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For the last 15 years, PRP2 has taken time to remember the Attica State Prison Rebellion
of 1971. We remember a group of prisoners who stood tall and spoke out
against the horrendous treatment they were enduring at a prison that was
well-known for its inhumanity and brutality.
Join us this year as we reflect on the meaning of there heroism and the State violence that
was the government's response. On September 20 at 5:00pm we will be in MLK Park at the statue of the Universal Black Man. Wear your mask and bring a chair if needed. We will observe social distancing.
An article about this event will be posted at the end of September.
Out of Sight/Out of Mind
by Karima Amin
For almost 15 years as the founder and director of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, I have tried to make it clear that prisoners are human beings just like you and me. Our organization’s motto says, “To deny their humanity, is to deny your own.” As simple as that sounds, I have found myself arguing with people who see themselves separate from the more than two million people in this country whose lived experience is behind prison walls.
Covid-19 has made it clear that we are all in the midst of this pandemic together. The title of this article describes how most people have dealt with the presence of prisoners who live in the jails and prisons in our communities. I have read at least 10 news items in the last two weeks which have highlighted the coronavirus and its impact or possible impact on prisons and prisoners. This is something for all of us to consider.
First, what are the conditions in prison and how likely are prisoners to be in a position to carry out the recommendations of the CDC (Center for Disease Control)?
These facilities are not the most sanitary. Prisons are not hospitals. Prisoners sometimes have to deal with broken sinks, lack of soap, overcrowding and some staff members who are not shy about displaying their racial bias. Mass incarceration means that there are many people going in and coming out of these places of confinement every day. Prisoners, staff, and visitors could easily take the virus in or bring it out to the larger community.
Second, it has been suggested that prisons and jails should consider downsizing. Reducing the population inside means that social distancing is possible. This has worked with some prisons and jails around the country and outside of this country that have released some prisoners who do not pose a public safety concern, some convicted of minor crimes, some low risk elderly, and some being held who have not yet been convicted. Also, there are some with serious health conditions who deserve compassionate release. Once released, these people need food, clothing, and shelter. Some need immediate medical and mental care. If this prisoner has no family, who in society takes care of the issues that come with a prisoner’s release?
This leads us to the third consideration. There is no more inside and outside. We are all people... human beings connected. The prisoner may be out of sight, but he can’t be out of mind. Ultimately, his well-being depends on you. Whether it’s your tax dollars or your moral convictions or your vote. This pandemic has put the national election on the back burner for the time being. This distraction has taken us away from what happens next, in terms of who will lead this country. Criminal justice reform should be on the front burner. When thinking of the most vulnerable in our society, prisoners should be on that list.
Stay well. Stay safe.
Black History and Mass Incarceration
by Karima Amin
Black History is American History. There is no aspect of America’s history that you can consider and leave Black people out. When taking a look at mass incarceration in the USA, you might wonder about statistics which imply that Black people must be born with a gene that makes them natural born criminals. Of course, that’s ridiculous. Nothing could be further from the truth. So many Black bodies in the jails and prisons of this nation should tell you that there are problems with this country’s criminal justice system.
While February is designated for the observance of Black history, many Black icons and achievements are honored. Let us not forget the Black icons that have been assassinated and lynched and unjustly imprisoned. While something will be said, this month, about Black contributions to this nation and the world, something must also be said about a criminal justice system, defined by racial bias, that causes Black people to be denied opportunities for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Some commonly recognized statistics are that this nation incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. America has only 4.25 % of the world’s population and about a quarter of the world’s prison population. A growing body of research shows that people of color are more likely to be stopped, frisked, questioned, charged, and detained. African Americans are more likely to be arrested and they are more likely to be sentenced to more time than whites for the same crime. This is a part of our history too.
When the movie “13” was released in 2016, many were surprised to learn that slavery was abolished in 1865 but a person could be re-enslaved with the commission of a crime. The 13Amendment said:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime
whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Of course, when you stepped foot off the plantation you had essentially committed a crime... the crime of vagrancy, without a residence, a job, or i.d.
Following the so-called abolition of slavery, the convict leasing system was established.Convict leasing was a system of penal labor practiced in the Southern United States and overwhelmingly targeting African American men. Convict leasing provided prisoner labor to private parties, such as plantation owners and corporations.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):
“One out of every three Black boys born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino boys—compared to one of every 17 white boys. At the same time, women are the fastest growing incarcerated population in the United States.”
Black Codes, Jim Crow, and the enduring myth of Black Criminality, which has been with us for decades, all contribute to the imprisoned Black population. All are a part of Black History. While we celebrate the good, we must also recognize the not so good and continue to fight for prisoner justice reform. The next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, will take place on Monday, February 24, 7:00-9:00pm at the Rafi Green Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @ Glenwood. For more information: Karima, 716-834-8438, [email protected]; BaBa, 716-491-5319, [email protected]
BAIL REFORM: The New Law and You
By Karima Amin
Happy New Year and know that you are welcomed to attend the next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO. As we open 2020, we invite you to join us to stay up-to-date on all issues relevant to mass imprisonment and the criminal injustice system. We meet once monthly, on the last Monday of the month, providing inspiration and education to everyone in this community who cares about prisoners, ex-offenders, victims, families with imprisoned loved ones and more. Our meetings may feature a guest speaker, or a film, and always good discussion. Your viewpoint is valued.
Just a few weeks ago on January 1, a Bail Reform Law went into effect in New York State. Some are applauding, others are criticizing, and some are simply condemning and confused by the pros and cons and the discretion of the judges. There are those who now say that this bail reform law needs reforming.
Bail measures were initially established to ensure that an arrested individual would not be jailed and would return to court for a trial. The cash bail (money bail) system was deemed to be unfair when it was duly noted that a poor person who could not pay a cash bail might have to sit in jail for days, weeks, or months before trial. We have shown a film about 16-year old Kalief Browder in New York City who was accused of stealing a backpack. Because his family was unable to pay his bail, he sat in prison for nearly two years before it was discovered that he had been unjustly imprisoned. About a year after his release from Rikers Island Jail Complex, the trauma of imprisonment and the harassment he endured after prison caused him to commit suicide.
We have invited a guest speaker to help us understand this new law.Attorney Miles Gresham, is a public defender and former member of Erie County's Board of Ethics. His knowledge base and experience will help us to clarify our thoughts about a new law that could impact any one of us.
Our next meeting will take place on Monday, January 27 at the Rafi Green Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @ Glenwood, at 7:00 to 9:00pm.
The Family is in Prison Too
by Karima Amin
For generations, people have always made negative assumptions about those whom they thought of as “lesser than.” During the Era of Enslavement, Black people experienced that and people in prison experience that today. Inhumane treatment in jails and prisons is often accepted because those who are confined are thought to be unworthy of humane and professional consideration.
When people are released from prison, the denigration continues. The collateral consequences of a criminal conviction could lead to homelessness, unemployment, and health problems. So-called prison families, those with an incarcerated loved one, have to endure negative assumptions as well. Prison families suffer financially, emotionally, and psychologically. Mass incarceration impacts everyone in society, whether they realize it or not. Statistics show that the Black and the poor are hurt the most.
If a teacher who has a student who is in danger of being a drop-out, that child could be one who is dealing with the loss of one or both parents in prison. During the Era of Enslavement, Black families were sometimes shaped by a system that caused frustration, constrictions, disruptions, and pain. The criminal justice system does the same thing. A prisoner’s condition is felt by his or her family. It is as if the entire family is locked up.
It may sound strange that a child would want to go to prison to be with a parent, but this does happen. Family love is powerful. Frustration and pain can lead to depression. If undiagnosed, this can go untreated. Untreated depression can lead to the kind of distorted thinking that takes a child into gang involvement...looking for love (a family) in all the wrong places.
I regret that we have had too few females as guest speakers. It is also regrettable that women who have been to prison are reluctant to speak about the experience in a public forum. It’s sad that the negative assumptions they face in society exist, because we need to hear their voices. Young girls especially need to hear their voices.
At the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, we will take a look at this lack of female voices. Please attend for what promises to be a lively discussion on Monday November 25 at the Rafi Green C.A.O. Masten Resource Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue at Glenwood, at 7:00 to 9:00pm.
Are You in the “Man Box?”
by Karima Amin
I have known about the “Man Box” for many years. I just didn’t realize that there was a name for it. All my life, I have seen the impact of the “Man Box” on men and women, boys and girls. When I learned that the fastest growing prison population was female, I wasn’t surprised. I knew that the “Man Box” had something to do with that statistic. Most of the women in prison are there because of a relationship with a man, stuck in the “Man Box.”
The “Man Box” is a narrowly defined theory of what makes a REAL MAN. Most boys grow up in this country being told that real men don’t cry and that real men never show weakness or fear. Real men are always strong and in control. Real men are providers and breadwinners. Real men are tough. These rules and others have helped to develop stereotypes that have led to unhealthy and harmful behaviors that hurt the men themselves and all of the people in their lives... especially the women.
Men in “the box” perpetuate both psychological and physical violence toward women. These so-called real men disrespect women. A woman who dares to resist, in an effort to save herself, could end up in jail or prison for her actions. There are numerous accounts of victimized women who ultimately killed their victimizers. In some cases, self-defense may not be considered as a defense for murder.
“Women’s rate of incarceration has surpassed men.According to the Sentencing Project, the number of women in prison in the U.S. increased by 700 percent between 1980 and 2014. While there are more men in prison, the total women’s prison population grew at a rate of 50 percent more than that of men between 1980 and 2014.”
While the “Man Box” promotes confidence, success, and leadership it downplays kindness, emotions, and vulnerability. It devalues women and anything associated with femaleness, except the act of sex.
The next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO will take place on Monday, October 28, 2019, 7:00 to 9:00pm at the C.A.O. Rafi Green Community Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @ Glenwood. We will take a look at the “MAN BOX” and the damage it has brought to our community in the form of gangs, fatherless and motherless families, and the prevalence of poor mental health impacting men, women, and children. Join us in what promises to be a lively discussion of the “MAN BOX” and its impact.
For more information, contact Karima,[email protected]or BaBa, 716-491-5319.
September 9 – 13, 1971: Attica Prison Rebellion
by Karima Amin
We remember and we will never forget. Every year in September, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO takes time to remember what is often described as “the bloodiest prison riot in United States history.” I don’t like using the word riot as it seems to describe something that is “disorganized” or “spur of the moment.” I prefer rebellion, revolt or uprising. These prisoners were organized and clear about their demands for better living conditions and political rights. For several months, they had used the so-called proper channels to make their grievances and demands known. They were ignored.
In the past, we have had guest speakers, some who were at Attica in 1971. We have shown films, some documentaries and some Hollywood products. In 2011 we hosted a panel discussion at a local church. In the following year, a small group, members of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO and THE WESTERN NY PEACE CENTER, walked to Attica, concluding with a prayer vigil to remember the slain prisoners who were murdered by the State in this conflict. Last year Brother Lion Blyden was our guest speaker. He is the son of Herbert X Blyden. When Herbert X died in 1997, the New York Times described him as “... the jail-hardened, prison-educated civil rights activist who gave eloquent voice to 1,200 beleaguered inmates as their chief negotiator during the 1971 Attica prison uprising...” Lion’s presentation gave us a glimpse into what it was like being raised by someone so politically astute and attuned to prisoner justice advocacy.
On Monday, September 30, at our regular public monthly meeting, we’ll be showing a film about Attica, New York’s best known maximum security prison. Plan to attend this meeting. The Attica story is an important one. The film we are screening and the discussion afterwards are very likely to teach you something that you didn’t know before. How does what happened at Attica in 1971, connect with what’s happening in prisons today? We will be meeting at the CAO Rafi Green Masten Resource Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @ Glenwood, 7:00-9:00pm. You are invited. Attica is all of us.
For more information: Karima, [email protected]
You’re a FELON!
by Karima Amin
Imagine hearing these words and you are certain that you have not committed a crime. What is a felony? In criminal law, a felony is a category of crimes that are often classified as the most serious type of offenses. Felonies can be either violent or nonviolent. Some examples are murder, rape, kidnapping, arson, fraud, manslaughter, possession of a controlled substance, and child molestation. You believe this is someone’s mistake. Imagine further that it takes two years for you to clear your name and discover how and why the FBI has your name attached to a felony conviction. This is what happened to an innocent Black man who just happens to be a well-respected educator, historian, author and activist.
I just discovered this man’s story and it reminded me of all the outrageous things I have heard and read about the experiences of Black people who encounter whites who immediately criminalize, ostrasize, marginalize, and dehumanize them based on misinformation, stereotyped views, or a perceived notion based in racist bias. I know you are familiar with many such instances, especially over the last four years: driving while Black, laughing or talking too loudly while Black, sleeping while Black, shopping while Black, entering your own apartment while Black, walking too slowly while Black...and the list goes on. Innumerable Black lives have been lost due to some white person’s belief that we just don’t belong.
Looking back at our history in this country since 1619, our very presence seems to have been a problem for some white people although they benefitted from our labor, our creativity, and our willingness to be forgiving in spite of the suffering we endured. When I look back at the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, this was a time of tremendous growth in my understanding of self, history, and culture. The mistreatment of Africans in America was and is rampant. It was so during the period of our enslavement and it is true today. It is also true that we have always fought back for justice and liberation.
The man I wrote about at the beginning of this article is Dr. Curtis Austin. He wrote a book about the Black Panther Party entitled UP AGAINST THE WALL. His writing led to a criminal record when it was simply written to dispel the misconceptions that so many people had, and still have, about the Black Panther Party. Outrageous but true. Driving while Black has led to the unbelievable deaths of some unfortunate African Americans. Outrageous but true. Standing up for justice has led to the unconscionable assassinations of some Black leaders...Malcolm, Martin, and George.
Our next meeting will highlight Dr. Austin’s story and his book and the life and work of George Jackson whom we remember yearly with a commemoration of “Black August” during our August public meeting which will be held on Monday, August 26at the Rafi Greene C.A.O. Masten Resource Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue at Glenwood from 7 to 9pm.
More information: Karima, [email protected]; BaBa, 716-491-5319.
PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO:
FOR OUR GIRLS- Part 2
by Karima Amin
Our June meeting was quite a celebration, with the promised ice cream and cake and the return of several people who had missed some recent meetings. Our special guest, Mr. Renwick Feagin from Niagara Falls, shared his inspiring story of incarceration and what it feels like now to have written a book that has proven to be an encouragement to people who are now behind prison walls. His book, A LETTER TO THE INMATE, is a motivational tool, available at Amazon.Com, that men and women will find helpful in navigating life on the inside while preparing for life on the outside. His heartfelt words were a testament to hard work and faith... two principles that guide his life today. While we celebrated PRP2’s 14 years of education and advocacy in this community, we also celebrate all that Mr. Feagin has accomplished as a returning citizen.
We enjoyed a brief screening of more video footage from our May Regional Conference. It was a reminder of the work we have accomplished and the work we have yet to do. That evening, several attendees pledged to join PRP2 in its work by paying their $5.00 membership fee. We are grateful for more members. “Many hands make light work.” We are also grateful and honored to host Asia Alexander as our Summer Intern.
Asia called my attention to the fact that there were no young people at our June celebration. She took the initiative to share a 6-session curriculum that she created to empower our youth. Highlighting goal setting, self-care and more, Asia is interested in encouraging both boys and girls but due to our limited time she will be meeting with girls in 4 sessions. By the time this article is published, she will have completed 2 sessions. The last two will be at the Rafi Green Center 1423 Fillmore Avenue at Glenwood on Tuesday, July 30 and Monday, August 5, 7:00 – 8:30pm.
The next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO will be on Monday, July 29 at the Rafi Green Center, 7:00 – 9:00pm. It will include more video from the Regional Conference and a brief presentation by Asia Alexander. We encourage you to attend and to become a member of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO. For more information: Karima, [email protected]; BaBa, 716-491-5319.
FOR OUR GIRLS
by Karima Amin
For only the second time in the 14-year history of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, we are hosting a Summer Intern. Several years ago, we were privileged to have Sahil Jain, a student from Cornell University, thanks to the Partnership for the Public Good (PPG). This year we are happy to have ASIA ALEXANDER, a nineteen- year-old Buffalonian who attends Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She has developed a curriculum which can help to go a long way toward keeping our girls away from the criminal injustice system. Although her time with us will be brief, she is going to deliver 4 sessions with a plan entitled “Kathryn’s Angels” …remembering her grandmother, Kathryn.
“Kathryn’s Angels” will meet on 3 consecutive Tuesday evenings, July 16, 23, 30, and Monday, August 5 at the Rafi Green Community Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue at the corner of Glenwood from 7:00 to 8:30pm. The idea for this plan developed from Asia’s noting that a recent Prisoners Are People Too meeting attracted no young people. Our youth need to be apprised of the criminal injustice data that directly affects them. Our girls need to know that the fastest growing prison population is female….and that Black girls are three times more likely to be arrested, convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned than White girls.
Asia is an outstanding student majoring in English with a Minor in Comparative Women’s Studies. It should also be noted that she is on the Pre-Law Track. If you have a small group of girls who may be interested in “Kathryn’s Angels,” let us know by e-mail or “private message” on my Facebook page: Karima Amin, [email protected].
PLEASE NOTE, this is NOT PRP2’s regular monthly meeting. Our July meeting is July 29.
PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO CELEBRATES 14 YEARS of SERVICE
by KARIMA AMIN
At the next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, the organization will celebrate 14years of education and advocacy. When the organization was just an idea…and then a program…before it was an organization, I believed that my family and community would help me to establish something that would help the incarcerated, returning citizens, and their families to improve their lives. Initially, in 2005, I hoped that I could help my community to see and to learn what I was beginning to understand about a criminal injustice system and a prison system that failed to recognize the humanity in every person. As a career teacher, I hoped to share everything that I learned. Despite frustrations, challenges and disappointments, we have experienced a phenomenal 14 years of service.
Meeting BaBa Eng in 2002 was a godsend. After 36 years in prison, he was able to connect me with individuals and organizations that had been prisoner justice advocates for many years. BaBa is now the the Program Director for PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO. Recently, we hosted a Regional Conference (May 3-4), that attracted local attendees and others from across the State. A review of the conference evaluation form, evidenced the need for such a conference as well as the success of our conference which highlighted “Changing Criminal Injustice” and “The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Families and Communities.”
At the next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO on Monday, June 24, from 7:00 -9:00 at the Rafi Greene Center, 1423 Fillmore [email protected] Glenwood, we will celebrate our success. There will be more pictures and a video from our Regional Conference and we will host three formerly incarcerated men who are now published authors.
SUCCESS for PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO
By Karima Amin
The weekend of May 3 and 4, 2019 will long be remembered as the time of a very successful hosting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO’s REGIONAL CONFERENCE. Attendees came from across the State of NY to participate in an event that focused on Mass Incarceration’s impact on Families and Communities. Our local theme, “Changing Criminal Injustice,” with an eye focused on reducing recidivism, took a closer look at legislation coming out of Albany that has brought us to our present condition with the stats that I have written about before.
The USA has the highest incarceration rate of any other country in the world. 2.4 million people are imprisoned at this time. Our panelists, on Friday evening, shared data that was both interesting and heart wrenching as well as strategies for gathering the people-power that is needed to challenge the powers that be. Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of the Alliance of Families for Justice, opened our eyes to strategies that work to engage our lawmakers. Our Saturday Keynote Speaker, Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., Founding Director of UB’s Center for Urban Studies, took us on a journey with a “follow-the-dots” analysis from Slavery to the 13Amendment to Harry J. Anslinger to Herbert Hoover to Cointelpro to today. Eyes were opened and minds were elevated.
This 9-hour conference resulted in fruitful networking and camaraderie as attendees heard from various prisoner justice advocates.
Due to the upcoming Holiday, Prisoners Are People too will meet on Monday, May 20at 7 to 9pm at the CAO Rafi Green Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue, @ the corner of Glenwood.
Our 14Anniversary is coming soon. SAVE THE DATE, June 24, 2019. We’ll have a video to show from the Regional Conference. Stay well. Stay safe.
Our Regional Conference was a Major Success! Shown above: Karima Amin and BaBa Eng with
our Keynote Speaker, Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., Founding Director of
the Center for Urban Studies, University at Buffalo.
“Changing Criminal INjustice: Reducing Recidivism”
by Karima Amin
This is the focus of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO’s upcoming Regional Conference. We are excited to be able to share information with you on May 3(5:30 to 8:00pm) and May 4 (8:30am to 3:30pm) at the Mt. Olive Baptist Church, located at 701 East Delavan Avenue in Buffalo, NY, in collaboration with the Alliance of Families for Justice. We hope that the information we share will encourage you to join us in a fight for justice that impacts everyone. Since 2005, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO has provided advocacy and education, bringing awareness and empowerment to our community around the issue of how legislation that comes from Albany in general, specifically focused on “Corrections,” actually impacts the lives of families and people in our
communities, sometimes in ways that they are not aware of. If a person has not spent time in prison or has never had an incarcerated loved one, oftentimes assumptions are made. Prisoners become “the other,” unworthy of respect, care, or concern. The stigma that results, happens because we rarely talk about a system that ignores the humanity of all people.
Prisoners are all of us. Anyone of us could find ourselves behind bars. There are men, women, and children who once thought, “This couldn’t happen to me.” But it did. There are thousands of adolescents in prison. Only NY and NC will place some in adult prisons. Today in the USA, there are 2.7 million minor children with incarcerated parents. Imagine your childhood with one or both parents in prison. The imprisonment rate for prisoners age 55 or older continues to grow. Imagine your grandparents in jail or prison. Imagine your sibling, or child, or classmate, or childhood friend, or neighbor, or teacher in prison. I could go on; the impact on relationships is endless. Hence, our communities suffer. Our conference will highlight the strategies that we can use to improve the lives of the incarcerated, the formerly incarcerated, and the victims.
We are honored to have Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. as our Keynote Speaker on Saturday, May 4. (See photo above.) Dr. Taylor is the Founding Director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning. His research, focusing on issues of race and class, and the needs of traditionally marginalized groups, has made him an expert in assessing systemic factors, fueled by racism, that frequently lead to criminal convictions. The presence and words of this activist-scholar should ignite conversation and actions for positive change.
The next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO will take place on next Monday, March 25 from 7:00 to 9:00pm at the C.A.O. Masten Resource/Rafi Greene Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @ Glenwood. As always, our regular monthly meetings are open to the public. Plan to attend. Also make sure to post our Conference dates on your calendar: Friday, May 3, 5:30 to 8:00pm and Saturday, May 4, 8:30am to 3:30pm. For more information: Karima, [email protected], or BaBa, [email protected]
The C.C.I. Conference is Coming!
by Karima Amin
Save the date! PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO’S Regional Conference is coming! On Friday and Saturday, May 3and 4, 2019, Prisoners Are People Too will deliver a conference designed to examine a system that affects all of us, whether you have an incarcerated loved one or not. This organization, since 2005, has served this community with education as its mission. Once monthly meetings have always been open to the public on the last Monday of the month from 7:00 – 9:00pm, now at 1423 Fillmore Avenue at Glenwood Avenue in Buffalo, NY. You are invited to learn, network and build with activists, from Buffalo and across the State, who are committed to C.C.I., “changing criminal injustice.”
We, all of us, need to step up to the challenge of changing what goes on in a system that is heavy-laden with inequality. Much of the obvious inequality is due to racism. A failed, so-called war on drugs, means that although five times as many whites report using illegal drugs as blacks, blacks go to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites, with much longer sentences. If this pattern continues, one in three black men can expect to be incarcerated, leaving broken families and ruined neighborhoods behind as a result. One aspect of this conference will deal with the ways that we can use legislation to fight the racism that pervades our prison system. From arrest to release, human beings have rights that must be clear, that must be advanced and that must be protected. Our speakers and workshops will encourage you to participate in this fight for justice. Join us in a fight that speaks to the humanity of every person. This includes our brothers and sisters in prison.
PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO PLANS REGIONAL CONFERENCE
By Karima Amin
HAPPY NEW YEAR to you, good people. PRP2 is in the early stages of planning for its Regional Conference. I have mentioned in the past that it was coming in April but due to some unforeseen circumstances the conference has now been scheduled for May 3 – 4, 2019. It will take place at Mount Olive Baptist Church, 701 East Delavan Avenue in Buffalo, NY.
This will be the fourth conference that PRP2 has delivered to the community in nearly 14 years and it is long overdue. Our last conference, held in 2012, was focused on helping the children of incarcerated parents in Erie and Niagara counties. Presently, we have no over-arching theme for this event, but several topics have been tentatively selected. They range from what families can do to support an incarcerated loved one to things we all can do to initiate criminal justice reform through legislation. The state of our Erie County Holding Center will be on the agenda as well as very sensitive issues such as what can be done to overcome the stigma of having a loved one in prison. These topics and more will be discussed in workshops that all connect with reducing recidivism. Prison families, returning citizens, and YOU are all invited to attend a conference that welcomes you to share your ideas regarding the state of mass incarceration in Erie County and the State of New York. We are in the process of selecting a keynote speaker that will inspire, empower, and energize you to work for much needed change.
Save the date NOW. Share this information with family and friends. Plan to attend PRP2’s regular monthly meetings where more conference details will be shared as we move forward to get ready for this event.
The next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO will be held on Monday, January 28, 2019 at the C.A.O. Rafi Greene Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @ Glenwood in Buffalo, from 7:00 – 9:00pm. Need more information? Call BaBa Eng, 716-491-5319 or E-mail Karima Amin, [email protected].
By Karima Amin
As 2018 draws to a close, I am already thinking about our agenda for 2019. This year was quite busy….filled with triumphs and losses, but we have persevered. PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO will hold its last public meeting for the year on Monday, November 29. Anticipating a slew of Holiday activities in December, especially for Kwanzaa, monthly meetings will be suspended until January, when plans for our April conference will move into full swing.
We participated in two retreats this year. Western New York individuals with incarcerated loved ones joined others from across New York State at Powell House in Old Chatham, NY and Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY to discuss issues held in common and plans to dismantle NYS policies that negatively impact prisoners and their families. Long-held political prisoners were released this year, after more than four decades. Herman Bell and Robert Seth Hayes came home. Our letters and prayers were answered. Our assistant, Dani Johnson, went to Cuba, to take a look at the prison system there. Her report was a welcomed eye-opener. We participated in the recently held Prison Abolition conference, sponsored by the Buffalo Anti-Racism Coalition and Canisius College. I urged four people with incarcerated loved ones to share stories of their lived experience at this conference.
Their willingness to be honest and vulnerable helped to humanize “the prisoner.” Dani Johnson, Baba Eng and I participated as workshop leaders. Governor Cuomo signed an executive order this year, giving parolees the right to vote. We believe that this made a major difference in the voting outcome in Erie County. As I reported last month, Baba Eng’s “SafeHome” is showing itself to be a success at the Community Health Center of Buffalo. 2018 was a year of faith and fruition. We believe in the miracles that result from faith and hard work.
Our last meeting for this year will feature a film, PRISON SONG, starring Mary J. Blige and Q-Tip.
In this movie, a young Black man, growing up with a father in prison and a mother who ends up institutionalized, winds up in prison himself. But in the end he is strong enough to fight for his dignity and prison reform.
Joining Hands for Liberation
By Karima Amin
During the month of August, we remember what so many of our Ancestors have said about our liberation. During the month of August, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO has frequently taken time and space to remember the significance of “Black August” and its relevance today. “Black August” started in the prisons of California, acknowledging the political and militant struggles of conscious (politicized) African American prisoners and those who were martyred in the process of fighting the prison system. We have commemorated the lives of George and Jonathan Jackson whose lives and deaths fueled the revolutionary spirit of Africans across this nation and around the globe.
When we celebrate the life and work of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, on the date of his birth, August 17, we recall what he said about freedom: “Liberate the minds of men and ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men.” His vision of African Liberation was a Pan-African view that encompassed the need to eradicate mental slavery first. While “Black August” had its inception in the prisons, it could have been born below deck on a ship in the Middle Passage or in a shack during plantation slavery. Liberation has always been a relentless humanstruggle. In his vision of African Liberation, Garvey said, “I saw before me then, as I do now, a new world of Black people, a nation of sturdy people, making their impress on civilization and causing a new light to dawn upon the human race.”
Garvey reminded us over and over that we should not simply focus on our smaller individual selves. He urged us to understand ourselves and engage the world in collective ways built on and in the work, strength and struggles of our people. He saw us joining hands and working for the common good of all. He saw the need for us to build a closer kinship and a closer love of self. This Honorable Ancestor has taught us that our liberation will come “not from the will of others to see us rise, but from our own determination to rise, irrespective of what the world thinks.” This is not to deny the need for cooperative relations of mutual respect and mutual benefit, but to stress that we are essentially and ultimately our own liberators.
Inspired by Garvey’s words, political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim (aka Anthony Bottom) published his selected prison writings in 2003 in “We Are Our Own Liberators.” A short film about Jalil will be screened at the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO. After 46 years in prison, Jalil is facing his tenth parole board hearing this month. After nine denials, he remains strong in the belief that his liberation is at hand. Support for his freedom has come from many who believe that he should be with his family after nearly half a century of imprisonment. Our Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders has forwarded letters of support for Jalil’s release.
Join us for the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO which will be held on Monday, August 27, 2018, from 7:00 -to- 9:00pm at the CAO Rafi Greene Center, 1423 Fillmore @ Glenwood Avenue. What does LIBERATION mean to you? Join us for this film and follow-up discussion.
Your Vote is Your Voice
By Karima Amin
September 13, 2018 is the primary mid-term election date. It seems so far away but it is fast approaching and there may be some confusion in your mind about who is eligible to vote and what it may mean to the party of your choice and your community. Can you vote for a Republican if you are a registered Democrat? Do you know the general mid-term election date? Do you know where you can get a voter registration form? Are you aware of the fact that parolees now have the right to vote?
You can get these answers and more at the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO (PRP2). We have invited several local lawmakers to answer your questions and dispel rumors about the voting process and the impact of your vote. The following have confirmed: Retired County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, County Legislator April Baskin, and City Councilmember Ulysess Wingo. On April 18 this year, when Governor Cuomo granted the right to vote to people convicted of a felony who are currently out on parole, there were those who said that this action was purely, politically motivated since the Governor is running for re-election. PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO understands political motivation and we are looking at the numbers. More that 35, 000 people, out on parole, can vote this year and we are looking at the power this could generate and how this could impact our community. We are hoping to see many prospective voters at our next meeting. Your vote is your voice and it needs to be heard.
While voting will definitely be the major theme of our next meeting, some time will be devoted to sharing a brief report and photos from a recent retreat in Old Chatham, NY at Powell House. As a member of the New York State Prisoner Justice Collective, PRP2 escorted several people from Buffalo to Old Chatham for a retreat that was designed for families having incarcerated loved ones. There were 42 participants, adults and children, from across the state who enjoyed a weekend gathering that included fresh air and sunshine and activities that included opportunities for networking and community building.
Our assistant, Danielle Johnson, will speak briefly about her recent trip to Cuba. This 10-day excursion was an eye-opening experience that enhanced her understanding of a criminal justice system that is very different from what we have here in the USA.
Our monthly meetings are always open to the public. Plan to join us for the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO on Monday, July 30, at 7:00 – 9:00pm @ the Rafi Greene CAO Masten Resource Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @ Glenwood. For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438, [email protected]; BaBa Eng, 716-491-5319, [email protected]
Join the Celebration with Prisoners Are People Too, Inc.
By Karima Amin
The month of June is such a special time with so many celebrations: graduations, weddings, family reunions, proms, my birthday (June 1), Juneteenth, and the list goes on. PRP2 has so much to celebrate. Our speakers this month will highlight good news. The hope that I have written about for the last two months is coming to fruition as hard work pays off, minds are opened, policies change, and struggle continues without ceasing. PRP2 had its inception in the month of June 2005; BaBa Eng was released from prison in the month of June 2013; and Gerrod Bennett’s release from prison came in June of 2016. BaBa and Gerrod will be two of our four main speakers.
Many have heard BaBa Eng speak about the importance and value of Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices. Many have been trained by him in hubs throughout this city. Donna Habeeb, a PRP2 member and good friend, will talk about the ways in which her family has been positively impacted by a Restorative Conference which BaBa facilitated several months ago.
Gerrod Bennett will talk about his reentry experience, recounting the ups and downs which have ultimately led to his college graduation, after 22 years in State Prison and only two years on the outside. Reentry is very difficult, given the pressures that one faces adjusting to the world outside. Gerrod is a successful reentry candidate who beat the odds.
Sheila Hayes is someone who can speak effectively about the ways in which an incarcerated loved one’s imprisonment can impact the entire family. Supporting Robert “Seth” Hayes has been extremely challenging. According to the “Jercho Movement” website, “Seth first came up for parole in 1998, but prison officials have refused to release him, and are effectively punishing him for having been a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army.” Still he has remained true to his ideals even after 45 years behind bars, medical maltreatment, and ten parole denials. Recent news has announced that his release from prison has been approved.
BaBa Eng is our fourth designated speaker. He will talk about the importance of parolees now having the right to vote. On April 18, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order granting the right to vote to thousands of New York State citizens, no longer in prison, who are now on parole. BaBa will talk about the value of this decree and how it effects all of us.
I will talk about my visit to Auburn State Prison where I have been invited to speak at the prison’s Juneteenth Celebration. I have not had the opportunity to speak at a prison in quite some time so I am excited and grateful for this opportunity.
You’re invited to join us for the celebration at our next meeting, Monday, June 25, 2018 at the Rafi Greene Center located at 1423 Fillmore @ Glenwood in Buffalo, from 7:00- to -9:00pm. For more information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438,[email protected]; or BaBa Eng, 716-491-5319, [email protected]
The May 28th meeting will be canceled due to Memorial Day celebrations.
Join us on June 25th to celebrate our good news and plans for the future. PRP2 will be acknowledging 13 years of education and advocacy!
There is Hope – Part 2
By Karima Amin
“There is Hope” was the title of last month’s article from PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO (PRP2). We have learned that hope can be a valuable commodity but it is NOTHING without ACTION. PRP2 is an organization that inspires ACTION. We stand up, speak out, and fight for justice. In the last month, PRP2 members and supporters have made phone calls, sent e-mails and faxes, have signed petitions and tweeted in favor of parole for Herman Bell, a respected and beloved elder and political prisoner in his 70s who has served more than 40 years in prison. Last month I stated that parole had been granted. Within days, the Police Benevolent Association had pushed back, building public opinion against Mr. Bell. They even urged the NYS Parole Board to rescind its decision. After the above stated actions from prisoner justice advocates around the country, on April 20, a Judge ruled in favor of Mr. Bell’s release. Good news!
Last week, Governor Cuomo decreed that parolees in New York State now have the right to vote. More good news! We will be watching. It’s our job to hold the Governor accountable.
Join us at the next regular monthly meeting for PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO on Monday April 30, 7pm – 9pm at the Rafi Greene Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @ Glenwood Avenue.
There is Hope
By Karima Amin
There are times when I feel like PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. just isn’t doing enough to keep the community informed about the broken systems that keep us scrambling 24/7 for justice. The time and energy we expend to reform the Criminal INjustice system and the effort we put forth to fight Mass Imprisonment is extensive, yet our progress seems negligible. The work can be frustrating, and when I’m feeling distressed about it, something or someone comes along to make me feel inspired and rejuvenated and ready for the work at hand.
The last two weeks have provided that inspiration. PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. was invited to a weekend working retreat at Powell House in the Adirondacks, sponsored by the Alliance of Families for Justice (New York City) to collaborate with several prisoner justice organizations from across the state in the continued process of planning a series of regional conferences designed to deal with New York State prison issues. These issues included, but were not limited to: healthcare (physical and mental), diet/nutrition, solitary confinement, felony disenfranchisement, and treatment of the LGBTQ population. A special retreat for families who have an incarcerated loved one, is being planned for this June. Western New York’s regional conference will take place in Buffalo in April of 2019. Evidence of the work being done across the state gives me hope.
For several years, we have urged parole reform. When a prisoner goes before the Parole Board in New York, he/she hopes for release but may be denied. A denial can be appealed but, generally speaking, there is usually a 2-year wait before the next Parole Board appearance can be scheduled. We have written letters of support for men and women who have prepared themselves for a return to society. Our “Circle of Support for Reformed Offenders” provides encouragement for a person moving toward parole readiness. In addition to letters we sign petitions, make phone calls, and send e-mail messages to the Governor if necessary. Recently, Herman Bell, a political prisoner in New York, was granted release after numerous denials and forty-five years in prison where he earned several college degrees, coached football and basketball, taught Black History, English grammar, and writing skills to fellow prisoners, and even mastered the flute. The release of this respected elder gives me hope.
Now that I am feeling more hopeful, I am realizing how important it is to celebrate success. Even in the midst of struggle and frequent disappointment, good things are happening. Our collaboration in the Adirondacks was a success! Brother Herman Bell’s release is a success! Every PRP2 meeting has been a success! Come out for our next gathering on Monday, March 26 from 7:00 to 9:00pm, at the CAO Rafi Greene Community Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @Glenwood Avenue in Buffalo, NY. (For more information:[email protected] or [email protected])
Update-- Above Photo: Herman Bell was a Black Panther and member of the Black Liberation Army. He has served 45 years in prison, having been charged with the murders of two police officers. At the age of 73, he has made monumental strides in preparing himself for release on parole. Some of his victims' family members have forgiven him and have vocally supported his release. Pushback has come from the Police Benevolent Association and several law enforcement unions. We are fighting for justice.
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 to Dr. Woodson’s work was lukewarm but the idea gained in popularity over the next five decades and by 1976, school administrations, religious institutions, fraternal organizations, city councils, and some state governments embraced the value and 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 (1933). He also founded the Association for the Study of Negro (African American) Life and History (1937), which still functions from its offices in Washington, DC.
Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will acknowledge Black History Month with the screening of a short documentary, Incarceration in America: The Inside Story which gives a quick review of Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness. In addition to viewing and discussing the film, we will take a look at our Youth Program aka YEST (Youth Education for Social Transformation); we will consider our upcoming participation at a retreat sponsored by AFJ (The Alliance of Families for Justice); and we will start initial planning for a PRP2 conference which will take place in April 2019. As always, we encourage you pay your $5. 00 membership, and join us in the local, statewide, and national work that we are doing.
Our next meeting will take place on Monday, February 26, from 7:00 – 9:00pm at the C.A.O. Rafi Greene Community Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue at Glenwood in Buffalo, NY.
Refer to our website for additional information: www.prp2.org or write to us at Prisoners Are People Too, P.O. Box 273, Buffalo, NY 14212.
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 protected]; BaBa, 716-491-5319, [email protected]. 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.
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 week on...
Wednesday, October 4
Buffalo State College
1300 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, NY
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 protected]. 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.
Impromptu film screening at Burning Books.
June 25, 2017
“Life Stories: Restoring Justice” A Success!
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.)
(Photo: Wayne Oates and BaBa Eng, Albany,
May 10, 2017, "Lobby Day")
Program ~ April 2017
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.
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, [email protected].
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 protected]; 716-834-8438.
Program-- January 2017
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 [email protected]; or BaBa Eng, 716-491-5319.
Ending On a High Note
By Karima Amin
(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.
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: [email protected], 716-834-8438.
Program- September 2016
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 protected], 716-834-8438 or BaBa Eng, [email protected], 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 protected], 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.
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.
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 protected], 716-834-8438; BaBa Eng, [email protected], 716-491-5319.
February 2016 Program
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.
January 2016 Program
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 protected] 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.
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; [email protected];
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 protected], 716-834-8438; BaBa Eng, [email protected], 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 protected]; Karima Amin, 716-834-8438; BaBa Eng, 716-491-5319.
July, 2015 Program
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 [email protected]. 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 protected])
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: [email protected].
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