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February 14: SAVE THE DATE – SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15th

Parole Reform panel at the Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Conference, ALBANY

Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP, the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, Prison Action Network, the Riverside Church Prison Ministry Parole Reform Initiative, and the Reform and Advocacy Coalition join hands to offer a workshop on:

Making Parole Reform Real to Make Our Communities Safe

TIME of panel TBD; free bus leaves NYC at 6:00 a.m. (from 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.) and departs from Albany at 5:00 pm – so should reach NYC by 9pm the latest.

RESERVE YOUR SEAT: Email or call Mujahid Farid, mfarid@correctionalassociation.org, 212-254-5700 x 317

Following an Assembly hearing on parole practices last December and a community effort to tell the parole board their new regulations don’t cut it, this is a key moment to increase pressure to tell the board, the legislature and the community: The parole system in New York State will be changed.

The panel will consider the ways public safety and the health of our communities will improve if the parole board focuses on the future, not the past. The board must base release decisions on an applicant’s future conduct, not on the conduct for which s/he was originally convicted and incarcerated.

Some of what the panel will address:

* Solving the problem, part 1: What parole supervision, reentry and our communities would look like if reforms took place.

* Solving the problem, part 2: How will society change if communities take responsibility for our own health and safety?

* Changing the law to change the system: the S.A.F.E. Parole Act and parole reform.

* How the legislature and communities can work together to take responsibility for public safety and criminal justice.

* Forward to the Future: How parole reform will move us as a society beyond revenge and into real justice; how real parole reform will affect the entire state prison system.

Join us not only to demonstrate presence but to participate in workshop discussions, learn, meet each other, and have an impact on where the politicians will take things next. There will be a variety of panels and workshops related to prison issues. For example, groups from the Correctional Association are doing a panel each on Women in Prison and Raise the Age, and maybe a third on Solitary.  There will likely also be a short gathering of the NY State Prisoner Justice Network and other groups working on prison issues.

 

April 2013: Reading is My Window Review

By Rachel Galindo

(A version of this appeared in Make/Shift Magazine. The writer, Rachel Galindo, was incarcerated in Colorado and working at the prison library when she wrote the review.)

Do I value reading so much because I am incarcerated? Of course not, but in this setting, my reading has gained a dimension of intensity and intent, which define its quality of worth. I have come to recognize this as a common theme, especially since I began working in the library of the facility where I am held. I love that Megan Sweeney steadily threads the theme throughout Reading is My Window.

Because women in prison are seldom visible and, given the role of books in my life, I anticipated this book. I found myself apprehensive about how we would be reflected in Sweeney’s academic inquiry and analysis. In the introduction she offers that “the book counters women prisoners’ frequent positioning as silent objects of cultural and political discourse.” In a significant way, it does.

I was both relieved and grateful for the way Sweeney leans her analysis against the distinct voices of incarcerated women, which she gathered from tape-recorded interviews and group discussions held in three facilities in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  This allows Reading is My Window to be personal and alive, preventing another social exploration from betraying the humanity of those concerned..

Reading begins with an overview of the parallel and intermingling histories of reading, education, and prison development in the U.S., especially how ideologies of gender, classism, and particularly racism have sustained them. Sweeney sketches literacy and education as footholds of social advantage and exploitation that continuously evolve with the dominant frames that secure reliance on prisons. Based on expectations of what, how and presumably why incarcerated people should read, states attempt to manipulate reading into tools of control and conditioning by filling prison library shelves according to the given “corrections policy.”

This history backdrops Sweeney’s focus on widely read victim narratives, urban fiction, and Christian-based self-help books. Despite her reservations about some of the materials’ nature to reinforce prevalent structures of oppression, she emphasizes that “women prisoners are doing the best they can with available materials.” Although I, too, wish there were more accessible books to foster political education and challenge mainstream thought, and wish there were more references to such in Reading is My Window, Sweeney makes room for the diverse ways we reject and redesign state-imposed uses of reading. This relates to her focus on how books become enriching, flexible resources in an environment of deprivation and reveals how women in prison creatively inject reading into critical processes. Sweeney keenly presents our interactions with books in healing, validating our experiences, then, in telling our stories in our own words while we place them in expanded social/political contexts, and reclaim possibilities for our future. As a woman named Monique expressed during a group discussion:

I listen to storm stories every day…And you listen to these stories, and it’s like okay, well what are we gonna do about this?…Let’s figure out how we’re gonna get out of the storm…

In stretching the visibility of incarcerated women by illuminating what/how we are reading, Sweeney addresses Angela Davis’s and other abolitionists’ challenge to address current conditions that women/all people in prison face while simultaneously strengthening efforts to undermine existing systems: “Reading Is My Window dwells in the space of this challenge by exploring some of the strategies for surviving the here and the now.”

To start, throughout this book, Sweeney provides awareness of the dense isolation felt by incarcerated women and our desire to connect, not only with each other, but also with the rest of the world. About her time spent with the women, she presses, “our moment of connection continues to remind me of how important it is to let prisoners know that we have not forgotten them.” So true!

Marking the conclusion is an outlined plan for improved education, which, to me, blazed the tension between (what may resemble) drastic reform and abolition. In this area, Sweeney raises the dilemma we must bravely continue to probe while we, too, consider how to “get out of the storm.”

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