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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Soccer, Brazil & Mass Incarceration, by John Ruane, Filmmaker, 11-time Emmy Winner & Guest Blogger

Progressive Prison Project

Innocent Spouse & Children Project

Greenwich I Weston I Bridgeport

Connecticut 

Soccer, Brazil & Mass Incarceration
By John Ruane, Filmmaker, 
11-time Emmy Winner & Guest Blogger




 It has always been our goal for prisonist.org to become a mosaic of stories relating to issues of mass incarceration.  We are thrilled that 11-time Emmy winner John Ruane has shared part of his story with us. - Jeff 
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As a filmmaker, my responsibility is to pose insightful questions and let the story reveal the outcome.  

What do Brazil, soccer, mass incarceration and filmmaking have to do with each other? 

 Everything. It is only through the willingness to examine our lives, find the common threads that bind us, and speak the truth fearlessly that anything ever gets changed. The voice in the wilderness braying about the pain of a loved one deprived of freedom is the same voice that cries out for identification with something greater, whether it be a soccer club like Corinthians in São Paulo or a consumer product brand such as Prada or Rolex. Somewhere amidst the morass of human needs and wants we may find the kernels of civility and brotherhood that can lift us all up.

Brazil has seen a 67.5% increase in its rate of incarceration in the last 10 years. Counting those under house arrest, Brazil is the 3rd most incarcerated country in the world, after the US and China.

Does everything in Brazil relate to poverty?


Brazil has the widest income disparity of any country in the world, a condition extending as far back as the European colonization and slavery. People incarcerated by poverty exist in plain sight. Like the US, the problem includes the targeting of young black men in poor neighborhoods by police, the unjust result of fear, poverty, and the “otherness” of people who happen to have a particular skin pigment. The US and Brazil seem to be in agreement as to who gets locked away.

Income disparity is another growing problem in Brazil (as is true in the US).  My simplified view is this: the mechanism for increasing income disparity is the ever increasing concentration of wealth, knowledge, resources, and control of institutions by a few individuals and corporations that are stuck on the myth that return of of value to the shareholder is supreme. It is, only if we make it so in practice. I submit that this value is relatively new, maybe 40-50 years old. It might be true that we need corporations to create wealth. But we do not need, nor are new generations going to support , those corporations whose narrow definition of profit contributes to dis-using employees, the natural environment, and blankly ignores poverty in our midst.

We surmise that the core problem of poverty is so enormous, both in the US and Brazil, that there exists a tantalizing tendency to get comfortable with abject poverty by conceptualizing individuals within impoverished populations as “others”, i.e., as somehow less than human. We are seduced into accepting the philosophy: “it has always been this way and always will be…”. 

The fact is (and we should welcome this debate) that there are enough resources on the planet that there need be no hunger. I am one who believes that technology can serve the greater good. The capacity exists to eliminate hunger and treat each human life as precious. What holds us back is the perception that the good life is a zero-sum game and “I better get mine while I can.”

Why is a filmmaker who is focused on Brazilian soccer and culture railing here about poverty, oppression, incarceration, and racism?


Why not just keep to sports? The answer is simple. The only thing we do worthwhile why on this planet is give another human being a lift up. Everything else is transitory and will crumble to meaninglessness against the inevitability of our own transition from this world. Others will disagree. But let’s not stop there.  What can see eye to eye?

My films illuminate the one thing that most Brazilians agree about — the importance of soccer. By contrast, in the U.S,  we are most likely to find universal agreement about a different thing that is important - money. Finding common ground is a negotiation that begins with the willingness to find the things that we see eye to eye.

Brazil has historically looked to the US for inspiration, from the pursuit of civil rights to jazz music. But the US has let Brazil down. At exactly the time in US history that students, blacks, and people of conscience were fueling the civil rights movement,the US explicitly supported the latest oppressive regime in Brazil, a military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964-1985.

Today, although it has been declared dead,  the US continues to exert the Monroe Doctrine around the world. It is self-interest that governs. Like corporations that fail to see that they may even increase their profit by broadening its definition, the US lets the world down by exerting its influence and defending principles that result in shortages, starvation, and hoarding of resources. We defend the right of a sovereign nation, corporation, or individual to concentrate money and power to benefit a few.  Looked at from the perspective of “have nots”, the US has institutionalized corruption; we’ve made corruption legitimate by dressing it up with fancy legal arguments, underpinning it with flawed doctrines,  or when challenged, we undertake clandestine activity treating “others” as far “less than.“ We think of ourselves as superior moral beings.  Yet, no wonder that much of the world sees as as bullies, or worse.

Mass incarceration is just one of the social ills that the vast majority of US citizens seem willing to overlook because of their own fear and hubris. This is unlikely to change much until there is a critical mass of citizenry that is organized and mobilized to press for policies that treat all people as intrinsically valuable and equal.  How this can be achieved is a weighty question.  Will it, for example, develop from a realization that a requirement that universal public service, including military service, by all citizens is a necessary mechanism for leveling the population and affirming that there is something more valuable and precious than what we can grab for ourselves? Will the anguish of poverty be eased only when there is a collective recognition that huge disparity of income is perhaps the primary source of animus, fear and disharmony?

All of these admittedly broad strokes of commentary beg the question of whether our films are going to be one big polemic? 


The answer is no because we know that our purpose is to both entertain, inform, and maybe even inspire our audience of soccer and indie film fans. Will our work be controversial? Maybe. Will it be truthful? Yes. Will the filmmakers be consciously engaged in continual “self-checking” to identify our own buried biases, assumptions and impulse to objectify populations as “other’, as less than human? Yes. Why? Because self-criticism is part of our core values; it is essential to telling stories that touch the center of the human heart. Revealing the truth of our stories, whoever that leads, is an opportunity to bring forth the emotional response that audiences crave in a good story. We are storytellers.

The fact of the matter is that all marketing too is storytelling. In business, we seek to “connect” with our customers or connect our customers to the brand. Storytelling, with all its emotionally impactful techniques, from music to stirring images, to ego appeal, can be used for good or for ill.  Self-serving interests can be subtly or not so subtly achieved by pulling the wool over the eyes of large groups of people. It happens every day.

My opinion on mass incarceration may or may not resonate with this constituency. (In my view, mass incarceration is a problem we can solve with the political will to invest in our society and infrastructure.)  Our films may challenge or confirm conventional beliefs about incarceration or other socially significant issues. But, above all, they will tell stories that captivate the audience because without that quality we might as well be whistling in the wind.

Our goal is to tell the truth in as unbiased a way as we can achieve - to tell stories with passionate connection to the stories we tell.with emotional resonance, whether we are telling a story about Brazilian soccer, or poverty/mass incarceration, or the relationship between the two - and what the future may hold for both. 

 
John Ruane is an 11-time Emmy Award winner with over 30 years of experience as a media business executive, independent producer, and entrepreneur - including 20 years with NBC Sports. During his career, John has broadcast thousands of hours of live and recorded sports and news programming. He has traveled extensively around the world covering major events such as the Olympic Games, Wimbledon, the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the NBA Finals, to name a few. 


Beautiful Game will be an independent production. This means that it will not be constrained or influenced by the kinds of strategic business ties that major media companies have with sponsors and conservative political entities, so truth-telling will be possible and themes can be developed that reach beyond the  sanctioned and acceptable pablum that passes for sports storytelling from “official” sources. To reach John Ruane: jruane1@gmail.com. Link: Beautiful Game crowdfunding initiative

__________


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


______


__________

Donations

We are grateful for donations from individuals, religious groups, charities, foundations and the like. Donations can be made by credit card/PayPal or by sending your check payable to: “Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc.” P.O. Box 1232, Weston, Connecticut 06883. Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse & Children Project are missions of Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc. We are a CT Religious Corp. with 501c3 status - all donations are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. Thank you for your support and generosity.


If transformation and redemption matter to you, a friend or a family member with a white-collar or nonviolent incarceration issue, please contact us and we will promptly send you an information package by mail, email or via Dropbox. The darkest days of a person's life can be a time of renewal and hope.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Upcoming Events: Spring 2015

Progressive Prison Project
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Greenwich I Weston I Bridgeport
Connecticut


Upcoming Events: Spring 2015

We want to bring to your attention the important line-up
of mass incarceration related events for Spring '15. We welcome your submission of others. - Jeff


Michelle Alexander at Union Theological Seminary, Weds., Mar. 4, 6:30 pm



 

 

 

 

 

 



The Institute from Women, Religion and Globalization at our alma mater, Union Theological Seminary presents: Fifth Annual Judith Davidson Moyers Women of Spirit Lecture featuring author, advocate, and civil rights lawyer, Michelle Alexander.  Alexander is the author of the best selling book The New Jim Crow. Registration is required.  RSVP to kmcgee@uts.columbia.edu or call (212) 280-1590.

Nell Bernstein, Author of Burning Down The House, Mark Twain Museum, Hartford, Mar. 5, 2015
Event: Nell Bernstein, Author of Burning Down The House, Mark Twain Museum, Hartford, Mar. 5, 2015
Award-winning journalist Nell Bernstein will be interviewed by WNPR’s John Dankosky for a conversation that explores this controversial issue and discusses alternative community programs that support the child and their family. Tickets are $20 which includes a light supper reception from 5:30 p.m. Sponsored with Community Partners in Action and the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance. Click image for more info.
Fourth Annual Bridgeport Reentry Awards, Fri., Mar. 27, 2015, 5 - 7:30 pm
Event: Fourth Annual Bridgeport Reentry Awards, Fri., Mar. 27, 2015, 5 - 7:30 pm.
Presented by the Bridgeport Reentry Collaborative at Housatonic Community College. Click image for more info.
 
Children Of Incarcerated Parents Conference, East Hartford, CT, Fri., April 24, 2015
Event: Keynote At Children Of Incarcerated Parents Conference, East Hartford, CT, April 24, 2015
Jeff is honored to be Keynote Speaker for the 2015 Reach Healthy Kids Conference, Conference Topic, "Sounding the Siren for Children with Incarcerated Parents: Pulling Together to Break the Cycle of Generational Incarceration." Sponsored by REACH Training Healthy Children Initiative and East Hartford Youth Services. Click image for more information.

Faith Beyond Bars & Beyond Conference, Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, CT, Sat., April 25, 2015

 


 

 

The topic for this year's Faith Behind Bars & Beyond conference is "Re-Entry and Reunion: Adjusting to Coming Home."  This year's Keynote Speaker is Connecticut Commissioner of Corrections Scott Semple.  We were the lead-off speaker at last year's conference and found it to be a fulfilling event.  This year's conference promises to be an important and informative day.

Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" & A White-Collar Panel in Greenwich, Sat., May 2, 2015, 4-7 pm
Event: Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" & A White-Collar Panel in Greenwich, Sat., May 2, 2015, 4-7 pm.
Christ Church Greenwich and the Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse & Children Project will co-host a screening of Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," followed by a panel of persons convicted of white-collar crimes and their families (the first time in history). A discussion about compassion & empathy toward people in our community. We are in the process of selecting panelists who will reveal their authentic struggles and successes, and be prepared to answer all your questions. Click image for more information.
 
Danny Glover in Bridgeport. Presented By Family ReEntry, Weds., May 6, 2015, 7 pm
Event: Danny Glover in Bridgeport. Presented By Family ReEntry, Weds., May 6, 2015, 7 pm.
Family ReEntry's presents Mass Incarceration & Racial Disparity, Featuring Acclaimed Actor & Leading Social Activist, Danny Glover. Danny will be interviewed by Connecticut's own WNPR radio host & commentator, Colin McEnroe. Rev. Jeff Grant will serve as Host & emcee. There will also be a panel of notable CT criminal justice experts and a media presentation. Weds. May 6, 2015, 7 pm, The Klein, Bridgeport, CT. For sponsor packet & info, contact Jeffrey Earls, jeffreyearls@familyreentry.org, (203) 290-0865. Click image for short video.

RENEW 2015: Correctional Minstry Summit, Wheaton College, IL, Fri., May 29, 2015, 10 am
Event: RENEW 2015: Correctional Minstry Summit, Wheaton College, IL, May 28-30, 2015
We will be presenting at the CMCA Summit, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College, IL. This is a three-day conference, May 28-30, 2015.  Our workshop will be held on Fri., May 29th at 10 am. Workshop topic: "Bringing Together Communities Suffering From Incarceration Issues: Inner City, White Collar and Nonviolent. A Christian Approach." Click image for more details and to order tickets.

Hudson Link/Mercy College Graduation, Sing Sing Correctional Facility, June 3, 2015
Event: Hudson Link/Nyack College Graduation, Fishkill Corrrectional Facility, Thurs., Jan. 22, 2015
Lynn and I are honored to be attending the graduation ceremony of inmates who have completed their college degrees behind bars! Click image for more info.

__________


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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Suburbia, by Jeff Grant: An Excerpt from Last Stop Babylon


Progressive Prison Project

Innocent Spouse & Children Project

Greenwich-Weston-Bridgeport

Connecticut


"Suburbia," An Excerpt from
Last Stop Babylon: 
The Art of Surviving Prison 

by Jeff Grant


This excerpt chronicles my first day at Allenwood Federal Correctional Institution in White Deer, Pennsylvania. Your thoughts and comments are appreciated. - Jeff


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I pulled on my sweatshirt and realized just how cold it was.  It was freezing down this end of the hall.  Suburbia they called it.  It was the most sought after section of the unit.  Far from prying eyes.  Far from the glaring lights and acrid smells of the bathroom.  Far from the incessant screaming in the television room that could last until midnight.  But also far from the furnace that cranked out insufficient heat to make it down to this distant end of the unit on very cold Pennsylvania mornings.



Out the windows from my upper bunk I could see farmhouses in the distance, windows aglow with the soft light from their fireplaces.  The smoke rose from their chimneys in streams of white until it spread out into a haze mixing with the otherwise flawless starry sky.  The lights turned on one at a time with people that I imagined were awakening for all kinds of reasons.  It was Sunday, and they would be having big family breakfasts.  In a couple of hours they would be going off to church.  This was Amish and Mennonite country, so maybe they would be driving horse drawn carriages to church.  Route 15, the other roads and the churches were not visible to us - they were purposefully hidden around bends in hills and mountains apart from our eyes.  Or, more likely, we were purposefully hidden away from theirs.  The mountains stretched as far as my eyes could see.  In some ways, it was the loveliest spot I’d ever seen. Two mountain ranges on either side of the valley made a majestic backdrop every time a storm rolled in, or as jets flew overhead.  I could time the jets as they flew westward in the mornings, full of businessmen and their promise of glory for the day.  And as they flew home again in the evening, on wings of victory or perhaps empty disappointment.  I dreamt about flying home too.  Or about life as it was before.



I knew I had very little time to spare - maybe an hour to write my letters before the others woke up and needed to share my space by the window at the end of the hall.  First it was the yoga and stretching guys who went through their exercises quietly.  They laid down towels and engaged in an incredibly disciplined daily routine.  It was all about routine there as I’d learned and mine was no exception.  Everyday was like every other day – it was what kept us sane.  Kept me sane.  They say that the hardest parts of a prison bid are the beginning and the end, and this was certainly true for me.  The middle was just a string of Groundhog Days - each day pretty much like the next.  So much so that anything that interfered was an unwelcome distraction.  



After the exercise guys came the Muslims who needed room at the end of the hall to lay down their prayer mats.  The window was on the eastern wall.  Their purpose trumped mine so each morning I silently retreated and gave them their space.  They prayed five times a day, the first time at the end of the hall at about 5:30 in the morning.  Their seven or eight colorful mats tucked close together were a stark contrast to the dull, drab and dark hall.  Shoulder to shoulder they bowed and prayed in unison.  In five minutes’ time they were finished and the hall was mine again. 



Everything was on prison time - so the exercise guys, the Muslims and I had to adjust our schedules to fit the institution clock.  When the doors opened at 6 a.m. for breakfast, we all had to be ready.  The doors waited for nobody.  The prison was on controlled movements, which meant that the doors of the unit opened at the bottom of the hour for ten minutes, except for mealtimes when the doors stayed open until the meal was over.  There were paths to cross the compound to get to the other buildings, such as the library, recreation, dining hall and commissary.  We had ten minutes to get to the other side.  If we were late, or got caught in the compound when the doors closed, we were likely brought to the Head Lieutenant’s office.  From there, it was his decision whether or not we would be thrown into the SHU - the Segregated Housing Unit. Solitary Confinement.

____________________________



I spent some time in the SHU when I first arrived at Allenwood.   I reported on Easter Sunday, 2006 - none were too pleased to process an intake on Easter Sunday.  But my sentencing judge had ordered me to self-surrender at the prison on that day.  My friends Tom and Alexis had driven me out to Central Pennsylvania from Connecticut.  It was a nice relaxed car ride - I spoke to my kids and some friends on the way.  We had some laughs and a cry or two.  We pulled over in a cornfield across the street from the prison complex to share a prayer together.  I certainly wasn’t a religious person at the time, but my four years in Alcoholics Anonymous were percolating with every prayer we could muster just about then.  Across the street the complex was huge.  There were four prisons inside the gates of the outer complex - had guard towers and patrol cars.  The low security prison to which I was designated was toward the outside - it was staring right at us.  Nothing looked particularly “low” about it.  It had two fences with sets of razor wire circling it.  As we drove inside, I got that tingling, vertigo-type feeling in the back of my knees that I get whenever I get to close to something dangerous.



The building was mildly attractive, as was the entire complex.  It looked kind of like the Long Island Railroad station where I grew up in Merrick, Long Island.  It was Arts & crafts style, made out of cement block and lots of metal - a 1970’s design concept that somehow looked more modern then than when it was built.  We walked into the lobby and I gave my name kind of like I was checking in to a hotel.  Tom and I were asked to have a seat.  About fifteen minutes later a guard came out and asked me what I was doing there on Easter Sunday.  I showed him my court orders – he did not look happy.  Nonetheless, he was pleasant as he asked Tom to leave.  I hugged Tom good-bye and went with the guard as then escorted me through a metal door.  From one moment to the next my life changed forever.



As we went through the door he spun me around, held my hands behind my back and slapped handcuffs on them.  I had been anticipating this moment for over a year and not once did I consider that I would have to be handcuffed.  At that moment I had my first inkling of how little I knew about surviving in prison – and what a naïve I guy I really was.  I was escorted to a bulletproof glass teller’s cage behind which was a guard who asked me for my “register number.”  I had no idea what that was - I’d never heard that term before.  He asked me for it again and when I didn’t know he came out and taped a number on my clothes.  That was my Federal Bureau of Prisons register number, and it became my identity for the next fourteen months.



I was next brought to a section called R & D - Receiving & Discharge - and it felt very much like its title - a place for FedEx packages.  I was processed and then told to strip naked. They took all my clothes and put them in a box to ship back home.  While I was standing naked in this cold room, on a cold cement floor, a man entered who I would later learn was the Head Lieutenant.  He basically ran the day-to-day operations of the prison.  He looked me up and down, and then asked me if I was the lawyer.  I told him no, but that I used to be one.  He seemed pleased with that answer.  He then told me that there were 1500 men on his compound, and I was to be the only lawyer.  There were some jailhouse lawyers working out of the library. He told me that I’d have no problems on his compound if I stayed out of other people’s legal business and I took no money or favors from another inmate.  He told me that I was a short-stayer and he suggested I just do my time and go home without a problem.  He asked me what I thought of that?  I was standing there naked.  I told him that making a few dollars from other inmates was the last thing on my mind.  We got along famously.



Soon, I was given an orange jump suit to put on, re-cuffed and was marched across the compound to the SHU.  It was a time-honored tradition at Allenwood to hoot and holler at new inductees as they were being led through the compound to the SHU on their first day.  I certainly didn’t understand why people were hollering at me.  The guards never told me where I was going or why.  As I later learned, the only information I ever get in prison was from the other inmates, and I couldn’t believe half of that. So working through the information process was basically sifting through, trying to get “reliable” resources, and hoping that where they got their information was reliable too.  As the saying went, in prison believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.  That afternoon, I was a guy in an orange jump suit walking across a prison yard trying to rely upon some of my senses that were failing me rapidly.



When I got to the SHU, it looked like something out of the worst prison movie I had ever seen - it was dark and dimly lit, with rows of metal doors with tiny holes in them.  I was put in a rubber lined holding cell, re-stripped and re-searched.  I guess when they were satisfied that I hadn’t picked up any weapons or contraband in the 300-foot walk from R & D I was brought to a small cell and led inside.  I was never told where I was or why I was there.  I didn’t know if this was what the entire prison was like, if it was a holding area, or how long I would be there.  I was just put in the cell.  Inside the cell was a narrow bunk bed - barely wide enough for a grown man’s shoulders - a combination toilet and sink, a desk and a chair.  And there I met my first cellie - a black man, around 50 years old, with dreadlocks down to his waist.  When I came in, he didn’t smile, didn’t acknowledge my presence at all.  He just pointed to the upper bunk.  I understood - that was mine.



His first words came about ten minutes later when he told me to move fast.  The sound of a cart moving down the hall meant we had no time to lose.  The slot on the metal cell door opened, kind of fell down to the hallway side with a big clang, and quickly, very quickly, four covered trays of food slid in through the slot.  I understood what he meant by moving fast.  If we didn’t catch the trays they would have dropped to the ground and the food would have spilled all over. He caught each tray and quickly handed them to me. I put them on the desk. We sat on the floor, dividing the dinner between us.  I had already decided that I was going to lose the forty pounds I had put on in the months I was waiting to go to prison.  I looked in the trays, and saw there was a little meat of some sort, and lots of bread, potatoes and rice. Starches were apparently the mainstay of the diet - I asked him if he wanted my potatoes and rice.  We became friends in no time.  His name was Raoul.



Almost everybody who came to Allenwood was first brought to the SHU, Raoul explained.  The party line was that they were waiting for a bed to open on the compound, and I found that might have been true to a large extent.  The prison was very crowded, much more crowded than what it was designed for.  So the SHU was used for extra beds.  It’s one reason we didn’t want to be disciplined by a guard – they had an incentive to give our beds on the compound to someone whose been waiting in the SHU for a month.  And it was a way of soothing the savage beasts.  Inmates were being transported from to and from other prisons - sometimes they were on the road for as much a ninety days.  It was called diesel therapy.  In each stop they would get put into a SHU and not into general population.  There was no way to know how long I’d be in the SHU, but Raoul suspected that I wouldn’t have to wait long: first timer, middle age, and most importantly, white.   I later learned that some inmates are kept in the SHU “waiting for a bed” thirty days or longer.  I only had to wait 16 hours before I was released onto the compound.



I was shoved out the door of the SHU without any other instructions than to report directly to the laundry.  It was about nine o’clock in the morning, bright daylight, and my eyes were trying to refocus after having been in a dungeon for the past day or so.  The light was blinding.  I was wandering around in a completely empty compound - there was not a single soul it in except me.  I had no idea that the compound was closed, what that meant, where I was or where the laundry was located.  Of course, my orange jumpsuit was a dead give away that I was coming from the SHU and heading to the laundry.  Where else would a guy in an orange jumpsuit be heading?  A guard was kind enough to point enough to point me in the right direction – I think it was through a bullhorn.



The laundry was located at the far end of the compound, next to the commissary and dining hall.  Once I got the lay of the land, which took me awhile, the layout of the prison kind of made sense.  Things that needed to have loading docks and daily deliveries were grouped together.  They were also strategically located close to trash receptacles.  I had a lot of time to think about these things.  



I got to the laundry and knocked on the big metal industrial door – my big rap was much louder than I intended.  The door opened a sliver and a head popped out to tell me that I would have to wait for the move before I could gain entry.  I had no idea what that meant, but after the door closed there was no way that I was going to knock on that door again.  In about fifteen minutes, a siren went off and people started scurrying around all over the place.  This, I understood, was the move.  The door popped open, I stepped inside and I was first in line.  I presented the clerk with the papers I had been given in the SHU – he sized me up for a uniform, t-shirts, shoes, a laundry bag, duffel, sheets, blanket, towels, a soap kit, and just about everything I would need to make my stay at Allenwood complete.  Labels were ironed onto the front of my uniforms.   I was told to try everything on because once issued, I was stuck with it.  I looked like Gomer Pyle, the shoes hurt already.  But who was I to complain?  This was not a fashion show.



At the next move, I threw my duffel over my shoulder and followed the clerk’s instructions to report to my unit that was, of course, the farthest one on the other side of the compound.  As I passed each unit, it appeared to me that they were named after counties or towns in Pennsylvania - a nice touch.  I arrived at my unit in under ten minutes - Union A.  I walked in the front door and came upon a lot of hustle and bustle.  The guard station was right up in front.  I presented my papers to the guard who looked me up and down, checked my register number and then showed me to an empty upper bunk in Cube 25. 


Union A, Cube 25, Upper Bunk would be home for the next thirteen and a half months.
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Excerpts from "Last Stop Babylon"

 posted on prisonist.org:

December 28, 2014 - "Dedication"

March 10, 2014- "Momento", 

April 17, 2014 - "Respect",  

May 1, 2014 - "Fog Day

__________



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



__________

Donations

We are grateful for donations from individuals, religious groups, charities, foundations and the like. Donations can be made by credit card/PayPal or by sending your check payable to: “Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc.” P.O. Box 1232, Weston, Connecticut 06883. Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse & Children Project are missions of Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc. We are a CT Religious Corp. with 501c3 status - all donations are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. Thank you for your support and generosity.


If transformation and redemption matter to you, a friend or a family member with a white-collar or nonviolent incarceration issue, please contact us and we will promptly send you an information package by mail, email or via Dropbox. The darkest days of a person's life can be a time of renewal and hope.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Life Without Mom, By Steve Brase - Guest Blogger


Progressive Prison Project

Innocent Spouse & Children Project

Greenwich-Weston-Bridgeport

Connecticut


Life Without Mom

By Steve Brase - Guest Blogger



Steve and Kelly Brase first came to our attention because of their blog's name,"Orange is the New Blog."  Kelly is serving a three-year prison sentence & writes of her experiences from prison, even as life has changed significantly for Steve and their two children at home in California. We asked Steve to share his story with prisonist.org in our mission to bring compassion and light to people who suffer in silence. - Jeff
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My name is Steve Brase, on 9/23/14, my Wife (Kelly) was sentenced to a 3 year stay in the California Department of Corrections. She leaves behind our Son (12), our Daughter (18), along with myself.

3 months leading up to her sentencing was a roller coaster of emotions. There were 3-4 continuances and a suicide attempt that landed Kelly in a hospital. Kelly’s flawed mental state at that time thought that we would be better off financially if she weren’t around. This was devastating to us. These were extremely dark days for our family. We were very thankful that she was found and hospitalized. She was able to start the treatment she needed so badly.

When she was sentenced, it was sad but also a relieved feeling. We had been through so much already. It felt good to get that part of the process over. But, little did we know, how hard it would be.

The first few days after sentencing, my family was just numb. After the numb feeling faded, the hurt came in. My Daughter shut down. Didn’t want to be at home much. Her Mom was her best friend. Her rock. She felt like she had no one to talk to. I attempted to talk to her, but in reality, I’m just not Mom. I try and quite honestly, I would do anything for her to feel happy again. My Son was very confused. He understood that Mom is gone for a while. But, he has no idea how 3 years will feel. He seems to be handling it well. But, I do know, that when things get quiet around him, he will be thinking about Mom. How can he not ? I have seen him in the backseat of our car staring out the window while I’m driving. I know what he’s thinking about. Sometimes he will share and other times not. We do talk about Kelly a lot. It’s always a nice conversation. He holds onto the promises that his Mom has told him on all the things they will do when she gets home. I know Kel and she will definitely keep all of them.

You know, since all this has happened, I have changed tremendously. I never think of myself first anymore. I am so concerned with attempting to keep a stable home life for my kids, keeping the lights on, and food on the table. It has been a struggle. But, I’m getting there. I believe my cooking skills have been getting better ! To hear a “mmm, that’s really good Dad” really keeps me going. It’s the little things. I do believe that my kids and I have gotten closer. My Daughter still isn’t home much, but we communicate well. Even attending a group therapy a couple of times a month. I realize how hard it is and I do feel very bad for her, especially it being her first year in college. All this hit right about when school started. She struggled badly. Just no motivation. Her Mom could always talk her back into it and give her the direction she needed. Kelly was just incredible at doing that. I need to learn how to. But, we were very blessed. My Sister in Law (Kelly’s Sister), who is a teacher, stepped right in and helped. She helped my Daughter get back on track. She is still helping her. She is amazing. Our whole family has been very supportive. All the support took me by surprise. It took Kelly by surprise too. She told me she never realized how much her family cared. They followed her to her darkest moment and helped pick her up. This whole nightmare has taught us all about life. What’s really important and what’s not. My kids have seen and heard so much in the past few months while visiting their Mom at Los Colinas (County Jail). They have seen the reality of drug abuse and homelessness. We have seen women that have no teeth because of meth abuse, women coming down from heroin, women that have been physically abused,  and prostitution. We have seen the kids that line up with the rest of us coming to see their Mom’s. The Grandma’s with their Daughter’s infant kids coming to see their Mom’s. It’s just so sad. There has to be be a better way. My Wife constantly talks about starting her own foundation for second chances for women when she gets home. She has so many ideas. She talks often about how there has to be a way to “break the chain” from having these women return to prison. Giving them the support they need inside and outside of the walls. She talks about how there are so many single Mom’s and how they don’t have a lot of family support. She wants to be able to help them find jobs, training, and counseling. A lot of the jails and prisons talk about having “re-entry” programs. But, I have done a lot of research and have not seen much, if any. My Wife talks about having a program that actually identifies the inmates reason for being there. Not just rehab for a drug problem. But, maybe there is a reason for the drug use. Abusive relationship, co-dependent? These are some of her ideas while she sits in her cell. She definitely isn’t wasting her time in prison. She promises us that she will not give up and she will come home the same Mom and Wife she was before, but better. I believe her.

While she’s been in, I have started a blog for her. She writes to me and she shares her journey. It’s all her. Her words. It’s pretty amazing, sad, frightening, and motivating. It’s therapeutic for both of us. After writing it for about a week, I took to Twitter to get it out there. I had no idea all the amazing people out there “fighting the fight” for reform. It’s been an eye opener. I have been in contact with some wonderful people. People that I have never met but communicate with me about my Wife and family. Just incredible. There are so many incredible groups out there that want change to the system. I want change also. It’s not just because my Wife is incarcerated either. The stories I’ve read, the people we’ve seen, it just heartbreaking. Sometimes I think if we can just get more people aware of what’s really going on, maybe that would generate more interest in change. To be honest, I really had no idea how overcrowded prison was, how there was “prison for profit”, or how there were no real programs for mental health while incarcerated, until now. I wish I would have. I have now joined the the fight for prison reform. Just wished I could have started sooner. But, I’m here now.

As my family waits for my Wife to be transferred to a mainstream Prison, we try and prepare mentally for whatever the next “challenge” will be in this journey. Questions like, where will she be ? Will she be safe ? How far ? Can we afford to visit her ? Can we afford to support her ? It can be a tidal wave stress. But, we’ll make it work. I had a friend recently ask me “How do you do it ? How do you not give up ?” My answer to him was “How ? There are days that hurt more than others. They can seem impossible. But, giving up is not and never will be an option. That’s just not what you do when you have kids and a family. You dig deep and you make it work. That’s it” So, we keep moving, waiting for letters from Mom, and maybe a phone call. We stay strong for her and she does the same. Do things get easier with time ? No, you get stronger.

Steve Brase


When not writing, Steve Brase enjoys exercising, hiking, photography and watching his kids play sports. He counts the days until his wife can join him again. “Lord, please point me in the direction of strength.” Steve can be reached at: sbrase21@gmail.com, Twitter: @hear_my_voice22
Blog:orangethenewblog.blogspot.com
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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


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Comments from Social Media: 


There ain’t no skiing in jail

Guards and barbs. Shut the door
Excluding us. From nowhere
 Endless searches. All the time
Pockets, shirts, legs. Find nothing

Erratic calls. To start work
No work, no calls. No reason
 Food is warm. Food is cold
Menu’s right. Sometimes not

It’s not to think. It’s worse
Go numb. Stop thinking
 There ain’t no skiing in jail. Just sweet memories
Of the past. And some hope for tomorrow

Barry Diamond, reentrysurvivors.com
Incarcerated but never defeated




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If transformation and redemption matter to you, a friend or a family member with a white-collar or nonviolent incarceration issue, please contact us and we will promptly send you an information package by mail, email or via Dropbox. The darkest days of a person's life can be a time of renewal and hope.