Blogs come alive through social media. What I post to my Twitter account transcends my laptop to reach people and organizations working for prison reform. There’s a family with like concerns out there, and they supply impactful tweets and substantive information. When I check out my followers on Twitter, I see the enormous investment that others are putting into myriad prison reform issues.
Prison reform issues can be overwhelming; they permeate every important aspect of human life. Prison stymies and distorts time for inmates, families, and society. Without real rehabilitation, time spent in prison is lost time.
Before I write a post, I drift to a mental template of the reform movement categories that I’m going to write about. Within that template are three manageable topics that aggregate into a compelling need for national awareness for change.
My posts pigeonhole prison reform issues into three overlapping prongs: preincarceration (such as the criminal justice system, bail, and sentencing), incarceration (such as living conditions, medical and mental health, and the impact on families), and reentry (such as jobs, housing, and generalized marginalization). Breaking down the subcategories results in an inexhaustible array of imperative topics that make up the mosaic of prison reform as a whole.
The breadth of prison reform topics is covered by both my Twitter followers and the people and organizations I follow. I’d like to share some of these entities with you. Because there are so many, I’ll limit my scope to three followers and three organizations I follow and the instructive human tales and trails they represent. Like teachers in the classroom who learn from their students, I learn from my expanding Twitter participation. Along the way, I will cite prior relevant blog posts.
- Debra Jean @dlivo777. This biblical quotation on Debra’s post captures the essence of the prison reform movement and made a surprising impact on me:
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. –Hebrews 13:3
While I’m not a student of the Bible, I’m encouraged that people are exposed to words and concepts in their sacred stories that have significance for generating a belief system that puts a face on the plight of the incarcerated men, women, and children we harbor in lockdowns and cages. The difficulty of conveying what it’s like in prison gets in the way of people’s full understanding of the biblical message. Haven’t Been There, Haven’t Done That is my attempt to make the feel of prison more real from an alternative experience perspective.
Many men I encountered in prison had deep and authentic faith that elevated them beyond the barbed wire and cinder blocks of the prison yard. To learn more about how members of the Christian faith minister to inmates of all faiths within prison walls, read about Kairos Prison Ministry International.
- NewHOUR4Women&Child @NewHour_LI. This organization, located in Brentwood, New York, has a mission grounded in maintaining the family and a clear voice about how children are affected by loved ones’ prison terms. The effects of parental incarceration on children’s education and social performance is viewed, by some, as unintended collateral damage. The organization’s site proclaims, “We are dedicated to providing resources and support to women and children impacted by the criminal justice system.”
In Take Your Kid to Prison, I wrote about the importance of family and friends’ visiting the incarcerated—especially parents. I’ve heard men lament that their children are not brought to visit them. In my post, I set forth some incredible statistics from a study:
54 percent of people serving time in US prisons were [are] the parents of children—that’s more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers. Over 2.7 million children in the United States had an incarcerated parent. That’s one in 28 kids, compared with one in 125 about 30 years ago. For black children, the odds were much worse: while one out of every fifty-seven white children had an incarcerated parent, one out of every nine black children had a parent behind bars.
- Who Decides, Inc. @whodecides2 is a public-benefit organization. This Arkansas-based nonprofit organization
explore[s] more than 400 years of the U.S. death penalty from all perspectives: the crime, the victims, the condemned, the methods of execution, and the laws. Our ultimate goal at Who Decides is to preserve the history of the controversial practice by establishing a national museum on the death penalty.
As a national network of activists, volunteers and dedicated people, we are committed to using various mediums of art such as creative writing, plays, visual art, dance, music and film as a way of educating society about the practice and history of capital punishment in America.
People facing the death penalty are people without a date. Without a release date, theirs is a clock with no hands. In the California system, their prison number begins with a C, meaning condemned. Our Fixations on Dying and Going to Prison touches on the fear and anguish of going to prison in the context of the entertainment world through the suspension of reality. In that post, I concluded that “the connection between people’s fixations on fear and dying and going to prison lies in a common entertainment value of vicarious sensual experiences and stimulations that can be endured, at will.”
Imagine the reality of having a C before your prison number. Do you feel a cognitive dissonance just thinking about it?
People and Organizations I Follow
- Brooklyn Community Bail Fund @BKBailfund is located in Brooklyn, New York, and advocates banning commercial bail bonds. Its cause is stated on its Twitter page:
Each year bondsmen extract millions of dollars out of mostly low-income communities of color. We can’t stand by while a predatory industry continues to profit at the expense of others. It’s time to eliminate the for-profit bail industry in NY! #EndBailBonds
My posts about eradicating commercial bail bonds mirror the philosophy articulated by the organization:
Bail siphons money away from individuals and families struggling to make ends meet and presents those who can’t pay with a cruel choice: plead guilty as charged or go to jail. Every year millions of Americans are incarcerated simply because they can’t post bail, including 45,000 people in New York City alone.
By paying bail for New Yorkers who can’t afford it, we are keeping people out of jail, protecting the presumption of innocence, and proving that cash bail is not only unjust, but also unnecessary.
The serious issue of bail is catching fire around this country. The inequity of a money-bail system that favors people with financial means creates racial disparities in the preincarceration prong of prison reform. See America the Confiner: End Discriminatory Money Bail for a more in-depth review of the problem.
- Evolution Family Reentry Services @evfamreentry, located in Connecticut, has a compelling mission that reflects my point of view about reentry for formerly incarcerated people. Its mission statement is very important for those reentering their communities after doing prison time:
Evolution . . . development, change, advancement, growth, rise, progress and expansion. We are dedicated to the evolution of the criminal justice system by providing reentry services to men and women and their families affected by a white-collar crime. So many men and women come home feeling isolated and helpless. They have been ostracized from society. Our consultants and team members have walked in your shoes and understand, so you are no longer alone in your journey. Until now, there has been no resources for White Collar Felons and their families. We have created an unduplicated reentry resource center and are here to help you establish your “new” normal.
- Prisons and Jail Conditions!! @ProjectPrison, located in Pennsylvania, is a relatively new organization with the following beliefs:
Men, women and children of all ages behind bars suffer from lack of access to medical and mental health care which can lead to tragedy. A simple minor sentence turns into a life sentence.
The organization focuses on intolerable issues surrounding the incarcerated “young, mentally ill, pregnant, the elderly, LGBT, and disabled [who] are vulnerable for risk of harm from incarceration.”
For more details about mental health issues on the inside and the roads leading the young and vulnerable to prison, see Abuse, Neglect, and Household Dysfunction: Childhood Traumas That Link to Imprisonment, Sexualized Conduct Toward Females Can Lead to Their Incarceration, and Mental Health Courts.
The value of social media, such as Twitter, to social reform movements is powerful. Social media connects people and organizations with common goals that would otherwise not know of the existence of the others of like mind. Hundreds of voices are in the chorus for prison reform in this country, and these people are to be admired for the dedication and work they do within the three prongs of prison reform I’ve discussed. The impact of voices in the light for voices in the dark brings about change. Tweet on.
Your comments and points of view are always welcome.
Image courtesy of 123rf