Prisonist.org: Edited by Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Executive Director of Family ReEntry, serving the CT Criminal Justice Community & Co-Founder of Progressive Prison Ministries, the First Ministry in the U.S. Created to Support Individuals, Families & Organizations with White-Collar and Other Nonviolent Incarceration Issues.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Understanding and Explaining Depression, By Orla Kelly - Guest Blogger


Progressive Prison Project 
Innocent Spouse & Children Project 
Greenwich, Connecticut


Understanding and Explaining Depression

By Orla Kelly - Guest Blogger

As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder and addiction to prescription narcotics (12 years sober last August), and a suicide attempt survivor, I am seeking out voices on these subjects that could offer guidance to families suffering from incarceration issues. We thank our friend and colleague Jim Hodel, MSW for introducing us to the work of Orla Kelly. Orla writes an important blog called "Take Control of Your Life," and is the author of "Learning to Reconnect the Pieces of a Life Shattered by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." We reached out to Orla in the U.K. who offered us this article to repost on prisonist.org. - Jeff

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I still remember the moment well. It was a wet, cold, grey Friday morning. I rose out of bed having had no sleep the night before. Panic attacks are horrific experiences by day, by night they are even worse.

Where once I would have felt sadness at seeing my friends heading to where I had always wanted to go, I now didn’t. Something much larger, deeper, darker had taken hold of my mind and sadness, despair, hopelessness were not strong enough to survive alongside what I was feeling.

They say something has  to crack to allow the light in. At about 11am that morning, I finally cracked. I couldn’t do it anymore, all my strength at keeping up my pretence had gone. I curled up in the corner of the building and began to cry. One of the lads working with me came over and he didn’t know what to do. I asked him to take me home.

The GP called to my house and prescribed some sleeping pills and arranged for me to be sent to the hospital for some tests.

As I drove to work on my trusted Honda 50, a group of my friends passed in their car heading to college. They all smiled and waved and looked so happy. I smiled and waved and acted happy.

I had loved and excelled in school but it was the same with my hurling, it was the same with my friends, it was the same with my family, it was the same with the people of Cloyne, it was the same with life, I had lost interest in all of them. Losing interest in people was the worst.

I spent a week there and they done every test imaginable. Physically, I was in perfect health. I was diagnosed with suffering from ‘Depression’ or in laymans terms, that awful phrase ‘of suffering with his nerves’. I had never heard of the word before.

I was sent to see a psychiatrist in my local day care hospital. I was 19 years of age in a waiting room surrounded by people much older than I was. Surely I am not the only young person suffering from depression, I thought to myself. There was a vacant look in all of their eyes, a hollowness, an emptiness, the feeling of darkness pervaded the room.


The psychiatrist explained that there might be a chemical imbalance in my brain,  asked me my symptoms and prescribed a mixture of anti depressants, anxiety and sleeping pills based on what I told him. He explained that it would take time to get the right cocktail of tablets for my type of depression.

I had an uneasy feeling about the whole thing. Something deep inside in me told me this wasn’t the way forward and this wasn’t what I needed. As I walked out a group of people in another room with intellectual disabilities were doing various things. One man had a teaching device in front of him and he was trying to put a square piece into a round hole. It summed up perfectly what I felt had just happened to me.

I now stayed in my room all day, only leaving it to go to the bathroom. I locked the door and it was only opened to allow my mother bring me some food. I didn’t want to speak to anybody. The only time I left the house was on a Thursday morning to visit the psychiatrist. When everbody had left  to go to work and school, my Mother would bring me my breakfast.

I cried nearly all the time. Sometimes she would sit there and cry with me, other times talk with me and hold my hand, tell me that she would do anything to help me get better, other times just sit there quietly whilst I ate the food.

Depression is difficult to explain to people. If you have experienced it there is no need, if you haven’t, I don’t think there are words adequate to describe its horror. I have had a lot of injuries playing hurling, snapped cruciates, broken bones in my hands 11 times, had my lips sliced in half and all my upper teeth blown out with a dirty pull but none of them come anywhere near the physical pain and mental torture of depression.

It permeates every part of your being, from your head to your toes. It is never ending, waves and waves of utter despair and hopelessness and fear and darkness flood throughout your whole body.  You crave for peace but even sleep doesn’t afford that. It wrecks your dreams and turns your days into a living nightmare.

It destroys your personality, your relationship with your family and friends, your work, your sporting life, it affects them all. Your ability to give and receive affection is gone. You tear at your skin and your hair with frustration. You cut yourself to give some form of physical expression to the incredible pain you feel.

You want to grab it and smash it, but you can’t get a hold of it.  You go to sleep hoping, praying not to wake up. You rack your brain seeing is there something you done in your life that justifies this suffering. You wonder why God is not answering your pleas for relief and you wonder is he there at all or has he forgotten about you. And through it all remains the darkness. It’s as if someone placed a veil over your soul and never returned to remove it. This endless, black, never ending tunnel of darkness.

I had been five months in my room now. I had watched the summer turn into the autumn and then to Winter through my bedroom window. One of the most difficult things was watching my teammates parade through the town after winning the U21 championship through it. That was the real world out there.

In here in my room was a living hell. I was now on about 18 tablets a day and not getting better but worse. I was eating very little but the medication was ballooning my weight to nearly twenty stone. I was sent to see another psychiatrist and another doctor who suggested electric shock therapy which I flatly refused. It was obvious to me I was never going to get better. My desire for death was now much stronger than my desire for living so I made a decision.

I had been contemplating suicide for a while now and when I finally decided and planned it out, a strange thing happened. A peace that I hadn’t experienced for a long time entered my mind and body. For the first time in years, I could get a good night’s sleep. It was as if my body realized that this pain it was going through was about to end and it went into relax mode. I had the rope hidden in my room. I knew there was a game on a Saturday evening and that my father and the lads would be gone to that.

After my Mother and sister would be gone to Mass, I would drive to the location and hang myself. I didn’t feel any anxiety about it.  It would solve everything, I thought. No more pain, both for me and my family. They were suffering as well as I was and I felt with me gone, it would make life easier for them. How wrong I would have been. I have seen the effects and damage suicide has on families. It is far,far greater than anything endured while living and helping a person with depression.

For some reason  my Mother never went to Mass. I don’t know why but she didn’t go. It was a decision on her part that saved my life.

The following week, a family that I had worked for when I was younger heard about me being unwell. They rang my Mother and told them that they knew a clinical psychologist working in a private practice that they felt could help me.

I had built up my hopes too many times over the last number of months that a new doctor, a new tablet, a new treatment was going to help and had them dashed when he or it failed to help me. I wasn’t going through it again. My mother pleaded to give him a try and eventually I agreed. It was a decision on my part that would save my life.

After meeting Tony, I instantly knew this was what I had been searching for. It was the complete opposite of what I felt when I was being prescribed tablets and electric shock therapy. We sat opposite each other in a converted cottage at the side of his house with a fire lighting in the corner. He looked at me with his warm eyes and said ‘I hear you haven’t been too well. How are you feeling’. It wasn’t even the question, it was the way he asked it.

I looked at him for about a minute or so and I began to cry. When the tears stopped, I talked and he listened intently. Driving home with my mother that night, I cried again but it wasn’t tears of sadness, it was tears of joy. I knew that evening I was going to better. There was finally a chink of light in the darkness.

Therapy is a challenging experience. It’s not easy baring your soul. When you sit in front of another human being and discuss things you have never discussed with anyone, it can be quite scary. Paulo Coelho says in one of his books that ‘A man is at his strongest when he is willing to be vulnerable’.

Sadly, society conditions men to be the opposite and views vulnerability as a weakness. For therapy to work, a person has to be willing to be vulnerable.  Within a week, I was off all medication. For me, medication was never the answer.  My path back to health was one of making progress, then slipping and making progress again. It was far from straightforward.

I had to face up to memories I had buried from being bullied quite a lot when I was a young kid. Some of it occurred in primary school, others in secondary. It was raw and emotional re-visiting those times but it had to be done.

A lot of my identity was tied up with hurling and it was an un-healthy relationship. The ironic thing is that as I began to live my life more from the inside out and appreciate and value myself for being me and not needing hurling for my self esteem, I loved the game more than ever. I got myself super fit and my weight down to 13 and a half stone.

I made the Cloyne Senior team and went on to play with the Cork Senior hurling team, making a cameo appearance in the final of 2006. It is still one of the biggest joys of my life playing hurling with Cloyne, despite losing three County finals and an All-Ireland with Cork. Being involved with the Cloyne team was a huge aid in my recovery and my teammates gave me great support during that time.

I went back to serve my time as an electrician. I went to college by night and re-discovered my joy of learning. I work for a great company and have a good life now. I finished therapy in 2004. I have not had a panic attack in that time and have not missed a day’s work because of depression since then.
I came to realise that depression was not my enemy but my friend.  I don’t say this lightly. I know the damage it does to people and the lives it has wrecked and is wrecking so I am only talking for myself. How can you say something that nearly killed you was your friend? The best coaches I have ever dealt with are those that tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. You mightn’t like it at the time but after or maybe years later, you know they were right.

I believe depression is a message from a part of your being to tell you something in your life isn’t right and you need to look at it.  It forced me to stop and seek within for answers and that is where they are. It encouraged me to look at my inner life and free myself from the things that were preventing me from expressing my full being.

The poet David Whyte says ‘the soul would much rather fail at its own life than succeed at someone else’s’.

This is an ongoing process. I am still far from living a fully, authentic life but I am very comfortable now in my own skin. Once or twice a year, especially when I fall into old habits, my ‘friend’ pays me a visit. I don’t push him away or ignore him. I sit with him in a chair in a quiet room and allow him to come. I sit with the feeling. Sometimes I cry, other times I smile at how accurate his message is. He might stay for an hour, he might stay for a day. He gives his message and moves on.

He reminds me to stay true to myself and keep in touch with my real self. A popular quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is ‘a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step’. A correct translation of the original Chinese though is ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet’. Lao Tzu believed that action was something that arose naturally from stillness. When you can sit and be with yourself, it is a wonderful gift and real and authentic action flows from it.

Many, many people are living lives of quiet misery. I get calls from people on the phone and to my house because people in my area will know my story. Sometimes it is for themselves, other times it is asking if I would talk to another person. I’m not a doctor or a therapist and anyone I talk to in distress, I always encourage them to go to both but people find it easier at first to talk to someone who has been in their shoes.

It is incredible the amount of people it affects. Depression affects all types of people, young and old, working and not working, wealthy and poor.

For those people who are currently gripped by depression, either experiencing it or are supporting or living with someone with it, I hope my story helps.  There is no situation that is without hope, there is no person that can’t overcome their present difficulties. For those that are suffering silently, there is help out there and you are definitely not alone.

Everything you need to succeed is already within you and you have all the answers to your own issues. A good therapist will facilitate that process. My mother always says ‘a man’s courage is his greatest asset’. It is an act of courage and strength, not weakness, to admit you are struggling. It is an act of courage to seek help. It is an act of courage to face up to your problems.

An old saying goes ‘there is a safety in being hidden, but a tragedy never to be found’.
 
You are too precious and important to your family, your friends, your community, to yourself, to stay hidden. In the history of the world and for the rest of time, there will never again be another you. You are a once off, completely unique.

The real you awaits within to be found but to get there requires a journey inwards . A boat is at its safest when it is in the harbour but that’s not what it was built to do. We are the same. 
Your journey in will unearth buried truths and unspoken fears.  A new strength will emerge to help you to head into the choppy waters of your painful past. Eventually you will discover a place of peace within yourself, a place that encourages you to head out into the world and live your life fully.  The world will no longer be a frightening place to live in for you.

The most important thing is to take the first step. Please take it.-Conor Cusack

_____________________


For more information and insights on Depression and Incarceration: 

Sermon: What, Me Worry? A Sermon About Depression & Incarceration: Matt. 6:25-34.

Please click the image for the text of Jeff's Sermon from Aug. 24, 2014 at The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport.
___________
 
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director
jgrant@prisonist.org
jg3074@columbia.edu

(o) +1203.769.1096
(m) +1203.339.5887  

Lynn Springer, Advocate, Innocent Spouses & Children
lspringer@prisonist.org
(m) +1203.536.5508

George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
gbresnan@prisonist.org

Michael Karaffa, Advocate, Disabilities
mkaraffa@prisonist.org


___________

Comments from Social Media:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

TEDx SingSing, by Sean Pica - Guest Blogger

Progressive Prison Project 
Innocent Spouse & Children Project 
Greenwich, Connecticut

TEDx SingSing

by Sean Pica - Guest Blogger


We first met Sean Pica, and the wonderful students & graduates of Hudson Link, when they spoke for us at Union Theological Seminary.  In their honor, we hosted a panel on Religion and Prison, a showing of their important movie "Zero Percent," and a midday chapel service featuring a sermon by Union Trustee Petero Sabune, former Chaplain of Sing Sing Prison.  Leading up to their groundbreaking project on Dec. 3rd - TEDx SingSing - to be filmed by director Jonathan Demme - we asked Sean if he would guest blog for prisonist.org. - Jeff

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The night of Friday November 21 was a cold one, but the cold could not damper the excitement of the TEDxSing Sing organizing team, even though the heat in the venue had not yet been turned on! Bryonn Bain and several colleagues from NYU were on their way in to help coach the speakers to make sure their messages came across as powerfully as possible on the big day, December 3. This was the first time some members of the organizing team heard all of the inside speakers’ presentations, and they were blown away. The creativity, charisma, and passion that the speakers displayed ignited our excitement even more.

Bundled in coats, hats, and scarves, we did one run-through before Bryonn and his team arrived.  The organizers and the speakers gave each other feedback, and the MC got a feel for the stage. When Bryonn arrived, the real fun began! He performed some of his incredible poetry to live musical accompaniment, a guitar player and cello player both playing in the background. Sitting in a circle making  art together, it was easy to forget that we were freezing cold, and deep inside a maximum security prison. We transcended our differences in that moment and were simply people, communicating through lyrics and song. Superintendent Capra (who will be speaking on December 3) and his wife stopped by to see how everyone was doing, and both were very impressed by how everything was coming together. We are so lucky to be working with such a supportive and invested administrators like those at Sing Sing.

After the jam session, the real work began. We broke into small groups, with one or two speakers in each group, so everyone would have the chance to receive feedback. Speakers were instructed to find their “offering,” the main take-away from their talk, the big idea they were trying to communicate. All of the speakers knew abstractly why they were talking about their chosen topic, but focusing in on that offering, putting it into words, and connecting it to the core, personal reason that topic was so important to them, unlocked these presenters in an incredible way.  The speakers were already so engaging, but this centering and clarifying gave their presentations a new dimension of passion and confidence.

We left Sing Sing that night feeling such excitement for the day of December 3, and so eager to give these men a platform to offer their valuable ideas to the world. But we also knew that we had already succeeded; through the process of planning TEDxSing Sing collaboratively with incarcerated men, advocates, and members of the community, we had already created the healthy community we would be focusing on on December 3.  



Sean Pica, MSW is the Exec. Director of

Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison 
and Co-Founder of TEDx SingSing. He can be reached at 
(o) 914-941-0794 ext. 12, SPica@hudsonlink.org.
 P.O. Box 862 | Ossining, NY  10562


___________
 
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director
jgrant@prisonist.org
jg3074@columbia.edu

(o) +1203.769.1096
(m) +1203.339.5887
Linked In Twitter  Facebook 

Lynn Springer, Advocate, Innocent Spouses & Children
lspringer@prisonist.org
(m) +1203.536.5508

George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
gbresnan@prisonist.org

Michael Karaffa, Advocate, Disabilities
mkaraffa@prisonist.org

___________

Comments from Social Media:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Material Freedom vs Spiritual Freedom, By Pandit Dasa - Guest Blogger

Progressive Prison Project 
Innocent Spouse & Children Project 
Greenwich, Connecticut


Material Freedom vs.
 Spiritual Freedom
By Pandit Dasa - Guest Blogger 
We invited our friend Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, the Interfaith Chaplain of my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary, to write a guest blog for prisonist.org.  A prolific speaker (TEDx, PBS, NPR) and blogger (Huffington Post), Pandit had never before written and published his thoughts relating to freedom & incarceration. - Jeff
Gadadhara Pandit Dasa
Gadadhara Pandit Dasa
Gadadhara Pandit Dasa
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What does it really mean to be free? Is it just the ability to eat where and when I want? Is it the ability to go where I want, to watch whatever show on television that I want, or just to hang out with friends? To a large degree, it would be safe to define this as freedom.

However, Eastern wisdom tells us that even those who have the freedom to engage in all the activities mentioned above are imprisoned. They are prisoners of their mind and senses. The Bhagavad Gita, the most prominent spiritual text from India explains that we are not the physical body made up of matter. Rather, we are a spirit soul living in this body. Our imprisonment is our forgetfulness of our true identity, which is causing us to identify ourselves with the material body.

It’s a very difficult paradigm to digest, even if you were raised with a belief in the soul.  Basically, it’s telling us that when we’re looking into a mirror, we’re not seeing the real person.  We’re only seeing the exterior covering.  The real person is sitting within the body.  The body is often times described as a vehicle and the soul as the driver.  A vehicle can’t function without the driver.  The soul is seated in a vehicle made not of metal, but of flesh and bones.  The eyes are like the headlights and the arms and legs like the wheels, which allow for motion.

The soul is the spiritual spark that creates consciousness.  It can also be said that it is consciousness.  Without the soul, the body is just a lifeless lump of matter that starts decaying and loses all attractiveness.  We have to admit that no matter how close we were to someone, once the soul leaves the body, we’d prefer not to hang around the body for too long.

Recognition of our spiritual identity doesn’t translate into indifference towards one’s own or others’ bodies.  The body is a very important vehicle.  It can’t be neglected as it serves as the vehicle for the soul and it takes the soul to its next destination.  That destination can either be another material body or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

The other reason, everyone is considered imprisoned is because we all have a mind that is completely out of control.  Hinduism suggests that one cannot be considered a free person, unless they have control of their mind and senses. The mind lives within us and controls our thoughts, emotions and actions. We go to sleep with it every night and we wake up with it every morning. If we're going to spend that much time with someone, doesn't it make sense to develop a friendship with that individual?

The Bhagavad Gita says that the “mind can become one’s best friend or worst enemy.” Too often it’ll force us to act in ways that are detrimental to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

So, Hinduism implores us to make self-realization and God realization the primary goal of our human life. Meditation, prayer, and acts of devotion to God can purify the heart and mind of envy, greed, pride, and anger. Unless these tendencies are removed from our consciousness, there is very little possibility of character reform. It will take commitment and serious dedication to realize that we are not the body or mind and that we are actually servants and friends of the Divine. Spiritual freedom means to reestablish our relationship with the Divine which is the only true source of happiness.





Pandit Dasa is a hindu chaplain at New York University and Union Theological Seminary. Pandit is an author, meditation teacher, inspirational speaker, and lecturer at Columbia University. He has spoken at a TEDx conference and has been featured on PBS, NPR, NY Times, and writes for the Huffington Post. He has spoken at Google, Bank of America, Intel, Novartis, Harvard, Columbia and many other institutions.

In his book, Urban Monk: Exploring Karma, Consciousness, and the Divine, Pandit writes about how he learned to deal with and overcome the loss of his family's multi-million dollar fortunes that left him and his family with next to nothing. Pandit uses his life experience and decades of in-depth studies to assist people in overcoming the various stress factors in their own lives. Pandit's unique approach applies Eastern wisdom and meditation techniques to help the audience gain deeper insight into their mind and understand the reasons we becomes stressed, anxious, and angry. To reach Pandit:
Website
Facebook
Twitter
Linkedin
___________
 
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director
jgrant@prisonist.org

jg3074@columbia.edu
(o) +1203.769.1096
(m) +1203.339.5887

Linked In
Twitter 
Facebook 

Lynn Springer, Advocate, Innocent Spouses & Children
lspringer@prisonist.org
(m) +1203.536.5508

George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
gbresnan@prisonist.org

Michael Karaffa, Advocate, Disabilities
mkaraffa@prisonist.org

___________

Comments from Social Media: 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Big Time: American Justice Summit, JustLeadershipUSA & TEDx SingSing, by Jeff Grant

Progressive Prison Project
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Greenwich, Connecticut

Big Time: American Justice Summit,
JustLeadershipUSA & TEDx SingSing

New York

By Jeff Grant





The stars are aligning for the advancement of criminal justice in this country.  It is not surprising that the light seems to be shining on New York, and spreading out to the rest of the country. Here in neighboring Connecticut, we not only are not only doing significant criminal justice work of our own, we are also honored to be involved and included in these New York milestones. 


On Monday, Nov. 10th, Andrew Kaplan and I attended the American Justice Summit at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.  Babz Rawls Ivy, Andrew and I are the Online Editors for the important new book, The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked The American Dream. We met up with Connecticut criminal justice leaders, Vivien Blackford and Kumar Viswanathan, who are the Chair & Exec. Director, respectively, of the Phoenix Association. The Summit was glorious - it was not only led by of some of the most notable and influential voices in criminal justice today, it was a gathering of the tribe; a place where our community came together to breathe the same air and know that we are not alone in our noble cause.  You can watch the entire Summit on YouTube here.

JustLeadershipUSA’s benefit and launch was held on Weds. evening, Nov. 12th at the Tribeca Rooftop in New York City. Lynn and I had a blast - lots of photos below! It was hosted by its Founder/President Glenn E. Martin (who did an outstanding job speaking at the American Justice Summit), and was chaired by Piper Kerman of Orange is the New Black. Our ministry, the Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse & Children Project was selected to have its work highlighted among fifteen Leaders in Criminal Justice at the JustLeadershipUSA event.  We are humbled and honored.

"I believe that the launching of JustLeadershipUSA will be viewed, one day, by historians and advocates alike as a true game changer: the moment in the emerging movement when formerly incarcerated people finally had a chance to be heard, to organize, and to influence policy in major ways — even though many of them still lacked the right to vote." - Michelle Alexander, Author, The New Jim Crow

TEDx SingSing will be a landmark in New York and American criminal justice history. Dec. 3, 2014.  We are grateful to Sean Pica, Exec. Director of Hudson Link, for inviting us to attend TEDx Sing Sing and bear witness to this groundbreaking event! Check out the speakers here. Counting days till this one.

Here are some photos from our big time this past week.  - Jeff 






 with American Justice Summit panelist, John Wetzel.

with Andrew Kaplan.

P.S. Big Thanks to Community Partners in Action
Hartford, CT, and Family ReEntry, Bridgeport, CT, 
for your support this week! - Jeff
________ 





Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director
jgrant@prisonist.org

jg3074@columbia.edu
(o) +1203.769.1096
(m) +1203.339.5887

Lynn Springer, Advocate, Innocent Spouses & Children
lspringer@prisonist.org
(m) +1203.536.5508

George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
gbresnan@prisonist.org

Michael Karaffa, Advocate, Disabilities
mkaraffa@prisonist.org

___________

Comments from Social Media: 


Non-Profit Executive Director | Energizing Speaker | Author | Strategist

I can still remember taking a delegation from Japan through our dedicated drug prison in Illinois when asked by the interpreter, who pays for this program? When i explained that it was not only very effective in reducing recidivism and paid for by grants, donations, and State funding he just shook his head. He responded this will never work in Japan as they view prison as punishment not a place to help them improve their lives. Over 90% of all those in our prisons will be released some day. If nothing is done, they will just recommit a crime and return. 

Jerry Porricelli 
Personal & Corp Development
Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time - Steve Uzell. It is such a common myth that we can do more than one thing at the same time, people think it is something they ought to do. It's a recipe for disaster.

Tom Dudley 
President/Owner at R Club Productions "88 Keys to Freedom"
I will be at the Sing Sing event I am a music coordinator for Road Recovery's music program there, Hope to meet you

Pastor at Harvest New Life Church
On behalf of Harvest New Life Church we like to extend an open invitation to those of you who like to join us on tonight @ 7 PM We're going to be in the book of PHILEMON

Friday, November 7, 2014

JustLeadershipUSA, By Glenn E. Martin - Guest Blogger

Progressive Prison Project 
Innocent Spouse & Children Project 
Greenwich, Connecticut

JustLeadershipUSA

By Glenn E. Martin - Guest Blogger

JustLeadershipUSA's big launch and benefit is
 coming up on Weds., Nov. 12th in NYC.
  We asked our friend Glenn E. Martin
its leader and visionary - if he would 
contribute something special to prisonist.org.  
He did not disappoint.  - Jeff





Recently, I was invited to serve as a member of NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Reentry and Reintegration Council.  I was both humbled and troubled at once:  I was humbled because as a man whose youthful past includes serving six years in a New York State correctional facility, I recognize how fortunate I am to simultaneously lead JustLeadershipUSA (www.justleadershipusa.org), serve on a number of non-profit Boards, wear various other leadership hats and speak as a member of several different communities. I was troubled because so many formerly incarcerated people—in fact the vast majority—has never had the opportunity to develop their potential.  The creation and launch of JustLeadershipUSA is my attempt to end that pattern of alienation and oppression now.

For me, exiting prison in 2000 was a rebirth.  I wanted to be great.  I knew I was developing a distinct voice that if fully realized, would become resounding enough to make a difference.  But where was my platform?  And even if such a proverbial platform existed, how would it develop?  So began my journey.

Much of what I’ve accomplished thus far can be attributed to the compassion and generosity of my friends, family and colleagues, self-education, leadership training, sound mentoring and exposure to opportunity.  Periods of reflection have allowed me to be both appreciative of my achievements and critical of the many barriers that have surfaced along the way.

JustLeadershipUSA is the culmination of such reflection. We are dedicated to cutting the US prison population in half by 2030 while reducing crime. JustLeaderhipUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform.  To realize our vision and achieve our goals, we develop and support formerly incarcerated leaders, build and sustain an engaged national membership and rive policy advocacy efforts on the federal, state and local levels.  The idea that communities and individuals impacted by incarceration and our criminal justice system will now have a formal space dedicated to tapping their potential to become leaders in reform efforts brings me hope that we will finally achieve deep, sustainable change in our criminal justice system.

I carefully considered the principles that must guide such an organization. JustLeadershipUSA has learned a great deal from the vast criminal justice institutes, think tanks and social service programs that currently exist.  However, it also dares to put new and authentic drivers in the seat of the reform locomotive.  It is time for those closest to the problem to rise up and lead us all down the path out of our problems.  No community wants, or needs, true reform to occur more than the ones directly impacted by a failed criminal justice system.  Why, then, are we not seeking their advice about what needs to change, where we can improve, and what strategies do we need to implement to actually see such change?

50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King’s "I Have A Dream" speech, America has gradually expanded the definition of justice and civil rights. Led by King's vision, and the sweat of many other social engineers, many groups that were once disenfranchised and ignored now have a place behind the podium. One's sexual orientation, gender identification, ethnicity, or immigration status does not automatically preclude one from playing a significant role in one's destiny.

Yet 50 years after that emblazoned speech, many continue to selectively downplay the fact that King—the Reverend...the Doctor...the peacemaker—was also, at various points in his life, a man behind bars.  He was exposed to the brutality of prison life and relegated to a number, with no regard for his name or stature.  It was behind bars that he wrote the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” where he stated the following:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."

JustLeadershipUSA is not an expansion, but a recognition of King's vision of a nation composed of equally empowered citizens.  Our incarceration system was built on the flawed thinking that "lock 'em up and throw away the key" would solve all of our public safety problems.  But as King insightfully highlighted, we are all patches in this quilt called America, woven together by both our victories and our injustices.  Repositioning the patches of the millions of Americans impacted by the criminal justice system is JustLeadershipUSA's "call to action," and an important step toward his dream being realized.

I acknowledge that my success is also tied to my failures; that I am invited to circles largely because to many of my colleagues I represent an “exception,” rather than the rule.  But my life is dedicated to changing what we have accepted as the “norm.”  JustLeadershipUSA seeks to provide a space for those for whom society has no room; time for those for whom we have no time; a voice for those whose cries have been muffled and muted.  JustLeadershipUSA aims to serve as a vehicle for millions who aim for the same rights and opportunities as their fellow Americans: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We can no longer incarcerate millions of human beings without examining ourselves and the cultural, societal and public policies that created the mass incarceration complex in the United States. Nor can we continue to claim to be the land of opportunity while implementing policies to ensure that opportunity eludes so many.    It is time for all to dare to create sustainable change in how we define and administer justice in America.  To that end, we look forward to working with you and hope you will join us by clicking here to join our membership.  United Purpose, United Voice, United Power.  #halfby2030  @glennEmartin



GLENN E. MARTIN is the Founder and Chief Risk Taker of JustLeadershipUSA. (JLUSA). Glenn is a national leader and criminal justice reform advocate who spent six years in New York State prisons. Prior to founding JLUSA, Glenn served for seven years as Vice President of Development and Public Affairs at The Fortune Society and six years as Co-Director of the National HIRE Network at the Legal Action Center.

Glenn is Co-Founder of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, a 2014 Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellow, a 2012 America’s Leaders of Change National Urban Fellow, and a member of the governing boards of the College and Community Fellowship, Prisoners’ Legal Services, the Petey Greene Program, the Reset Foundation, the New York Foundation, and California Partnership for Safe Communities.

Glenn also serves on the advisory board of the Vera Institute’s Public Health and Mass Incarceration Initiative, the National Network for Safe Communities and the Executive Session on Community Corrections at Harvard Kennedy School. Glenn regularly contributes his expertise to national news outlets such as MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, Al Jazeera and CSPAN on topics such as policing, decarceration, alternatives to incarceration, and reentry issues.

________

Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director
jgrant@prisonist.org

jg3074@columbia.edu
(o) +1203.769.1096
(m) +1203.339.5887

Lynn Springer, Advocate, Innocent Spouses & Children
lspringer@prisonist.org
(m) +1203.536.5508

George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
gbresnan@prisonist.org

Michael Karaffa, Advocate, Disabilities
mkaraffa@prisonist.org


Are Victims' Rights and Prisoner Redemption Compatible? By Brian E. Moran, Esq.

Progressive Prison Project 
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Greenwich, Connecticut


Are Victims' Rights and 
Prisoner Redemption Compatible? 

By Brian E. Moran, Esq.

Brian E. Moran


As I travel across Connecticut advocating in favor of right-sizing our prison system, I have encountered audience members who question what prison reform will do for victims.

I am quick to point out that the recent book on which I served as the lead writer, "The Justice Imperative -- How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked The American Dream," is dedicated to "all those who selflessly work in our criminal justice and correction system for the rights of victims, the protection of the public and the rehabilitation of offenders."
I do not see victim advocates and prisoner advocates as interest groups necessarily in conflict with one another. I also respond by noting that (1) The book does not advocate for the early release of violent offenders or those who pose an undue risk to public safety; (2) We recommend taking 3 percent of the cost savings from right-sizing and investing it in a victims fund to pay for counseling and treatment of victims and educational scholarships for family members of victims; and (3) Many of those currently incarcerated are themselves the victims of physical and sexual abuse, particularly women inmates.

Indeed, as we note in "The Justice Imperative," the "typical female inmate in the United States is a woman of color in her early 30s, convicted of a drug or drug-related offense. She is likely to come from a family whose members are caught up in the criminal justice system. She is apt to be a survivor of physical and sexual abuse, both as a child and as an adult. She has significant substance abuse, as well as physical and mental health issues. She has a GED, but only limited non-vocational training and a spotty work history."

I sense, however, that the foregoing response is inadequate. It seems insufficiently empathetic with the anguish felt by victims of heinous crimes. While I have been mugged at knifepoint, I have not suffered a grievous personal loss to violent crime. Thus, I do not believe I can speak to the agony felt by those who have suffered the loss of a loved one.

Nevertheless, I do not regard compassion for victims and affording offenders an opportunity for redemption and reintegration into society as antithetical. When it comes to corrections, our policy choices should be driven largely by what makes economic sense and what works, bearing in mind that public safety is paramount. That said, as a society we should aspire to a system that provides a path for offenders to seek redemption.

Forgiveness is another matter. It should rest within the exclusive province of the victim. The exclusivity of such prerogative is what imbues forgiveness with incredible healing power. I recently read a remarkable book that speaks to the power of forgiveness. The book, "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst The Rwandan Holocaust," was written by Imaculee Ilibagiza, the 2007 winner of the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace.

Imaculee, a Roman Catholic Tutsi, survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide by hiding in a tiny concealed bathroom (3 feet long by 4 feet wide) in a Hutu minister's home. She hid there with seven other Tutsi women for 91 days; there were several times when the women were almost discovered.
As she and the other women hid, her parents were slaughtered and her two brothers were tortured and killed. The perpetrators were neighbors with whom Imaculee grew up and was friendly. An older brother studying in Senegal was her only family member who survived. Following her escape, Imaculee learned the identity of her family's killers. Eventually, she visited them in prison and forgave them.

A few years ago, I visited Robbin Island in South Africa. I saw the conditions under which Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years. Mandela, like Imaculee, forgave his captors. As he describes it, such forgiveness had a remarkable effect not only on those who caused him harm, but also on Mandela. He did not feel truly free from his long ordeal until he forgave his transgressors.

The stories of Imaculee and Nelson Mandela reinforce my belief that any system of criminal justice and corrections must not only make sense from an economic and public safety standpoint, but should strive to be humane to both victims and offenders. As New Canaan resident William J. Fox, Director of The Malta Justice Initiative, has written, "(b)y recognizing the human dignity of all offenders and enabling them to realize redemption and restore their relationships within the community, all of society is ennobled."

Brian E. Moran of New Canaan is an attorney with Robinson + Cole in Stamford.

"The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked The American Dream" can be purchased at Amazon.com
 
 Reprinted From The Stamford Advocate, Thurs. Nov. 6, 2014
________


Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director
jgrant@prisonist.org
jg3074@columbia.edu
(o) +1203.769.1096
(m) +1203.339.5887

Lynn Springer, Advocate, Innocent Spouses & Children
lspringer@prisonist.org
(m) +1203.536.5508

George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
gbresnan@prisonist.org

Michael Karaffa, Advocate, Disabilities
mkaraffa@prisonist.org