Grace Gamez, now working as a program associate at the American Friends Service Committee, is heading up a multi-media project featuring prison survivors and providing them with a forum to tell their stories. Reframing Justice uses photo essays, interviews, and video to tell these stories in multiple dimensions using multiple lenses.
The first video features present the story of Kini, a mother struggling with the impact of drug addiction and her criminal record and SacRac. This first installment also includes Reframing Justice's first photo essay, What No One Wants To Hear, which is the title of a poem given to the story's subject, Michele Keller, during her incarceration at Marana State Prison.
Please click the image above to experience these compelling pieces of multi-media storytelling.
Executive Director Jonathon Trethewey is concerned that Arizona now spends three times what it spends on education on incarceration. Jonathon's first arrest occurred when he was just 9 years old, and he has said many times that a teacher reaching out to him to ferret out the root cause of his behavior - rather than a detention office taking him to a cell - may well have changed the course of his life. Now, his work in trying to decrease recidivism, prevent youth incarceration, and help families touched by the criminal justice system begin to put themselves back together attempts to create that very opportunity for others - an opportunity to rewrite the narrative of their own lives and to escape the sticky web of our very unjust justice system. Placing a premium on education, on teaching skills that give students keen perspectives on who they are, who they want to be, and where they want to go in life - can go a long way in reducing incarceration. Jonathon talks to Phoenix's Channel 5 about this disturbing trend. Below is video.
Our board member, Craig Morgan, is the chair of the American Diabetes Association's regional committee. We were thrilled to attend the Father of the Year Dinner as guests of Craig's firm, Sherman and Howard, to support the work of the ADA, honor three great Phoenix dads, and support our great supporter and friend to the cause, Craig.
In the wake of this week's violence, I see folks (me included!) really struggling, struggling to reconnect with the love that will see us all through this dark place. It is so easy to blame, to diminish, to hate, to generalize, to globalize. I've seen it on both sides, and it gets us nowhere. Demons and Others is the working title of a novel I am writing. There is a poem I wrote as part of the the story that I want to share - share it because we are at a crossroads. We can decide to come together in love and find our way back to human connection. Or we can blame and otherise and be consumed by our imaginary demons. Obviously, I hope for the former. In love, Kirstin
Demons and Others
Price-tagged as the other
Humanity yields to vectors
of limited dimension and superficial value
Heads are sold and bartered as
commodities without history or feeling in
a market that shaves razor thin layers of skin
to trade a bloody currency
capitalized by difference.
In the teachings of God and Allah
market traders find a blood thirst
only assuaged when cultural hearts -
be it twin towers, a holy book, or a holy man -
lie crumbled and pulp-like, gushing
tradition to the forgotten
The limbs of women and children:
collateral: as nations mortgage their souls
to define normal and
win holy wars of various and ridiculous names
- the war on drugs, desert storm, jihad.
Longing for distance from gruesome details and destruction
nations picket and brutalize their citizens
to cement the moral certainty
that their neighbors are not the ones
throwing acid in the faces of young women,
shooting up classrooms full of children or theaters full of consumers.
No, no cause for concern. It is the
others reigning this terror down on our heads
and creating our shared suffering.
And citizens, oceans across, buy these answers
not caring that the definitions of the others
were stolen – at gunpoint, at knifepoint, at bombpoint –
The ease of erasure is sickeningly easy
And in the shadow of this ease, whole societies
condone torture in all its nameable and unnameable forms,
As citizens stand by, participate, look away.
It's the others who are the demons.
Not us, not our sons, daughters, husbands, wives.
And so it unfolds again, humanity's cyclical destruction,
under the cloak of anonymity and righteousness.
And on it goes.
(c) Kirstin Eidenbach, 2014
We met a fellow named John Wannamaker, himself a prison survivor at the 8th Annual International Prisoner's Family Conference. He works now as a motivational speaker, who uses his story to highlight the injustices brought about by mass incarceration and to incite positive change within individuals. He has written a book called The Voice From Inside that tells of his own struggles as he navigated federal prison and turns a transparent lens on the federal prison system to examine its injustices and political structure. We plan to read it as soon as we can get our hands on it (somehow we walked out of the conference without it!). We were so impressed with John and really look forward to working with him in the future. Below is the link to his book.
This incredible organization was founded to remove the stigma associated with having a loved one in jail or prison. It has accomplished this by building a network across the country that offers support, guidance, tools, and experience to those struggling with “doing time on the outside.”
We listened as Ro and Jo walked us through some of the common situations faced by family members of those who are incarcerated. They offered honest insight into their own personal struggles and followed those up with suggestions on how to reframe each situation in a more positive way. They too love life plans, so as we worked through their scenario based presentation, we were each also asked to contemplate our own path forward.
Strong Prison Wives and Families already offers many resources for wives of those incarcerated; they have a growing community of husbands, moms, dads, sisters, and brothers too! Click on their site above to check out their programs.
Where to start? Jonathon and Kirstin attended the Eighth Annual International Prisoner's Family Conference in Dallas, Texas last week, and we were blown away by the caliber of the presentations, the passion woven throughout every interaction, and the kindness that abounded. We met folks from the UK, Wales, New Zealand, Argentina, Uganda, Illinois, Georgia, Washington, DC, Ohio, California, Texas and so many other places. This conference filled our minds, our hearts, and our cups - and we came back ready to share! No surprise that attending this conference will become an annual ATLaS tradition, and we hope to take a much larger group next year.
One of the most heartening aspects of the conference was its laser-like focus on constructive discussions - not in a "polyanna" sort of way, but in a "there are people suffering now, let's do, not just talk" way. Don't get us wrong; the academics behind the presentations were strong, the thoughts deep and complete, the research statistically significant and peer-reviewed - but they were accompanied by both calls to action and actual action. We all agree that mass incarceration, the punitive correctional model, police brutality, political corruption, racism, sexism, etc. are terrible. But the difference at this conference is that rather than leaving the discussions of these woes in the ivory tower, these folks are out in their communities doing something about them. They are dedicating their lives to acting now in constructive, positive, and loving ways, and in doing so they are disrupting the balance of power that allows the corruption, dehumanization, brutality at the heart of the system. They are creating the example that other systems, states, countries, and communities can follow - drafting the blueprint, or as we like to say mapping the path forward. This conference is about the faces behind the statistics, about the families feeling the pain now, and about their solutions for positive change. What we came away understanding is that the most important weapon against mass incarceration is maintaining a positive outlook. The minute we "otherize" corrections officers, police officers, politicians - we become them, we become everything we rail against. Nothing constructive ever comes from shame; when you shame those you seek to change, they stop hearing you. By uniting together to build communities, to see each other as humans caught - together - in a nasty web of dehumanizing corporate greed, to find those officers who have strong enough hearts to force change in their organizations - by doing these things, we begin to seed real change. And folks, what we heard about at this conference was real change.
We are going to write individual posts about the amazing resources we discovered. But, we wanted to take the time to acknowledge just how important it is not to lose sight of the power of positive connection and the power of acknowledging the humanity in those who sit opposite you, who disagree with you, even in your enemies. And this conference served as a reminder of that in maybe the most beautiful way - by seating all of us at the same table, together.
For an incredible talk on the danger of "otherizing," we recommend Elizabeth Lesser's TED Talk "Take the 'Other' to Lunch."
Kirstin, Jonathon, and Mason attended a talk hosted by the Valley Interfaith Project and given by Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan. We were joined by Heather Hamel, Executive Director of Justice That Works, and Luke Black. The topic of Ryan's talk was billed as "Prison Reform." Interested in what seemed to be a significant departure for a state department that otherwise seems deeply committed to high levels of incarceration, our executive directors attended. No reform to report. This talk was Ryan's sales pitch to the community. It turns out ADC wants to build another $2 million "community corrections" facility in Maricopa County, under the guise of reform. Let's be clear. There is nothing reformative about community corrections, unless it is being used as a step down program for early release. Even then, its structure and motives are questionable. It is true - Arizona's community corrections are used (there is a facility already open in Tucson, housed not surprisingly, in a "former" correctional facility) to house parole and probation violators in lieu of a return to prison - which we will acknowledge is the better of the two options. However, and this is a big however, it will also be used to house those prison survivors released homeless. This means people no longer serving time remain in the custody of the department of corrections. Read that again and you will see the fatal flaw that topples this idea of community corrections. Keeping these folks "locked up" past the end of their sentence, keeping them immersed in the institutional culture that pervades corrections and correctional institutions does nothing to aid in successful reintegration. That's because it is not reintegration. It is continued institutionalization. So instead of investing in community programs that will begin to expose prison survivors to life in the modern world, will start to reintroduce them back into their communities, ADC proposes the continued imposition of a flawed correctional model. And the corporate profits that go hand in hand with corrections in the State of Arizona. We resoundingly and vociferously say NO to this program.
Kirstin, Jonathon, and Lyle talked to the Hualapai Tribal Council about creating tribal reentry programs based on the Tribe's specific culture and needs, which could include programs as basic as a personal growth curriculum tailored to the Tribe's cultural values to full-service programs that provide residential reentry services for the first year of a returning citizens time out of prison.
Executive Director Kirstin Eidenbach presented at Arizona State University's annual Prison Education Conference, hosted by the English Department and ASU's Prison Education Awareness Club (or PEAC). Kirstin presented the keynote address, Disrupting Recidivism by Restoring Dignity, in conjunction with Judge Lilia Alvarez. Click here to view video of the conference.