irwin, Mr. Goodwin has produced a work that clearly defines “recidivism,” its causes and cures. Our Program Director, BaBa Eng, is interviewed in this film. Following 36 years of incarceration and years of research, his words ring with authority.
In the past, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. has always devoted its August meeting to “Black August.” We have highlighted COINTELPRO,-- a counterintelligence program of the US government, operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA) designed to surveil, infiltrate, discredit, and disrupt domestic political organizations. COINTELPRO was especially aimed at Black leadership in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. In August, we have lifted the names of fallen Freedom Fighters and the names of men and women still confined and incarcerated for decades. If you want to see what has been highlighted in previous August programs, go to our website www.PRP2.ORG. Click on “Programs.” A brief segment of our meeting will be devoted to remembering those prisoners who stood up and stand up for justice.
The next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. will be on Monday, August 31 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo from 7:00-9:00pm. For more information: email@example.com; Karima Amin, 716-834-8438; BaBa Eng, 716-491-5319.
What the President Said
by Karima Amin
For the past few days President Obama has been sharing his thoughts about criminal injustice in Amerikkka. It was quite surprising for me to hear/read him opening up about mass incarceration, solitary confinement, juvenile detention and the racism that defines all of these issues and more. During his first and second presidential campaigns, he never said a word about Amerikkka’s prisons or prisoners. While immigrants, veterans, and seniors were singled out as persons worthy of respect and consideration, prisoners were ignored. I found that to be incredible, knowing that the US has less than 5% of the world’s population and almost 25% of the world’s prison population. The US incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the developed world. Most prisoners are poor and most are Black, which says a lot about arrest rates and the need for sentencing reform. President Obama said some things that we have been voicing for decades to no avail. Here are some quotes from the President. In spite of his leaving office, let us work toward the policy changes which will improve life for all of us.
“It is past time for a complete overhaul of this country’s criminal justice system.”
“The best time to stop crime is before it even starts. If we make investments early in our children we will reduce the need to incarcerate kids.”
“We have to reconsider whether 20-year, 30-year life sentences for non-violent crimes is the best way for us to solve these problems. Our criminal justice system isn’t as smart as it should be. We should invest in alternatives to incarceration…such as drugs courts, treatment, and probation programs.”
“We need to fix conditions in our prisons. There should be no overcrowding, gang activity, rape, or overuse of solitary confinement. Prison should be a place where a person who has made a wrong turn can get back on track. Prisons should offer rehabilitation and increased opportunities for an individual’s future success.”
His comments about the community, the courts, and the prisons should be examined and used as we move forward with our work to effect policy changes. At the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. we will explore our current campaigns and plans for our future. Our focus for the last 10 years has primarily been concerned with community….and specifically with strengthening families with imprisoned loved ones. Please join us at our next monthly meeting to share your thoughts on Monday, July 27 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt St. in Buffalo, from 7:00-9:00pm. For more information contact Karima: 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website: www.prp2.org and/or “like” us on Facebook.
June, 2015 Program
A Month O' Celebrations
by Karima Amin
The month of June always brings on thoughts of celebrations: graduations, weddings, birthdays….my own, my son’s, and my sister Wendy’s special day. For PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC., June is the month to celebrate our anniversary. This year on June 29, we will celebrate 10 years of activism in this community. June 10 was a day to remember BaBa Eng’s homecoming in 2013 after 36 years of incarceration.
Juneteenth is a time for remembering the 1865 abolition of slavery in America. Buffalo’s two day Juneteenth celebration this year was the 40 such commemoration. Yesterday, I was privileged and honored to celebrate Juneteenth in Olean, NY with my drumming sisters, DAUGHTERS OF CREATIVE SOUND. On the prior evening in Buffalo, we remembered Black lives lost during our MA’AFA, a period of horrible atrocities perpetrated against people of African descent, beginning with the period of enslavement to these present days. It was a solemn occasion but it was also a time to celebrate the indomitable spirit of a people who refuse to be obliterated from the face of the planet. We placed flowers on the Niagara River and called the names of our Ancestors, never to be forgotten. We reminded people of the 13 Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, except for those convicted of a crime.
At our next meeting, when we celebrate 10 years for PRP2 and 2 years for our Program Director, BaBa Eng, and 68 years (!) for me, Karima Amin,, we will pause to reflect on our accomplishments since June of last year and our plans for the future. We will sit in a circle and affirm our humanity and the humanity of those still enslaved in jails and prisons who we pray will benefit from our teaching, mentoring, and advocacy. We will share words of power, wisdom, and encouragement.
The next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. will take place on Monday, June 29, from 7:00-9:00pm at the Pratt Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, in Buffalo, NY. Come join the celebration! (Need more info? Karima Amin, 716-834-8438; email@example.com.)
May, 2015 Program
Meet with us for the screening of "15 to Life: Kenneth's Story,"
on MONDAY, MAY 18, 2015, 7:00 - 9:00pm,
@ the C.A.O. Masten Resource Center
(aka- the Rafi Green Center),
1423 Fillmore (@ the corner of Glenwood) in Buffalo.
Our guest speaker will be Mr. Tommy McClam from Open Buffalo.
National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth, May 17-23
By Karima Amin
For a full week, communities around the nation will highlight the problems associated with juvenile justice. It’s a topic that PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. re-visits at least twice yearly but it is a topic that should concern all of us all the time. The U.S. incarcerates more of its youth than any other country in the world. Approximately 500,000 youth are brought to detention centers in a given year.
“Save the Kids” is a fully volunteer, national grassroots organization that is building a movement dedicated to ending incarceration of all youth and the school to prison pipeline. It was started 6 years ago by 4 incarcerated youth, at Rikers Detention, who wanted people in community to understand how and why so many youth are incarcerated. They also wanted community to think about alternatives to incarceration and the critical need for returning youth to have support after incarceration. To that end, “Save the Kids,” started the campaign for a “National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth.” Since 2012, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. has joined with several community organizations in shining a spotlight on juvenile justice. “Teens in Progress” is to be commended for taking the lead in organizing a week of activities, which will include the efforts of 12 groups that understand the importance and value of giving our youth what they need to survive and thrive in a city that is struggling to improve itself. For more information about this campaign, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On May 18, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. will lend it support to this “National Week of Action…,” with a film screening and a guest speaker, at the CAO Masten Resource Center (aka the Rafi Green Center) which is located at 1423 Fillmore Avenue (@Glenwood) in Buffalo, from 7:00-9:00pm. PLEASE NOTE: this is not our usual Monday nor or usual meeting place. The film being shown is “15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story.” It tells the story of a 15 year old Black boy, tried as an adult, who was given four consecutive life sentences. After serving 10 years, most of them in solitary confinement, Kenneth if fighting for release and a second chance. It should be noted that he U.S. is the only country in the world that condemns juveniles to life without parole. Our guest speaker, Mr. Tommy McClam, from Open Buffalo, will share his thoughts on juvenile justice and share information about the kind of work that he has been able to do, working with our youth over the years. We are urging every adult to bring a child. As always, our meetings are open to the public.
SAFE Parole Reform Act in the Spotlight
by Karima Amin
April 2015 Program
For several years, we have stood on the side of those who advocate for the SAFE Parole Reform Act. SAFE stands for “Safe and Fair Evaluations.” Several of our monthly programs have focused on sharing information about parole in New York State. Formerly incarcerated people have shared their stories; former parole commissioners have expressed their views; parole officers have explained their stance; people with incarcerated loved ones have shared their concerns; and our friends from prisoner justice organizations across the State have encouraged us to be proactive in advocating for parole reform.
The fight for parole reform continues as New York State’s broken parole system continues to ignore the accomplishments of prisoners who have worked very hard to prepare themselves for eventual release and return to family and community. Every parole denial adds two more years to a prisoner’s sentence, two more years of heartache for a family, and two more years of denying a community the benefits of a citizen’s potential. To this end, the Parole Board never gives any clear message to parole applicants about what they need to do to cause a different result.
Yearly, thousands of people in prison prepare to appear before Parole Boards. Most have worked diligently to prepare themselves for release. Sadly, release is often denied due to the “nature of the crime.” While this person’s rehabilitation may be obvious, the crime of conviction, which may have been committed several decades ago, is the deciding factor and this person’s changed thinking and behavior are ignored. If the SAFE Parole Reform Act becomes a reality, parole applicants will be given the benefit of an opportunity to show themselves worthy of parole, families will be reunited and the Parole Board will have abided by the law.
You can get involved in this fight for justice by learning more about the campaign to reform parole and by gaining the tools that are necessary for having a conversation with our State representatives, demanding passage of the SAFE Parole Reform Act. As an alternative to the retribution and punishment that comes from the criminal justice system as it now functions, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. stands as a proponent of restorative justice that serves to promote the understanding that punishment alone is not effective in changing behavior and is disruptive to community harmony and good relationships.
Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. joins other organizations across the State, demanding passage of the SAFE Parole Reform Act. One of these organizations, “Milk Not Jails,” has produced a documentary, “Nature of the Crime,” which will be screened at our next monthly meeting on Monday, April 27, 2015 at 7:00-9:00pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, in Buffalo, NY. Mr. Cale Layton, from “Milk Not Jails,” will be present to answer your questions. As members of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, we work together “to challenge and change New York’s criminal justice system.” Join us in this effort.
For more information: 716-834-8438; Karima Amin (email@example.com); BaBa Eng (firstname.lastname@example.org).
March 2015 Program
Open Buffalo: What is It?
by Karima Amin
For nearly two years, you have been hearing about “Open Buffalo” and you may still have questions about what it is and what it isn’t. So let’s begin at the beginning.
First, defining “Open Society Foundations,” we see it is described as “…a grantmaking network …aimed to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights, and economic, legal, and social reform.” Next, looking at “Open Society Initiatives,” we learn that there are several. Buffalo is involved with the “Open Places” initiative. Recently, Buffalo was selected, along with Puerto Rico and San Diego to be engaged in a pilot project that would emphasize the development of solidarity and empowerment in our respective communities.
Still don’t get it? Then come to the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too to learn how the “Open Buffalo” campaign is changing the landscape of our community, helping us to become stronger and better informed about the systems that impact our lives. “Open Buffalo” has provided opportunities for training members of our community in methods for resolving our own issues and problems. At a press event and celebration held on January 17, 2014, at the Frank E. Merriweather Library, it was announced that Buffalo had been selected to become an “Open Places Initiative” site. At that time, the Buffalo News announced that a collaborative proposal submitted to OSF by Partnership for the Public Good, PUSH-Buffalo, Coalition for Economic Justice and VOICE-Buffalo, was one of 3 proposals selected, from a field of 16, to receive funding for 10 years.
Learn how that funding has been used thus far to address the challenges of systemic racism, especially in light of the many ways that our criminal justice system and education system have negatively impacted Buffalo citizens. Members of the “Open Buffalo” staff will be present to give us a clear picture of the work that has been accomplished thus far and a description of the work that has been proposed, moving forward.
Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will meet on Monday, March 30, from 7:00 to 9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, Buffalo, NY.
Be sure to visit our website: www.prp2.org and “like” us on Facebook.
February 2015 Program
It’s Black History Month….Again!
By Karima Amin
I recently made a comment to someone about this month being Black History Month. In an incredulous tone, that person replied, “Again!?” I was a little shocked as I was speaking to someone who was my age and college-educated who, for some reason, didn’t realize that Black History Month is an annual observance. Also, she had never heard of Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, “The Father of Black History,” who founded “Negro History Week” in 1926. Initially, the response was lukewarm but the idea gained in popularity over the next five decades and by the 1970’s school administrations, religious institutions, fraternal organizations, city councils, and some state governments embraced the importance of acknowledging the significance of the history of people of African descent. Canada and the UK also celebrate Black History Month. Woodson died in 1950 after distinguishing himself as a historian, journalist, and author, most notably for Mis-Education of the Negro.
I am always encouraged to see my history highlighted and I try, every day, to learn something new that I can share with others. Although Woodson only designated one week for study and celebration, he spent a lifetime establishing the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1915) and a journal, The Negro History Bulletin (1933) that still exist today.
At least once or twice yearly, Prisoners Are People Too takes the time to acknowledge Black History by inviting a guest speaker or screening a film which invites us to take a look back at where we have been, to have increased understanding of where we stand today. This month we have a film, “The Black Power Mixtape -1967-1975,” which is a documentary compilation of people, events, and ideas that fueled nearly a decade known as the “Black Power Movement.” It goes back in time but includes the voices of contemporary people who were influenced by the history. If you were aware of what Black Americans were experiencing in the 60’s and 70’s, then you need to see this film. You will see that so much of what is going on in this nation now has happened before. If you were a child in the 60’s and 70’s then you need to see this film to know something of the history that was misinterpreted by media, often making the US appear benign and blameless and Blacks appear responsible for their own oppression. This documentary will give you what the typical textbook leaves out. Yesterday’s frustration with the status quo that ignores Black humanity is still with us today. Yesterday’s police brutality and subsequent violence are still with us today. Yesterday's racism, both overt and covert, are alive and well in the 21 century USA.
Prisoners Are People too will hold it’s next monthly meeting on Monday, February 23, 2015 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, in Buffalo, from 7:00- 9:00pm. For more information: Call 716-834-8438; or contact Karima, email@example.com; or BaBa, firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website: www.prp2.org and be sure to “like” us on Facebook.
January 2015 Program
Black Lives Matter
By Karima Amin
With the beginning of a new year, I am tempted to do what so many writers have done recently, that is to ruminate on what has happened to so many Black men (and a few women and children), murdered by law enforcement in recent months. Their words have been illuminating and shocking and frequently well-reasoned but only a few have offered solutions that might help to change the current status of race relations, as they impact and are impacted by systems that frame our daily lives. The criminal justice system, the education system, the economic system are only three that operate to maintain a society of haves and have-nots. All to frequently the have-nots are African Americans who have always had to fight against injustice in America.
Recent articles, like so many over the years before them, have talked about this history of injustice and the struggles we have waged against slavery, discrimination, segregation, desegregation, affirmative action and the relentless racism that denies our humanity. Recent murders, perpetrated by law enforcement, are modern-day examples of the lynchings that have taken place in this country for hundreds of years. Millions of Black lives have been lost because those in power put profits above people.
Historians have documented over 500 incidents of African insurrections on board slave ships (1650--1860). In the struggle to be free, we have always resisted the inhumanity that brought us to the Western Hemisphere. When we rebelled against slavery in the 1800’s (see Nat Turner, Denmark, Vesey, Gabriel Prosser), we were saying, “Black lives matter.” When we rebelled against the Black Codes, after slavery, and built strong, self-sufficient Black communities (see Tulsa, OK and Rosewood, FL), we were saying, “Black lives matter.” When the Black Panther Party and the Deacons for Defense and Justice emerged in the 1960’s, we were saying. “Black lives matter.” The Black Power Movement and the Civil Rights Movement both proclaimed, “Black lives matter!” While we understand that all lives matter, the history of the African in America is special. In spite of the gains we have made, racism keeps holding us back and pushing us back, often erasing our contributions and relegating our lives to that of second-class citizens. Today is simply a repeat of yesterday when we have to say again, “Black lives matter.”
A decade has passed since John V. Elmore wrote Fighting for Your Life: The African-American Justice Survival Guide. Specifically written for African Americans, this book clearly explains how to navigate the criminal justice system and survive “the long arm of the law.” Mr. Elmore is a well-respected attorney, practicing for more than 25 years with offices in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY. Often recognized for his professional, civic, and philanthropic work, he is a lawyer with a special concern for social issues affecting African Americans, especially the youth. He has been cited as a Citizen of the Year by the Buffalo News; a Phenomenal Father by Ebony Magazine; a Civil Rights Champion by the N. A. A. C. P.; and a Good Neighbor by Parents Magazine. His book is as timely now as it was in 2004 when it was first published. Our relationship with law enforcement has always been tenuous. When we consider solutions for making relationships better, education is the key. The information that Mr. Elmore brings to the table is life-saving and it ties in with Prisoners Are People Too’s push for establishing a city-wide recognition and acceptance of restorative practices with restorative justice hubs throughout Buffalo.
Mr. Elmore will be our guest speaker at the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too. Join us on Monday, January 26 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo at 7:00-9:00pm. Adults are encouraged to bring a youth. A few copies of Fighting for Your Life will be on hand. For more information: Call 716-834-8438; or contact Karima, email@example.com; or BaBa, firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website: www.prp2.org and “like” us on Facebook.
Taking Another Look: Through a Restorative Justice Lens
By Karima Amin
Several years ago at one of our monthly meetings, we screened the film “Prison Song,” a 2001 film, produced by B.E.T. (Black Entertainment Television), starring Mary J. Blige (R&B diva) and Q-Tip (rapper from “A Tribe Called Quest). Upon viewing, our follow-up discussion centered upon the factors that promoted juvenile incarceration, and by extension, mass incarceration. The film’s prologue states these undeniable facts that have only been exacerbated over the years:
*7 million children have a parent in prison or jail or recently released on probation or parole;
*Black children are 46 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to juvenile prison;
*4.6 million Black men out of a voting population of 10.4 million have lost their voting rights due to felony convictions;
*·Newborn Black males have greater than 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during their lifetimes.
Although this film is not a classic and may not receive a 5-star rating from everyone, it does a very good job of describing a community that is struggling with multiple social ills on a daily basis. Miseducation, weak community relations, poor health care, inadequate youth intervention, disrespectful and inhumane community policing, drug abuse and a criminal justice system that ignores the fact that victim and offender my both be victims.
Our most recent meetings have viewed Restorative Justice as an “umbrella theme,” directly and/or indirectly related to community policing, reintegration following incarceration, and community building. Since BaBa and I have had the opportunity to train core teams at various community spaces, I thought it would be interesting to view this film again now that Restorative Justice and Restorative Justice practices have been introduced. The dysfunction and sadness depicted in “Prison Song” might have been avoided if the community had been strengthened through peace circles and community conferencing, leading to community empowerment. In this film, locking up people is the ultimate solution to everything. The main characters are institutionalized in the mental hospital…. juvenile detention…the group home… and finally, the state prison. This film offers a clear description of what can go wrong when criminalization trumps restoration.
PLEASE NOTE: This film is rated R for violence and language.
Our next meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 24, 2014 from 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This is our final meeting for 2014. We will reconvene on January 26, 2015. Happy Holidays!
MORE INFO: For more information about Restorative Justice, go to the “Brother BaBa Speaks” page. Be sure to LIKE us on Facebook. This program is supported by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng.
October 2014 Program
by Karima Amin
It was December of 2009 when Senators Malcolm A. Smith and Antoine Thompson announced the advent of “Operation SNUG” (“guns” spelled backward) and we learned that several Erie County community organizations would receive $500,000 for the prevention of gun violence. At that time, Senator Smith said, “Today marks a turning point in community safety…. Gun violence affects us all- white or black, rich or poor, illegal guns terrorize neighborhoods and tear apart families. For too long, the deadly specter of illegal guns has gone unchecked. In cities across the state, our children are dying at the hands of gun violence, but through our commitment to SNUG, we can put a stop to that deadly trend now and return our streets to their rightful owners, the people of New York.”
Senator Thompson concurred, saying, "Gang violence and illegal gun use has been a problem in Buffalo and across the state for too long. Operation SNUG will hopefully cut down on excessive gang violence that many communities face."
On February 5, 2014, Senator Tim Kennedy announced the re-launching of “Operation SNUG,” awarding $366, 400 to Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, which is implementing a targeted neighborhood violence prevention project. Believing in the promise of “Operation SNUG,” Senator Kennedy said, “This funding will target neighborhoods hardest hit by street violence and apply a tried-and-tested model of street outreach and violence intervention to cut down on gang activity and reduce violent crime from the frontlines.”
Pastor James E. Giles, President/CEO of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries said, “These state resources will allow us to implement a Cure Violence program, enhance the work of the Buffalo Peacemakers and keep violence interrupters on the streets looking out for our neighbors and preventing crime.” Back to Basics is one of seven groups across the state that have received state funding to implement a coordinated, community-based strategy that seeks to prevent violent crime and encourage high-risk youth to avoid criminal activity and instead pursue positive opportunities.
Time has passed. Has SNUG been a success? Is there more or less gun violence today than we had in 2009? What has been the community’s response to “Buffalo SNUG?”
If you want to know the answers to these questions, come to our next monthly meeting to meet Rahel Weldeysesus. She is the Program Manager for “Buffalo SNUG.” She previously served as the Program Development Director at Back to Basics. For two years, she was the Community Relations Director for New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. When I first met her, she was the Development Coordinator for Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York. She is diligent and passionate about her work.
Our next meeting will be on Monday, October 27, at 7:00-9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. For more information: 716-834-8438 or Karima@prisonersare peopletoo.org or BaBa Eng, email@example.com.
September 2014 Program
September 13, 1971: We Remember
by Karima Amin
Every year in September, the monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. is devoted to commemorating the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971, the deadliest prison uprising in US history. Although this event is frequently referred to as a “riot,” it was no “riot.” It was a “rebellion,” an uprising that left 29 prisoners and 10 hostages dead, massacred by NY State Troopers, deployed by then governor Nelson Rockefeller. The prisoners had tried to make their frustrations known, hoping to have them addressed through proper “official” channels but letters and grievance forms were ignored. Their demands listed the need for improved medical care, better food and clothing, and opportunities for education. The prison was extremely overcrowded and prisoners were denied certain basic sanitation needs, being relegated to one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper per month. Conditions were inhumane and blatantly racist, with a prison population that was 60 % Black and Brown living under the thumb of an all-white cadre of prison guards.
History books tell many different stories about the rebellion. Our past programs have featured films and guest speakers that have helped us to understand what happened at Attica forty-three years ago. At our next monthly meeting, guest speaker, Tina Saunders, will tell us about a program that she has been conducting for more than 10 years, taking children into Attica State Prison to listen to prisoners talk about life at Attica and what brought them there. They also talk to the children about staying in school and striving to be good citizens in their communities. Ms. Saunders is the director of “No More Tears,” a Youth Intervention Project of Back–to-Basics Outreach Ministries. Once or twice per month, Tina brings young people, ages 13 and older, face-to-face with prisoners who are on Honor Block. Their words resonate with youth who are dealing with crime generative factors everyday, poverty, racism, mis-education, drugs, and more. The youth listen to men who understand what they are dealing with because they have experienced the same. They also learn that prison is no place to aspire to. Attica, a maximum-security supermax, is little better than it was forty-three years ago. According to the NYS Correctional Association, Attica is defined, in part, by “…alarming rates of physical and sexual abuse, coupled with a deeply entrenched atmosphere of hostility, and a blatant disregard for human dignity….”
Several of our past programs have highlighted the “school to prison pipeline.” Tina Saunders understand how real the pipeline is and she is doing her part to dismantle it by giving children an eye-opening opportunity to talk to incarcerated men who might be in a better place if they had made better choices.
Our next meeting will be on Monday, September 29, 2014 at 7:00-9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin or BaBa Eng at 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org or BaBa at email@example.com. (September 9-13, 1971)
August 2014 Program
Remembering Geronimo ji Jigga Pratt
by Karima Amin
Every year during the month of August, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. devotes a program to the existence of political prisoners in the USA. While this government has patently denied the presence of political prisoners on these shores, the fact remains, there are political prisoners in America and we have taken time to recognize their presence and their pain. We have called their names, Mumia, Seth, Jalil, Leonard, Mutulu, Sekou, Sundiata, Oscar, Herman, David, the MOVE 9, and more…all imprisoned for their political beliefs…all imprisoned for decades. In discussing the plight of political prisoners, we have highlighted COINTELPRO, a counter-intelligence program of the US government’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. Under COINTELPRO, the FBI has used methods that have been sometimes covert and often illegal, discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents; planting false reports in the media; harassment; illegal violence, including assassination; and wrongful imprisonment. COINTELPRO was official from 1956-1971, though many of its tactics were used prior to 1956 and are used to this day. In a film, “The FBI’s War on Black America” which PRP2 screened, a few years ago, historical documentation proved that COINTELPRO was especially aimed at Black leadership in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. One of those imprisoned at that time was Geronimo ji Jigga Pratt, Minister of Defense for the Black Panther Party. He was tried and convicted of the kidnap and murder of Caroline Olsen, an elementary schoolteacher in 1972, crimes he never committed. After more than two decades in prison, including eight years in solitary confinement, he was freed in 1997 when his conviction was vacated.
Before his imprisonment, believing in the promise of America, Pratt joined the army and served two tours of duty in Viet Nam, earning both silver and bronze medals and twice receiving the “purple heart.” After his stint in the army, he studied political science at UCLA and he joined the Black Panther Party when he saw that his army training could be useful there. He worked as a human rights activist before and after his imprisonment. He died in 2011, in his adopted country of Tanzania, West Africa.
Join us for the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. when we will share more information about Geronimo and the United Nation’s recent request (August 14), issued by the CERD (Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination), for the US government to officially recognize political prisoners in this country and to state specifically what it intends to do about "more than 20 civil rights era political activists and human rights defenders from 1960’s Black, Latino, and American Indian movements, now aged, and some in not so good health still being held in prison?" Please note that this is not the first time that such a request has been made.
Our next meeting will be on Monday, August 25, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin or BaBa Eng at 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. .
July 2014 Program
Something Old is New in Buffalo
by Karima Amin
For the last several months, you may have been hearing about the “Open Buffalo” initiative that was announced in January in the Buffalo News and announced at a press conference, sponsored by the Partnership for the Public Good, at the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library. It was reported that the Open Society Foundation has awarded a two-year, $1.9 million grant, to four local non-profits, to “combat economic injustice and inequality in Buffalo.” These four non-profits, PUSH-Buffalo, the Coalition for Economic Justice, VOICE-Buffalo, and the Partnership for the Public Good, have each selected “partners,” 13 in number, who will collaborate to improve life in Buffalo, a city overwhelmed by racism and poverty. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. is honored to be one of the chosen “partners” and we will be moving forward with our effort to improve conditions at the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility by introducing and implementing Restorative Justice Practices with an eye toward healing victims, their families, and the community-at-large while encouraging offenders to take responsibility.
To understand that something old is new in Buffalo, you need some background about “restorative justice.” What is it? If you ask five people, you may get five different answers. “Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior or an offensive act. It is best accomplished through cooperative practices that include all stakeholders…victims, offenders, family and community members.” Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured. Those most directly involved and affected by an offense should have the opportunity to participate in the response. Repairing the harm is at the center of Restorative Justice, which is an umbrella term encompassing several different practices, among them: victim-offender mediation, group conferencing, conflict resolution, peacemaking circles and more. Restorative Justice is thousands of years old but new to Buffalo.
At the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., three guest speakers will share information about restorative justice. Our Program Director, George BaBa Eng, a proponent of restorative justice for several years, received specialized training from Rev. Robert Spicer (RJ Trainer and Facilitator from Chicago) and advanced training from the International Institute for Restorative Practices. BaBa has written several scholarly essays on the topic and he will share historical information about the roots of RJ and our desire to bring restorative practices to the Erie County Holding Center. Restorative Justice is thousands of years old but new to Buffalo. Pastor James Giles, Executive Director of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries and vice-president of VOICE-Buffalo, will speak about the various ways that the community can benefit with restorative justice impacting our quality of life. Mr. Andy Prinzing learned about restorative justice when he lived in Ithaca and worked as an instructional supervisor at the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University. He came to Buffalo in 2011 and became the assistant principal of the Buffalo Community Charter School where he saw how certain restorative principles could increase attendance and reduce suspensions.
Our next meeting will be on Monday, July 28, 2014 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This meeting is sponsored by the Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 2014 Program
Success + Success = More Success
for Prisoners Are People Too
by Karima Amin
It’s been said that June is a month chock full o’ celebrations…weddings, graduations, proms, Juneteenth, Black Music Month, summer solstice…and the list goes on. June 1 is when I celebrate my years on the planet and the month when we acknowledge another year’s work for Prisoners Are People Too, which was founded in June, 9 years ago.
Since June of 2013, much has been accomplished and we’ve had some disappointments too, but our successes far outweigh those people and things that would seek to divert our mission.
Our Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders is gaining strength with Sara Jablonski encouraging members to write to reformed offenders, giving them the strength and encouraging words that they need to hear from community. Our Program Director, BaBa Eng, just celebrated one successful and productive year of “freedom” after 36 years of incarceration. The Circle also encouraged Shawnon Mu’haimin Bolden (free since January 2014) and James Justice McMoore who will walk through prison gates in July.
As the “Open Buffalo” initiative gains a presence in the city, Restorative Justice is being seen more and more as a major part of making Buffalo a better place. Prisoners Are People Too is at the forefront of the drive to institute restorative practices in our courts, jails and schools, with Citizen Action, Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, and the Erie County Restorative Justice Task Force. More collaboration can be seen as VOICE-Buffalo helps us to organize for the restoration of the conditional release program, which worked successfully in Buffalo (1992-2005), giving formerly incarcerated people an opportunity to jump-start new and improved lives in the reentry process. Also, in working with the Erie County Restorative Justice Task Force, we are strengthening our position as restorative justice practitioners through a training process that is comprehensive and holistic. We have laid a foundation for bringing restorative justice to the Erie County Correctional Facility and the Erie County Holding Center.
Our collaborative work continued this year on April 16 with PRP2 members participating in the Milk Not Jails statewide action for parole reform. We stood in front of the Buffalo Parole office then marched to Sen. Grisanti’s local office. More collaboration occurred when 16 of us went to Albany to attend the New York State Prisoner Justice Network’s Day of Action Against Mass Incarceration. We showed up, joining about 500 others, with our signs and our voices, calling for parole reform, jobs not jails, an end to solitary confinement, better care and concern for aging prisoners, and more compassion and justice for our children, caught up in the criminal injustice system. A recent collaboration led us to work with Buffalo’s Teens in Progress, as we participated in a national week of action against incarcerating youth.
We thank everyone who has worked with us this year and who believes, as we do, that prisoners are people too.
To find out more about what we are doing and to get involved with our work, please come to our next monthly meeting on Monday, June 30, 2014, at 7pm – 9pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. For more information: Karima Amin, email@example.com; BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org; 716-834-8438.
May 2014 Program
National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth
by Karima Amin
On May 5, fifteen of us from Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. traveled to Albany, NY for a Day of Action against Mass Incarceration. This was an opportunity to learn, network, and speak truth to power. The Buffalo delegation described the day as empowering, inspiring, and hope-FULL. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. has many concerns regarding criminal justice issues in genral and prisoner justice issues specifically. Our concerns are high priority and we need your help in tackling them. While in Albany, Buffalo folks had much to say about solitary confinement, parole reform and the plight of Reformed Offenders, men and women who have taken steps to better their lives in an effort to become assets to family and community. A visit to our website, www.prp2.org shows that we are on the frontlines of many issues and we have a sincere interest in our youth.
May 19 – 26, 2014 will mark the 2 annual National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth. To shed some light on this issue, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will be screening “The Central Park Five,” an award-winning documentary about five Black and Latino teens from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in NYC’s Central Park in 1989. The victim became known as “The Central Park Jogger.” These boys spent between 6 and 13 years in prison before a serial rapist admitted that he alone had committed the crime, and the boys’ convictions were overturned and they were exonerated in 2002. Although youth incarceration has declined in recent years, America still has thousands of juveniles (under age 21) who are confined in adult facilities and many who are incarcerated for life with no possibility of parole. America incarcerates more of its youth than any other developed country in the world. Most are Black, Latino and poor Whites. Police coerced these boys into confessing and their photos, names, and addresses were released to media coverage, which sensationalized the case.
These men, now in their 30s, have sued the city and the City Council passed a resolution to pay them $250 million. In 2013, Mayor, Bill de Blasio agreed to settle. Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antran McCray, and Raymond Santana want justice and closure. To date, the suit against the city has not been settled.
The film highlights circumstances of race and class that led to the boys’ being criminalized before arraignment and conviction. What happened in 1989 could easily happen today. With limited understanding of race and class, an over-zealous police force, media that cares more about profit than people, and malicious prosecution, our youth could find their lives similarly devastated.
Join us for the screening of “The Central Park Five” with a brief follow-up discussion at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. on Monday, May 19, from 7:00 to 9:30pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, Buffalo, NY. For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or email@example.com; or BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org. PLEASE NOTE THE DATE AND TIME CHANGE.
April, 2014 Program
Standing Up! Speaking Out!
by Karima Amin
PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. has always upheld the idea that fighting against unjust laws is a moral responsibility as we work to erase unjust laws through actions that will promote justice and equality for all. Next month, on May 5, when we travel to Albany to face-off with our State legislators, we will continue standing up and speaking out for those who have been incarcerated unjustly and for those who have positively transformed their lives behind bars and are now worthy of release. We will continue to give voice to the voiceless who have been abused in dungeons where man’s inhumanity to man has been rampant as prisoners have endured the kind of mental and physical torture that seeks to destroy the soul.
Believing in the humanity of all people, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. (PRP2) has always spoken out for men, women, and children confined to our State and local correctional facilities. PRP2 was at the forefront of bringing the Department of Justice to Western NY when our Erie County Holding Center was becoming well known, across the State and the Nation for an ugly spate of alleged suicides, which led to millions of your tax dollars being spent to settle related lawsuits. Strengthening its profile, PRP2’s activism led to the creation of the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition and to PRP2’s joining the New York State Prisoner Justice Network. Standing up and speaking out is what we have done to keep the community informed about criminal justice and prisoner justice issues. The work has not been easy and frustrations abound but we continue to work, believing that everyone is deserving of professional, fair, and humane treatment.
At the next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC., we are honored to have, as our guest speaker, Mr. George K. Arthur, a political legend, active on the political scene in Buffalo for fifty years. This is a man who knows a little something about hard work, frustration, and determination. He served on the Erie County Board of Supervisors from 1964-1967, as Ellicott District Councilman from 1970-1978, and then as Councilman-at-Large in 1978, eventually serving as Common Council President from 1984 until his retirement in 1996. Along the way, he ran for mayor in 1985 as the unendorsed Democratic candidate, narrowly losing to incumbent Jimmy Griffin. He is a man who understands the meaning of dogged tenacity. Giving up is not an option even when naysayers laugh in the face of justice.
For a good dose of inspiration, come out to the next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. on Monday, April 28, 2014, at 7:00 – 9:00pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng sponsor all monthly programs. For more information: 716-834-8438; Karima Amin (email@example.com); BaBa Eng (firstname.lastname@example.org).
March, 2014 Program
Join Us and Speak Out Against Prison Injustice on May 5
by Karima Amin
Every Spring, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. encourages you to join us in Albany, NY where we face-off with “the powers that be” to express our major concerns regarding criminal justice issues. Whether you call it “Lobby Day,” “Legislative Awareness Day,” “Family Empowerment Day,” or “Day of Action,” it is a special day for you to speak out against prison injustice. At our website (www.prp2.org) we have noted which issues concern us most: parole reform, reformed offenders, juvenile justice, parole for aged prisoners, solitary confinement, reentry, restorative justice and more. Past PRP2 meetings have disseminated information on these issues and will continue to do so.
We encourage you to seriously consider coming to Albany on May 5 to add your voice and your presence at a day of actions that allow you to meet with advocates across the state who feel as you do about reform and the ultimate abolition of a criminal injustice system that is destroying lives and communities everyday. May 5 will consist of a 10:00am Press Conference on Solitary Confinement; a 12:30pm March and Rally Against Prison Injustice, where Cornel West will be the keynote speaker; and a 2:30pm Parole Reform Speakout. Details regarding topics of special concern and transportation to Albany will be shared at our next meeting.
Please join us on Monday, March 31 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo at 7:00 – 9:00pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders will sponsor this gathering. If you need more information, call 716-834-8438 or contact Karima or BaBa: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
February, 2014 Program
The Reformed Offender: A Valuable Community Asset
by Karima Amin
I am frequently asked why I work with people who have been convicted of committing crimes. Why do I find them and their families worthy of my time and concern? Why do I support people who have “served time” and who are now re-entering society? I suppose the simple answer is my understanding that I could just as easily be in their shoes. The criminal justice system touches all of us, some more than others, and the repercussions can be long lasting and life altering. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. has established a Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders. We believe in redemption and we believe in second chances.
Our Program Director, George BaBa Eng, once said:
“The reformed offender is no longer a threat to public safety. As reformed offenders, we realize that we will always owe a debt of atonement to our families and communities, because the history of crime and ignorance, that we once helped to perpetuate, requires our commitment to eradicate. We have shown remorse, obtained college degrees, organized and coordinated prison programs aimed at reforming others. We have enormous resources of skills, knowledge, and experience to offer. We ask that you hold us accountable…”
There are scores of reformed offenders right here in Western New York who are hard working, law-abiding citizens who have embraced their second chances with the kind of commitment and positive energy that should inspire all of us to do a better job of treating people in a manner that is more humane and non-judgmental.
At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. Several reformed offenders will describe what it has meant for them to get a second chance in Western New York. In addition to their stories, we will hear from people who are willing to share a few positive words about these reformed offenders’ contributions to the Buffalo community. Reformed offenders are teachers, mentors, laborers, artists, entrepreneurs, counselors, medical assistants, restaurant workers, mechanics, barbers, religious leaders, office workers, and more. Their work weaves important threads into the fabric of a community that needs honest and enthusiastic men and women who believe that it is their responsibility to be contributors, even in a place where people may have nothing but fear and disdain for their return.
This meeting promises to be an inspirational gathering. Please join us on Monday, February 24, 2014, at 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. All monthly programs are sponsored by the Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; Karima Amin (email@example.com); BaBa Eng (firstname.lastname@example.org).
January 2014 Program
Solitary is Torture by Karima Amin
A new year always brings on thoughts and feelings of new energy, fresh ideas, and novel approaches. As Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. enters its ninth year of prisoner justice advocacy, 2014 will be a year of increased education and enhanced advocacy that serves to engage your input regarding local and statewide justice issues. We have always encouraged you to join us in advocating for justice, right here in Buffalo and beyond. January has us bringing some attention to the plight of those who are held in solitary (isolated) confinement. We have highlighted this issue before and we’re doing it again to solicit your active involvement in challenging a prison policy that is cruel and inhumane. In a word: torture. Your voice, your signature, and your interest will help to move legislation that will end the kind of long-term solitary confinement that rots the mind, body, and spirit. We have known this for decades. The U.S. prison system incarcerates more of its people than any other country in the world and it also isolate more of its own citizens than any other country in history.
Prison administrators say that solitary confinement provides discipline and prevents violence. Several studies, examining the relationship between prison violence and isolated confinement, have shown that this is generally untrue. While the U. S. has quadrupled its incarceration rate in the last thirty years, work, education and therapeutic programs have been discontinued. While prison space has increased, opportunities for rehabilitation on the inside have decreased. This is a recipe for violence.
Currently, there are about 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement. While there are some who are truly dangerous and who pose a serious threat, most are not violent or dangerous. Some have mental health issues that are not being dealt with. Some are escapees or suspected gang members. Long-term isolation is often misused, placing a person in solitary for years…even decades.
Not too long ago, some Americans accepted legalized segregation. Today, some Americans accept legalized torture in the form of isolated confinement. It has been proven that living with no human contact for an extended period, can lead to severe psychiatric harm. The Center for Constitutional Rights has this to say: “Today, tens of thousands of individuals across the country are detained inside cramped, concrete, windowless cells in a state of near-total solitude for between 22 and 24 hours a day. The cells have a toilet and a shower, and a slot in the door large enough for a guard to slip a food tray through. Prisoners in solitary confinement are frequently deprived of telephone calls and contact visits. ‘Recreation’ involves being taken, often in handcuffs and shackles, to another solitary cell where prisoners can pace alone for an hour before being returned to their cell. Ever since solitary confinement came into existence, it has been used as a tool of repression. While it is justified by corrections officials as necessary to protect prisoners and guards from violent superpredators, all too often it is imposed on individuals, particularly prisoners of color, who threaten prison administrations in an altogether different way. Consistently, jailhouse lawyers and jailhouse doctors, who administer to the needs of their fellow prisoners behind bars, are placed in solitary confinement. They are joined by political prisoners from various civil rights and independence movements.”
Join us on Monday, January 27, 2014 for a full-day of workshops about Solitary Confinement. We urge you to join the fight against it. CAIC (Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement) will be in Buffalo to conduct these workshops . We urge you to attend. At 12:30, CAIC will be at Back to Basics, 1370 William Street in Buffalo. At 7:00, CAIC will present a program on Solitary Confinement at Prisoners Are People Too’s regular monthly meeting at Pratt-Willert, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. To RSVP or ask questions, contact BaBa Eng, email@example.com, or Karima Amin, firstname.lastname@example.org. (716-834-8438)
November 2013 Program
Remembering Herman Wallace (1941-2013)
by Karima Amin
Recently Herman Wallace died, after spending more than 40 years behind bars in solitary confinement. He and his co-defendants, Robert King and Albert Woodfox (“The Angola Three”), had spent most of their time in prison at Louisiana State Penitentiary, aka “Angola,” aka “The Farm.” Back in 2005, when Prisoners Are People Too had its first meeting, we screened “The Farm: Angola USA,” a film about Louisiana State Penitentiary, a prison farm located on a 18,000acre property which was previously a plantation. What happens there today is little different from what happened there when enslaved Africans worked the land. Disrespect, humiliation, mental and physical abuse, and murder is the order of the day.
Herman Wallace and his co-defendants were convicted of the 1972 stabbing murder of a prison guard, 23-year-old Brent Miller. Interestingly enough, there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime, DNA evidence was lost, and the testimony of the main eyewitness (a jailhouse snitch) was discredited. Miller’s wife has repeatedly and openly stated that she does not believe that these men were responsible for the death of her husband. After 29 years, Robert King’s conviction was overturned on appeal and he was released. King has worked tirelessly to build international recognition and support for the plight of “The Angola Three.”
Albert Woodfox is still in solitary confinement.
Herman Wallace died on October 4, 2013.
The US government denies the existence of political prisoners. These are men and women who remain incarcerated for their political views and actions. Wallace and Woodfox were members of the prison’s chapter of the Black Panther Party. As activists, they worked to improve conditions at Angola. They organized petitions and hunger strikes to protest segregation within the prison, and to end systemic rape and violence.
For decades, Herman Wallace endured the torture of solitary confinement and the lack of proper medical care, even after a diagnosis of liver cancer. His many attempts to present his case to the courts, proclaiming his innocence, were dismissed and ignored. On October 1, 2013, a federal court overturned his murder conviction, saying that his confinement had been unfair and unconstitutional. On October 2, dying of liver cancer, Mr. Wallace was finally taken from the prison by family and friends. On October 4, he joined the Ancestors.
At he next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, we will screen the award –winning documentary “Herman’s House” which details a project that Herman Wallace participated in with filmmaker Angad Bhalla and artist, Jackie Sumell. The question was asked: “After forty years of living in a 6 foot by 9 foot prison cell for 23 hours a day, for more than forty years, what kind of house do you dream about?” The film details the symbolic meaning of Herman’s dream house. Join us on Monday. November 25, 7:00-9:00pm (note time change), at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo.
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or email@example.com or BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Herman Wallace
October 2013 Program
Who Will Be Our Next Erie County Sheriff?
by Karima Amin
As we move forward to November 5, Election Day, I wonder how many of us are prepared to cast an educated ballot for the office of Sheriff? Given the problems we have witnessed at the Erie County Holding Center, during the last 8 years, while Sheriff Timothy Howard has been in office, makes it imperative for us to stop and take a serious look at what has been accomplished under his watch. All political candidates have mottos and watch words which define who they are, what they do, and what they plan to do. Sheriff Howard defines himself as one who exhibits “a reputation for hard work and integrity.” There are some who agree with this wholeheartedly and others who have good reason for challenging this definition.
Are you an educated constituent? Do you know who is running this time for the office of Sheriff? Do you know what the Sheriff’s duties are? In a recent interview, Sheriff Howard said, "My reputation speaks of hard work, honesty and straightforwardness. I support the constitution and all that it stands for.”
Those of you who have supported Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. and the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition may not be in agreement with what Sheriff Howard says about himself. What is more important, I believe, is not what he says about himself, but what he has done to improve our holding center in Buffalo and correctional facility in Alden. There have been no suicides this year but there have been 7 since the last election. The holding center has a “sparking new” reception area but what has been done to improve conditions for those who find themselves confined there? If the compliance reports being compiled there by the Department of Justice were shared with the community, perhaps we would know what is being improved and what the deadlines are and if the Sheriff is working with the Department of Justice and the Commission of Correction to provide the kind of professional and humane treatment for which we have been advocating. No candidate is really talking about the holding center and for many of us, conditions at he holding center are a major issue and central to this election.
This time, Sheriff Howard is facing two candidates: Richard “Dick” Dobson, the Democratic candidate, and Bert Dunn, of the Law and Order Party. Both have worked for the Sheriff’s Department. Dobson says that ongoing problems at the holding center have had a negative impact on the morale of deputies “who put their lives on the line for the citizens of Erie County every day…. it is time to start putting policies into effect that will more closely protect our deputies…” Dunn, who lost to Dobson in the primary, hasn’t said anything about the holding center. In a recent interview with “New WNY Politics,” Sheriff Howard said, “One thing that some people don't understand who have criticized us for our handling of health and mental health related matters in the Holding Center is that, by law, matters involving health, mental health, and upkeep of the county jails, outside of day to day maintenance, are the responsibility of the County Executive, not the Sheriff.”
So there you have it: We have a candidate who is obviously more concerned about the deputies than the inmates. We have a loser, still in the running, who has nothing to say about the holding center. And we have an incumbent, Sheriff Timothy Howard, who has been cited by the New York State Commission on Correction for gross negligence and incompetence. A Sheriff who says, “It’s not my job.”
Whether these men show up at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too or not, we need to have a discussion about conditions at the holding center and what we expect in the future. The community must make its demands clear and hold our elected officials accountable.
Please join us for the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, which will be held on Monday, October 28, 2013, 6:30-8:30pm at 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: Karima Amin, email@example.com; BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org. 716-834-8438.
Prof. Teresa A. Miller
September 2013 Program
42 Years and Counting
by Karima Amin
Every year, in the month of September, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. plans for its
monthly meeting to re-visit the Attica Rebellion of 1971, when a courageous group of incarcerated men took the initiative on
September 9 to stand up for the few constitutional rights and human rights that incarcerated people have in the United States. They seized control of the prison, Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, NY, took 42 staff people hostage, put forth their grievances and demands, and in the end, on September, 13, 29 prisoners and 10 officers were killed in a massacre which occurred when Gov. Rockefeller called in the NYS Police Troopers and the NY National Guard to quell the uprising.
42 years and counting….and conditions at Attica haven’t improved much since 1971 and prisoner justice seems to be an area of advocacy that only appeals to the diehard few who believe that “prisoners are people too.” So many of us, unfortunately, are stuck in a place that only allows for us to see the stereotypes that define how we view a group of people known as felons, offenders, and lawbreakers. They are people….2.4 million in America, which has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. Everybody knows at least one confined person. Every family has at least one person under correctional supervision. We shun these men, women, and children and demean them and too often believe that we could never end up behind bars. There are people in our prisons and jails today that never thought that life’s circumstances would take them there. The 1200 prisoners who rebelled at Attica in 1971 had tried to make their grievances known through the proper channels by writing to officials who were responsible for medical care, and adequate food and clothing, but they were ignored and there was no redress. They complained about pervasive physical abuse and racially discriminatory treatment from guards. They hoped that Gov. Rockefeller would be concerned enough to come to Attica for the negotiations. The Governor refused and sent in firepower instead with drastic results.
In 2011, the University at Buffalo Law School and its Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy convened a conference to commemorate the 40 anniversary of the Attica uprising. This conference brought together prisoner advocates, legislators, policymakers, corrections professionals, activists and people who were on the front lines of the conflict, on both sides. This 2-day event reminded us, “Attica is all of us” and afforded us an opportunity to examine Attica’s legacy. Prof. Teresa A. Miller, an Associate Professor of Law at UB, who was the chief architect of this conference, will be PRP2’s guest speaker this month. Prof. Miller is a filmmaker, currently working on “Attica: The Bars That Bind Us,” which is scheduled for release this Fall. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will meet on Monday, September 30, 6:30-8:30 at the Pratt Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or email@example.com or G. BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photo above: Our guest speaker, 09-30-13, Prof. Teresa A. Miller from University
at Buffalo Law School.)
August 2013 Program
by Karima Amin
Black August: Remembering Jonathan Jackson
(Photo: Our guest speaker.
Bro. Mujahid Farid)
Every year at our August meeting, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. takes time to acknowledge Black August, remembering those who have exhibited a “spirit of resistance,” defying those social, civil, and political barriers that have been designed to repress our conscious efforts to be self-determining and free. Past programs have referred to “Freedom Fighters,” some currently incarcerated for decades and others who joined the Ancestors long ago, whose names remind us that all is not well in Amerikkka.
In the past, we have looked at COINTELPRO, an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram . This was a series of undercover and sometimes illegal acts conducted by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), aimed at discrediting and disrupting domestic political organizations. Just to name a few, the FBI infiltrated the following in an attempt to end their influence: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), MOVE, the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Black Liberation Army (BLA). Working in collaboration with the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and the NSA (National Security Agency), COINTELPRO’s reach was far and wide but was especially directed at Black leadership. It’s interesting to note that the leaders were young, in many cases, in their 20’s and 30’s, and that their following was often comprised of youth, some in their teens, ready to fight for justice. Some lost their lives in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.
Past programs have highlighted activist Fred Hampton, deputy chair of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party who was assassinated at the age of 21; Bobby Hutton, the Black Panther Party’s first recruit at the age of 16 who was murdered by police just a few days before his 18 birthday; and George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye, murdered by prison guards at the age of 29. This month, we’ll take some time to remember George’s brother, Jonathan who lost his life at age 17 in a fatal and futile attempt to negotiate freedom for George on August 7, 1970. George was assassinated just a few days later.
Jonathan, like so many of today’s youth, had a rebellious spirit. He was inspired by George’s spirit of resistance and revolutionary fervor but he lacked the kind of instruction that could have channeled the “warrior” in him. Jonathan was a victim of circumstance, without the kind of guidance that could have saved his life. Many of our young ones today, unfortunately, are misguided and misdirected victims of circumstance. They often lack the kind of nurturing and discipline that could save them and add value to their lives. Too many of our youth are criminalized at birth and throughout their lives by the systemic racism that leads to poverty, mis-education, poor nutrition, substandard housing, and stop-and-frisk policies that have been applied to first graders.
What is the state of juvenile justice today? What measures have been put in place to insure that our children will have full and productive lives? Does the school to prison pipeline really exist? Our guest speaker, Brother Mujahid Farid, a Soros Justice Fellow, is a staff member of the Correctional Association of NY. While Brother Farid is quite familiar with the plight of aging prisoners, he is also quite knowledgeable about issues related to juvenile justice. He will address these and other important questions.
Our next meeting will be on Monday, August 26, 2013, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, 6:30-8:30pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or email@example.com; or BaBa Eng,
July 2013 Program
by Karima Amin
Aging in Prison
Everyone loves grandma…and grandpa too. The love and respect that is accorded to them goes without question. Some of this love is extended to Moms and Pops…and even to elder Uncle John and Aunt Betty. But when incarceration enters the mix, love and respect often disappear and attitudes change. In fact, the general populace rarely thinks of aging prisoners, incarcerated seniors, who may be parents and/or grandparents. Incarceration has a way of making people invisible; they are “out of sight/out of mind,” and seemingly unworthy of anyone’s care or concern. Furthermore their voices are rarely heard and their humanity is literally denied. Who are these aging individuals in prison?
(Photo: Our guest speaker,
Early last year, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. presented a program, “Old Behind Bars,” which highlighted the importance of our considering the needs of our graying prison population. What we learned from a recent Human Rights Watch report is that: ·Nearly 10% of state prisoners are serving a life sentence. 11.2% have sentences longer than 20 years.
·The number of state and federal prisoners, age 65 or older, grew at 94 times the rate of the overall prison population between 2007 and 2010.
·Long sentences today mean that many current prisoners will not leave prison until they become extremely old, if at all.
·Many older prisoners remain incarcerated even though they are too old and infirm to threaten public safety if released.
·While some states are moving forward to change the rules about mandatory minimum sentences and parole, the need for special medical care and hospice care for the elderly in prison is rapidly growing.
·Some seniors behind bars have served their time and have demonstrated that they are parole-ready and parole-eligible. Some are political prisoners who are being held because of their political beliefs and actions. Their excessive confinement serves no good purpose.
The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will feature guest speakers from New York City who are spearheading a campaign, R.A.P.P., which supports the Release of Aging People in Prison. Mujahid Farid, a Soros Justice Fellow, is a staff member of the Correctional Association of NY and the Lead Organizer of R.A.P.P. “Farid’s work will, in part, highlight prisons’ failures to appropriately address the geriatric and healthcare needs of aging people and the tremendous fiscal costs associated with keeping the elderly in prison. But for Farid, the main focus will be increasing opportunities for release.” (Quote from Correctional Association website.) He will be joined by Laura Whitehorn, a R.A.P.P. Organizer and social justice advocate who spent 14 years in federal prison for the “Resistance Conspiracy” case, a political case involving actions against racism and colonialism. Since her 1999 release, she has worked against mass incarceration and worked for the release of political prisoners. Brother Farid and Sister Whitehorn may be joined by Brother Salahuddin A. Rashid who is an Affiliate Organizer of R. A.P.P.
Our guest speakers understand the importance of addressing the health/medical needs of our elders in prison and also the importance of bringing them home, so that those who are able, such as our Director of Programs, George BaBa Eng, and our Corresponding Secretary, Charles “Chuck” Culhane, can share the benefits of their wisdom, skills, and experience with the outside community.
Our next meeting will be on Monday, July 29, 2013, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, 6:30-8:30pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 2013 Program
Yes, BaBa is Here!
by Karima Amin
June is a big month for celebrations…graduations, weddings, Fathers Day, Juneteenth and more. In June, Prisoners Are People Too will celebrate two milestones. First, we will celebrate the organization’s 8th anniversary. For 8 years, we have provided critical information about issues defined by criminal injustice. Prison issues, that affect all of us, whether we realize it or not, have been the subject of several programs that have enlightened and inspired our community work.
If you’re wondering about the title of this article, wonder no more. On June 24, when we celebrate our 8th anniversary, we will also celebrate the homecoming of George BaBa Eng, following 36 years of imprisonment. BaBa, who is PRP2’s Program Director, will be our honored guest speaker. BaBa says: “I believe in the ethic of working, always towards the greatest good, for our people, to repair, rebuild and restore our community. I know that God will open doors and allow us to get what we need to get the work done. I look forward to sharing my mind, my spirit and my labor with you. May God continue to bless and secure the people of Buffalo in all that is right and good. Thank you so much for all your thoughts, prayers, and work in my behalf.”
This past year, we were honored to have Mr. Arthur O. Eve as a guest speaker. He was the former Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly who served as an observer and negotiator in the wake of the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion. Mr. Eve inspired a full house at our meeting last August, when we took time to remember, as we do every year, “Attica is all of us!” The challenges of reentry, domestic violence, aging in prison, veterans as prisoners, children of incarcerated parents, voting rights, and stigma, are just a few of the subjects that have been highlighted. We are exceedingly grateful to the wonderful speakers who have volunteered their time to inform and inspire. We have had a good year with two successful conferences: Family Empowerment Day (October 2012) and Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents (March 2013). Also, we were participants on several major panels hosted by the Social Justice Committee of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, the NYS Drug Policy Alliance, and the McMillan Empowerment Enterprise at Buffalo State College’s Burchfield Penny Art Center. In addition, we are growing. We now have two chapters in Erie and Niagara counties. Claudia Racine is the Niagara County facilitator.
Sponsored by the Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng, this meeting on June 24, 2013, will be at the Pratt Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, 6:30 – 8;30pm. Come join the celebration! (Need more info? Karima Amin, 716-834-8438; email@example.com.)
(That's BaBa in the photo above, front and center, shown here with friends at Great Meadow Prison, Comstock, NY.)
May 2013 Program
Realities of Reentry
by Karima Amin
As Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. moves closer to its eighth anniversary, we are moved to take a look at a topic that we have considered several times before. It’s a topic that touches all of us, although those who are formerly incarcerated are most affected because they live with the realities of reentry day and night. Some find reentry to be difficult at best while others think of it as a nightmare, worse than being in prison. I think that most, however, despite the restrictions imposed by parole, really understand that reentry, though challenging, offers an opportunity for a second chance.
Our guest speaker, Mr. Jerome Wright, “came home” in 2009. His transition wasn’t easy but he was fortunate to have a supportive family that helped to make his transition as smooth and productive as possible. As a result, he is an asset to his family and to this community. Despite his intelligence and positive transformation, family reunification was replete with issues that had to be resolved. He learned that dealing with the realities of reentry requires patience and a desire to learn new things, no matter how long or short the period of incarceration has been.
As a successful reentry candidate, Mr. Wright is now in a position to talk about navigating parole successfully. He is well equipped to discuss the challenges that have an impact on an individual’s promising return to the “free world.” Mr. Wright has served as the Reentry Program Director for Back to Basics Outreach Ministries. He is the author of a column entitled, “The Realities of Reentry,” which appeared in several issues of the C.P.R. (Coalition for Parole Restoration) newsletter. He is currently the Site Supervisor for the Center for Employment Opportunities. He is a valued member of our community who has mentored and counseled others to “do the right thing.”
Don’t miss Mr. Jerome Wright’s presentation at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., on Monday, May 20, 2013 at the Pratt Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30-8:30pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. (PLEASE NOTE: We usually meet on the last Monday of the month but May 29 is a National Holiday.)
April 2013 Program
Criminal Injustice: Perception or Reality?
by Karima Amin
Last month’s meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., took an in depth look at the stigma that is generated by a criminal conviction. This month we will consider the stigma that may have some bearing in a trial court.
Judges play many roles. They interpret the law, assess the evidence presented, and control how hearings and trials unfold in their courtrooms. Most important of all, judges are impartial decision-makers in the pursuit of justice. We have what is known as an adversarial system of justice - legal cases are contests between opposing sides, which ensures that evidence and legal arguments will be fully and forcefully presented. The judge, however, remains above the conflict, providing an independent and impartial assessment of the facts and how the law applies to those facts. The judge imposes appropriate fines or sentences.
Lawyers are expected to represent their clients with undivided loyalty; keep their clients' confidences; represent their clients competently; represent their clients within the bounds of the law; and put their clients' interests ahead of their own.
While lawyers and judges have certain responsibilities, and while we have certain expectations of them, what happens in reality? Is there truly “justice for all?” Is it possible for a decision to be tainted by stigma? What protected rights do we have in a court of law? There are those in community who view our criminal justice system as a system of criminal injustice. Why?
Our guest speaker, the Honorable Judge E. Jeannette Ogden, a judge in Buffalo City Court, will discuss the above and answer your questions. We are honored to have her join us in enhancing our understanding of the court’s power and our rights. Well known for being open, honest, compassionate and fair, Judge Ogden is well respected in this community. We appreciate her willingness to volunteer her time and energy in the interest of community education.
The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will take place on Monday, April 29, from 6:30pm – 8:30pm at the Pratt-Willlert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of PRP2, Inc. programs. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or email@example.com.
March 2013 Program
Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. Talks About Stigma
by Karima Amin
Since its inception, most Prisoners Are People Too monthly meetings have dealt with the stigma of a criminal conviction in some way. We have talked about the stigma that touches the family members of an incarcerated person. We have examined the stigma that follows a formerly incarcerated person who is seeking employment or housing. We have dealt with the stigma that rears its ugly head when the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction are considered. These may include disenfranchisement, disentitlement of education loans, loss of a professional license or drivers’ license, or eviction from public housing. We have considered the stigma that defines a community when those outside of the community fail to understand the community’s strengths as well as its deficits. Stigma means different things to different people in various situations but it mostly means attaching shame or disgrace to something or someone regarded as socially unacceptable. Oftentimes, stigma is based on misconceptions, stereotypes and labeling. When someone is coming home from prison, and they have paid their debt to society, they all to often find that second chances are in short supply and that ignorance has a tendency to paint all formerly incarcerated people with the same brush.
For most formerly incarcerated people, reentry is an uphill battle. The roadblocks are daunting and assimilation back into society can be extremely frustrating. Most frustrating, in my opinion, is the stigma we attach to the process of reentry with our unwillingness to see those who have served time in prison as people, deserving of an opportunity to become assets, fully productive contributors to society.
At the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too we will look at the stigma associated with a criminal conviction. The short documentary being screened is, “The Long Shadow of Incarceration’s Stigma,” produced and distributed by the “Think Outside the Cell Foundation.” The film shows how frustrating reentry can be when society fails to help formerly incarcerated people who are sincerely striving to do well, in moving forward with their lives. Our guest speaker will be Ms. Tracy Fleming who has worked in the criminal justice system since 1996. She has been with the Buffalo Urban League’s Re-Entry Program since its inception 5 years ago. Currently, she is the Coordinator of the Buffalo Urban League’s Re-Entry Programs and Services. Ms. Fleming understands what it means to be stigmatized and marginalized and she is a true advocate of second chances, working tirelessly to remove barriers faced by those returning home from incarceration.
Our next meeting will be March 25, 2013 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, in Buffalo, from 6:30-8:30pm. See the film and hear the speaker and advance your understanding of stigma and what can be done to eradicate it.
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng, support PRP2 programs. For more information, call 716-834-8438 or e-mail Karima Amin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 2013 Program
Prison World Stories: Three Women Speak
by Karima Amin
Most of you know that I am a storyteller. It’s what I do and it’s who I am. I love stories and storytelling. Jackie Torrence, a very famous storyteller, now deceased, once told me that a story is like a prayer. I believe this; stories have power. For three decades I have shared stories of all kinds and I’ve listened to stories since my childhood that have made me laugh and cry. I have read and heard stories that have inspired me, captured my imagination, and shaped my worldview. In sharing stories with both children and adults in many venues, I have reached a better understanding of who I am and what I value. I have never forgotten that it was storytelling that first took me into the prisons.
I went in as a guest speaker, telling stories and delivering motivational speeches. In 1994, the year that I resigned from teaching in the Buffalo Public Schools, WBLK-FM invited me to share fables on the air. I started receiving letters from prisoners who were responding to the fables, finding hope, comfort and inspiration in them. My eyes were opened and I became more concerned about what was happening in the prisons, and subsequently, in our communities. Letters from prisoners and my prison visits opened my mind and heart to a new world. My new understanding led me to the creation of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc.
I have heard many stories at our monthly meetings and they have all helped to educate our attendees and me. These important stories have healed lives and decreased stigma. These important stories have opened doors and windows of understanding. These important stories have brought people together to work for the common good. At the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, three wonderful women will share important stories. Hopefully, their stories will give you to a better understanding of the prison system and its impact on families.
One formerly incarcerated woman will share her story of the difficulties she’s facing now, trying to establish a transportation service that will help prison families visit their incarcerated loved ones. The State provided a free service for decades. This service was discontinued in the spring of 2011. It has been statistically proven that keeping families together reduces recidivism. Why would the State keep loved ones apart?
One woman has been married to an incarcerated man for 12 years. They met when she was a worker in her church’s prison ministry. He was the prison chaplain’s clerk. He is preparing for his first parole board appearance and she must be wife, supporter, advocate, and activist. How is she managing with limited support from family and friends?
One woman is married to a man who has a life sentence. They have been married for nearly 13 years. How has she managed to raise their seven children and keep the marriage intact? How does she take care of herself, mentally and spiritually?
These are important stories and we need to hear them. Telling our stories makes us stronger. Telling our stories brings us together. Telling our stories helps us to make meaning of our lives. Our stories matter.
The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will be Monday, February 25, 2013, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; email@example.com.
January 2013 Program
Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. Resumes Monthly Meetings
on January 28
by Karima Amin
Although the work of Prisoners Are People Too is ongoing, following past practice, meetings were suspended for one month. On Monday, January 28, monthly meetings will resume at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30pm – 8:30pm. We will briefly review the activities of 2012 and consider the work ahead. The following local, state, and national issues are at the top of our list of concerns for 2013:
1. ongoing improvements at our county jails
2. re-establishing bus transportation to state correctional facilities
3. continuing to push for parole reform with the SAFE Parole Act
4. improving the lives of children who have incarcerated parents
5. joining the NYS campaign for Medical Marijuana
6. supporting the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.
Actually, our list of concerns is a little longer than this and we need dedicated hands and hearts committed to changing a system that requires our full attention and sincere desire to fight injustice. While you may initially feel that the above list of concerns has nothing to do with your life, take another look. Your tax dollars are being used to support a system that has nothing to do with public safety or rehabilitation.
Come to our meetings and learn how criminal justice is generally meted out as criminal injustice and social justice is not a fact, but a worthy goal. Join us and be part of an organization that honors “justice for all.” This program is sponsored by the Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438; firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 2012 Program
Looking Forward to 2013
by Karima Amin
On Monday, November 26, Prisoners Are People Too will hold its last monthly meeting for the year. Following past practice, there will be no December meeting. On Monday, January 28, 2013 we’ll continue to screen outstanding documentaries, invite knowledgeable and inspiring speakers, and consider critical issues related to criminal INjustice and prison reform.
Last month, due to safety precautions related to “Super Storm Sandy,” our meeting was canceled for the first time in its 7-year history. The film that would have been screened in October, featuring Mr. Arthur O. Eve, Sr., will be shown this month. Additionally, there will be a discussion of our highly successful Family Empowerment Day Conference and an equally successful voter registration drive spearheaded by the Advisory Chair of Prisoners Are People Too, Rev. Eugene L. Pierce. Thanks to his persistence, more than 100 people confined at the Erie County Correctional Facility were registered to vote.
It’s not too early to say, “Happy Holidays!” We wish you a safe and happy holiday season and we look forward to meeting with you in 2013 and continuing our advocacy for prisoner justice. In the meantime, please join us on Monday, November 26 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, from 6:30pm – 8:30pm.
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or email@example.com.
October 2012 Program
by Karima Amin
Two months ago, we were honored to have Mr. Arthur O. Eve, Sr., former Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly, come to speak at a regular meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. It has already been stated in a previous column that the gathering was a night to remember and it was a night when we took time to remember the legacy of Black August and the 1971 Attica Rebellion.
Mr. Eve remembered how he felt, going into Attica Prison when Governor Rockefeller had refused to do so. Our second speaker, Mr. Thomas Robinson, Sr., remembered the pride he felt in being the first Attica inmate to receive a college education as a result of the rebellion. A third speaker, Mr. Nate Buckley, took time to share the words of Malcolm X, George Jackson, and others, remembering how their words have educated us and have called us to action. Mrs. Sheila Hayes, our fourth speaker, took time to remember the work of the Black Panther Party and it’s positive impact on the Black community. Sheila’s husband, Robert “Seth” Hayes, is a political prisoner who was a member of that organization forty years ago. He has served his time, he has been a model prisoner, and still he is being held, we feel, for his political views and for the work he did with the BPP many years ago. While this was an evening of reflection, it was also an evening of reaffirming the importance of the work that we are doing today in the realm of prisoner justice advocacy.
Our Advisory Board Chair, Rev. Eugene Pierce, captured that meeting in photos and on video. With the assistance of Mr. Cardinale Greene, from Buffalo’s Apollo Media Center, an edited version has been created and it will be screened at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. This 90-minute film will have you reflecting on what it means to live in a place where “…liberty and justice for all” is proclaimed daily, while the exact opposite is a demoralizing fact of life.
Prisoners Are People Too will meet on Monday, October 29, 2012, 6:30-8:30 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 2012 Program
ATTICA! ATTICA! ATTICA!
by Karima Amin
Forty-one years have passed, since the 1971 Attica Rebellion put a spotlight on the dehumanization that defined America’s prison system. The world witnessed an unforgivable truth about this country that some formerly considered the human rights champion of the world. The truth said otherwise. This is a country that allows human beings in confinement to be dehumanized, traumatized, and demoralized, unmercifully. In 1971, those who lived that truth, behind the walls of Attica, stood up and revolted. Thanks to Governor Rockefeller, part of the end result was a massacre that took 39 lives.
At the last meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., our special guest speaker was Mr. Arthur O. Eve, Sr., former Deputy Speaker of the New York State Assembly. In 1971, he was the only one of our State lawmakers willing to go into Attica to negotiate with the prisoners. Today, Mr. Eve is 79 years old and not in the best of health. We were honored to have him in our midst, at a meeting that was, so far, the best attended this year. Formerly incarcerated men came out to see him, hear him, and shake his hand. Others came to thank him for the EOP and HEOP programs that he created, which allowed them to further their education. Still others came to see a true hero. As Mr. Eve talked about the horrors of Attica, he urged all of us to remain diligent in our pursuit of justice. He said, “Sometimes it’s hard for me to talk about Attica, but I have to. It’s important for us to remember and to never stop working for justice. Some things haven’t changed since 1971.”
Additional speakers at that meeting were Mr. Thomas Robinson, Sr. who was at Attica in 1971 and who was one of the first to get a college education after the rebellion; Mr. Nate Buckley, who has been a justice advocate and supporter for political prisoners since his teen years; and Mrs. Sheila Hayes, justice advocate and wife of political prisoner Robert Seth Hayes.
At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., on Monday, September 24, at 6:30pm-8:30 pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, we will be screening a film about the uprising at Attica. We have done this before, showing a number of documentaries, some better than others. We have rarely shown movies made for TV or Hollywood, but this month’s film, a docudrama made for TV, is exceptionally well done. “Against the Wall,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Clarence Williams III is bound to promote discussion.
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng, support PRP2 programs. For more information, call 716-834-8438 or e-mail Karima Amin at email@example.com.
August 2012 Program
Remembering Black August and the Attica Rebellion
by Karima Amin
Since the inception of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., we have taken time every year to devote two or more meetings to acknowledging “black revolutionary consciousness” (George Jackson, Blood In My Eye), the plight of our political prisoners (regardless of gender or race), and the 1971 Attica Rebellion. We remind ourselves that the work that we do in the interest of prisoner justice isn’t always accepted or respected. We remind ourselves that there were many others before us, confined and in the so-called “free world,” who stood up and spoke out, waging battle after battle against injustice. We remind ourselves daily that our work is important and part of our job is too make sure that the community has some knowledge of the history that compels us to do what we do.
Officially, since August 1979, this month has been used to focus on the oppressive treatment of our brothers and sisters confined to state prisons throughout the USA. Most are being held in Security Housing Units (S.H.U.), where they have had to endure dehumanizing treatment for decades. We say their names and we acknowledge their strength and we re-commit ourselves to a fight that started long before we joined the fray and that may continue long after our demise. We fight because it is the right thing to do. At our next meeting, we’ll commemorate the life and death of political prisoner George Jackson who was assassinated by prison guards at San Quentin (Marin County, CA) on August 21, 1971. In addition to remembering George Jackson, Nate Buckley, a longtime PRP2 supporter will talk about the struggles of Robert “Seth” Hayes, a US political prisoner, a decorated Viet Nam War veteran, and former member of the Black Panther Party who has been incarcerated since 1974. We have invited Sheila Hayes, Seth’s wife, to join us in acknowledging her husband’s life and spirit of resistance.
In addition to remembering our political prisoners, two additional guest speakers will highlight our annual effort to remember Attica. Mr. Arthur O. Eve, former Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly, whose compassion for prisoners was
first recognized in the late
1960 ‘s, will join us. During his tenure, Mr. Eve did not fear political backlash or avoid prison reform issues. He served as an observer and negotiator in the wake of the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion. He was critical of Gov. Rockefeller’s decision to ignore the prisoners’ requests and to pursue the tactical measures that resulted in the deaths of 28 or 29 or 31 prisoners (depending on the reference) and 9 or 10 hostages.
Our second guest speaker will be Mr. Thomas Robinson, a PRP2 member who was at Attica in 1971 and who was one of the first prisoners to earn a college degree following the uprising. Among the prisoners’ demands was the opportunity to pursue an education. Mr. Robinson earned an Associates Degree in Business Administration. He will talk about the uprising and its aftermath.
Prisoner Are People Too, Inc. will meet on Monday, August 27, 2012 at 6:30 – 8:30pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng will sponsor this meeting. For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438, firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 2012 Program
Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act
by Karima Amin
He had abused her for six of the nine years that they had been together. He slapped, punched, and choked her. He called her the most derogatory names and isolated her from family and friends. He said he did it because he loved her. One day, while struggling with him, she stabbed him in the chest, killing him with a letter opener. Their three young children witnessed the incident. Now she’s serving 20 to life. Similar scenarios are repeated everyday.
According to the website of the Correctional Association of New York, “The overwhelming majority of women in prison are survivors of domestic violence. Three-quarters have histories of severe physical abuse by an intimate partner during adulthood, and 82% suffered serious physical and sexual abuse as children.” While the community has made progress in understanding and addressing domestic violence, that understanding and support tend to vanish when survivors, defending themselves or their children, get convicted of a violent crime against their abuser and end up behind bars with long sentences. When a “victim” becomes a “survivor-defendant,” that person is criminalized and we ignore or forget WHY the crime was committed. We certainly don’t want to excuse the crime but we need to look at the abuse that underlies the commission of the offense. Unfortunately, prosecutors, public defenders, judges and the court of public opinion often don’t consider the role that domestic violence plays in a woman’s decision to do what she feels may be her only choice or last resort. The DVSJA is a call for compassion in sentencing.
The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act is not just about women. Supporters of the DVSJA understand that men and women may be abused and not every intimate partner relationship is heterosexual. On May 20, 2011, NYS Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson and NYS Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry moved forward with legislation, introducing the DVSJA. The DVSJA Campaign is being led by the Coalition for Women Prisoners, a statewide coalition coordinated by the Women in Prison Project of the Correctional Association of NY. While it may seem natural to support anyone who has been victimized, when it comes to survivor-defendants, attitudes change and the “tough on crime” mantra is sung loud and clear. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. supports the DVSJA campaign.
The next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will be on Monday, July 30, 2012 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30-8:30pm. The film being screened is “Strength of a Woman,” a 20-minute documentary created by the Violence Against Women Committee of the Coalition For Women Prisoners and filmmaker Allison Caviness. In this film, women talk candidly about their abuse, their incarceration, and the impact that an unsympathetic criminal justice system has had on their lives. Our guest speaker will be Mary Murphy who is the Executive Director of the Family Justice Center of Erie County, where victims of domestic violence come for help. Information about the FJC and the DVSJA will be shared. This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; email@example.com
June 2012 Program
Prisoners Are People Too Celebrates Seven Years
by Karima Amin
No one knew where this effort was going when Prisoners Are People Too was founded in 2005. We hoped to educate the community, and the effort has been ongoing. The impact that we have had has expanded from local to statewide to national campaigns. We are growing as the struggles continue.
Our monthly programs have highlighted issues that impact both prisoners and their families and, by extension, their communities. While we have examined how a broken criminal justice system is like an epidemic, touching everyone in its wake, we’ve tried to issue wake-up calls for those who think they’ve not been touched by a disease called “mass incarceration.” While several topics have been revisited, such as incarcerated youth, parole, Attica, and the role of the correctional officer, others were added to our list of concerns as we learned more about: growing old behind bars, mental health behind bars, and veterans behind bars.
We also took at look at the challenges of reentry, especially with regard to a formerly incarcerated person’s desire to start a viable, and legitimate business.
We gave some attention to “freedom movements” and to a few of our “political prisoners” whose strength and courage are more than impressive. We have publicly professed the importance of our standing in solidarity with prisoners who have waged and are waging hunger strikes as a way to protest inhumane and unprofessional treatment. These courageous prisoners in Georgia, California, Ohio and Virginia, who feel they have nothing to lose, are demanding an end to long-term, tortuous solitary confinement and other forms of abusive treatment.
Our faces have been seen and our voices have been heard at the University at Buffalo’s 40 Commemorative Conference for Attica, the NYS Prisoner Justice Network Retreat, the Blue Mountain Center “How to Close a Prison” Retreat, Rotary’s “Peace Through Service” Conference, the Critical Animal Studies Conference at Canisius College, and the recent “Let My People Go” Day of Action in Albany. Some of us sit on boards of organizations that are striving to dismantle the status quo of jail and prison conditions. Functioning as an offshoot of Prisoners Are People Too, the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition has kept the community informed about local jail issues and has encouraged the community to challenge Jail Management misconduct.
Weekly vigils at the Erie County Holding Center have continued into a third year.
In the last year, Prisoners Are People Too has partnered with Burning Books, 100 Black Men of Greater Buffalo, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Niagara, and We Are Women Warriors… to sponsor educational forums that attracted people from various communities throughout Western New York.
On Monday, June 25, 2012 at 6:30-8:30pm, join us at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo as we celebrate another year of hard work and accomplishment. A popular rallying call is, “No justice! No peace!” and we understand that there will be no peace as long as we continue to forget that we belong to each other.
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng will sponsor this program. For more information, contact Karima Amin at 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 2012 Program
Broken On All Sides
by Karima Amin
Recently, I reviewed a new film, directed by Matthew Pillischer, entitled “Broken On All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration and New Visions for Criminal Justice in the US,” which does a good job of describing the US prison system as being broken and perhaps beyond repair. I posted the film’s 5-minute trailer on Facebook about two weeks ago. Only two people have taken a look at it and responded. I have more than 2,500 Facebook “friends” and I really expected more of them to click “like” and “share.” It’s an important film and it will be screened at the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc..
I know that prison issues are of great importance to many people and some are working very hard to reform or dismantle what currently exists but there seems to be far too many others who are simply not interested or who would rather live with misinformation, stereotypes, and the kind of ignorance that gives them comfort. This apathy is frightening to me since I know that everyone is affected by this system whether they know it or not. Certainly, for some, the impact is obvious; prisoners, their close friends and families, and formerly incarcerated people see and feel this impact everyday. Children are affected too. Some even believe that incarceration is a normal part of adult male life. Incarcerated parents feel the impact as far too many of them rarely, if ever, see their children. Women struggling to raise children alone, feel the harsh impact of a system that is not family-friendly. Formerly incarcerated people, struggling to re-enter society, are affected daily as they strive to build new lives despite the detrimental collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. People who express no interest in prison issues, live and work day-to-day, not realizing that their tax dollars support a failed system that basically does very little to rehabilitate men and women who will one day come home.
In a few days, activists, advocates, and organizations from across the state will meet in Albany to share their working strategies and to talk to lawmakers about reforms requiring legislative support and the Governor’s approval. The work is hard. The laws are unfair. Progress is slow. Even the most stalwart are showing signs of fatigue and a desire to abandon the battlefield. But the fight for the rights of prisoners is a necessary fight and one that more must join. Last May, 15 delegates from Western New York went to Albany. This year, only 9 have registered to go. This is a disappointment but I am not discouraged.
Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will meet on Monday, May 21, 2012 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo to view and discuss “Broken On All Sides.”
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng support this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin at 716-834-8438 or email@example.com.
April 2012 Program
Let My People Go
by Karima Amin
It’s that time of year again when prisoner justice advocates from across the state, come together to focus on concerted public action for New York State prison and parole justice. Last year, 15 activists from WNY (Buffalo and Niagara Falls) went to Albany and raised their voices in meetings with state lawmakers, senators and assembly people. While we raised many issues, the focus was mainly on parole reform. Although our legislators listened respectfully and patiently, there has been little movement in the right direction. The fight for prisoner justice remains an uphill battle and the fight to dismantle current parole policies is a seemingly never-ending struggle.
On Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 8:30 – 4:30, the NYS Prisoner Justice Network (NYSPJN) will spearhead activities for a day-long “day of action” in Albany, when members of the NYSPJN will check–in with each other, share strategies, announce successes, and re-visit the SAFE (Safe and Fair Evaluations) Parole Act, renewing their “…demand that within existing law, the [Parole] Board should change its culture/procedures.” Last May, on “Lobby Day,” our spirits were lifted, as it seemed that legislators were listening to us with “new” ears. Efforts to promote the SAFE Parole Act got a real boost and we felt some forward movement. May 22 will not be a “lobby day;” it is being defined as a “day of action,” when we will meet with targeted legislators who are actively engaged in prisoner justice and who have expressed an interest I working with the NYSPJN.
At the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., on Monday, April 30, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt in Buffalo, our guest speakers will be local activists who went to Albany a year ago as the delegation representing Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. and the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition. They will describe the experience and explain why they continue to stand up and speak out for justice, although progress, especially regarding parole reform, has been negligible.
For the latest parole news, click on "Current Initiatives" on the right, then scroll down to "NYS Parole Campaign." If you are interested in participating in the upcoming “Day of Action” (May 22), get in touch with Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng will sponsor this April 30 meeting.
March 2012 Program
Mental Health Behind Bars…and After
by Karima Amin
Last month we took a look at hospice care provided by prisoners for terminally ill prisoners at Louisiana State Penitentiary aka, “Angola” and “The Farm.” Attendees were impressed with the way that compassionate prisoners were specially selected and trained to provide this much-needed service. The prisoners we saw in the film, “Serving Life,” demonstrated the kind of care, concern, and compassion that one typically does not associate with so-called “hardened criminals.” As these men tended to dying fellow prisoners, their attention to kind and gentle treatment was evident in a setting that was never designed for the elderly, the dying, or the mentally ill.
Six years ago, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., presented a program about mental illness behind bars. We learned at that time that there were more people in the US receiving mental health treatment in prisons and jails than in hospitals or treatment centers. Living with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post- traumatic stress, manic-depression, dementia and more, these men and women are housed in places that may make their illnesses more severe. The question that concerned us at that time was, “Have prisons become the new asylums?” We discovered that the answer was, “Yes.” As more and more mental hospitals have closed, since government began shutting down state-run hospitals in the 1980’s, people with mental health issues have been pushed into jails and prisons. Today’s conservative estimate is 350,000. There are major problems with this situation, as prisons were not created to be de facto mental hospitals.
·Prisons are not structurally appropriate for patients.
·Staffs are not recruited as psychiatric caretakers.
·With special diets, medications, and examinations, it costs more to house someone who is mentally ill.
·Mentally ill prisoners are frequently abused, as correctional officers are often ill equipped to deal with the mentally ill.
·In some instances, mentally ill prisoners have been placed in solitary confinement, for administrative convenience, and “forgotten.”
Today not much has changed. If anything, the situation is worse. I have learned that the three largest in-patient psychiatric facilities in America are JAILS:
Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail in New York City, and Cook County Jail in Illinois.
What kind of treatment is provided on the inside? What is available upon reentry? How quickly can one see a doctor or replenish medication upon release? It seems that this country has criminalized the mentally ill.
The film being screened at the March meeting of Prisoners Are People Too is “The Released,” a 2009 PBS Frontline documentary which provides “a rare look at the lives of the mentally ill as they struggle to stay out of prison and reintegrate into society.” Our guest speaker will be announced. Prisoners Are People Too will meet on Monday, March 26 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30-8:30pm.
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or email@example.com.
February 2012 Program
Growing Old Behind Bars
by Karima Amin
Many on the outside have certain stereotypical pictures in their heads when they think of prisoners. Some don’t ever think of mothers in prison. Some never consider blind or deaf people in prison. Many never consider those who are growing old behind bars. As I cruise toward age 65 with Medicare and other health-related info filling my mailbox daily, I think of my contemporaries who are aging in a place that was never designed to be a senior living facility. Further, we rarely think of those terminally ill prisoners who may require hospice care. What happens to them?
While some state prison systems are liberal about granting compassionate release, most are not. Some prisons have outside organizations that come into the facility to provide hospice care while others carefully select and train prisoners to take care of those confined who are terminally ill. According to Human Right Watch, “…aging men and women are the most rapidly growing group in US prisons.” In a recent 104-page report, “Old Behind bars: The Aging Prison Population in the US,” the following information is stated:
·Nearly 10% of state prisoners are serving a life sentence. 11.2% have sentences longer than 20 years.
·The number of state and federal prisoners, age 65 or older, grew at 94 times the rate of the overall prison population between 2007 and 2010.
·Long sentences today mean that many current prisoners will not leave prison until they become extremely old, if at all.
·Many older prisoners remain incarcerated even though they are too old and infirm to threaten public safety if released.
While some states are moving forward to change the rules about mandatory minimum sentences and parole, the need for special medical care and hospice care for the elderly in prison is rapidly growing.
The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too will screen the award-winning documentary film, “Serving Life,” which takes a look at prisoners caring for prisoners in the hospice unit of Angola State Prison (aka “The Farm”) in Louisiana, where the average sentence is more than 90 years. At Angola, the sentences are so long, 85% will never again live to see the outside world. Prisoners who volunteer in the hospice unit have said that this program provides the kind of bonding and empathy that leads to a clearer understanding of how fragile life is. It’s an opportunity that can be transformative. While hospice care is just one aspect of growing old in prison, prisons must also be prepared to provide for the medical needs of the elderly who frequently require special safety precautions, emotional feedback, special nutrition, or whatever may be needed to deal with diabetes, hepatitis C, or cancer …and the list goes on.
The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too will be on Monday, February 27 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30-8:30pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 2012 Program
140,000 Veterans in Prison
by Karima Amin
This was the title of a 2009 article published by Change.Org on Veterans’ Day. I read the article with interest, thinking of my father, a World War II veteran, who had died earlier that year at the age of 93. He was very proud of having served this country and his red, white ‘n’ blue flag was always on view on the front porch on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day. My father was also a staunch proponent of Prisoners Are People Too. I read that article and wondered about what he might have had to say about so many veterans incarcerated in our state and federal prisons. That number above, “140,000,” does not include the tens of thousands more in our county jails. It is often said that veterans deserve our respect and support, but what about the veterans who find themselves behind bars? In 2009, the Drug Policy Alliance issued a report entitled, “Healing a Broken System: Veterans Battling Addiction and Incarceration.” This report details the results of a study that was done to examine the drug addiction and mental health issues, faced by veterans, which could contribute to that person’s violations of the law. While substance abuse and mental illness among U.S. veterans are major problems, they tend to lead to other issues that may be inadequately addressed. Among these issues are: PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), homelessness, poor overall health, death by overdose, and susceptibility to suicide. The report also states that incarcerated veterans face “…a wide range of punitive policies that limit their access to social services necessary for their reentry to civilian life.” At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, on Monday, January 30, from 6:30 to 8:30pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, we will have an opportunity to examine what is being done to address the above concerns. Come out to learn more about Buffalo’s Veterans’ Treatment Court, the first such court in the nation, which was created by the Honorable Judge Robert Russell in 2008. Find out what services are offered as an alternative to incarceration, during incarceration, and following incarceration. The documentary film being screened this month is “When I Came Home,” a film about homeless veterans in America who face a failing system while struggling to survive. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or email@example.com.
November 2011 Program
Taking Care of Business
by Karima Amin
It is a fact that each of us is multi-dimensional. I am a mother, teacher, woman, friend, taxpayer, golden ager, and storyteller and the list goes on. Why do we have so much trouble realizing that this is true of everyone, including our incarcerated population and our formerly incarcerated neighbors? These groups are also multi-dimensional and yet we have a tendency to paint them all with the same brush and to label them in ways that fail to acknowledge their growth and development as fully human. We see them as “criminals” and “ex-cons” and nothing more. We don’t view them as parents, senior citizens, veterans, or simply as sisters and brothers and children who got caught in their wrongdoing. Some of them are living with long-standing and long-ignored mental health issues or issues of substance abuse. It seems easier to look the other way and to ignore the poverty and racism and other crime generative factors that may have led to incarceration. One important part of “taking care of business” is taking care of each other. Sadly, too many of us have failed to honor this charge.
When formerly incarcerated people come home, they are frequently faced with people in community who shun them, broken promises of reentry help that never materializes, and false steps to reintegration that may thwart their desire to become community assets. In this community, there are a few people whose criminal histories are public knowledge. They are mentors, ministers, paralegals, authors, activists, business owners and more. They are hard workers who are laying some of the bricks that we need to create strong, vibrant, and progressive neighborhoods. They are our sisters and brothers. Working with them in the business of building community is everyone’s responsibility.
On Monday, November 28, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, from 6:30-8:30pm, at the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., we will meet some formerly incarcerated people who have established successful businesses in Western New York. They will discuss the hardships of imprisonment, the challenges of reintegration, and the obstacles they faced in seeking to establish a legitimate business while dealing with the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Mr. Alfonzo Carter will tell his story and introduce us to “Electronic Outlet” which is located in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village. Mr. Guy Lane will introduce us to his Allen Street restaurant, named after his baby daughter, “Nadia’s Taste of Soul.” A third speaker is unconfirmed at this printing.
These stories of incarceration and entrepreneurship will be an inspiration to all.
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of PRP2, Inc. programs. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 2011 Program
Hope for Youthful Offenders
by Karima Amin
From 2007-2009, Department of Justice investigations and reports cited systemic abuse of children at Tryon Residential Center in Johnstown, NY, two other centers in Ithaca, and one in Auburn. It was further reported that State lock-ups for juveniles were extremely expensive with exceedingly high recidivism rates. In June of this year, Governor Cuomo, with the blessing of the State Office of Child and Family Services, announced the closing of four youth detention facilities and the downsizing of four others. At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, we will take a look at the state of juvenile justice in Western NY. With so many youth detention centers being closed around the state and with the December 2010 closing of Hopevale in Hamburg, NY, people are interested in learning more about this community’s youth detention services. Hopevale functioned for 155 years, first as a facility for troubled teen girls, then later as a coed residential home and school for troubled youth. There is a secure youth detention center on East Ferry Street in Buffalo that many of us pass everyday without knowing very much about it. It is generally understood that it exists to improve the lives of young people, encouraging successful reentry, but its accountability and transparency are question marks for most of us. As New York State is attempting to turn from “juvenile corrections” to an approach that promotes a more therapeutic and caring environment, we have questions about juvenile justice in this community that we hope will be answered by individuals representing Erie County Youth Services. Join us on Monday, October 31 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street (Buffalo), at 6:30 – 8:30pm for the next monthly meting of Prisoners Are People Too. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of PRP2, Inc. programs. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or email@example.com.
September 2011 Program
Who Are the Keepers?
by Karima Amin
A few years ago, Prisoners Are People Too took a look at the role of the correctional officers in our NYS correctional facilities. After so much talk about “the keepers” and “the kept,” during recent Attica 40 commemorative events, I thought it was time to revisit the role of the individuals who are most intimate with prisoners on a day-to-day basis.
The correctional officer has the job of maintaining security and prisoner accountability to prevent disturbances, assaults, and escapes. Correctional officers maintain order within the institution and enforce rules and regulations. To help ensure that prisoners are orderly and obey rules, correctional officers monitor their activities and supervise their work assignments. Sometimes, officers must search prisoners and their living quarters for contraband like weapons or drugs, settle disputes between prisoners, and enforce discipline. Correctional officers periodically inspect the facilities, checking cells and other areas of the institution for unsanitary conditions, contraband, fire hazards, and any evidence of infractions of rules. In addition, they routinely inspect locks, window bars, grilles, doors, and gates for signs of tampering. Finally, officers inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items. Correctional officers report orally and in writing on prisoner conduct and on the quality and quantity of completed work.. Officers also report security breaches, disturbances, violations of rules, and any unusual occurrences. They usually keep a daily log or record of their activities. Correctional officers cannot show favoritism and must report any prisoner who violates the rules. If a crime is committed within their institution or if there is an escape, they help the responsible law enforcement authorities investigate or search for the escapee. In jail and prison facilities with direct supervision of cellblocks, officers work unarmed. They are equipped with communications devices so that they can summon help if necessary. These officers often work in a cellblock alone, or with another officer, among the 50 to 100 inmates who reside there. The officers enforce regulations primarily through their interpersonal communication skills and through the use of progressive sanctions, such as the removal of some privileges.
What I’ve described here seems harmless enough, yet I can cite scores of negative stories about “the keepers” and “the kept,” or “the keepers” and “the visitors.”
At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Rev. Patricia Bufford, a recently retired NYS Correctional Officer, will be our guest speaker. She is known in this community as an individual with a genuine interest in community enhancement. With 20 years experience as a CO, she will share her thoughts about corrections and more.
Come out and be a part of this conversation on Monday, September 26, 6:30-8:30pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street. As always, these meeting are public and open to your questions and comments. (PRP2 programs are sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more info: firstname.lastname@example.org or 716-834-8438.)
August 2011 Program
Remembering… by Karima Amin
Today I spent a long time remembering, reflecting on past PRP2 programs, before I started writing this article/announcement for this month’s Prisoners Are People Too monthly meeting. I looked back over the years of programming for the months of August and September to review what topics have been shared in the past. The list was short, as some topics have been repeated, but from a different vantage point every time. The importance of commemorating “Black August” has been mentioned several times, as we have recognized George Jackson and other conscious brothers behind bars who stood up for truth, resisted oppression, and made an effort to maintain dignity while imprisoned. “The Attica Rebellion” of September, 1971 has been acknowledged and explored several times. That event, forty years ago, put a spotlight on the evils of incarceration like never before. Also highlighted more than once, was the impact of COINTELPRO, this government’s counterintelligence program, used against its own citizens. Documentary films about these topics have opened our eyes and opened our minds. “Encountering Attica,” introduced us to a work-in-progress being produced by U.B. law professor, Dr. Terri Miller and her students; “Uprising at Attica,” reminded us that “Attica is all of us;” “Murder on a Reservation,” highlighted the plight of Native American political prisoner, Leonard Peltier; “Legacy of Torture: The War Against the Black Liberation Movement,” told the story of the San Francisco 8 who have suffered more than 30 years of FBI repression; “Mumia: A Case for Reasonable Doubt,” detailed the case against Mumia Abu Jamal who has been on death row since 1982; and “Cointelpro: The FBI’s War on Black America,” acknowledged the many ways that the FBI has worked to discredit, disrupt, and destroy certain individuals and political groups in this country, especially those connected with Black liberation. Our meetings during August and September of this year will be no different, except that PRP2 is making a concerted effort to encourage more young people to see our upcoming films, hear our passionate and knowledgeable guest speakers and learn this history. What happened three and four decades ago is inextricably related to the mass incarceration that we witness today. The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will take place on Monday, August 29, from 6:30pm – 8:30pm at the Pratt-Willlert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The documentary being screened is “Cointelpro 101” (Freedom Archives 2010). Once again, we’ll be reminded of the FBI’s treachery as it has sought to infiltrate, annihilate, intimidate, and incarcerate using lies, burglaries, harassment, and murder to impede progressive movements in this country. Our guest speakers will be Sheila Hayes, Brooke Reynolds, Michael Kuzma, and Richard Morrisroe. Sheila Hayes is the wife of Robert Seth Hayes one of the longest held political prisoners in this country. Robert is a father, grandfather, Vietnam War veteran and member of the Black Panther Party. He has been incarcerated for nearly 40 years. Brooke Reynolds is an advocate for justice who supports Jalil Muntaqim (aka Anthony Bottom), another member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, well known for his poetry and political essays. Michael Kuzma is a Buffalo attorney and longtime advocate of political prisoner Leonard Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who has been incarcerated since 1977. Richard Morrisroe is a Buffalo attorney who will share information about COINTELPRO’s impact on Puerto Rican independence. COINTELPRO reared its ugly head in the late 1950’s and was extremely aggressive during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Make no mistake; with the advent of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security, COINTELPRO is NOT dead. Our August meeting will be about remembering but it will challenge us to take a good look at our present and our future.
July 2011 Program
Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. Meets on Monday, July 25 -- The next meeting of PRP2, Inc. will focus on what is being done (or not being done) for the youth in our community. Individuals from county and city government respectively, Mr. David Rust and Mr. Otis Barker, will join us later in the year to talk about the Youth Bureau, Division for Youth, and the Secure Youth Detention Facility. Meanwhile, on July 25 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt St. in Buffalo, 6:30 – 8:30pm, we will be joined by two men who have taken a personal interest in mentoring our youth. Their volunteerism on behalf of our children is commendable. While the work that they do is certainly not the only work being done, we hope that highlighting their efforts at a PRP2, Inc. meeting will serve to inspire others who want to help our young people to get on the right path and stay there. Mr. Robert A. Harris, Sr., better known as “Brother Rob,” is President and C.E.O. of the “Youth Prison Prevention Project.” He speaks to youth “in their own language of Hip Hop and reveals to them the booby traps and deceptions of the streets.” Brother Charles Burgin heads up the “Brotherman’s Progress Mentoring Matters Organization.” He communicates a message of peace through mentoring troubled youths. A related documentary film will be screened. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng sponsor all PRP2, Inc. programs.
June 2011 Program
Six Good Years for Prisoners Are People Too, Inc.
by Karima Amin
This last year has had an abundance of ups and downs but we have continued to move forward in our quest for justice for prisoners and formerly incarcerated people. The roadblocks have been incredible as they are of long-standing and have government support. Yet, we have honored our mission to help as many as we can and we have worked hard to dismantle those rules, regulations, and laws that deny the humanity of those who have suffered incarceration.
Since July of 2010, eleven monthly meetings and programs have been held, covering a variety of topics, including: “The Realities of Reentry,” “Family Court Crisis,” and “The Psychology of Imprisonment.” Our outreach activities have involved us in several local community and statewide campaigns: “Voting Rights for Formerly Incarcerated People” (with the NYCLU); “Milk Not Jails” (a consumer-driven campaign, mobilizing NYS residents to support the dairy industry and not the prison industrial complex); “Seeking Justice at the Erie County Holding Center” (with the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition); and “Fighting for NYS Parole Reform” (with the NYS Prisoner Justice Network and the Prison Action Network). Prisoners Are People Too is also a member of the “National Fuel Gas Accountability Coalition.” This past year has seen more members of Prisoners Are People Too speak out for justice in the media, both broadcast and print, and at county legislative meetings, conferences, and forums. This year, sixteen of us went to Albany on May 3 to speak to our state senators and assembly members about our deepest concerns regarding prisoner rights issues.
Finally, after many months of petitioning, we had the first of several meetings with Sheriff Timothy Howard and Undersheriff Mark Wipperman in December of 2010. Finally, after many months of advocacy, we have an Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board, which held its first meeting on February 15. Finally after several years of doing the “peoples’ work,” Prisoners Are People Too incorporated on April 21, 2011. The following individuals comprise the board: Karima Amin, Director; George “BaBa” Eng, Program Director; Artelia “Tia” Lewis; Charles “Chuck” Culhane; and Lesley Haynes. Rev. Eugene L. Pierce will chair the Advisory Board.
At this month’s meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, we will meet on June 27, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, 6:30-8:30pm. This meeting will be a celebration of six years of programming. There will be an overview of our accomplishments; an update and report from Lesley Haynes regarding Legislative Awareness Day; and a brief report from our summer intern, Sahil Jain. Sahil is a student at Cornell University who is interning with Prisoners Are People Too. He will describe his work and what he has learned so far from his summer interning experience. Our documentary film that evening will be a 35-minute “rough cut” DVD produced by Rev. Eugene L. Pierce. He will highlight the mission of the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition.
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of PRP2, Inc. programs. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or email@example.com.