linking those behind bars to the outside world
December 12, 2014 10:01 AM   Subscribe

The act of pen-palling mirrors the mindset shift that will be necessary to rethink how our society "does justice" on a much larger scale. My conversations, correspondences, and relationships with prison-torn families have taught me that separation breeds more separation, that the coldness and isolation of prison breed the coldness and isolation of violence. And I think about how the one-on-one relationship, in which the prisoner emerges as a person (with thoughts, a personality, a history, hopes, dreams, nightmares), might serve as a model for the beginnings of a person-based, connection-based justice system.
The Radical Power of a Prison Pen Pal, a longform essay by Maya Schenwar, Editor-in-Chief of Truthout and author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better.

Resources listed in the essay and beyond:

Write A Prisoner (previously) has become the Internet's catalyst for positive change for all prison-related issues. We receive millions of page views each month, far more than many Departments of Corrections sites. Viewers come to find information, join our advocacy efforts, and seek support in helping inmates reintegrate back into society. We cross party lines to support legislation and change that will help educate, train, reform and ultimately reduce our inmate population. We understand that the nature of this website may seem strange to some. We are not disregarding the fact that people are sent to prison as a form of punishment for the crimes they committed (see our Crime Prevention section). That said, they are also sent there for correction and rehabilitation. Approximately 90 percent of them will be released someday. We provide resources for those wanting to change and prepare for their ultimate release. We have an opportunity and obligation to help facilitate positive change in the prison system today. You have shown us this is possible, through letter-writing campaigns, voting, and other advocacy efforts. Almost every inmate in prison today will be returning to society at some point. Your investment of time and compassion can help ensure that many of them will return to us as productive members of society and not repeatedly return to prison as has become the trend in the U.S.
Write to Win Collective
The Write to Win Collective is a penpal project for transgender, transsexual, gender self-determining, and gender-variant people who are living and surviving inside Illinois prisons. Members of the Write to Win Collective are radical trans, queer, and ally activists working in solidarity with prisoners by providing consistent support, resources, and communication to people in our communities who are living on the inside. We stand firmly behind the values of transformative justice, gender self-determination, and prison abolition, and see these values as fundamental to our project.
Black and Pink
Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other. Our work toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex is rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. We are outraged by the specific violence of the prison industrial complex against LGBTQ people, and respond through advocacy, education, direct service, and organizing.
Prison Book Program
Prison Book Program mails books to people in prison to support their educational, vocational and personal development and to help them avoid returning to prison after their release. We also aim to provide a quality volunteer experience that introduces citizens to issues surrounding the American prison system and the role of education in reforming it.
Women's Prison Book Project (previously)
Since 1994, the Women's Prison Book Project (WPBP) has provided women and transgender persons in prison with free reading materials covering a wide range of topics from law and education (dictionaries, GED, etc.) to fiction, politics, history, and women's health. We are an all-volunteer, grassroots organization. We seek to build connections with those behind the walls, and to educate those of us on the outside about the realities of prison and the justice system.
Inside Books Project
Inside Books Project is an Austin-based community service volunteer organization that sends free books and educational materials to prisoners in Texas. Inside Books is the only books-to-prisoners program in Texas, where over 140,000 people are incarcerated. Inside Books Project works to promote reading, literacy, and education among incarcerated individuals and to educate the general public on issues of incarceration.
Incarcerated Voices
Incarcerated Voices is an exploration into the circumstances and conditions of incarceration through the eyes, ears, and hearts of prisoners. We seek to foster insight into the prisoner's responses to broaden the general public's understanding of the prison population today. The intent is to give a voice to the voiceless. Incarcerated Voices will illuminate the humanity that exists within the concrete walls of this nation's prisons.
Prison Mindfulness Institute, formerly Prison Dharma Network
We envision correctional institutions and community corrections facilities and programs as safe, humane and education-focused environments that genuinely support healing, rehabilitation and personal transformation -- making use of the proven-effective mindfulness meditation and body-mind awareness practices of the world's great contemplative traditions and the research-based integration of these traditional practices with contemporary psychology and modern therapeutic methodologies. We envision a restorative and transformative criminal justice system that genuinely and intelligently focuses on public safety and harm reduction rather than punishment or revenge. We envision a significantly smaller and dramatically less expensive prison system that reserves secure facilities for providing humane, mindfulness-based treatment and rehabilitation for violent offenders and employs proven outcome-effective and cost-effective community corrections programs for non-violent offenders.
Band Back Together: Resources for Successful Reintegration After Incarceration
Re-entering society after long-term incarceration is riddled with challenges. Those with a criminal history face many barriers to receiving public benefits, gaining successful employment, regaining custody of children and obtaining housing. Vocational programs may not be available in prison or upon release, limiting the ability of those with a criminal history to update their job skills in order to obtain employment. Many are suffering with mental or physical illnesses with limited means of getting adequate treatment. All of these issues are in addition to problems borne out of the societal stigma associated with serving time in jail or prison.
Federal Interagency Reentry Council: Reentry Service Directories
In many communities, government and nonprofit agencies have developed reentry resource directories that help individuals who have been incarcerated and their families find local reentry service directories. You can view a state-by-state list of available reentry service directories at this link.
posted by divined by radio (4 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Very cool. A local (to me) group I support is the Prison Library Project.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:30 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is the coolest thing. A friend helps run a prison library project started by a local musician and humanitarian before she was (wrongly, we believe) incarcerated. It's called Books To Bars and the campaign is Free Nyki. Letters are one of the few things Nyki can look forward to now that even her family isn't allowed to visit. I have no idea how intelligent and creative minds with gentle souls can survive in maximum security.

Write to prisoners. Send books to prisoners. It's a wonderful thing to do. I only wish I had the time and the money to keep up with more than one or two people.

Note that prisoners might not have the money for stamps to write back to you, but you know your correspondence will be appreciated.
posted by quiet earth at 10:40 AM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nice set of links, thank you! I just recently learned about Locked Down, Locked Out since the author went to my college and came up on an alumni mailing. I would like to read the whole book sometime, and this was a good reminder. Also, a good reminder that I should get involved with one of these organizations. As someone who works in both criminal justice and publishing, I feel like I might maybe possibly make a good pen pal/book sender.
posted by ferret branca at 12:36 PM on December 12, 2014

Thank you so much for this post. I work with reentry folks and I really needed a reminder of why this work is important and worth it, even on trying days like I'm having today. So much info here, can't wait to check it all out.
posted by the lake is above, the water below at 1:05 PM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

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