Prisoners of Identity

December 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

When people are content with their roles, self-defined or other-defined, they live in illusion.  “Who am I?” remains a question never asked, thus tightening the trap of a singular identity.  The idea that they can be more, can achieve more and can influence many, sadly, never crosses their mind.

What if we were able to open people up, en mass, to the idea that in a lifetime they can have more than one identity.  These identities can exist together, and should exist together, because they create a comprehensive human being.  In essence, we tell them that they do not have to forget who they were or leave it behind.  The “old” identity can be brought into the new identity as a guide, a source of wisdom and personal power.

In the case of My Prison Journal Project, we are speaking of the incarcerated population of the United States.  Many of them have lived a life with one identity.  One mental outlook guided them before incarceration, during incarceration and after.   The Journal will provide a platform for all of the honest reflections, inspiring stories, heart wrenching defeats to make a vast impression – inside and outside of the walls.

There are so many efforts organized at intercepting and destroying the “criminal” mindset before incarceration. NPJP is focused squarely on this type of internal change, marrying the mind and the heart AFTER people go behind the walls.  Incarceration is a prime opportunity for unlearning, re-learning and new comprehension.

  • Exposure to stories from people who have “been there, done that” and transformed there lives through the creation of a new identity, that paid homage to the knowledge of the older identity, can be inspire hope.
  • Reading or listening to submissions from people who cannot identify with the experience of incarceration, but still care enough to share articles with them, begins to add color to the invisible.
  • Victims that identify themselves by the crimes against them, can begin to lessen their loads by speaking out and making an entire population think of their victims as human too.  Do unto…

This is a good time to point out that the final Journal will not use the words prisoner, inmate, etc. in its narratives.  The 2 million incarcerated are reminded everyday that they share one name,  one identity and are not individually seen.  This is an intentional identity theft – a stripping of power.  In all NPJP content, except letters and works from the incarcerated themselves, the use of “you” will be required.  The Journal will speak to the readers, aiming at the personal connection.

This journal will be a beautiful collaboration, introducing fresh ways of thinking and new opportunities to regularly connect with millions of people at once.  Again, this is not only for those behind the walls.  Readership among the “free” will be necessary for holistic transformation and for stirring the winds of change.

 

Writing with Photography

December 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Illiteracy.

If there is one demon that will hamper the accessibility of  my NPJP to the entire US prison population,  is the inability of many on the inside to read or write.

But, I believe I have found the answer to this dilemma, which had not previously crossed my mind, until I read Pete Brook’s blog entitled Photography School: Rehabilitating Prisoners through Self-Representation. The blog was not about illiteracy, but as I’ve mentioned before, I look at all information I find through the lens of making the National Prison Journal Project successful.

Because conceptualization and the ability to read are not tied into one another, transformative information can be provided in forms other than the written word.  We see this everyday.  People are empowered to make personal changes in eating habits, sometimes to extremes, because of an image they interact with on TV or an old photograph.  More people have the confidence to travel to new places because of the images provided them on a map or via GPS.  These may be simple examples, but they prove that the information communicated through the image can cause people to expand and transform.  It gives them a level of hope and desire.  Both primary goals of NPJP.

Many publications targeting inmates feature drawings, paintings and poetry as art, but I’ve seen little photography.  In a situation where personal identity is so crucial, for a host of reasons, a photographic image could be a crucial rehabilitative step for many, not only those that cannot read or write.  With this new insight, it is clear that a good portion of the final National Prison Journal will incorporate extensive imagery.

Pete’s article helped me to identify and solve a weakness in my plan, but also opened me to another way to create the conversational tone I want for the journal via the “crowd-sourced” blog model being used by Livebooks.  He is utilizing this model as a framework for the Race, Diversity, Photography project he revealed in his interview with POSI+TIVE MAGAZINE.  The “crowd-source” model will allow a level of input and collaboration on journal contents that has never before been applied to a prison publication.

I’m thankful to Pete for publicizing this information and helping me make a great idea more accessible and achievable – even though he doesn’t know it.

Doing Time on the Outside by Donald Braman

December 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

For the Family section of the journal I have contacted Prof. Donald Braman of George Washington University Law School.  His book Doing Time on the Outside: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America will hopefully be a starting point for the type of stories for the Family section.  (I’m trying to think of another name.)

As with Prof. Henry Jenkins, I have asked for permission to reprint/excerpt his book and other writings.  These requests surround the draft copy I am pulling together along with the first edition, after which a tremendous response is expected and an equally tremendous amount of material. I anticipate the “outside” audience to be a little slower in coming to the fold, which is why these ubiquitous accounts, already in print, are so valuable.

From Amazon.com: 

In the tradition of the best-selling ethnographies No Shame in My Game by Katherine Newman and Sidewalk by Mitchell Duneier, Doing Time on the Outside tells the other side of the incarceration saga: the little-told story of the effects of imprisonment on the families of the prisoners.
Since 1970 the incarceration rate in the U.S. has more than tripled, and in many cities — urban centers such as Washington, D.C. — it has increased over five-fold. Today, one out of every ten adult black men in the District is in prison. This has caused a deep rupture in the lives of the prisoners and their families.
Author Donald Braman shows that doing time on the inside has a ripple effect on the outside — one that reaches far beyond the individual prisoner and deep into the family itself. Braman offers wrenching personal stories of the ordeals families face when one of their members is imprisoned. Citing major examples such as lost income and delayed parenting opportunities, he also uncovers seemingly innocuous details that nevertheless have a cumulatively adverse effect; for example, the onerously large phone bills that often result when a family member goes to prison.
This ground-breaking ethnography of modern urban America reveals a genuinely new argument: how misguided the commonly accepted ideas about supposed pride in prison time really are. Moreover, Braman brings to light the darker side of a system that is failing not only its criminals, but their families, too. Finally, the author argues that prisoners themselves must take more responsibility for their lives, as well as for their families.

Restorative Justice

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

Restorative Justice contains some of the ideas NPJP embraces.  RJ is also something that is ripe to be introduced after punitive justice has been employed – since punitive justice is not going anywhere anytime soon.   A brief breakdown  of RJ to be discussed later.

Punitive Justice asks the questions:

1) Who did it?

2) What laws were broken?

3) What punishment should be given?

 

Restorative justice, on the other hand, asks:

1) Who was affected?

2) What needs to be done to make things right?

3) What do we need to set up so that this doesn’t happen again?

Section: Reconciliation

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

A section where victims could have a voice was always part of the vision.  This section will be call Reconciliation and it will feature letters, poems, essay and other writings from victims.

The opportunity to name the offender will be explored.  I’m sure there are legalities.  Maybe equally as important is that offenders HEAR stories from victims.   Accountability is a great soil for responsibility and change to grow in.

Shall the section have a static byline or a changing one?  Both?  One can be ever present, always explaining the value of the reconciliation section and another can be featured and changed per issue to be pondered and applied by readers.  I like the latter. You?

When reading over the information on VORP (Victim Offender Reconciliation Program), my main thoughts surround how these ideas can be converted into print and maybe even better served in some ways.  BTW, save the religious aspect, this program is a phenomenal idea.

Topic for another post:  the rampant presence of religious assistance in the penal system – narcissistic or beneficial.

The RECONCILIATION Section – Some Brainstorming

RECONCILIATION  in print form provides the opportunity to:

  • The participatory acts of reading and writing are completely consensual and voluntary expressions that can be revisited and completed in whatever time necessary.
  • Ask questions which may have arisen out of the offense AND receive a response from a wide variety of offenders involved in the same or similar activity.
  • Express feelings and opinions about the offense directly to the offender AND many other offenders – providing them with constructive, restorative information.
  • Take responsibility for actions and involvement in the offense AND express sentiments that were not fully disclosed during judicial process or that have come about during incarceration.
  • Move on to a better emotional state after the offense by restoring both victim and offender dignity.

Education and Correctional Populations

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

This report is disturbing.  It’s contents and the information is the latest, dated 2003.  Another example of how invisible the prison population is.  I will discuss  this invisibility shortly.

http://www.policyalmanac.org/crime/archive/education_prisons.pdf

Summary:

About 41% of inmates in the Nation’s State and Federal prisons and local jails in 1997 and 31% of probationers had not completed high school or its equivalent. In comparison, 18% of the general population age 18 or older had not finished the 12th grade.  Between 1991 and 1997, the percent of inmates in State prison without a high school diploma or GED remained the same — 40% in 1997 and 41% in 1991. Of inmates in State prisons, 293,000 in 1991 and 420,600 in 1997 had entered prison without a high school diploma, a 44% increase.

Over 9 in 10 State prisons provided educational programs for their inmates. Half of State prison inmates reported they had participated in an educational program since their most recent admission to prison. About a quarter of State inmates had taken basic education or high school level courses, and almost a third, vocational training.

Brainstorming on Magazine/Newspaper Categories

December 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

I envision the journal a magazine layout more than a newspaper.  Of course, the final layout will be determined by what will be easiest to get into all jails, prison, half-way houses and detention centers.  Staples may be a problem as screws in cassettes are a problem.  So, whichever option come close to fully clearing the hurdle will be the one we go with.

This list is what I’ve thought of to date.  In this section of the NPJP blog I will also break out and brainstorm each proposed section.  It’s all part of the journey!

  • Health
  • Nature
  • Want to Hear From You
  • Speak Your Mind
  • Research Corner
  • Questions (Inside & Out)
  • Letters
  • Politics
  • Self Awareness
  • Business
  • Re-entry
  • Jokes, Riddles, Cartoons, Contests, Recipes, Paper Crafts
  • Art
  • History
  • Literature
  • English Language
  • Foreign Language
  • Math
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Cultural Studies
  • Media
  • Ethics
  • Advertisements
  • Subscriptions
  • Grammar/Vocabulary
  • Writing
  • Reality Check
  • …more

Now, looking at the list in writing, many of these areas may be combined or topics regularly covered.

I think the point that is made clearly is that the journal will be varied and stimulating.

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