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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

2014 Mississippi Summer Package Program


Here we are again. We've cycled back around, the days are longer, it's hotter outside, and if you're in Mississippi you know that it can feel like you're trying to breathe through a wet dishrag. Of course, most everyone has dishwashers these days, but you get the idea. Prisoners in Mississippi look forward to this time of year, though. Why? Because it's time to order the Summer Package.

Ever since I first became eligible, my family has pitched in to make sure I receive a package. I usually order things like corn chips, nut and yogurt trail mix, Tang, hot cocoa mix and other things that will last awhile. And yes, I said hot cocoa mix. Did you know that you can sanitize a commode with Tang? In prison everything serves multiple purposes. Not to be confused with multiple porpoises. (see So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish) I want to thank Memaw, Aunt Deb, and Granny for making it possible to get a package.

I have some good memories from receiving packages. You know those big packages of chewy chocolate chip cookies? Yeah, I sat down and ate an entire package of them and drank a couple of strong cups of coffee. It's not often that I feel full, but I couldn't eat anything else that day. And one hot summer when we were still at Unit 32, they were giving us 32 ounces of ice three times a day. I had just received my summer pack and mixed up a strong cup of Tang. I'd not drank any Tang in years. I stirred the Tang and added ice, letting it melt as I did so. When it was just right I took that first swallow... I swear I felt it travel all the way to my stomach. After a moment it seemed as if I felt it course through the rest of my body and a sense of wellbeing came over me. I'll never forget that.

Don't underestimate what you're doing for a prisoner when you order a package for them. Ordering begins on May 12, 2014. The last day to place orders via phone and web is June 23. Orders placed via mail must be postmarked by June 16 and must be received by June 23. Packages can't exceed $100 per prisoner, and there is a $3.95 processing fee for all orders. Access Securepak® is required by Mississippi to collect 7% sales tax on every order, including the processing fee.

Ways to order:

Ways to check your order:

If you have any questions or concerns you can contact Trish Jolly at the Pearl, MS Office at: 1-877-420-1576 or 601-420-4100


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Monday, March 24, 2014

How To Eat An Elephant


I realize that I do not talk about it often, but religion and spirituality are topics that I am very interested in and drawn to. Through my own journey I have come to my particular beliefs, and I do not claim to have a monopoly on truth. I became unitarian universalist because of their tolerance for all belief systems that are not harmful. Most people aren't even aware of this group, but that's okay. I don't scoff at what others believe, I encourage them on their particular path and attempt to help them in any way I can. I think that's why I'm drawn to the Chaplaincy Department.

Wilkinson County's Correctional Center has, in recent months, hired a new chaplain to meet the spiritual needs of the prisoners housed here. Mr. Roscoe Barnes, Ph.D., is the man for the job. Working within the limitations of the prison environment he has begun weekly Jumah services for the Muslim prisoners, weekly Christian services, and even arranged for auditions for a praise group/choir á la American Idol. One man can only do so much when trying to meet the needs of over 900 prisoners, though.

What Chaplain Barnes needs right now are volunteers who will come in and share their time and love with prisoners. Mr. Barnes has reached out to the local congregations, and Christian volunteers are being vetted and trained to help. But other faiths and belief systems are underrepresented. I have seen that a lot in Mississippi, and I am asking for your help to change it. We need to see Islamic volunteers, Wiccans coming into prisons, Jewish believers sharing their love, Thelemites living by agape instead of mouthing the words, Kabbalists teaching from their wisdom. We aren't asking you to come in and try to convert everyone. Rather, we are asking that you share of yourself and donate your time, live by what you profess to believe.

Chaplain Barnes has a lot on his plate, but is undaunted by the enormity of the task. When I asked him how he plans on getting it all done, he asked a question in return. "You know how you eat an elephant?" Laughing, he answered his own question with a simple truth, "One bite at a time." I am glad to have Chaplain Barnes filling the position he does and I am asking that you help us to help him. We are looking for any groups that might be interested in donating materials and literature pertaining to their particular faith to the Chaplaincy Department at WCCC. Know of any covens or temples in the surrounding area that might have members interested in volunteering to do some prison outreach work? Have any suggestions or advice? You can contact us by emailing us at prisoninmateslife@gmail.com or by emailing Chaplain Barnes directly at roscoe.barnes@mtctrains.com or even by calling (601) 888-3199 ext. 2214 to speak to him. We look forward to any feedback from you.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

“My daughter is to study with a criminal?” An experiment at a university in Poland

The below is a translation of an article originally published on December 12th 2013 on www.gazeta.pl. We are posting it here so that you could learn about interesting rehabilitation initiatives from around the globe.


“My daughter is to study with a criminal?” An experiment at Catholic University in Lublin, Poland


36 inmates have started studying at Catholic University in Lublin, Poland (Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski - KUL); among them are those sentenced for murders, rape and armed robberies. Alarmed parents of female students are calling the university. And they hear: “These are the kind of people your daughter will work with. She can still resign if it’s not for her.”

For the time being, the inmates are studying at the Lublin’s jail. Next semester they will participate in lectures on the University’s premises- together with other students. After three years they will receive a BA diploma of a social worker, with a major in streetworking. When they regain their freedom, they will be able to work in facilities that look after the homeless, drug abusers and alcoholics.

They are paying so that I am not killing

Gabriel, born in 1971, killed his father and buried his body in the garden; five years later he killed his mother:

“I’ve already done 20 years of my sentence and I’ve noticed that I’m getting rusty. I’m getting retarded, for example in speaking. If you are cursing in prison, you are accepted. And when you are using  words such as: a propos, de facto, vis-a-vis – they do not tolerate you much. That you are a smarty pants or a philosopher. I hated my father.
 
“He was on probation for family abuse. He disowned me. He said I was not his son. I killed when I was 16, in 1988. For over seven years his body was in the garden. I attended railway vocational school, I was to study in Deblin (renowned Polish school for pilots), like my uncle. I even earned a  glider pilot licence. I killed my mother five years later. We had an argument. She started to remind me about killing my father, saying that I was worse than him.

“Studies at KUL are a chance for a better life. Doing time has some purpose now. Earlier, except for isolation, it had none. Because if someone like me is doing 25 years in a correctional institution, it is badly invested tax money. They are paying for the board and lodgings, but they are getting nothing in return from me. They are paying for safety- so that I am not killing.
 
“These studies will help me come to terms with the new reality. Because I am a Neanderthal in a cave. I am afraid of technological barriers. The world has changed a lot over all those years when I am in. I’ve never held a cell phone.

“I have down-to-earth dreams. I need to start with small things. I’d like to have a family. There are mainly girls in this department. Maybe I will meet my future wife?

“I realize that our studying there is controversial. I’ve heard that parents are calling KUL and asking- How come, my daughter is to sit at one desk with criminals?”

What will be students’ reaction?

Professor  Iwona Niewiadomska, psychologist, one of the originators of the studies for inmates:
Help or experiment? Both. No one knows how it will end. We don’t know what kind of people came here, on the side of motivation and resources. Those resources are for instance: hope, ability to connect with people, optimism, the sense of control of reality.
“It is certain that it is a chance for those people as far as resocialization is concerned. We need to reflect on what we can do to make sure they will not get back to prison. Please note how many questions emerge: for example what will happen when those people come to the university; how the students will react?

“For the time being, parents are alarmed. They are calling and asking: how come, my daughter will be sitting at one desk with a criminal?
There is a simple answer to their concerns: you need to realize what kind of studies your daughter chose. These are the kind of people she will most likely work with. Now she can still back off if it’s not for her.”   

Female students may think: Cool guys

Boguslaw Woznica, The Warden of Investigating Jail in Lublin:

“The public opinion may be surprised that people who should be doing their
penance, got an index, student’s ID and are entitled to scholarship. These are reasonable doubts. One should remember, though, that people who are leaving prison and who no one has invested in, and who committed crimes, are a much bigger threat than when they got behind bars. That’s why it’s crucial to rebuild their minds, show them different ways of solving problems. And this is what we are doing with the help of the men of science. How did the admission process look? At first, we wanted only first-time offenders from the Lublin voivodeship (province) to study at KUL, but we didn’t find enough candidates. There had to be at least 30 students. So we extended our recruitment to the whole country. Only those with life sentences were not accepted. We are observing the students, till June they must convince us that we can let them go to classes outside their prisons. At this stage, all have their chance, but I suppose that I won’t let everyone out.
“I am not worried that something bad may happen during classes. I am more worried about female students who can get involved in romantic relationships with inmates. They may think: cool guys!
“If my daughter studied with inmates, I would tell her to look at such a relationship closely and not respond to sweet words. In such situations limited trust should be a rule.”

I won’t tell my fellow students that I am in prison

Krzysztof, born in 1982, tried to kill his fiancée:

“Outside, I graduated from an economy high school, passed GED exams. I will be out in 3.5 year. I got 9 years and 8 months for growing marijuana and attempting to kill my girlfriend.

“With that ‘attempting’ it was like this: we lived together, slept together, ate together and suddenly we pass each other in the street as if we had never known each other.
A new man appeared in her life. One day I was looking after our daughter. I was supposed to bring her back by 6 pm. My brother tells me- It’s going to rain, I will give you a lift. She went outside to take our daughter. We started to argue again. And there was a knife in the car. A small one. The kind you take with you when you go to the woods to pick up mushrooms.  I took it…

“I know I will be a better streetworker than someone who has never been incarcerated. A person who has gone through such things can help others more than someone who has never had any problems.
I can’t wait to attend the classes at KUL. It’s a completely different world. I will surf the net and be on Facebook during each break. It’s like earlier when I was at school. But of course not only that. I will surely meet some cool people there.
“I won’t tell my fellow students that I am from a facility. I don’t feel that I am a criminal. A criminal is someone who does his time, and gets out to steal again. Someone who accepts the possibility of going back behind bars.”

There won’t be any special security measures

Priest professor Miroslaw Kalinowski, dean of the theology department, one of the originators of the studies for inmates:

“ I know what kind of sentences those inmates have, but it doesn’t matter. They have full citizen’s rights. KUL students who will be studying with prisoners have nothing to fear. Every day on a bus they may be travelling with people who have been to prison or are still there but are going to town doing some community service. I am surprised at how much we stigmatize those people by not giving them any chance.
“Will we protect our students from the inmates in any special way? No. In the street, you cannot be sure that you won’t be run over by car that didn’t stop at red light. Should there be a policeman over each driver to control if he’s not breaking any traffic laws?”

My kids don’t know that I am incarcerated

Adrian, born in 1981, after he got into his child’s mother’s place, he strangled her and hit her head against concrete floor:

I’ve been in prison for 26 months. Sentence- 8 years. A friend, whom I was with for a few months in Pinczow, helped me a lot. He’s very quiet, prays a lot. He shines with goodness. It made me want to come closer to God.
“I studied when I was still free- information technology at weekends. But the high level of the courses surprised me. I gave up. Then there came a wife, two children…
“And then I had an affair with a friend, she had a baby. But his mother didn’t let me see him. I got inside though balcony door. In panic, she tried to stop me, I pushed her away…

“My children still don’t know that I am incarcerated. Together with my wife we decided to wait till something good happens. And it did happen. When in a year’s time I will be able to attend classes at KUL, they might come to Lublin….”

Punishment has its end

Priest Professor Andrzej Szostek, former rector of KUL, he teaches ethics in prison:

“Guilt and punishment in a religious sense are God’s business. I can only discuss it in an earthly context. If a man did not receive a life sentence, his punishment has its end. When the sentence is over, he becomes a normal citizen- and this is how we should be treating him. I know that it is difficult to forget the wrongs the convict did. But we can’t stop at a revenge level and think that prisoners should have the worst possible lives till they die. This is a primitive way of reacting, harmful both for them and for us.

I like to go to those classes. The inmates listen carefully, ask for Reading materials, ask intelligent questions. When they told me they would like to have at least seven copies of my “Talks in Ethics”, I thought to myself: “Dear Jesus! I can afford to get one for each of them. It’s not a big expense on my part, but let them have this kind of response for their involvement.

“Those who oppose the project, I respond this way: “The punishment goes on and the classes do not make their incarceration null and void. However, adding to this punishment blocking their development is acting against the idea of those facilities being correctional ones. Prison is not only punishment, which gives some people satisfaction, that prisoners are suffering due to the wrongs they once did, but it’s also a place that is supposed to prepare people for their coming back into society.”

I’ll invite my daughter to KUL

Marek, born in 1970, sentenced for theft and armed robberies:

"I’ve already done 7 out of 15 years. I have a university degree, in prison I graduated from an IT course. I had a wife, a child, I worked at a travel agent’s. We made ends meet. It was a robbery, it went so smooth, suddenly we had more money. I didn’t mean to kill. I just responded with shooting to someone shooting at me. It’s hard for me to live with it.

"Daughter. A difficult subject. For a few years we only communicate via phone.
And with these studies, there is a slight chance to meet outside prison walls. I will invite her to KUL. We used to compete with grades. Now I sent her a copy of the first page of my index. She said: 'We will see who’s better'."

They are not studying to kill

Pawel Moczydlowski, a former chief of penitentiary services:

“Prison can be trying to do its best, and work wonders, but it’s the society that is more responsible for return of inmates to normal life. If we approach prisoners in a panicky way, like “O gosh! My daughter will associated with them!”, then the probability that such a prisoner will stumble again is huge. You need to have really strong will to get through such discrimination.
“This experiment not only gives inmates a bigger chances of a successful return to the society. It’s also our fight against horrible stereotypes. 

“In the West, studies for inmates have not created a sensation for a long time. The law sentences them to limiting their freedom, not to anything more. We cannot take their right to education from them. I would understand if the controversies were due to paid jobs for inmates. Because you know- it’s difficult to get a job and prisoners may be competition.
But studies? Education- absolutely yes!

“I am not worried about them going to the university,
because many convicts have been free for a long time. First, an army of people with sentences are not in prison because there are not enough beds in there. And others also get out, either when they have done their time or are on pass. Moreover, if someone wants to get higher education, they are not doing it to kill people. I do not know why certain things are not obvious to us.

“True, these are people with long sentences, but none of them is a hitman. Their crimes originated in complicated family relations, they were often done under severe provocation- it can happen in many families.
“Prison must prepare for life outside. They will get out anyway one day. Is it better if they get out as mad dogs?”


Some of the comments under the article:
Igraszkabis: An initiative worth praise. It is true resocialization, backed up with deeds, not only words. And inmates can be more motivated than many pampered students.
thomos85: Strange things in that Lublin. Not so long ago a student was expressing his indignation that someone dared to ask him questions during his diploma exam. Today students of social work (or their parents) are complaining about having to deal with inmates. If things go this way, then some resentful apprentice at a bakery will grumble that they made him bake bread and he got dirty with flour!


The whole text in Polish can be found here:


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Inmates became friends with homeless dogs- shared fate

The below article was originally published on December 19th 2013 on www.gazeta.pl. Marta Dziewulska translated it for you so that you could learn about interesting rehabilitation initiatives from around the globe.

 
We are in a similar situation, because we live behind bars, too. – said inmates from Olsztyn jail, who had been learning to train dogs from a local animal shelter for three weeks. The authorities of Olsztyn jail took their idea of resocialization through contact with dogs from other facilities. It was not difficult to find volunteers for the project. The enrolment lists were long and out of them, we selected eight people who successfully completed the course. – says Piotr Orzol, coordinator of the action.

And he adds -We had to trust that group, because during the classes in the shelter, they were accompanied by only a trainer and one guardian. In such a situation, we had to be sure that none of them would want to use the opportunity and escape. Nothing like that took place, though, and day by day we could see the bond growing between them and the dogs.

Inmates confirm the understanding between the dogs and them as their guardians. They emphasize that they are experiencing the same fate, looking at the world through bars. – It’s only here where a man sees the misery of these animals. – claims Krzysztof, doing five years for participation in an organized crime group. Those meetings had a great positive impact on us and I think it was a jackpot. We have grown fond of those doggies in the last three weeks. It’s a pity we have to leave them here, but I hope they will find good homes. I have already spoken to my wife, that when I get out, we are adopting a dog, preferably from a shelter. I will enjoy teaching it commands, because now I know how to do it.


Other participants of the program speak in a similar tone- I’d grown up with dogs since I was little, so it was pleasure for me. - says Mariusz who didn’t want to disclose what he was in for.

The dog training course that inmates participated in was short, but intensive. They met every day, Monday to Friday and spent six hours there. They started with a one-hour walk and then they proceeded to exercises and taught dogs basic commands. The men received no special treatment, they had to work as hard as people who come to me with their own dogs.- says Magda Biadon, zoopsychologist and animal trainer. The problem was that these dogs live in slightly different conditions than those I usually deal with. Before we started working with them, we had to help them discharge their energy.

Animals were very eager to work and they easily got accustomed to their temporary guardians. – Even to such an extent that they reacted only when inmates called them. – adds Biadon.

At Thursday’s presentation at the shelter the organizers of the action showed pictures taken during the training. There were tears. – I am a tough gal, but today I couldn’t hold it. – says Anna Baranska, the manager of the shelter. – It’s a great action, because our dogs are mostly troubled with lack of human companions and boredom. We will continue our cooperation with Olsztyn’s jail. – she assures.

Two out of eight dogs that participated in the project have already found their homes. New owners had to wait till the end of the training carried out by inmates. – Such skills are an extra bonus when looking for new guardians for dogs. – Explains Baranska.

The first edition of the project ended with a show of new skills learnt by dogs. Inmates said unanimously  that they all were proud of their students. – And you must write that we will personally ensure the dogs will find good homes. – joked Krzysztof, playing with Reda.

The full text in Polish can be found here. 

About Steven

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Steven Farris is a prisoner who has been incarcerated since a month after his 16th birthday in 1998. Currently serving a life sentence without the possibility for parole, he is seeking to educate the public about the true nature of prison and the widespread and negative effects of the prison industrial complex. Steven has worked with both the National Prison Project of the ACLU, as well as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in furthering this effort.

You can contact him directly at:
Steven Farris #R5580
WCCC
P.O. Box 1889
Woodville, MS 39669-1889

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