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."