Progressive Prison Ministries: The First Ministry in the United States Created to Provide Support for Individuals, Families and Organizations with White-Collar and Other Nonviolent Incarceration Issues. Greenwich CT & Nationwide

Friday, July 26, 2013

Visiting My Brother In Prison, By Alison Grant

Progressive Prison Project

Greenwich, Connecticut 
 

 Visiting My Brother In Prison, By Alison Grant

  
When my brother told me he might be going to prison, I couldn't believe it.  In my eyes he could do no wrong.   I had been holding him up on a pedestal since I was a little girl. Even when he did things I didn't agree with, he was my rock. 

This time, however, he did something really wrong.  And even with that knowledge he was still the person in my broken family that I could turn to for really solid advice.

When I drove up to the prison, I remember a high fence with barbed wire at the top.  It had looked like every other prison I'd ever seen.  Only this one wasn't the movie set of the Shawshank Redemption.  It was a real prison that my brother was now going to live 15 months of his life in.  Not only would his once free life be full of rules and regulations, but so would everyone who visited him. 

I wasn't allowed to bring any paper money into the prison because maybe I had gotten it from someone who uses drugs and left a residue on it.  Or perhaps it would be a way of bringing drugs inside.   If I remember correctly I was permitted to bring $5.00 in change in a clear bag. Who knew that ziplock had so many uses? This money was to be used to buy food from the vending machine should we get hungry during our visit. 

After sitting for a while staring at the door my brother was to come through, I felt a great deal of discomfort.  I didn't want to be there anymore than he did.  The door finally opened and out he came: still my rock of a brother only this time he wasn't dressed in a custom tailored Hugo Boss suit. He was wearing a tan prison uniform. Being a very strapping, handsome guy, I have to say he looked pretty damned good in it.  

He acted very differently than the brother I knew though. Instead of the big wide smiled teddy bear hug I would normally get from him, he was very methodical.  His movements seemed very slow and subtle as if to make himself invisible.  As he later explained, he did not want to draw any attention to himself.  And that he acted the same way on the other side of the door.  He just wanted to do his time without any trouble. 

We talked for awhile. About what I really don't remember? He ate a microwave hamburger from the vending machine that he asked me to go and get.  Our visit was pretty much over before I knew it.  He told me that every time he goes back through that door they do a cavity check to make sure he isn't bringing anything back inside with him. To this day that has stuck with me. 

I couldn't tell you how it was to live on the other side of the door.  Only he can, but this I can tell you.  My brother has had a monumental spiritual awakening in his life since that time. He has turned into a giver rather than a taker.  

He is still my rock.  And even though he is not perfect, he will always be the person I turn to for solid advice.  

My sister Alison is an award-winning advertising copywriter - she says that this was the most difficult thing she's ever written.  

Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Greenwich, Connecticut

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604

(203) 339-5887
jgrant@progressiveprisonproject.org
jg3074@columbia.edu 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Taking 200 Guitar Lessons in Prison, By Jeff Grant


Progressive Prison Project 

Greenwich, Connecticut 





Taking 200 Guitar Lessons in Prison
By Jeff Grant:





“You can do the crime and do the time, but what

you do with the time is the key to success or failure in prison.”  





Some of you might know that I play lead guitar in our church’s funk/gospel band, The “Bop”-Tists.  I’ve been playing guitar since I was nine years old - but like so many other things in life, I somehow never got around to learning how to play very well.  That all changed when I took almost two hundred guitar lessons in prison. 

________________



I took my first guitar lesson in 1965, when I was at Lakeside Elementary School in Merrick, Long Island.  My guitar teacher, Bill Sheedy, was the coolest guy I’d ever seen - he had a greased back ducktail, a herringbone jacket and Cowboy boots.  He looked like Chet Atkins.  He was way cooler than my parents or any other adults that I knew.  He had a Starburst Fender Stratocaster - and a Fender Blackface Princeton Reverb amp - that he hauled out of the back seat of his Ford Mustang and brought down to our basement for what would be my weekly lesson.  He plugged in and I strummed along – barely - on a beginner’s guitar that my parents had rented for me at the Sam Ash music store in Hempstead. 



While we were in the middle of what I’m certain was yet another excruciating lesson for Bill Sheedy, the power suddenly went out on his amplifier.  Confused, he checked the dials on the amp, then the fuses in the back, and then the light switch on the wall.  He went upstairs, and then came back down and announced that the power was out in the whole house.  We both went outside into the street and the power was out on the whole block.  He asked me if this type of thing happened often?  I had no idea - I was nine years old. But I will always remember that I had my first guitar lesson during the great blackout of 1965.  
______________



I was incarcerated in 2006 and 2007 at Allenwood Federal LSCI in White Deer, PA, serving a thirteen and a half month sentence for a white-collar crime.  I worked every morning cleaning trashcans in the Rec, but I spent most afternoons hanging around the music department trying to learn how to play guitar a little better.  Professional musicians ran the music department - they were incarcerated for all sorts of crimes.  Steve was a drug smuggler; Jason was a con man; and Vladimir the Russian was some kind of computer hacker.  But these guys could really rock!  Here’s one thing I learned about being in prison: you can do the crime and do the time, but what you do with the time is the key to success or failure in prison.  I took over 200 guitar lessons while I in prison. I was introduced to music theory, and forms of music I’d never heard before - or even considered.  Most importantly, I learned that my joy was proportional to my knowledge and ability.  My heart swelled each time I walked in the door for another music lesson. 



I got good enough on guitar to put in for a work transfer from trash detail – and for the balance of my bid I taught beginner’s guitar to the Spanish-speaking inmates.  I spoke no Spanish but it was hardly an obstacle - we used music as our common language.  Some of the richest experiences of my time in prison were times I spent with these Spanish guys, laughing at one another as they tried to speak English and I tried to speak Spanish.  The intensity and suffering of prison life were broken by our laughter.  These were the seeds of my calling, in ways that were only first starting to be revealed. 

The above is an excerpt from Jeff Grant's book, The Art of Surviving Prison, due out winter 2013. 
_________________

Earlier this year, Pastor Scott told me that he wanted to start a new church band for The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport – one with a distinct Afro-Caribbean funk/gospel feel.  He wanted it to be fun, and exciting, and full of the Spirit.  This is one of the things I love about Pastor Scott.  Pastor Scott told me that he had made arrangements with our sister church, Living Word Ministries, for its wonderful band to be available to us.  The Spirit was truly present when The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport and Living Word Ministries formed our band, The “Bop”-Tists – it was magic!  We have band members from such far away places as Haiti and Africa, and from nearby places like Bridgeport and Greenwich too.  

I know that all of the members of The "Bop"-Tists feel blessed to be in this band - and grateful and humbled to have gone through our respective journeys to be able to worship God together each Sunday.  

There are links to four YouTube Videos of The "Bop"-Tists on the right column of the Progressive Prison Project blog: progressiveprisonproject.blogspot.com. 


Blessings,



Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Greenwich, Connecticut

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604


(203) 339-5887
jgrant@progressiveprisonproject.org
jg3074@columbia.edu 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Letter from Prison 2013: The Next Letter






Progressive Prison Project 

Greenwich, Connecticut

Letter from Prison 2013: 

The Next Letter


Hello Jeff,

Life is going well.  I have been able to keep busy reading the books my family sent me.  With every day that passes I feel a sense of accomplishment because I’m one day closer to being released.  My health is good, I have plenty of food, and nobody has tried to start anything with me.  Your guidance has helped me keep the right attitude in jail.  Thank you for the time and advice that you have given me.  It has paid huge dividends.


My experience of prison life is similar to the scenario described during our sessions.  My observation skills are paramount.  I am better off observing my surroundings from my bed then I am engaging with other inmates.  I have learned how to be respectful and interact with inmates while revealing little about myself.  There is a high turnover of inmates in the block so new faces give me renewed anonymity.  I have also discovered the trouble makers find the trouble makers and the wallflowers are left alone because they don’t provide a high stimulus reaction that the trouble makers seek.


I met a person who could use your services in jail.  He is a loud mouth lawyer who thinks he has the system figured out.  He shows no restraint in letting the correction officers or the counselor know how he should be treated.  He aggressively questioned the counselor about his good-time in front of the entire block instead of being respectful and enquiring about his situation in her office.  She was not willing to go out of her way for him and rightfully so.  He embarrassed her in front of other inmates.


The lawyer has witnessed that karma is a bitch.  He wanted a lower bunk so he gave a significant amount of food to a drug dealer that was going to be released on Thursday.  After the dealer was released the lawyer went to tell the counselor the dealer gave him the lower bunk.  The counselor had to explain how she gives the bunk assignments, not the outgoing inmates.  The lawyer continues to make life tough for himself.  He never learned that you can’t trust anyone in jail and that all inmates, and some of the guards, are con-men.


You warned me about letting people know about my life on the outside.  I keep my name tag hidden whenever possible.  People refer to me with all kinds of names and rarely call me by my actual name.  I welcome the confusion because I do not want people heading to my door step after they get out of jail.  It did get difficult remembering all the different names people had for me.  I wear ear plugs because it is loud in the block.  The plugs are also a great excuse to not answer people when they call my same.  If people want something then they walk up to my bed, otherwise I’m left alone.


You warned me that it will be obvious to inmates that I’m well educated and have money.  I use both to my advantage. I pay to get my laundry done a few times per week, give some extra food to guys who have no money in commissary, and help people write letters to family members.  It is the right thing to do and people notice I help out others in need.  It has generated more respect for me.


I wish I could say all inmates are as blessed as me.  It is sad to experience others being shunned by their families.  Most of them have been to jail multiple times and their loved ones are trying to break the enabling process by ceasing contact.  Is there a problem with the rehabilitation system or are the people in the system not willing to accept responsibility for who they are?  I’ve been amazed with the majority of inmates who admit to having a substance problem but not willing to change.  It is hard for me to sympathize with them.

I am in a great place spiritually as my stay within the penitentiary system is coming to an end.   I am not as worried about finding employment once I am released.  I’ve been able to generate a few leads while corresponding with people on the outside.   

I hope life is treating you well.  See you soon, XXX

This is the second letter from prison from this friend.  It was completed and sent to me upon his release.  The first letter: http://progressiveprisonproject.blogspot.com/2013/05/letter-from-prison-2013.html



Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Minister, Activist,
Social Ethicist, Author

Director, Progressive Prison Project

Forensic Ministry
Greenwich, Connecticut

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604


(203) 339-5887
jgrant3074@icloud.com
jg3074@columbia.edu 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Keynote in Kenya, By Jeff Grant: How Social Media Is Helping to BringWorld Ministries Together

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Progressive Prison Project 

Greenwich, Connecticut 



Keynote in Kenya: How Social Media

Is Helping to Bring World Ministries Together



By Jeff Grant



“…this feels like an auspicious moment to have been invited

to be the Keynote speaker this summer at a

Pentecostal Pastor’s Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.”  





Africa is on the world stage for many reasons this summer – the great leader and freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela is in his final hours.  Our own President Obama just made his own pilgrimage to Africa, and visited with the Mandela family.  



This feels like an auspicious moment to have been invited to be the Keynote speaker this summer at a Pentecostal Pastor’s Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. 



Believe me, nobody was more surprised than I to have received this invitation – it felt so off-mission for my work.   Why in the world would Africans be interested in my ministry work – inner city ministry and ministering to families of those accused or convicted of white-collar crimes?  



And it came from so, out-of-the-blue?  It actually came as a result of one of my Linked In posts – a post that led them to my blog.  



My eyes peeled and my senses sharpened – my training as a minister receded even as I assumed my role as a forensicist.  I would figure out - or ferret out - what they could possibly want to hear from the likes of me? 



As with all forensic assignments, I knew I had to assemble a team.  I began with my wife Lynn - as my life partner, chief back watcher and most empathetic person I’ve ever met - she usually could separate wheat from chafe.  I contacted my dear friend and counsel, Will Nix, Esq. in LA; Will has been an entertainment attorney for over thirty years and was the first person in history to acquire the rights from the Gibran family to produce movies about Kahlil Gibran and The Prophet – certainly he’d have a lot of knowledge about dealing in foreign transactions.  At The Nantucket Project last fall I had met Amy Gray, who owns New Leaf Speakers, a speaker's bureau outside of Boston – she represents Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple.  I knew that dear friend, litigator and freedom fighter - and former head of Princeton in Africa - George Hritz, Esq. (and his brilliant wife Mary Beth) could make introductions and open doors.  And finally, my friend and Union Theological Seminary classmate Rev. Thia Reggio - the Minister at the Astoria Presbyterian Church (where, incidentally, I am guest preaching on July 14th) – could put me in touch with the Presbyterian contingent at the United Nations. 



The team guided me through the issue of what my message could be to this particular audience – it all goes back to the cross.  Jesus was crucified as a criminal; his resurrection gives us all hope and faith of a new day in the sun and in the rain.  I would offer them my prison-to-redemption story – my personal and ministry experience of being treated as post-colonial “property” by and in the “first world” Prison Industrial Complex.  It could be powerful.



And we resolved my issues of the offer coming through the Internet – and Linked In.  The more we considered it, how else would ministries in the emerging world find out about ministries like ours?  One commercial on television says that “one-in-five” relationships are created on dating sites – isn’t this somehow another form of that?  In our ministries in Greenwich and Bridgeport, we minister primarily to communities suffering in silence.  I give big props to Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – we know that we are reaching those who suffer in silence because they are reaching back to us. 



The language barrier prevented speaking with the Kenyans about critical concerns, such as personal safety issues I had read about in U.S. State Department Travel Advisories (especially related to religious gatherings).  In a time of civil unrest in many parts of Africa, it seemed irresponsible to take my family there without adequate assurances that we would all be safe from the moment we arrived until the moment we departed.  Even though they were ultimately reassuring, I knew that I was feeling uncomfortable.  

With great gratitude, humility and respect, Lynn and I decided to decline the invitation, ending this part of the journey.   

I think what it all came down to was that I was afraid - afraid to venture that far from home.  Kenya is pretty far away from Greenwich, Connecticut.   I realize that this may be a startling admission from a prison minister in my own blog post - I'm sure this is leftover wreckage in my own imprisonment story (personal stuff that I'm hoping to deal with sometime soon).




We have, however, offered to assist the Kenyans in their mission work from here in Greenwich.  If you are involved in an outreach program, or would otherwise like to participate in helping this cause, their contact information is on the PDF of the invitation below.



Gratefully,



Jeff


 



Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Minister, Activist,
Social Ethicist, Author

Director, Progressive Prison Project
Greenwich, Connecticut

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604

(203) 339-5887
jgrant3074@icloud.com
jg3074@columbia.edu