“If you don’t already know about the Inside-Out program, check it out and get involved! It’s so important that we end the separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – those labeled ‘prisoners,’ ‘criminals,’ ‘felons.’ It is this separation and demonization of the ‘others’ – and our failure to truly see, hear, and engage with those who have been locked up and locked out – that makes it easy for us to remain in deep denial about what we, as a nation, have done. Inside-Out challenges that denial in a powerful way.”– Michelle Alexander
Author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Philadelphia has the highest percentage of juvenile lifers of any city in the nation.
I recently completed a class caused the Inside Out Prison Exchange Course at Temple University. It involved 15 (outside) Temple University students and 15 (inside) Graterford Prison students to meet one night a week to collaborate and discuss various topics such as the prison system, power and privilege, race, and more during the semester. We were tasked with driving to the prison each night which is located in Collegeville, PA. Very far from Temple’s Philadelphia’s Main Campus. The course involved us being vetted for any past crimes or relationships with anyone that might make our involvement in the course to be rejected. I passed all requirements and we were given additionally information on what to wear, how to act, what not to ask the inside students and so on. Very detailed and made me very anxious that we needed to be so prepared for “just a class at a prison.” I’m not going to get into each week but an overall summary on my experience and a few spoken word pieces that I wrote throughout my times there. The good thing was that no sex offenders were in the class, which I greatly appreciated.
The inside students were great!!! I really enjoyed my time there and I was able to see them in a different light. You see, I’ve never been to prison and I don’t know anyone that’s currently in one. I have been around ex-felons, but inside is a different experience. We were only allowed to go by first names or nicknames for privacy concerns. But some of our activities involved deeper discussion and intimate details that clued me into certain things about the inside students.
I was sitting next to men that would never see the light of day as a free man and it got to me. They call it Death by Incarceration and it’s when you are given life without parole, especially for someone that has been in prison since 18 years of age or less. Freddie was one of the guys and he was convicted at 17 and served over 47 years. His poetry in class was so beautiful and he has a calm and warm demeanor. Received awards for putting together a resource center for inmates and their families during visiting hours and a model insider. The other men, a few just by talking with them you could tell they were lifers as well, but we were not supposed to ask. But it humbles you because they are not allowed to have the internet, maybe TV, but most don’t or didn’t know the weather because they are locked up.
I have the chance to possible train and teach in the prison starting next year and I am seriously considering it. I loved my interaction with the inside students and I got a chance to change my perspectives because I seen things first hand. The prison system is messed up and there’s a lot of things that are wrong that we need to fix…..including sending minorities kids to prison for life. I sat across from these men who entered the system before they hit 18 and are know pushing upwards of 50 years of age or more. Men that haven’t experienced buying their first apartment, working at their dream job, going to happy hour with friends or just hanging outside and walking to the park while breathing in the air. They missed all of that and will miss many more things because of their incarceration. I’m not saying that a person shouldn’t be punished, but after a certain time those Death by Incarceration people should be reevaluated and assessed if prison is still a good fit.
Prison Information, News, and Links
- Fair Punishment Project: Juvenile Life without Parole in Philadelphia – http://fairpunishment.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/FPP_JLWOP_philadelphia_r601.pdf
- Article by an Inside Student, Harun Fox – http://articles.philly.com/2006-08-23/news/25397225_1_graterford-moral-compass-state-prison
- The Inside Out Program – http://www.insideoutcenter.org/
- The Next to Die: Watching Death Row – https://www.themarshallproject.org/next-to-die?ref=menu
- Life Inside: My Father killed Two People – https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/05/05/my-father-killed-two-people#.Gr57pxH4Q
- Graterford Lifer Honored Parent-child Center Was Inmate’s Idea – http://articles.philly.com/1987-03-23/news/26219879_1_graterford-inmate-state-prison-jail
- The Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration – http://decarceratepa.info/CADBI
- A Judge Overturned a Death Sentence Because the Prosecutor Compared a Black Defendant to King Kong – https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/03/28/a-judge-overturned-a-death-sentence-because-the-prosecutor-compared-a-black-defendant-to-king-kong?ref=collections#.WNylEDXfK
- Report asks Philly to seek ‘new approach’ for juveniles sentenced to life without parole – http://www.phillyvoice.com/report-seeks-philly-seek-new-approach-juveniles-sentenced-life-without-parole/
Our last night together was bittersweet. I wish we had more time to spend to really get to know them better. But I understand how attachment works and sometimes it’s best to enjoy what was learned and the collaborations we shared. That last night I wrote a poem for the inside students to acknowledge them and let them know that, I see them! That whatever I thought, my perceptions was skewed. They taught me something and they made such an impact that my goals within the next 5 years has changed in order to focus on what’s defeating PA, but also the country. Death by Incarceration, the 1994 Crime Bill, Mass Incarceration, and the “War on Drugs” didn’t help our community….it tried to extinguish a race of people that just wanted to be seen as human and worthy of the same rights as others.
My Poem to the Inside Students on the Last day of Class
I See You…
The outside world doesn’t really understand the inside blues. We walk around angry ourselves, not understanding that we are in our own prison trying to make it on a daily basis. We feel just as condemned and invisible to others that have less cares in the world, but more money in their pockets. I wouldn’t say I feel locked up, but I am not as free to be as most people. But my perceptions about inside people were skewed and I admit I was behind a lot of the policies that locked our black men and boys up, and I didn’t need that life to mesh with mines. I was a good girl and to me inside people didn’t fit in my circle, nor would I want them to be. But at the same time I was given the opportunity to see if my perceptions were their realities.
- I expected anger, but received calmness.
- I expected violence, but received hugs.
- I expected rudeness, but received kind words.
- I expected lies, but received honesty.
I expected to walk in and be a savior for the inside students, but they taught me something instead. They taught me resilience, courage, hope, and patience. The outside worries that we experience is small compared to their community and understanding them left me feeling like I needed to humble myself and experience a day in the life, in their shoes. I write to you all because I have grown to care. I see you! And even though this started out as just a course, it was a lifetime experience for me and us. Your stories will be retold and shared through us. Your kindness will be remembered through us. Your hugs will be good memories of your warmth. Your honesty will be replicated through us. I see you…and as we sit down for the last time and experience our mutual connection and affection for each other, I will remember that this was not only a Temple course…it was an experience in humanity. The destruction of stereotypes and the call to be the change that’s needed because we have people with emotions, families, and hearts on the inside that need us to speak on the outside for their behalf. Thank you! – AcademicHustler1975