Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. - ~Advocacy and Education Since 2005~

November 2014 Program

Taking Another Look: Through a Restorative Justice Lens
 By Karima Amin

   Several years ago at one of our monthly meetings, we screened the film “Prison Song,” a 2001 film, produced by B.E.T. (Black Entertainment Television), starring Mary J. Blige (R&B diva) and Q-Tip (rapper from “A Tribe Called Quest). Upon viewing, our follow-up discussion centered upon the factors that promoted juvenile incarceration, and by extension, mass incarceration. The film’s prologue states these undeniable facts that have only been exacerbated over the years:

 *7 million children have a parent in prison or jail or recently released on probation or parole;
 *Black children are 46 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to juvenile prison;
*4.6 million Black men out of a voting population of 10.4 million have lost their voting rights due to felony convictions;
*·Newborn Black males have greater than 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during their lifetimes.

   Although this film is not a classic and may not receive a 5-star rating from everyone, it does a very good job of describing a community that is struggling with multiple social ills on a daily basis. Miseducation, weak community relations, poor health care, inadequate youth intervention, disrespectful and inhumane community policing, drug abuse and a criminal justice system that ignores the fact that victim and offender my both be victims. 

 Our most recent meetings have viewed Restorative Justice as an “umbrella theme,” directly and/or indirectly related to community policing, reintegration following incarceration, and community building.  Since BaBa and I have had the opportunity to train core teams at various community spaces, I thought it would be interesting to view this film again now that Restorative Justice and Restorative Justice practices have been introduced. The dysfunction and sadness depicted in “Prison Song” might have been avoided if the community had been strengthened through peace circles and community conferencing, leading to community empowerment.  In this film, locking up people is the ultimate solution to everything. The main characters are institutionalized in the mental hospital…. juvenile detention…the group home… and finally, the state prison. This film offers a clear description of what can go wrong when criminalization trumps restoration. 

PLEASE NOTE: This film is rated R for violence and language. 

 Our next meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 24, 2014 from 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo.  This is our final meeting for 2014. We will reconvene on January 26, 2015. Happy Holidays! 

MORE INFO: For more information about Restorative Justice, go to the “Brother BaBa Speaks” page.  Be sure to LIKE us on Facebook. This program is supported by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng.  















October 2014 Program

Have You Heard? Buffalo SNUG is Here!

 by Karima Amin

   It was December of 2009 when Senators Malcolm A. Smith and Antoine Thompson announced the advent of  “Operation SNUG” (“guns” spelled backward) and we learned that several Erie County community organizations would receive $500,000 for the prevention of gun violence. At that time, Senator Smith said, “Today marks a turning point in community safety…. Gun violence affects us all- white or black, rich or poor, illegal guns terrorize neighborhoods and tear apart families. For too long, the deadly specter of illegal guns has gone unchecked. In cities across the state, our children are dying at the hands of gun violence, but through our commitment to SNUG, we can put a stop to that deadly trend now and return our streets to their rightful owners, the people of New York.”

 Senator Thompson concurred, saying, "Gang violence and illegal gun use has been a problem in Buffalo and across the state for too long.  Operation SNUG will hopefully cut down on excessive gang violence that many communities face."

 On February 5, 2014, Senator Tim Kennedy announced the re-launching of “Operation SNUG,” awarding  $366, 400 to Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, which is implementing a targeted neighborhood violence prevention project. Believing in the promise of “Operation SNUG,” Senator Kennedy said, “This funding will target neighborhoods hardest hit by street violence and apply a tried-and-tested model of street outreach and violence intervention to cut down on gang activity and reduce violent crime from the frontlines.”

 Pastor James E. Giles, President/CEO of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries said, “These state resources will allow us to implement a Cure Violence program, enhance the work of the Buffalo Peacemakers and keep violence interrupters on the streets looking out for our neighbors and preventing crime.” Back to Basics is one of seven groups across the state that have received state funding to implement a coordinated, community-based strategy that seeks to prevent violent crime and encourage high-risk youth to avoid criminal activity and instead pursue positive opportunities.

 Time has passed. Has SNUG been a success? Is there more or less gun violence today than we had in 2009? What has been the community’s response to “Buffalo SNUG?”

 If you want to know the answers to these questions, come to our next monthly meeting to meet Rahel Weldeysesus. She is the Program Manager for “Buffalo SNUG.”  She previously served as the Program Development Director at Back to Basics. For two years, she was the Community Relations Director for New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. When I first met her, she was the Development Coordinator for Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York. She is diligent and passionate about her work. 

 Our next meeting will be on Monday, October 27, at 7:00-9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. For more information: 716-834-8438 or Karima@prisonersare peopletoo.org  or BaBa Eng,  g.babaeng@yahoo.com.



September 2014 Program

September 13, 1971: We Remember 

   by Karima Amin

   Every year in September, the monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. is devoted to commemorating the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971, the deadliest prison uprising in US history.  Although this event is frequently referred to as a “riot,” it was no “riot.” It was a “rebellion,” an uprising that left 29 prisoners and 10 hostages dead, massacred by NY State Troopers, deployed by then governor Nelson Rockefeller.  The prisoners had tried to make their frustrations known, hoping to have them addressed through proper  “official” channels but letters and grievance forms were ignored.  Their demands listed the need for improved medical care, better food and clothing, and opportunities for education. The prison was extremely overcrowded and prisoners were denied certain basic sanitation needs, being relegated to one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper per month.  Conditions were inhumane and blatantly racist, with a prison population that was 60 % Black and Brown living under the thumb of an all-white cadre of prison guards.

 History books tell many different stories about the rebellion. Our past programs have featured films and guest speakers that have helped us to understand what happened at Attica forty-three years ago.  At our next monthly meeting, guest speaker, Tina Saunders, will tell us about a program that she has been conducting for more than 10 years, taking children into Attica State Prison to listen to prisoners talk about life at Attica and what brought them there. They also talk to the children about staying in school and striving to be good citizens in their communities. Ms. Saunders is the director of “No More Tears,” a Youth Intervention Project of Back–to-Basics Outreach Ministries. Once or twice per month, Tina brings young people, ages 13 and older, face-to-face with prisoners who are on Honor Block. Their words resonate with youth who are dealing with crime generative factors everyday, poverty, racism, mis-education, drugs, and more. The youth listen to men who understand what they are dealing with because they have experienced the same.  They also learn that prison is no place to aspire to. Attica, a maximum-security supermax, is little better than it was forty-three years ago. According to the NYS Correctional Association, Attica is defined, in part, by “…alarming rates of physical and sexual abuse, coupled with a deeply entrenched atmosphere of hostility, and a blatant disregard for human dignity….”

 Several of our past programs have highlighted the “school to prison pipeline.” Tina Saunders understand how real the pipeline is and she is doing her part to dismantle it by giving children an eye-opening opportunity to talk to incarcerated men who might be in a better place if they had made better choices.

 Our next meeting will be on Monday, September 29, 2014 at 7:00-9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin or BaBa Eng at 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org or BaBa at g.babaeng@yahoo.com. (September 9-13,  1971)    


August 2014 Program



Remembering Geronimo ji Jigga Pratt

 by Karima Amin

   Every year during the month of August, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. devotes a program to the existence of political prisoners in the USA. While this government has patently denied the presence of political prisoners on these shores, the fact remains, there are political prisoners in America and we have taken time to recognize their presence and their pain. We have called their names, Mumia, Seth, Jalil, Leonard, Mutulu, Sekou, Sundiata, Oscar, Herman, David, the MOVE 9, and more…all imprisoned for their political beliefs…all imprisoned for decades. In discussing the plight of political prisoners, we have highlighted COINTELPRO, a counter-intelligence program of the US government’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. Under COINTELPRO, the FBI has used methods that have been sometimes covert and often illegal, discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents; planting false reports in the media; harassment; illegal violence, including assassination; and wrongful imprisonment. COINTELPRO was official from 1956-1971, though many of its tactics were used prior to 1956 and are used to this day. In a film, “The FBI’s War on Black America” which PRP2 screened, a few years ago, historical documentation proved that COINTELPRO was especially aimed at Black leadership in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. One of those imprisoned at that time was Geronimo ji Jigga Pratt, Minister of Defense for the Black Panther Party. He was tried and convicted of the kidnap and murder of Caroline Olsen, an elementary schoolteacher in 1972, crimes he never committed. After more than two decades in prison, including eight years in solitary confinement, he was freed in 1997 when his conviction was vacated.

 Before his imprisonment, believing in the promise of America, Pratt joined the army and served two tours of duty in Viet Nam, earning both silver and bronze medals and twice receiving the “purple heart.” After his stint in the army, he studied political science at UCLA and he joined the Black Panther Party when he saw that his army training could be useful there. He worked as a human rights activist before and after his imprisonment. He died in 2011, in his adopted country of Tanzania, West Africa.

 Join us for the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. when we will share more information about Geronimo and the United Nation’s recent request (August 14), issued by the CERD (Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination), for the US government to officially recognize political prisoners in this country and to state specifically what it intends to do about "more than 20 civil rights era political activists and human rights defenders from 1960’s Black, Latino, and American Indian movements, now aged, and some in not so good health still being held in prison?"  Please note that this is not the first time that such a request has been made.

 Our next meeting will be on Monday, August 25, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin or BaBa Eng at 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org. .      

July 2014 Program

Something Old is New in Buffalo
 by Karima Amin

 For the last several months, you may have been hearing about the “Open Buffalo” initiative that was announced in January in the Buffalo News and announced at a press conference, sponsored by the Partnership for the Public Good, at the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library. It was reported that the Open Society Foundation has awarded a two-year, $1.9 million grant, to four local non-profits, to “combat economic injustice and inequality in Buffalo.”  These four non-profits, PUSH-Buffalo, the Coalition for Economic Justice, VOICE-Buffalo, and the Partnership for the Public Good, have each selected “partners,” 13 in number, who will collaborate to improve life in Buffalo, a city overwhelmed by racism and poverty. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. is honored to be one of the chosen “partners” and we will be moving forward with our effort to improve conditions at the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility by introducing and implementing Restorative Justice Practices with an eye toward healing victims, their families, and the community-at-large while encouraging offenders to take responsibility.

 To understand that something old is new in Buffalo, you need some background about “restorative justice.” What is it? If you ask five people, you may get five different answers.  “Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior or an offensive act. It is best accomplished  through cooperative practices that include all stakeholders…victims, offenders, family and community members.”  Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured.  Those most directly involved and affected by an offense should have the opportunity to participate in the response. Repairing the harm is at the center of Restorative Justice, which is an umbrella term encompassing several different practices, among them: victim-offender mediation, group conferencing, conflict resolution, peacemaking circles and more.  Restorative Justice is thousands of years old but new to Buffalo.

 At the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., three guest speakers will share information about restorative justice. Our Program Director, George BaBa Eng, a proponent of restorative justice for several years, received specialized training from Rev. Robert Spicer (RJ Trainer and Facilitator from Chicago) and advanced training from the International Institute for Restorative Practices. BaBa has written several scholarly essays on the topic and he will share historical information about the roots of RJ and our desire to bring restorative practices to the Erie County Holding Center. Restorative Justice is thousands of years old but new to Buffalo. Pastor James Giles, Executive Director of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries and vice-president of VOICE-Buffalo, will speak about the various ways that the community can benefit with restorative justice impacting our quality of life. Mr. Andy Prinzing learned about restorative justice when he lived in Ithaca and worked as an instructional supervisor at the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University. He came to Buffalo in 2011 and became the assistant principal of the Buffalo Community Charter School where he saw how certain restorative principles could increase attendance and reduce suspensions.

 Our next meeting will be on Monday, July 28, 2014 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This meeting is sponsored by the Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org; g.babaeng@yahoo.com.  


June 2014 Program

Success + Success = More Success
 for Prisoners Are People Too

 by Karima Amin

   It’s been said that June is a month chock full o’ celebrations…weddings, graduations, proms, Juneteenth, Black Music Month, summer solstice…and the list goes on. June 1 is when I celebrate my years on the planet and the month when we acknowledge another year’s work for Prisoners Are People Too, which was founded in June, 9 years ago.

 Since June of 2013, much has been accomplished and we’ve had some disappointments too, but our successes far outweigh those people and things that would seek to divert our mission. 

 Our Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders is gaining strength with Sara Jablonski encouraging members to write to reformed offenders, giving them the strength and encouraging words that they need to hear from community. Our Program Director, BaBa Eng, just celebrated one successful and productive year of “freedom” after 36 years of incarceration. The Circle also encouraged Shawnon Mu’haimin Bolden (free since January 2014) and James Justice McMoore who will walk through prison gates in July.

 As the “Open Buffalo” initiative gains a presence in the city, Restorative Justice is being seen more and more as a major part of making Buffalo a better place. Prisoners Are People Too is at the forefront of the drive to institute restorative practices in our courts, jails and schools, with Citizen Action, Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, and the Erie County Restorative Justice Task Force. More collaboration can be seen as VOICE-Buffalo helps us to organize for the restoration of the conditional release program, which worked successfully in Buffalo (1992-2005), giving formerly incarcerated people an opportunity to jump-start new and improved lives in the reentry process. Also, in working with the Erie County Restorative Justice Task Force, we are strengthening our position as restorative justice practitioners through a training process that is comprehensive and holistic. We have laid a foundation for bringing restorative justice to the Erie County Correctional Facility and the Erie County Holding Center.

 Our collaborative work continued this year on April 16 with PRP2 members participating in the Milk Not Jails statewide action for parole reform. We stood in front of the Buffalo Parole office then marched to Sen. Grisanti’s local office. More collaboration occurred when 16 of us went to Albany to attend the New York State Prisoner Justice Network’s Day of Action Against Mass Incarceration. We showed up, joining about 500 others, with our signs and our voices, calling for parole reform, jobs not jails, an end to solitary confinement, better care and concern for aging prisoners, and more compassion and justice for our children, caught up in the criminal injustice system. A recent collaboration led us to work with Buffalo’s Teens in Progress, as we participated in a national week of action against incarcerating youth.

 We thank everyone who has worked with us this year and who believes, as we do, that prisoners are people too.

 To find out more about what we are doing and to get involved with our work, please come to our next monthly meeting on Monday, June 30, 2014, at 7pm – 9pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. For more information: Karima Amin, karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org; BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com; 716-834-8438.            



May 2014 Program

National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth

 by Karima Amin

   On May 5, fifteen of us from Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. traveled to Albany, NY for a Day of Action against Mass Incarceration. This was an opportunity to learn, network, and speak truth to power.  The Buffalo delegation described the day as empowering, inspiring, and hope-FULL. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. has many concerns regarding criminal justice issues in genral and prisoner justice issues specifically. Our concerns are high priority and we need your help in tackling them. While in Albany, Buffalo folks had much to say about solitary confinement, parole reform and the plight of Reformed Offenders, men and women who have taken steps to better their lives in an effort to become assets to family and community. A visit to our website, www.prp2.org shows that we are on the frontlines of many issues and we have a sincere interest in our youth.

   May 19 – 26, 2014 will mark the 2 annual National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth. To shed some light on this issue, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will be screening “The Central Park Five,” an award-winning documentary about five Black and Latino teens from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in NYC’s Central Park in 1989. The victim became known as “The Central Park Jogger.” These boys spent between 6 and 13 years in prison before a serial rapist admitted that he alone had committed the crime, and the boys’ convictions were overturned and they were exonerated in 2002.  Although youth incarceration has declined in recent years, America still has thousands of juveniles (under age 21) who are confined in adult facilities and many who are incarcerated for life with no possibility of parole. America incarcerates more of its youth than any other developed country in the world. Most are Black, Latino and poor Whites.  Police coerced these boys into confessing and their photos, names, and addresses were released to media coverage, which sensationalized the case.

    These men, now in their 30s, have sued the city and the City Council passed a resolution to pay them  $250 million. In 2013, Mayor, Bill de Blasio agreed to settle. Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antran McCray, and Raymond Santana want justice and closure. To date, the suit against the city has not been settled.

 The film highlights circumstances of race and class that led to the boys’ being criminalized before arraignment and conviction. What happened in 1989 could easily happen today. With limited understanding of race and class, an over-zealous police force, media that cares more about profit than people, and malicious prosecution, our youth could  find their lives similarly devastated.

 Join us for the screening of “The Central Park Five” with a brief follow-up discussion at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. on Monday, May 19, from 7:00 to 9:30pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, Buffalo, NY. For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org; or BaBa Eng,  g.babaeng@yahoo.com.     PLEASE NOTE THE DATE AND TIME CHANGE.        

April, 2014 Program

Standing Up! Speaking Out!
   by Karima Amin

   PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. has always upheld the idea that fighting against unjust laws is a moral responsibility as we work to erase unjust laws through actions that will promote justice and equality for all. Next month, on May 5, when we travel to Albany to face-off with our State legislators, we will continue standing up and speaking out for those who have been incarcerated unjustly and for those who have positively transformed their lives behind bars and are now worthy of release. We will continue to give voice to the voiceless who have been abused in dungeons where man’s inhumanity to man has been rampant as prisoners have endured the kind of mental and physical torture that seeks to destroy the soul. 

   Believing in the humanity of all people, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. (PRP2) has always spoken out for men, women, and children confined to our State and local correctional facilities. PRP2 was at the forefront of bringing the Department of Justice to Western NY when our Erie County Holding Center was becoming well known, across the State and the Nation for an ugly spate of alleged suicides, which led to millions of your tax dollars being spent to settle related lawsuits.  Strengthening its profile, PRP2’s activism led to the creation of the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition and to PRP2’s joining the New York State Prisoner Justice Network. Standing up and speaking out is what we have done to keep the community informed about criminal justice and prisoner justice issues. The work has not been easy and frustrations abound but we continue to work, believing that everyone is deserving of professional, fair, and humane treatment. 

   At the next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC., we are honored to have, as our guest speaker, Mr. George K. Arthur, a political legend, active on the political scene in Buffalo for fifty years. This is a man who knows a little something about hard work, frustration, and determination. He served on the Erie County Board of Supervisors from 1964-1967, as Ellicott District Councilman from 1970-1978, and then as Councilman-at-Large in 1978, eventually serving as Common Council President from 1984 until his retirement in 1996. Along the way, he ran for mayor in 1985 as the unendorsed Democratic candidate, narrowly losing to incumbent Jimmy Griffin. He is a man who understands the meaning of dogged tenacity. Giving up is not an option even when naysayers laugh in the face of justice. 

   For a good dose of inspiration, come out to the next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. on Monday, April 28, 2014, at 7:00 – 9:00pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng sponsor all monthly programs. For more information: 716-834-8438; Karima Amin (karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org); BaBa Eng (g.babaeng@yahoo.com).          



March, 2014 Program

Join Us and Speak Out Against Prison Injustice on May 5
   by Karima Amin 

   Every Spring, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. encourages you to join us in Albany, NY where we face-off with “the powers that be” to express our major concerns regarding criminal justice issues.  Whether you call it “Lobby Day,” “Legislative Awareness Day,” “Family Empowerment Day,” or “Day of Action,” it is a special day for you to speak out against prison injustice. At our website (www.prp2.org) we have noted which issues concern us most: parole reform, reformed offenders, juvenile justice, parole for aged prisoners, solitary confinement, reentry, restorative justice and more. Past PRP2 meetings have disseminated information on these issues and will continue to do so. 
We encourage you to seriously consider coming to Albany on May 5 to add your voice and your presence at a day of actions that allow you to meet with advocates across the state who feel as you do about reform and the ultimate abolition of a criminal injustice system that is destroying  lives and communities everyday. May 5 will consist of a 10:00am Press Conference on Solitary Confinement; a 12:30pm March and Rally Against Prison Injustice, where Cornel West will be the keynote speaker; and a 2:30pm Parole Reform Speakout.  Details regarding topics of special concern and transportation to Albany will be shared at our next meeting.    

Please join us on Monday, March 31 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo at 7:00 – 9:00pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders will sponsor this gathering. If you need more information, call 716-834-8438 or contact Karima or BaBa: karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org  or g.babaeng@yahoo.com.  


February, 2014 Program

 The Reformed Offender: A Valuable Community Asset
 by Karima Amin
 
   I am frequently asked why I work with people who have been convicted of committing crimes. Why do I find them and their families worthy of my time and concern? Why do I support people who have “served time” and who are now re-entering society? I suppose the simple answer is my understanding that I could just as easily be in their shoes. The criminal justice system touches all of us, some more than others, and the repercussions can be long lasting and life altering. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. has established a Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders. We believe in redemption and we believe in second chances. 

             Our Program Director, George BaBa Eng, once said:
    “The reformed offender is no longer a threat to public safety. As reformed offenders, we realize that we will always owe a debt of atonement to our families and communities, because the history of crime and ignorance, that we once helped to perpetuate, requires our commitment to eradicate. We have shown remorse, obtained college degrees, organized and coordinated prison programs aimed at reforming others. We have enormous resources of skills, knowledge, and experience to offer. We ask that you hold us accountable…”

There are scores of reformed offenders right here in Western New York who are hard working, law-abiding citizens who have embraced their second chances with the kind of commitment and positive energy that should inspire all of us to do a better job of treating people in a manner that is more humane and non-judgmental.

 At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. Several reformed offenders will describe what it has meant for them to get a second chance in Western New York. In addition to their stories, we will hear from people who are willing to share a few positive words about these reformed offenders’ contributions to the Buffalo community. Reformed offenders are teachers, mentors, laborers, artists, entrepreneurs, counselors, medical assistants, restaurant workers, mechanics, barbers, religious leaders, office workers, and more. Their work weaves important threads into the fabric of a community that needs honest and enthusiastic men and women who believe that it is their responsibility to be contributors, even in a place where people may have nothing but fear and disdain for their return.

 This meeting promises to be an inspirational gathering. Please join us on Monday, February 24, 2014,  at 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. All monthly programs are sponsored by the Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; Karima Amin (karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org); BaBa Eng (g.babaeng@yahoo.com).  



January 2014 Program

Solitary is Torture   by Karima Amin

   A new year always brings on thoughts and feelings of new energy, fresh ideas, and novel approaches. As Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. enters its ninth year of prisoner justice advocacy, 2014 will be a year of increased education and enhanced advocacy that serves to engage your input regarding local and statewide justice issues. We have always encouraged you to join us in advocating for justice, right here in Buffalo and beyond.  January has us bringing some attention to the plight of those who are held in solitary (isolated) confinement. We have highlighted this issue before and we’re doing it again to solicit your active involvement in challenging a prison policy that is cruel and inhumane. In a word: torture. Your voice, your signature, and your interest will help to move legislation that will end the kind of long-term solitary confinement that rots the mind, body, and spirit. We have known this for decades. The U.S. prison system incarcerates more of its people than any other country in the world and it also isolate more of its own citizens than any other country in history.

 Prison administrators say that solitary confinement provides discipline and prevents violence. Several studies, examining the relationship between prison violence and isolated confinement, have shown that this is generally untrue. While the U. S. has quadrupled its incarceration rate in the last thirty years, work, education and therapeutic programs have been discontinued. While prison space has increased, opportunities for rehabilitation on the inside have decreased. This is a recipe for violence.

 Currently, there are about 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement.  While there are some who are truly dangerous and who pose a serious threat, most are not violent or dangerous. Some have mental health issues that are not being dealt with.  Some are escapees or suspected gang members. Long-term isolation is often misused, placing a person in solitary for years…even decades.

 Not too long ago, some Americans accepted legalized segregation. Today, some Americans accept legalized torture in the form of isolated confinement.  It has been proven that living with no human contact for an extended period, can lead to severe psychiatric harm.  The Center for Constitutional Rights has this to say: “Today, tens of thousands of individuals across the country are detained inside cramped, concrete, windowless cells in a state of near-total solitude for between 22 and 24 hours a day. The cells have a toilet and a shower, and a slot in the door large enough for a guard to slip a food tray through. Prisoners in solitary confinement are frequently deprived of telephone calls and contact visits. ‘Recreation’ involves being taken, often in handcuffs and shackles, to another solitary cell where prisoners can pace alone for an hour before being returned to their cell. Ever since solitary confinement came into existence, it has been used as a tool of repression. While it is justified by corrections officials as necessary to protect prisoners and guards from violent superpredators, all too often it is imposed on individuals, particularly prisoners of color, who threaten prison administrations in an altogether different way. Consistently, jailhouse lawyers and jailhouse doctors, who administer to the needs of their fellow prisoners behind bars, are placed in solitary confinement. They are joined by political prisoners from various civil rights and independence movements.”

 Join us on Monday, January 27, 2014 for a full-day of workshops about Solitary Confinement. We urge you to join the fight against it. CAIC (Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement) will be in Buffalo to conduct these workshops . We urge you to attend. At 12:30, CAIC will be at Back to Basics, 1370 William Street in Buffalo. At 7:00, CAIC will present a program on Solitary Confinement at Prisoners Are People Too’s regular monthly meeting at Pratt-Willert, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. To RSVP or ask questions, contact BaBa Eng,  g.babaeng@yahoo.com,  or Karima Amin, karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org. (716-834-8438)  




November 2013 Program

Remembering Herman Wallace (1941-2013)

 by Karima Amin 

   Recently Herman Wallace died, after spending more than 40 years behind bars in solitary confinement.  He and his co-defendants, Robert King and Albert Woodfox (“The Angola Three”), had spent most of their time in prison at Louisiana State Penitentiary, aka “Angola,” aka “The Farm.” Back in 2005, when Prisoners Are People Too had its first meeting, we screened “The Farm: Angola USA,” a film about Louisiana State Penitentiary, a prison farm located on a 18,000acre property which was previously a plantation. What happens there today is little different from what happened there when enslaved Africans worked the land. Disrespect, humiliation, mental and physical abuse, and murder is the order of the day. 

  Herman Wallace and his co-defendants were convicted of the 1972 stabbing murder of a prison guard, 23-year-old Brent Miller. Interestingly enough, there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime, DNA evidence was lost, and the testimony of the main eyewitness (a jailhouse snitch) was discredited.  Miller’s wife has repeatedly and openly stated that she does not believe that these men were responsible for the death of her husband. After 29 years, Robert King’s conviction was overturned on appeal and he was released. King has worked tirelessly to build international recognition and support for the plight of “The Angola Three.”

   Albert Woodfox is still in solitary confinement. 

   Herman Wallace died on October 4, 2013.

   The US government denies the existence of political prisoners.  These are men and women who remain incarcerated for their political views and actions.  Wallace and Woodfox were members of the prison’s chapter of the Black Panther Party. As activists, they worked to improve conditions at Angola. They organized petitions and hunger strikes to protest segregation within the prison, and to end systemic rape and violence.

   For decades, Herman Wallace endured the torture of solitary confinement and the lack of proper medical care, even after a diagnosis of liver cancer. His many attempts to present his case to the courts, proclaiming his innocence, were dismissed and ignored. On October 1, 2013, a federal court overturned his murder conviction, saying that his confinement had been unfair and unconstitutional. On October 2, dying of liver cancer, Mr. Wallace was finally taken from the prison by family and friends. On October 4, he joined the Ancestors.

   At he next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, we will screen the award –winning documentary “Herman’s House” which details a project that Herman Wallace participated in with filmmaker Angad Bhalla and artist, Jackie Sumell. The question was asked: “After forty years of living in a 6 foot by 9 foot prison cell for 23 hours a day, for more than forty years, what kind of house do you dream about?” The film details the symbolic meaning of Herman’s dream house. Join us on Monday. November 25, 7:00-9:00pm (note time change), at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo.

   The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org or BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com.          








October 2013 Program

Who Will Be Our Next Erie County Sheriff?
 by Karima Amin

   As we move forward to November 5, Election Day, I wonder how many of us are prepared to cast an educated ballot for the office of Sheriff? Given the problems we have witnessed at the Erie County Holding Center, during the last 8 years, while Sheriff Timothy Howard has been in office, makes it imperative for us to stop and take a serious look at what has been accomplished under his watch. All political candidates have mottos and watch words which define who they are, what they do, and what they plan to do. Sheriff Howard defines himself as one who exhibits “a reputation for hard work and integrity.” There are some who agree with this wholeheartedly and others who have good reason for challenging this definition. 

   Are you an educated constituent? Do you know who is running this time for the office of Sheriff? Do you know what the Sheriff’s duties are? In a recent interview, Sheriff Howard said, "My reputation speaks of hard work, honesty and straightforwardness. I support the constitution and all that it stands for.” 

   Those of you who have supported Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. and the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition may not be in agreement with what Sheriff Howard says about himself. What is more important, I believe, is not what he says about himself, but what he has done to improve our holding center in Buffalo and correctional facility in Alden. There have been no suicides this year but there have been 7 since the last election. The holding center has a “sparking new” reception area but what has been done to improve conditions for those who find themselves confined there?  If the compliance reports being compiled there by the Department of Justice were shared with the community, perhaps we would know what is being improved and what the deadlines are and if the Sheriff is working with the Department of Justice and the Commission of Correction to provide the kind of professional and humane treatment for which we have been advocating. No candidate is really talking about the holding center and for many of us, conditions at he holding center are a major issue and central to this election.

   This time, Sheriff Howard is facing two candidates:  Richard “Dick” Dobson, the Democratic candidate, and Bert Dunn, of the Law and Order Party.  Both have worked for the Sheriff’s Department. Dobson says that ongoing problems at the holding center have had a negative impact on the morale of deputies “who put their lives on the line for the citizens of Erie County every day…. it is time to start putting policies into effect that will more closely protect our deputies…” Dunn, who lost to Dobson in the primary, hasn’t said anything about the holding center. In a recent interview with “New WNY Politics,” Sheriff Howard said, “One thing that some people don't understand who have criticized us for our handling of health and mental health related matters in the Holding Center is that, by law, matters involving health, mental health, and upkeep of the county jails, outside of day to day maintenance, are the responsibility of the County Executive, not the Sheriff.” 

   So there you have it: We have a candidate who is obviously more concerned about the deputies than the inmates. We have a loser, still in the running, who has nothing to say about the holding center. And we have an incumbent, Sheriff Timothy Howard,  who has been cited by the New York State Commission on Correction for gross negligence and incompetence. A Sheriff who says, “It’s not my job.” 

   Whether these men show up at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too or not, we need to have a discussion about conditions at the holding center and what we expect in the future. The community must make its demands clear and hold our elected officials accountable. 
  
 Please join us for the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, which will be held on Monday, October 28, 2013, 6:30-8:30pm at 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo.  This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: Karima Amin, karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org; BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com. 716-834-8438.







September 2013 Program

42 Years and Counting

 by Karima Amin

   Every year, in the month of September, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. plans for its 
monthly meeting to re-visit the Attica Rebellion of 1971, when a courageous group of incarcerated men took the initiative on
September 9 to stand up for the few constitutional rights and human rights that incarcerated people have in the United States. They seized control of the prison, Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, NY, took 42 staff people hostage, put forth their grievances and demands, and in the end, on September, 13, 29 prisoners and 10 officers were killed in a massacre which occurred when Gov. Rockefeller called in the NYS Police Troopers and the NY National Guard to quell the uprising. 

   42 years and counting….and conditions at Attica haven’t improved much since 1971 and prisoner justice seems to be an area of advocacy that only appeals to the diehard few who believe that “prisoners are people too.” So many of us, unfortunately, are stuck in a place that only allows for us to see the stereotypes that define how we view a group of people known as felons, offenders, and lawbreakers. They are people….2.4 million in America, which has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. Everybody knows at least one confined person. Every family has at least one person under correctional supervision.  We shun these men, women, and children and demean them and too often believe that we could never end up behind bars. There are people in our prisons and jails today that never thought that life’s circumstances would take them there. The 1200 prisoners who rebelled at Attica in 1971 had tried to make their grievances known through the proper channels by writing to officials who were responsible for medical care, and adequate food and clothing, but they were ignored and there was no redress. They complained about pervasive physical abuse and racially discriminatory treatment from guards.  They hoped that Gov. Rockefeller would be concerned enough to come to Attica for the negotiations. The Governor refused and sent in firepower instead with drastic results. 

   In 2011, the University at Buffalo Law School and its Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy convened a conference to commemorate the 40 anniversary of the Attica uprising. This conference brought together prisoner advocates, legislators, policymakers, corrections professionals, activists and people who were on the front lines of the conflict, on both sides. This 2-day event reminded us, “Attica is all of us” and afforded us an opportunity to examine Attica’s legacy. Prof. Teresa A. Miller, an Associate Professor of Law at UB, who was the chief architect of this conference, will be PRP2’s guest speaker this month.  Prof. Miller is a filmmaker, currently working on “Attica: The Bars That Bind Us,” which is scheduled for release this Fall.   Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will meet on Monday, September 30, 6:30-8:30 at the Pratt Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo.   The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org  or G. BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com.    

(Photo above: Our guest speaker, 09-30-13, Prof. Teresa A. Miller from University
at Buffalo Law School.)




August 2013 Program

by Karima Amin

Black August:   Remembering Jonathan Jackson

(Photo: Our guest speaker.
Bro. Mujahid Farid)

Every year at our August meeting, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. takes time to acknowledge Black August, remembering those who have exhibited a “spirit of resistance,” defying those social, civil, and political barriers that have been designed to repress our conscious efforts to be self-determining and free. Past programs have referred to “Freedom Fighters,” some currently incarcerated for decades and others who joined the Ancestors long ago, whose names remind us that all is not well in Amerikkka.

   In the past, we have looked at COINTELPRO, an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram . This was a series of undercover and sometimes illegal acts conducted by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), aimed at discrediting and disrupting domestic political organizations.  Just to name a few, the FBI infiltrated the following in an attempt to end their influence: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), MOVE, the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Black Liberation Army (BLA).  Working in collaboration with the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and the NSA (National Security Agency), COINTELPRO’s reach was far and wide but was especially directed at Black leadership.  It’s interesting to note that the leaders were young, in many cases, in their 20’s and 30’s, and that their following was often comprised of youth, some in their teens, ready to fight for justice.  Some lost their lives in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.

   Past programs have highlighted activist Fred Hampton, deputy chair of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party who was assassinated at the age of 21; Bobby Hutton, the Black Panther Party’s first recruit at the age of 16 who was murdered by police just a few days before his 18 birthday; and George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye, murdered by prison guards at the age of 29. This month, we’ll take some time to remember George’s brother, Jonathan who lost his life at age 17 in a fatal and futile attempt to negotiate freedom for George on August 7, 1970. George was assassinated just a few days later.

   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. Many of our young ones today, unfortunately, 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 that have been applied to first graders.

    What is the state of juvenile justice today? What measures have been put in place to insure that our children will have full and productive lives? Does the school to prison pipeline really exist? Our guest speaker, Brother Mujahid Farid, a Soros Justice Fellow, is a staff member of the Correctional Association of NY. While Brother Farid is quite familiar with the plight of aging prisoners, he is also quite knowledgeable about issues related to juvenile justice. He will address these and other important questions.

    Our next meeting will be on Monday, August 26, 2013, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, 6:30-8:30pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org; or BaBa Eng,  
g.babaeng@yahoo.com.        




July 2013 Program

by Karima Amin

Aging in Prison

  Everyone loves grandma…and grandpa too. The love and respect that is accorded to them goes without question. Some of this love is extended to Moms and Pops…and even to elder Uncle John and Aunt Betty. But when incarceration enters the mix, love and respect often disappear and attitudes change. In fact, the general populace rarely thinks of aging prisoners, incarcerated seniors, who may be parents and/or grandparents. Incarceration has a way of making people invisible; they are “out of sight/out of mind,” and seemingly unworthy of anyone’s care or concern. Furthermore their voices are rarely heard and their humanity is literally denied.  Who are these aging individuals in prison?


(Photo: Our guest speaker,
Laura Whitehorn)



 Early last year, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. presented a program, “Old Behind Bars,” which highlighted the importance of our considering the needs of our graying prison population.  What we learned from a recent Human Rights Watch report is that: ·Nearly 10% of state prisoners are serving a life sentence. 11.2% have sentences longer than 20 years.
 ·The number of state and federal prisoners, age 65 or older, grew at 94 times the rate of the overall prison population between 2007 and 2010.
 ·Long sentences today mean that many current prisoners will not leave prison until they become extremely old, if at all.
 ·Many older prisoners remain incarcerated even though they are too old and infirm to threaten public safety if released.
 ·While some states are moving forward to change the rules about mandatory minimum sentences and parole, the need for special medical care and hospice care for the elderly in prison is rapidly growing.
 ·Some seniors behind bars have served their time and have demonstrated that they are parole-ready and parole-eligible. Some are political prisoners who are being held because of their political beliefs and actions. Their excessive confinement serves no good purpose.

 The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will feature guest speakers from New York City who are spearheading a campaign, R.A.P.P., which supports the Release of Aging People in Prison.  Mujahid Farid, a Soros Justice Fellow, is a staff member of the Correctional Association of NY and the Lead Organizer of R.A.P.P. “Farid’s work will, in part, highlight prisons’ failures to appropriately address the geriatric and healthcare needs of aging people and the tremendous fiscal costs associated with keeping the elderly in prison. But for Farid, the main focus will be increasing opportunities for release.” (Quote from Correctional Association website.) He will be joined by Laura Whitehorn, a R.A.P.P. Organizer and social justice advocate who spent 14 years in federal prison for the “Resistance Conspiracy” case, a political case involving actions against racism and colonialism. Since her 1999 release, she has worked against mass incarceration and worked for the release of political prisoners. Brother Farid and Sister Whitehorn may be joined by Brother Salahuddin A. Rashid who is an Affiliate Organizer of R. A.P.P.

 Our guest speakers understand the importance of addressing the health/medical needs of our elders in prison and also the importance of bringing them home, so that those who are able, such as our Director of Programs, George BaBa Eng, and our Corresponding Secretary, Charles “Chuck” Culhane, can share the benefits of their wisdom, skills, and experience with the outside community.

 Our next meeting will be on Monday, July 29, 2013, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, 6:30-8:30pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.  




June 2013 Program

Yes, BaBa is Here!

   by Karima Amin

   June is a big month for celebrations…graduations, weddings, Fathers Day, Juneteenth and more. In June, Prisoners Are People Too will celebrate two milestones. First, we will celebrate the organization’s 8th anniversary. For 8 years, we have provided critical information about  issues defined by criminal injustice.  Prison issues, that affect all of us, whether we realize it or not, have been the subject of several programs that have enlightened and inspired our community work. 

   If you’re wondering about the title of this article, wonder no more. On June 24, when we celebrate our 8th anniversary, we will also celebrate the homecoming of George BaBa Eng, following 36 years of imprisonment. BaBa, who is PRP2’s Program Director, will be our honored guest speaker. BaBa says: “I believe in the ethic of working, always towards the greatest good, for our people, to repair, rebuild and restore our community. I know that God will open doors and allow us to get what we need to get the work done. I look forward to sharing my mind, my spirit and my labor with you. May God continue to bless and secure the people of Buffalo in all that is right and good. Thank you so much for all your thoughts, prayers, and work in my behalf.”

    This past year, we were honored to have Mr. Arthur O. Eve as a guest speaker. He was the former Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly who served as an observer and negotiator in the wake of the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion.  Mr. Eve inspired a full house at our meeting last August, when we took time to remember, as we do every year, “Attica is all of us!” The challenges of reentry, domestic violence, aging in prison, veterans as prisoners, children of incarcerated parents, voting rights, and stigma, are just a few of the subjects that have been highlighted. We are exceedingly grateful to the wonderful speakers who have volunteered their time to inform and inspire. We have had a good year with two successful conferences: Family Empowerment Day (October 2012) and Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents (March 2013). Also, we were participants on several major panels hosted by the Social Justice Committee of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, the NYS Drug Policy Alliance, and the McMillan Empowerment Enterprise at Buffalo State College’s Burchfield Penny Art Center. In addition, we are growing. We now have two chapters in Erie and Niagara counties. Claudia Racine is the Niagara County facilitator.

     Sponsored by the Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng, this meeting on June 24, 2013, will be at the Pratt Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, 6:30 – 8;30pm. Come join the celebration! (Need more info? Karima Amin, 716-834-8438; karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.)

(That's BaBa in the photo above, front and center, shown here with friends at Great Meadow Prison, Comstock, NY.)




May 2013 Program

Realities of Reentry

 by Karima Amin

   As Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. moves closer to its eighth anniversary, we are moved to take a look at a topic that we have considered several times before. It’s a topic that touches all of us, although those who are formerly incarcerated are most affected because they live with the realities of reentry day and night. Some find reentry to be difficult at best while others think of it as a nightmare, worse than being in prison.  I think that most, however, despite the restrictions imposed by parole, really understand that reentry, though challenging, offers an opportunity for a second chance.

 Our guest speaker, Mr. Jerome Wright, “came home” in 2009. His transition wasn’t easy but he was fortunate to have a supportive family that helped to make his transition as smooth and productive as possible. As a result, he is an asset to his family and to this community.  Despite his intelligence and positive transformation, family reunification was replete with issues that had to be resolved. He learned that dealing with the realities of reentry requires patience and a desire to learn new things, no matter how long or short the period of incarceration has been.

 As a successful reentry candidate, Mr. Wright is now in a position to talk about navigating parole successfully.  He is well equipped to discuss the challenges that have an impact on an individual’s promising return to the “free world.” Mr. Wright has served as the Reentry Program Director for Back to Basics Outreach Ministries. He is the author of a column entitled, “The Realities of Reentry,” which appeared in several issues of the C.P.R. (Coalition for Parole Restoration) newsletter. He is currently the Site Supervisor for the Center for Employment Opportunities.  He is a valued member of our community who has mentored and counseled others to “do the right thing.”  

   Don’t miss Mr. Jerome Wright’s presentation at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., on Monday, May 20, 2013 at the Pratt Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30-8:30pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.    (PLEASE NOTE: We usually meet on the last Monday of the month but May 29 is a National Holiday.)      
  



April 2013 Program

Criminal Injustice: Perception or Reality?

 by Karima Amin

   Last month’s meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., took an in depth look at the stigma that is generated by a criminal conviction. This month we will consider the stigma that may have some bearing in a trial court.

  Judges play many roles. They interpret the law, assess the evidence presented, and control how hearings and trials unfold in their courtrooms. Most important of all, judges are impartial decision-makers in the pursuit of justice. We have what is known as an adversarial system of justice - legal cases are contests between opposing sides, which ensures that evidence and legal arguments will be fully and forcefully presented. The judge, however, remains above the conflict, providing an independent and impartial assessment of the facts and how the law applies to those facts. The judge imposes appropriate fines or sentences. 

 Lawyers are expected to represent their clients with undivided loyalty; keep their clients' confidences; represent their clients competently; represent their clients within the bounds of the law; and put their clients' interests ahead of their own. 

 While lawyers and judges have certain responsibilities, and while we have certain expectations of them, what happens in reality? Is there truly “justice for all?”  Is it possible for a decision to be tainted by stigma?  What protected rights do we have in a court of law? There are those in community who view our criminal justice system as a system of criminal injustice. Why? 

 Our guest speaker, the Honorable Judge E. Jeannette Ogden, a judge in Buffalo City Court, will discuss the above and answer your questions. We are honored to have her join us in enhancing our understanding of the court’s power and our rights. Well known for being open, honest, compassionate and fair, Judge Ogden is well respected in this community.  We appreciate her willingness to volunteer her time and energy in the interest of community education. 

 The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will take place on Monday, April 29, from 6:30pm – 8:30pm at the Pratt-Willlert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of PRP2, Inc. programs. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.  

  

March 2013 Program


Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. Talks About Stigma

 by Karima Amin   

 Since its inception, most Prisoners Are People Too monthly meetings have dealt with the stigma of a criminal conviction in some way. We have talked about the stigma that touches the family members of an incarcerated person. We have examined the stigma that follows a formerly incarcerated person who is seeking employment or housing. We have dealt with the stigma that rears its ugly head when the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction are considered.  These may include disenfranchisement, disentitlement of education loans, loss of a professional license or drivers’ license, or eviction from public housing. We have considered the stigma that defines a community when those outside of the community fail to understand the community’s strengths as well as its deficits. Stigma means different things to different people in various situations but it mostly means attaching shame or disgrace to something or someone regarded as socially unacceptable. Oftentimes, stigma is based on misconceptions, stereotypes and labeling. When someone is coming home from prison, and they have paid their debt to society, they all to often find that second chances are in short supply and that ignorance has a tendency to paint all formerly incarcerated people with the same brush. 

 For most formerly incarcerated people, reentry is an uphill battle. The roadblocks are daunting and assimilation back into society can be extremely frustrating.  Most frustrating, in my opinion, is the stigma we attach to the process of reentry with our unwillingness to see those who have served time in prison as people, deserving of an opportunity to become assets, fully productive contributors to society. 

 At the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too we will look at the stigma associated with a criminal conviction.  The short documentary being screened is, “The Long Shadow of Incarceration’s Stigma,” produced and distributed by the “Think Outside the Cell Foundation.”  The film shows how frustrating reentry can be when society fails to help formerly incarcerated people who are sincerely striving to do well, in moving forward with their lives. Our guest speaker will be Ms. Tracy Fleming who has worked in the criminal justice system since 1996. She has been with the Buffalo Urban League’s Re-Entry Program since its inception 5 years ago.  Currently, she is the Coordinator of the Buffalo Urban League’s Re-Entry Programs and Services.  Ms. Fleming understands what it means to be stigmatized and marginalized and she is a true advocate of second chances, working tirelessly to remove barriers faced by those returning home from incarceration. 

 Our next meeting will be March 25, 2013 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, in Buffalo, from 6:30-8:30pm. See the film and hear the speaker and advance your understanding of stigma and what can be done to eradicate it.             

The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng, support PRP2 programs. For more information, call 716-834-8438 or e-mail Karima Amin at karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.    




February 2013 Program

Prison World Stories: Three Women Speak


 by Karima Amin

   Most of you know that I am a storyteller. It’s what I do and it’s who I am.  I love stories and storytelling. Jackie Torrence, a very famous storyteller, now deceased, once told me that a story is like a prayer. I believe this; stories have power. For three decades I have shared stories of all kinds and I’ve listened to stories since my childhood that have made me laugh and cry. I have read and heard stories that have inspired me, captured my imagination, and shaped my worldview. In sharing stories with both children and adults in many venues, I have reached a better understanding of who I am and what I value. I have never forgotten that it was storytelling that first took me into the prisons.

   I went in as a guest speaker, telling stories and delivering motivational speeches. In 1994, the year that I resigned from teaching in the Buffalo Public Schools, WBLK-FM invited me to share fables on the air. I started receiving letters from prisoners who were responding to the fables, finding hope, comfort and inspiration in them. My eyes were opened and I became more concerned about what was happening in the prisons, and subsequently, in our communities. Letters from prisoners and my prison visits opened my mind and heart to a new world. My new understanding led me to the creation of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc.

   I have heard many stories at our monthly meetings and they have all helped to educate our attendees and me. These important stories have healed lives and decreased stigma. These important stories have opened doors and windows of understanding. These important stories have brought people together to work for the common good. At the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, three wonderful women will share important stories. Hopefully, their stories will give you to a better understanding of the prison system and its impact on families.

   One formerly incarcerated woman will share her story of the difficulties she’s facing now, trying to establish a transportation service that will help prison families visit their incarcerated loved ones. The State provided a free service for decades. This service was discontinued in the spring of 2011. It has been statistically proven that keeping families together reduces recidivism. Why would the State keep loved ones apart?

   One woman has been married to an incarcerated man for 12 years. They met when she was a worker in her church’s prison ministry.  He was the prison chaplain’s clerk.  He is preparing for his first parole board appearance and she must be wife, supporter, advocate, and activist. How is she managing with limited support from family and friends?

   One woman is married to a man who has a life sentence. They have been married for nearly 13 years. How has she managed to raise their seven children and keep the marriage intact?  How does she take care of herself, mentally and spiritually?

   These are important stories and we need to hear them. Telling our stories makes us stronger. Telling our stories brings us together. Telling our stories helps us to make meaning of our lives. Our stories matter.

   The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will be Monday, February 25, 2013, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.    




January 2013 Program


Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. Resumes Monthly Meetings
 on January 28

 by Karima Amin 
   
 Although the work of Prisoners Are People Too is ongoing, following past practice, meetings were suspended for one month. On Monday, January 28, monthly meetings will resume at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30pm – 8:30pm. We will briefly review the activities of 2012 and consider the work ahead. The following local, state, and national issues are at the top of our list of concerns for 2013:

1. ongoing improvements at our county jails
                      2.  re-establishing bus transportation to state correctional facilities
      3. continuing to push for parole reform with the SAFE Parole Act
    4. improving the lives of children who have incarcerated parents
5. joining the NYS campaign for Medical Marijuana
 6.  supporting the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.   

 Actually, our list of concerns is a little longer than this and we need dedicated hands and hearts committed to changing a system that requires our full attention and sincere desire to fight injustice. While you may initially feel that the above list of concerns has nothing to do with your life, take another look. Your tax dollars are being used to support a system that has nothing to do with public safety or rehabilitation.
  
Come to our meetings and learn how criminal justice is generally meted out as criminal injustice and social justice is not a fact, but a worthy goal. Join us and be part of an organization that honors “justice for all.”   This program is sponsored by the Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438; karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.


    

November 2012 Program

Looking Forward to 2013

by Karima Amin

On Monday, November 26, Prisoners Are People Too will hold its last monthly meeting for the year. Following past practice, there will be no December meeting. On Monday, January 28, 2013 we’ll continue to screen outstanding documentaries, invite knowledgeable and inspiring speakers, and consider critical issues related to criminal INjustice and prison reform.
 Last month, due to safety precautions related to “Super Storm Sandy,” our meeting was canceled for the first time in its 7-year history. The film that would have been screened in October, featuring Mr. Arthur O. Eve, Sr., will be shown this month. Additionally, there will be a discussion of our highly successful Family Empowerment Day Conference and an equally successful voter registration drive spearheaded by the Advisory Chair of Prisoners Are People Too, Rev. Eugene L. Pierce. Thanks to his persistence, more than 100 people confined at the Erie County Correctional Facility were registered to vote.
 It’s not too early to say, “Happy Holidays!” We wish you a safe and happy holiday season and we look forward to meeting with you in 2013 and continuing our advocacy for prisoner justice. In the meantime, please join us on Monday, November 26 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, from 6:30pm – 8:30pm.
 The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.  




October 2012 Program

Looking Back…

   by Karima Amin

   Two months ago, we were honored to have Mr. Arthur O. Eve, Sr., former Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly, come to speak at a regular meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. It has already been stated in a previous column that the gathering was a night to remember and it was a night when we took time to remember the legacy of Black August and the 1971 Attica Rebellion.

   Mr. Eve remembered how he felt, going into Attica Prison when Governor Rockefeller had refused to do so. Our second speaker, Mr. Thomas Robinson, Sr., remembered the pride he felt in being the first Attica inmate to receive a college education as a result of the rebellion. A third speaker, Mr. Nate Buckley, took time to share the words of Malcolm X, George Jackson, and others, remembering how their words have educated us and have called us to action. Mrs. Sheila Hayes, our fourth speaker, took time to remember the work of the Black Panther Party and it’s positive impact on the Black community. Sheila’s husband, Robert “Seth” Hayes, is a political prisoner who was a member of that organization forty years ago. He has served his time, he has been a model prisoner, and still he is being held, we feel, for his political views and for the work he did with the BPP many years ago.  While this was an evening of reflection, it was also an evening of reaffirming the importance of the work that we are doing today in the realm of prisoner justice advocacy.

   Our Advisory Board Chair, Rev. Eugene Pierce, captured that meeting in photos and on video. With the assistance of Mr. Cardinale Greene, from Buffalo’s Apollo Media Center, an edited version has been created and it will be screened at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. This 90-minute film will have you reflecting on what it means to live in a place where “…liberty and justice for all” is proclaimed daily, while the exact opposite is a demoralizing fact of life.

    Prisoners Are People Too will meet on Monday, October 29, 2012, 6:30-8:30 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.  





September 2012 Program

ATTICA! ATTICA! ATTICA!
 by Karima Amin


   Forty-one years have passed, since the 1971 Attica Rebellion put a spotlight on the dehumanization that defined America’s prison system. The world witnessed an unforgivable truth about this country that some formerly considered the human rights champion of the world. The truth said otherwise. This is a country that allows human beings in confinement to be dehumanized, traumatized, and demoralized, unmercifully. In 1971, those who lived that truth, behind the walls of Attica, stood up and revolted. Thanks to Governor Rockefeller, part of the end result was a massacre that took 39 lives.

   At the last meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., our special guest speaker was Mr. Arthur O. Eve, Sr., former Deputy Speaker of the New York State Assembly. In 1971, he was the only one of our State lawmakers willing to go into Attica to negotiate with the prisoners. Today, Mr. Eve is 79 years old and not in the best of health. We were honored to have him in our midst, at a meeting that was, so far, the best attended this year. Formerly incarcerated men came out to see him, hear him, and shake his hand. Others came to thank him for the EOP and HEOP programs that he created, which allowed them to further their education. Still others came to see a true hero.   As Mr. Eve talked about the horrors of Attica, he urged all of us to remain diligent in our pursuit of justice. He said, “Sometimes it’s hard for me to talk about Attica, but I have to. It’s important for us to remember and to never stop working for justice. Some things haven’t changed since 1971.”

   Additional speakers at that meeting were Mr. Thomas Robinson, Sr. who was at Attica in 1971 and who was one of the first to get a college education after the rebellion; Mr. Nate Buckley, who has been a justice advocate and supporter for political prisoners since his teen years; and Mrs. Sheila Hayes, justice advocate and wife of political prisoner Robert Seth Hayes.

   At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., on Monday, September 24, at 6:30pm-8:30 pm,  at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, we will be screening a film about the uprising at Attica.  We have done this before, showing a number of documentaries, some better than others.  We have rarely shown movies made for TV or Hollywood, but this month’s film, a docudrama made for TV, is exceptionally well done. “Against the Wall,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Clarence Williams III is bound to promote discussion.

   The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng, support PRP2 programs. For more information, call 716-834-8438 or e-mail Karima Amin at karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.      




August 2012 Program

Remembering Black August and the Attica Rebellion
 by Karima Amin

   Since the inception of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., we have taken time every year to devote two or more meetings to acknowledging “black revolutionary consciousness” (George Jackson, Blood In My Eye), the plight of our political prisoners (regardless of gender or race), and the 1971 Attica Rebellion. We remind ourselves that the work that we do in the interest of prisoner justice isn’t always accepted or respected. We remind ourselves that there were many others before us, confined and in the so-called “free world,” who stood up and spoke out, waging battle after battle against injustice.  We remind ourselves daily that our work is important and part of our job is too make sure that the community has some knowledge of the history that compels us to do what we do.

   Officially, since August 1979, this month has been used to focus on the oppressive treatment of our brothers and sisters confined to state prisons throughout the USA. Most are being held in Security Housing Units (S.H.U.), where they have had to endure dehumanizing treatment for decades. We say their names and we acknowledge their strength and we re-commit ourselves to a fight that started long before we joined the fray and that may continue long after our demise. We fight because it is the right thing to do. At our next meeting, we’ll commemorate the life and death of political prisoner George Jackson who was assassinated by prison guards at San Quentin (Marin County, CA) on August 21, 1971. In addition to remembering George Jackson, Nate Buckley, a longtime PRP2 supporter will talk about the struggles of Robert “Seth” Hayes, a US political prisoner, a decorated Viet Nam War veteran, and former member of the Black Panther Party who has been incarcerated since 1974. We have invited Sheila Hayes, Seth’s wife, to join us in acknowledging her husband’s life and spirit of resistance.

   In addition to remembering our political prisoners, two additional guest speakers will highlight our annual effort to remember Attica.  Mr. Arthur O. Eve, former Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly, whose compassion for prisoners was
 first recognized in the late
 1960 ‘s, will join us. 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 deaths of 28 or 29 or 31 prisoners (depending on the reference) and 9 or 10 hostages.

   Our second guest speaker will be Mr. Thomas Robinson, a PRP2 member who was at Attica in 1971 and who was one of the first prisoners to earn a college degree following the uprising. Among the prisoners’ demands was the opportunity to pursue an education. Mr. Robinson earned an Associates Degree in Business Administration. He will talk about the uprising and its aftermath.

   Prisoner Are People Too, Inc. will meet on Monday, August 27, 2012 at 6:30 – 8:30pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng will sponsor this meeting. For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438, karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.




July 2012 Program

Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act

by Karima Amin

   He had abused her for six of the nine years that they had been together. He slapped, punched, and choked her. He called her the most derogatory names and isolated her from family and friends. He said he did it because he loved her. One day, while struggling with him, she stabbed him in the chest, killing him with a letter opener. Their three young children witnessed the incident. Now she’s serving 20 to life. Similar scenarios are repeated everyday.

 According to the website of the Correctional Association of New York, “The overwhelming majority of women in prison are survivors of domestic violence. Three-quarters have histories of severe physical abuse by an intimate partner during adulthood, and 82% suffered serious physical and sexual abuse as children.” While the community has made progress in understanding and addressing domestic violence, that understanding and support tend to vanish when survivors, defending themselves or their children, get convicted of a violent crime against their abuser and end up behind bars with long sentences.  When a “victim” becomes a “survivor-defendant,” that person is criminalized and we ignore or forget WHY the crime was committed.  We certainly don’t want to excuse the crime but we need to look at the abuse that underlies the commission of the offense. Unfortunately, prosecutors, public defenders, judges and the court of public opinion often don’t consider the role that domestic violence plays in a woman’s decision to do what she feels may be her only choice or last resort.  The DVSJA is a call for compassion in sentencing.

 The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act is not just about women. Supporters of the DVSJA understand that men and women may be abused and not every intimate partner relationship is heterosexual. On May 20, 2011, NYS Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson and NYS Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry moved forward with legislation, introducing the DVSJA. The DVSJA Campaign is being led by the Coalition for Women Prisoners, a statewide coalition coordinated by the Women in Prison Project of the Correctional Association of NY. While it may seem natural to support anyone who has been victimized, when it comes to survivor-defendants, attitudes change and the “tough on crime” mantra is sung loud and clear. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. supports the DVSJA campaign.

 The next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will be on Monday, July 30, 2012 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30-8:30pm. The film being screened is “Strength of a Woman,” a 20-minute documentary created by the Violence Against Women Committee of the Coalition For Women Prisoners and filmmaker Allison Caviness. In this film, women talk candidly about their abuse, their incarceration, and the impact that an unsympathetic criminal justice system has had on their lives. Our guest speaker will be Mary Murphy who is the Executive Director of the Family Justice Center of Erie County, where victims of domestic violence come for help. Information about the FJC and the DVSJA will be shared. This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org




June 2012 Program

Prisoners Are People Too Celebrates Seven Years

 by Karima Amin

   No one knew where this effort was going when Prisoners Are People Too was founded in 2005. We hoped to educate the community, and the effort has been ongoing. The impact that we have had has expanded from local to statewide to national campaigns. We are growing as the struggles continue.

 Our monthly programs have highlighted issues that impact both prisoners and their families and, by extension, their communities. While we have examined how a broken criminal justice system is like an epidemic, touching everyone in its wake, we’ve tried to issue wake-up calls for those who think they’ve not been touched by a disease called “mass incarceration.” While several topics have been revisited, such as incarcerated youth, parole, Attica, and the role of the correctional officer, others were added to our list of concerns as we learned more about: growing old behind bars, mental health behind bars, and veterans behind bars.
 We also took at look at the challenges of reentry, especially with regard to a formerly incarcerated person’s desire to start a viable, and legitimate business.

 We gave some attention to “freedom movements” and to a few of our “political prisoners” whose strength and courage are more than impressive. We have publicly professed the importance of our standing in solidarity with prisoners who have waged and are waging hunger strikes as a way to protest inhumane and unprofessional treatment. These courageous prisoners in Georgia, California, Ohio and Virginia, who feel they have nothing to lose, are demanding an end to long-term, tortuous solitary confinement and other forms of abusive treatment.

 Our faces have been seen and our voices have been heard at the University at Buffalo’s 40 Commemorative Conference for Attica, the NYS Prisoner Justice Network Retreat, the Blue Mountain Center “How to Close a Prison” Retreat, Rotary’s “Peace Through Service” Conference, the Critical Animal Studies Conference at Canisius College, and the recent “Let My People Go” Day of Action in Albany. Some of us sit on boards of organizations that are striving to dismantle the status quo of jail and prison conditions. Functioning as an offshoot of Prisoners Are People Too, the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition has kept the community informed about local jail issues and has encouraged the community to challenge Jail Management misconduct.
  Weekly vigils at the Erie County Holding Center have continued into a third year.

 In the last year, Prisoners Are People Too has partnered with Burning Books, 100 Black Men of Greater Buffalo, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Niagara, and We Are Women Warriors… to sponsor educational forums that attracted people from various communities throughout Western New York.

 On Monday, June 25, 2012 at 6:30-8:30pm, join us at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo as we celebrate another year of hard work and accomplishment. A popular rallying call is, “No justice! No peace!” and we understand that there will be no peace as long as we continue to forget that we belong to each other.

 The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng will sponsor this program. For more information, contact Karima Amin at 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.



May 2012 Program

Broken On All Sides

by Karima Amin


Recently, I reviewed a new film, directed by Matthew Pillischer, entitled “Broken On All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration and New Visions for Criminal Justice in the US,” which does a good job of describing the US prison system as being broken and perhaps beyond repair. I posted the film’s 5-minute trailer on Facebook about two weeks ago. Only two people have taken a look at it and responded. I have more than 2,500 Facebook “friends” and I really expected more of them to click “like” and “share.” It’s an important film and it will be screened at the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc..

 I know that prison issues are of great importance to many people and some are working very hard to reform or dismantle what currently exists but there seems to be far too many others who are simply not interested or who would rather live with misinformation, stereotypes, and the kind of ignorance that gives them comfort. This apathy is frightening to me since I know that everyone is affected by this system whether they know it or not. Certainly, for some, the impact is obvious; prisoners, their close friends and families, and formerly incarcerated people see and feel this impact everyday. Children are affected too. Some even believe that incarceration is a normal part of adult male life. Incarcerated parents feel the impact as far too many of them rarely, if ever, see their children.  Women struggling to raise children alone, feel the harsh impact of a system that is not family-friendly. Formerly incarcerated people, struggling to re-enter society, are affected daily as they strive to build new lives despite the detrimental collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. People who express no interest in prison issues, live and work day-to-day, not realizing that their tax dollars support a failed system that basically does very little to rehabilitate men and women who will one day come home.

 In a few days, activists, advocates, and organizations from across the state will meet in Albany to share their working strategies and to talk to lawmakers about reforms requiring legislative support and the Governor’s approval. The work is hard. The laws are unfair. Progress is slow. Even the most stalwart are showing signs of fatigue and a desire to abandon the battlefield. But the fight for the rights of prisoners is a necessary fight and one that more must join.  Last May, 15 delegates from Western New York went to Albany. This year, only 9 have registered to go. This is a disappointment but I am not discouraged.

 Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will meet on Monday, May 21, 2012 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo to view and discuss “Broken On All Sides.”
 The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng support this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin at 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.




April 2012 Program

Let My People Go

by Karima Amin


 It’s that time of year again when prisoner justice advocates from across the state, come together to focus on concerted public action for New York State prison and parole justice. Last year, 15 activists from WNY (Buffalo and Niagara Falls) went to Albany and raised their voices in meetings with state lawmakers, senators and assembly people. While we raised many issues, the focus was mainly on parole reform.  Although our legislators listened respectfully and patiently, there has been little movement in the right direction. The fight for prisoner justice remains an uphill battle and the fight to dismantle current parole policies is a seemingly never-ending struggle.
 On Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 8:30 – 4:30, the NYS Prisoner Justice Network (NYSPJN) will spearhead activities for a day-long  “day of action” in Albany, when members of the NYSPJN will check–in with each other, share strategies, announce successes, and re-visit the SAFE (Safe and Fair Evaluations) Parole Act, renewing their “…demand that within existing law, the [Parole] Board should change its culture/procedures.” Last May, on “Lobby Day,” our spirits were lifted, as it seemed that legislators were listening to us with “new” ears. Efforts to promote the SAFE Parole Act got a real boost and we felt some forward movement. May 22 will not be a “lobby day;” it is being defined as a “day of action,” when we will meet with targeted legislators who are actively engaged in prisoner justice and who have expressed an interest I working with the NYSPJN.
 At the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., on Monday, April 30, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt in Buffalo, our guest speakers will be local activists who went to Albany a year ago as the delegation representing Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. and the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition. They will describe the experience and explain why they continue to stand up and speak out for justice, although progress, especially regarding parole reform, has been negligible.
  For the latest parole news, click on "Current Initiatives" on the right, then scroll down to "NYS Parole Campaign." If you are interested in participating in the upcoming “Day of Action” (May 22), get in touch with Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng will sponsor this April 30 meeting.




March 2012 Program


Mental Health Behind Bars…and After
 by Karima Amin

     Last month we took a look at hospice care provided by prisoners for terminally ill prisoners at Louisiana State Penitentiary aka, “Angola” and “The Farm.” Attendees were impressed with the way that compassionate prisoners were specially selected and trained to provide this much-needed service. The prisoners we saw in the film, “Serving Life,” demonstrated the kind of care, concern, and compassion that one typically does not associate with so-called “hardened criminals.” As these men tended to dying fellow prisoners, their attention to kind and gentle treatment was evident in a setting that was never designed for the elderly, the dying, or the mentally ill.
   Six years ago, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., presented a program about mental illness behind bars. We learned at that time that there were more people in the US receiving mental health treatment in prisons and jails than in hospitals or treatment centers. Living with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post- traumatic stress, manic-depression, dementia and more, these men and women are housed in places that may make their illnesses more severe. The question that concerned us at that time was, “Have prisons become the new asylums?” We discovered that the answer was, “Yes.”  As more and more mental hospitals have closed, since government began shutting down state-run hospitals in the 1980’s, people with mental health issues have been pushed into jails and prisons. Today’s conservative estimate is 350,000. There are major problems with this situation, as prisons were not created to be de facto mental hospitals.
 ·Prisons are not structurally appropriate for patients.
 ·Staffs are not recruited as psychiatric caretakers.
     ·With special diets, medications, and examinations, it costs more to house someone who is mentally ill.
 ·Mentally ill prisoners are frequently abused, as correctional officers are often ill equipped to deal with the mentally ill.
 ·In some instances, mentally ill prisoners have been placed in solitary confinement, for administrative convenience, and “forgotten.”
    Today not much has changed. If anything, the situation is worse. I have learned that the three largest in-patient psychiatric facilities in America are JAILS:

 Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail in New York City, and Cook County Jail in Illinois.
 What kind of treatment is provided on the inside? What is available upon reentry? How quickly can one see a doctor or replenish medication upon release?  It seems that this country has criminalized the mentally ill.
 The film being screened at the March meeting of Prisoners Are People Too is “The Released,” a 2009 PBS Frontline documentary which provides “a rare look at the lives of the mentally ill as they struggle to stay out of prison and reintegrate into society.” Our guest speaker will be announced. Prisoners Are People Too will meet on Monday, March 26 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30-8:30pm.
 The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.            




February 2012 Program

Growing Old Behind Bars
 by Karima Amin

   Many on the outside have certain stereotypical pictures in their heads when they think of prisoners. Some don’t ever think of mothers in prison. Some never consider blind or deaf people in prison. Many never consider those who are growing old behind bars. As I cruise toward age 65 with Medicare and other health-related info filling my mailbox daily, I think of my contemporaries who are aging in a place that was never designed to be a senior living facility. Further, we rarely think of those terminally ill prisoners who may require hospice care. What happens to them?

 While some state prison systems are liberal about granting compassionate release, most are not. Some prisons have outside organizations that come into the facility to provide hospice care while others carefully select and train prisoners to take care of those confined who are terminally ill. According to Human Right Watch, “…aging men and women are the most rapidly growing group in US prisons.” In a recent 104-page report, “Old Behind bars: The Aging Prison Population in the US,” the following information is stated:
 ·Nearly 10% of state prisoners are serving a life sentence. 11.2% have sentences longer than 20 years.
 ·The number of state and federal prisoners, age 65 or older, grew at 94 times the rate of the overall prison population between 2007 and 2010.
 ·Long sentences today mean that many current prisoners will not leave prison until they become extremely old, if at all.
 ·Many older prisoners remain incarcerated even though they are too old and infirm to threaten public safety if released.
 While some states are moving forward to change the rules about mandatory minimum sentences and parole, the need for special medical care and hospice care for the elderly in prison is rapidly growing.

 The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too will screen the award-winning documentary film, “Serving Life,” which takes a look at prisoners caring for prisoners in the hospice unit of Angola State Prison (aka “The Farm”) in Louisiana, where the average sentence is more than 90 years. At Angola, the sentences are so long, 85% will never again live to see the outside world. Prisoners who volunteer in the hospice unit have said that this program provides the kind of bonding and empathy that leads to a clearer understanding of how fragile life is. It’s an opportunity that can be transformative. While hospice care is just one aspect of growing old in prison, prisons must also be prepared to provide for the medical needs of the elderly who frequently require special safety precautions, emotional feedback, special nutrition, or whatever may be needed to deal with diabetes, hepatitis C, or cancer …and the list goes on.
 The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too will be on Monday, February 27 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30-8:30pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.  




January 2012 Program

140,000 Veterans in Prison

 by Karima Amin

   This was the title of a 2009 article published by Change.Org on Veterans’ Day. I read the article with interest, thinking of my father, a World War II veteran, who had died earlier that year at the age of 93. He was very proud of having served this country and his red, white ‘n’ blue flag was always on view on the front porch on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day. My father was also a staunch proponent of Prisoners Are People Too. I read that article and wondered about what he might have had to say about so many veterans incarcerated in our state and federal prisons. That number above, “140,000,” does not include the tens of thousands more in our county jails. It is often said that veterans deserve our respect and support, but what about the veterans who find themselves behind bars? In 2009, the Drug Policy Alliance issued a report entitled, “Healing a Broken System: Veterans Battling Addiction and Incarceration.” This report details the results of a study that was done to examine the drug addiction and mental health issues, faced by veterans, which could contribute to that person’s violations of the law. While substance abuse and mental illness among U.S. veterans are major problems, they tend to lead to other issues that may be inadequately addressed. Among these issues are:  PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), homelessness, poor overall health, death by overdose, and susceptibility to suicide. The report also states that incarcerated veterans face “…a wide range of punitive policies that limit their access to social services necessary for their reentry to civilian life.” At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, on Monday, January 30, from 6:30 to 8:30pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, we will have an opportunity to examine what is being done to address the above concerns. Come out to learn more about Buffalo’s Veterans’ Treatment Court, the first such court in the nation, which was created by the Honorable Judge Robert Russell in 2008. Find out what services are offered as an alternative to incarceration, during incarceration, and following incarceration. The documentary film being screened this month is “When I Came Home,” a film about homeless veterans in America who face a failing system while struggling to survive. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.




November 2011 Program

Taking Care of Business
 by Karima Amin

   It is a fact that each of us is multi-dimensional. I am a mother, teacher, woman, friend, taxpayer, golden ager, and storyteller and the list goes on. Why do we have so much trouble realizing that this is true of everyone, including our incarcerated population and our formerly incarcerated neighbors? These groups are also multi-dimensional and yet we have a tendency to paint them all with the same brush and to label them in ways that fail to acknowledge their growth and development as fully human. We see them as “criminals” and “ex-cons” and nothing more. We don’t view them as parents, senior citizens, veterans, or simply as sisters and brothers and children who got caught in their wrongdoing. Some of them are living with long-standing and long-ignored mental health issues or issues of substance abuse. It seems easier to look the other way and to ignore the poverty and racism and other crime generative factors that may have led to incarceration. One important part of “taking care of business” is taking care of each other. Sadly, too many of us have failed to honor this charge.
   When formerly incarcerated people come home, they are frequently faced with people in community who shun them, broken promises of reentry help that never materializes, and false steps to reintegration that may thwart their desire to become community assets. In this community, there are a few people whose criminal histories are public knowledge. They are mentors, ministers, paralegals, authors, activists, business owners and more. They are hard workers who are laying some of the bricks that we need to create strong, vibrant, and progressive neighborhoods. They are our sisters and brothers. Working with them in the business of building community is everyone’s responsibility.
   On Monday, November 28, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, from 6:30-8:30pm, at the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., we will meet some formerly incarcerated people who have established successful businesses in Western New York. They will discuss the hardships of 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. Mr. Alfonzo Carter will tell his story and introduce us to “Electronic Outlet” which is located in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village. Mr. Guy Lane will introduce us to his Allen Street restaurant, named after his baby daughter, “Nadia’s Taste of Soul.” A third speaker is unconfirmed at this printing.
 These stories of incarceration and entrepreneurship will be an inspiration to all.
   The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of PRP2, Inc. programs. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.  



October 2011 Program

Hope for Youthful Offenders
 by Karima Amin

   From 2007-2009, Department of Justice investigations and reports cited systemic abuse of children at Tryon Residential Center in Johnstown, NY, two other centers in Ithaca, and one in Auburn. It was further reported that State lock-ups for juveniles were extremely expensive with exceedingly high recidivism rates. In June of this year, Governor Cuomo, with the blessing of the State Office of Child and Family Services, announced the closing of four youth detention facilities and the downsizing of four others. At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, we will take a look at the state of juvenile justice in Western NY. With so many youth detention centers being closed around the state and with the December 2010 closing of Hopevale in Hamburg, NY, people are interested in learning more about this community’s youth detention services. Hopevale functioned for 155 years, first as a facility for troubled teen girls, then later as a coed residential home and school for troubled youth. There is a secure youth detention center on East Ferry Street in Buffalo that many of us pass everyday without knowing very much about it.  It is generally understood that it exists to improve the lives of young people, encouraging successful reentry, but its accountability and transparency are question marks for most of us. As New York State is attempting to turn from “juvenile corrections” to an approach that  promotes a more therapeutic and caring environment, we have questions about juvenile justice in this community that we hope will be answered by individuals representing  Erie County Youth Services. Join us on Monday, October 31 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street (Buffalo), at 6:30 – 8:30pm for the next monthly meting of Prisoners Are People Too. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of PRP2, Inc. programs. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.  


September 2011 Program

Who Are the Keepers?
   by Karima Amin

                    A few years ago, Prisoners Are People Too took a look at the role of the correctional officers in our NYS correctional facilities. After so much talk about  “the keepers” and “the kept,” during recent Attica 40 commemorative events, I thought it was time to revisit the role of the individuals who are most intimate with prisoners on a day-to-day basis.
                   The correctional officer has the job of maintaining security and prisoner accountability to prevent disturbances, assaults, and escapes. Correctional officers maintain order within the institution and enforce rules and regulations. To help ensure that prisoners are orderly and obey rules, correctional officers monitor their activities and supervise their work assignments. Sometimes, officers must search prisoners and their living quarters for contraband like weapons or drugs, settle disputes between prisoners, and enforce discipline. Correctional officers periodically inspect the facilities, checking cells and other areas of the institution for unsanitary conditions, contraband, fire hazards, and any evidence of infractions of rules. In addition, they routinely inspect locks, window bars, grilles, doors, and gates for signs of tampering. Finally, officers inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items. Correctional officers report orally and in writing on prisoner conduct and on the quality and quantity of completed work.. Officers also report security breaches, disturbances, violations of rules, and any unusual occurrences. They usually keep a daily log or record of their activities. Correctional officers cannot show favoritism and must report any prisoner who violates the rules. If a crime is committed within their institution or if there is an escape, they help the responsible law enforcement authorities investigate or search for the escapee. In jail and prison facilities with direct supervision of cellblocks, officers work unarmed. They are equipped with communications devices so that they can summon help if necessary. These officers often work in a cellblock alone, or with another officer, among the 50 to 100 inmates who reside there. The officers enforce regulations primarily through their interpersonal communication skills and through the use of progressive sanctions, such as the removal of some privileges.
 What I’ve described here seems harmless enough, yet I can cite scores of negative stories about “the keepers” and “the kept,” or “the keepers” and “the visitors.”

 At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Rev. Patricia Bufford, a recently retired NYS Correctional Officer, will be our guest speaker. She is known in this community as an individual with a genuine interest in community enhancement. With 20 years experience as a CO, she will share her thoughts about corrections and more.
 Come out and be a part of this conversation on Monday, September 26, 6:30-8:30pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street. As always, these meeting are public and open to your questions and comments. (PRP2 programs are sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more info: karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org or 716-834-8438.)   



August 2011 Program

Remembering…   by Karima Amin   
 
 Today I spent a long time remembering, reflecting on past PRP2 programs, before I started writing this article/announcement for this month’s Prisoners Are People Too monthly meeting. I looked back over the years of programming for the months of August and September to review what topics have been shared in the past. The list was short, as some topics have been repeated, but from a different vantage point every time. The importance of commemorating “Black August” has been mentioned several times, as we have recognized George Jackson and other conscious brothers behind bars who stood up for truth, resisted oppression, and made an effort to maintain dignity while imprisoned. “The Attica Rebellion” of September, 1971 has been acknowledged and explored several times. That event, forty years ago, put a spotlight on the evils of incarceration like never before. Also highlighted more than once, was the impact of COINTELPRO, this government’s counterintelligence program, used against its own citizens.  Documentary films about these topics have opened our eyes and opened our minds. “Encountering Attica,” introduced us to a work-in-progress being produced by U.B. law professor, Dr. Terri Miller and her students; “Uprising at Attica,” reminded us that “Attica is all of us;” “Murder on a Reservation,” highlighted the plight of Native American political prisoner, Leonard Peltier; “Legacy of Torture: The War Against the Black Liberation Movement,” told the story of the San Francisco 8 who have suffered more than 30 years of FBI repression; “Mumia: A Case for Reasonable Doubt,” detailed the case against Mumia Abu Jamal who has been on death row since 1982; and “Cointelpro: The FBI’s War on Black America,” acknowledged the many ways that the FBI has worked to discredit, disrupt, and destroy certain individuals and political groups in this country, especially those connected with Black liberation. Our meetings during August and September of this year will be no different, except that PRP2 is making a concerted effort to encourage more young people to see our upcoming films, hear our passionate and knowledgeable guest speakers and learn this history.  What happened three and four decades ago is inextricably related to the mass incarceration that we witness today. The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will take place on Monday, August 29, from 6:30pm – 8:30pm at the Pratt-Willlert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. The documentary being screened is “Cointelpro 101” (Freedom Archives 2010).  Once again, we’ll be reminded of the FBI’s treachery as it has sought to infiltrate, annihilate, intimidate, and incarcerate using lies, burglaries, harassment, and murder to impede progressive movements in this country. Our guest speakers will be Sheila Hayes, Brooke Reynolds, Michael Kuzma, and Richard Morrisroe. Sheila Hayes is the wife of Robert Seth Hayes one of the longest held political prisoners in this country. Robert is a father, grandfather, Vietnam War veteran and member of the Black Panther Party. He has been incarcerated for nearly 40 years. Brooke Reynolds is an advocate for justice who supports Jalil Muntaqim (aka Anthony Bottom), another member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, well known for his poetry and political essays. Michael Kuzma is a Buffalo attorney and longtime advocate of political prisoner Leonard Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who has been incarcerated since 1977. Richard Morrisroe is a Buffalo attorney who will share information about COINTELPRO’s impact on Puerto Rican independence. COINTELPRO reared its ugly head in the late 1950’s and was extremely aggressive during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Make no mistake; with the advent of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security, COINTELPRO is NOT dead. Our August meeting will be about remembering but it will challenge us to take a good look at our present and our future.




July 2011 Program

Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. Meets on Monday, July 25 -- The  next meeting of PRP2, Inc. will focus on what is being done (or not being done) for the youth in  our community. Individuals from county and city government respectively, Mr. David Rust and Mr. Otis Barker, will join us later in the year to talk about the Youth Bureau, Division for Youth, and the Secure Youth Detention Facility. Meanwhile, on July 25 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt St. in Buffalo,  6:30 – 8:30pm, we will be joined by two men who have taken a personal interest in mentoring our youth. Their volunteerism on behalf of our children is commendable. While the work that they do is certainly not the only work being done, we hope that highlighting their efforts at a PRP2, Inc. meeting will serve to inspire others who want to help our young people to get on the right path and stay there. Mr. Robert A. Harris, Sr., better known as “Brother Rob,” is President and C.E.O. of the “Youth Prison Prevention Project.” He speaks to youth “in their own language of Hip Hop and reveals to them the booby traps and deceptions of the streets.” Brother Charles Burgin heads up the “Brotherman’s Progress Mentoring Matters Organization.” He communicates a message of peace through mentoring troubled youths. A related documentary film will be screened. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng sponsor all PRP2, Inc. programs.
 



June 2011 Program

Six Good Years for Prisoners Are People Too, Inc.
by  Karima Amin             

This last year has had an abundance of ups and downs but we have continued to move forward in our quest for justice for prisoners and formerly incarcerated people. The roadblocks have been incredible as they are of long-standing and have government support. Yet, we have honored our mission to help as many as we can and we have worked hard to dismantle those rules, regulations, and laws that deny the humanity of those who have suffered incarceration.            

Since July of 2010, eleven monthly meetings and programs have been held, covering a variety of topics, including: “The Realities of Reentry,” “Family Court Crisis,” and “The Psychology of Imprisonment.”  Our outreach activities have involved us in several local community and statewide campaigns: “Voting Rights for Formerly Incarcerated People” (with the NYCLU); “Milk Not Jails” (a consumer-driven campaign, mobilizing NYS residents to support the dairy industry and not the prison industrial complex); “Seeking Justice at the Erie County Holding Center” (with the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition); and “Fighting for NYS Parole Reform” (with the NYS Prisoner Justice Network and the Prison Action Network).  Prisoners Are People Too is also a member of the “National Fuel Gas Accountability Coalition.” This past year has seen more members of Prisoners Are People Too speak out for justice in the media, both broadcast and print, and at county legislative meetings, conferences, and forums. This year, sixteen of us went to Albany on May 3 to speak to our state senators and assembly members about our deepest concerns regarding prisoner rights issues.

Finally, after many months of petitioning, we had the first of several meetings with Sheriff Timothy Howard and Undersheriff Mark  Wipperman in December of 2010. Finally, after many months of advocacy, we have an Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board, which held its first meeting on February 15.  Finally after several years of doing the “peoples’ work,” Prisoners Are People Too incorporated on April 21, 2011. The following individuals comprise the board: Karima Amin, Director; George “BaBa” Eng, Program Director; Artelia “Tia” Lewis; Charles “Chuck” Culhane; and Lesley Haynes. Rev. Eugene L. Pierce will chair the Advisory Board.

At this month’s meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, we will meet on June 27, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, 6:30-8:30pm. This meeting will be a celebration of six years of programming. There will be an overview of our accomplishments; an update and report from Lesley Haynes regarding Legislative Awareness Day; and a brief report from our summer intern, Sahil Jain. Sahil is a student at Cornell University who is interning with Prisoners Are People Too. He will describe his work and what he has learned so far from his summer interning experience. Our documentary film that evening will be a 35-minute “rough cut” DVD produced by Rev. Eugene L. Pierce. He will highlight the mission of the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition. 

The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of PRP2, Inc. programs. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.
 
 
 
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