WE ARE HERE THIS MORNING AS FAMILY TO MOURN, TO PRAY, AND TO CELEBRATE THE FUTURE WE ARE BUILDING AND TO LEAVE ANYTHING THAT SEPARATES US OR BRINGS DISORD ‘AT THE WATER!’
Black Prisoners' Caucus
WE ARE HERE THIS MORNING AS FAMILY TO MOURN, TO PRAY, AND TO CELEBRATE THE FUTURE WE ARE BUILDING AND TO LEAVE ANYTHING THAT SEPARATES US OR BRINGS DISORD ‘AT THE WATER!’
As protests against racism and police brutality raged last summer, one group of activists could only look on from afar.
“Of course you want to be there,” Vincent Sherrill told KNKX from the Monroe Correctional Complex in September. “Then, to be truthful, there’s guilt and shame along with that for putting yourself in this situation.”
Sherrill is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. He’s also a member of the Black Prisoners Caucus, one of Washington’s oldest prisoner organizations.
The Black Prisoners Caucus (BPC) officially began in 1972 at the prison in Monroe. It now has chapters at almost all of the state’s prisons.
Its members organize a variety of programs for prisoners around education, mental health and other prison issues. They also work with outside organizations on social justice issues more broadly.
While the summer’s unrest put a spotlight on issues of racism in policing and public safety, less attention was paid to the other end of the justice system: incarceration in the prisons.
Even so, racial disparities also persist in Washington’s prison system. Black people make up about 18 percent of the state’s prison population just 4 percent of the total population. Black people and Native Americans are also more likely to receive longer sentences. About 28 percent of Washington defendants given a life sentence between 1986 and 2017 were Black, according to a report published by the ACLU of Washington last year.
Sherrill and other members of the BPC say learning about the ways racism manifests in American institutions – such as the courts, housing and schools – has been part of their personal journeys understanding the crimes they committed.
FROM PROBLEM TO SOLUTION
Sherrill, 49, says he began organizing with BPC members in the early 2000s while he was at Clallam Bay Corrections Center west of Port Angeles. He described meeting an older inmate who had been involved with the BPC.
“Those older brothers was talking to us like, ‘Look, there’s something better in life,’ ” Sherrill said.
Sherrill received a life sentence for shooting and killing three people in the Tacoma area during a gang conflict. Some of the older BPC members he met were also in for gang-related crimes.
“It actually took somebody with that same lived experience that I had in that street culture to really get my attention,” Sherrill said. “And that began our politicization, reminding us of the civil rights movement and that Black liberation struggle.”
Another BPC member at Monroe, Eugene Youngblood, described a similar experience.
Youngblood was initially sentenced to 65 years in prison for his involvement in the shooting deaths of two teenage drug dealers in Bremerton. But in December, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an order commuting his sentence.”(You) have to be invested in trying to continue to become a good person even if you might not always see the fruit. It might be for somebody else who comes after you.”
Like Sherrill, Youngblood was gang-affiliated.
“It was a very slim chance that I was going to do anything else,” Youngblood said. “For me, it was more of a rite of passage that all young men took.”
During his clemency hearing in 2019, several people spoke on Youngblood’s behalf. They talked not only about how Youngblood himself had reformed but also about the interest he had shown in mentoring other prisoners and at-risk youth. Youngblood explains that his background is central to that work.
“Because that’s how I felt as a young person. I felt like I didn’t have a choice,” he said. But he might have felt differently hearing from someone with a similar experience.
“So a lot of the people who were originally the problem, or at one point was the problem, have to now be part of the solution, and (they) are,” Youngblood said.
This idea is frequently pushed by social-justice advocates – that people who are most impacted by certain policies and practices should help reimagine these systems. As city leaders across Washington faced cries to defund the police this fall, they were also pressured to find ways to include marginalized communities in police oversight and in policymaking more broadly. In Seattle, that pressure even resulted in two different visions for participatory budgeting.
But in prison, the idea also takes on a personal significance as incarcerated people learn to take responsibility for their crimes and prepare to return to society. The work of organizations like the BPC is twofold: It’s personal, but it also faces outward.
Even prisoners like Sherrill, who will likely die in prison, see value in this idea.
“I believe I will see the benefits … but also have my family, my community and those I love benefit from a system that would actually help them versus harm them,” he said. “At the same time, that’s a part of the reconciliation part.”
Although Youngblood is set to be released within the next few months, many of the young prisoners he mentors are also facing long sentences. He says he counsels them to be patient.
“But more importantly, they have to be invested in trying to continue to become a good person even if you might not always see the fruit. It might be for somebody else who comes after you,” Youngblood said. “That’s the sad part of prison is that a lot of things you do, you have to do, that just aren’t going to affect you.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the activity of the BPC, especially as the prisons face rapidly rising case counts.
Since the start of the pandemic, 4,856 prisoners have been sickened by the coronavirus. Nearly two-thirds of those cases were confirmed in the last 30 days. Seven prisoners have died, along with two correctional officers.
Movement restrictions and quarantine protocols make internal communication especially difficult. But the lack of external visitors also poses a problem. Visitors, including families and volunteer groups, have not been allowed in the prisons since March.
Several inmates have told KNKX that these measures are causing even more isolation among prisoners.
“Ever since these programs have stopped it’s like, where we made progress, now I can see the regression,” Sherrill said. “We’re fighting one another, and you can see it in drug use too.”
Vaccines are being distributed to some vulnerable prisoners in Eastern Washington. But a plan for vaccine distribution has not yet been established for the prisons more broadly.
Our Black Prisoners’ Caucus [B.P.C.] at Stafford Creek is inviting community to attend their upcoming Transformative Justice Summit 2019: Raising the Bars. This summit will be held on Wednesday, November 06, 2019, from 10 AM to 3 PM. Please promote within your network.
REGISTRATION DEADLINE: Monday, October 28, 2019
Pre-registration is required.
REGISTER AT (http://bit.ly/bpcsummit)
***The date of the event has been changed to Tuesday, August 20th.
The brothers of the Black Prisoners’ Caucus at Stafford Creek are inviting their community/network to attend their upcoming Youth & Family Summit on August 20, 2019, 10 AM to 3 PM.
Please spread the word and registration link below with folks in our community/network that would benefit from attending.
Pre-registration is required! You must be 18 years or older to attend.
REGISTRATION DEADLINE: Wednesday, August 14, 2019
REGISTER HERE: http://bit.ly/bpcsummit
Our Black Prisoners’ Caucus family is calling on us to support them with their Juneteenth Celebrations 2019! If you have attended a BPC Juneteenth Celebration in the past, you know they are not to be missed.
Preregistration is required: http://bit.ly/juneteenth2019
Deadline to register is June 3, 2019
Original story posted at: https://www.kuow.org/stories/the-other-end-of-the-pipeline-teachers-go-to-prison-to-get-schooled
APR 18, 2019 at 5:33 PM
Every month, a new group of Seattle educators sit down with khaki-clad inmates in a fluorescent-lit, windowless room at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
It’s an effort to address the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” by meeting face-to-face at its terminus.
On a recent Friday evening, the group included teachers-in-training from the Seattle Teacher Residency, who have committed to working in low-income schools for five years upon getting their master’s degrees.
The inmates are members of the Black Prisoners Caucus, an organization focused on social justice inside and outside of prison.
After introductions and a ceremony featuring a sculpture of a sankofa bird — a Ghanaian symbol of reaching back to the past to bring value to the present — the participants break into small discussion groups. Each month, caucus members draw up the topics: questions for the inmates to ask the teachers, and vice-versa.
“Do you see racism in the curriculum a lot?” an inmate named Tank asked the teacher-trainees in his group. (The prison requested we use inmates’ first names only.)
“Because in my time, you know, we didn’t see ourselves in the curriculum,” Tank said. “We didn’t see ourselves on the walls being celebrated for our intelligence.”
He continued: “I kind of knew some of these things, and so I would actually speak to some of that, and that would be considered too challenging to the teacher.”
Teacher-in-training Maria Davis said that’s still a problem.
“Going through the curriculum that the school district has given us at this point, there are kids who are not ever going to see themselves represented in it,” Davis said. “There are efforts to make it more representative of everyone in the classroom – but it’s lacking, for sure.”
Another question the inmates asked each other: What made them feel relevant – or irrelevant – in school?
Many of the men said they felt like part of the school when teachers got to know them as people – and focused on their strengths.
An inmate named Brandon fondly remembered Ms. Sarver, his fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Lake Dolloff Elementary in Auburn.
“One thing that she did with me is she saw my great-aunt interacting with me, and she mirrored that. That was really profound to me. She would talk to me a little bit louder, a little bit rougher. And she did out of love.”
Other teachers, Brandon said, could make him feel invisible.
“What made me feel irrelevant was when I’d raise my hand, I was really enthusiastic, and they didn’t call on me. After so long of that, I just stopped raising my hand.”
Many inmates said they only felt noticed when they did something wrong — while they saw white students get away with far worse.
A baby-faced inmate named Tony said, as a black boy, doing the right thing wasn’t always enough, and school staff could misconstrue his intent. He recalled almost getting into a fight, but walking away instead. He went to the principal’s office visibly upset.
“The vice principal had security in there, and she threatened me. She said to get that look off my face before I end up on the ground,” he said. Tony said he was arrested for intimidating a school official, and expelled.
Mark Perry, the principal of Nova, an alternative high school in Seattle’s Central District, is started bringing fellow educators up to the prison eight years ago on the first and fifth Fridays of the month: beginning teachers, long-time teachers and administrators — even school board members.
“It’s what I usually call a touchstone opportunity, where we get out of our own reality, and we actually see the consequences of the work we do when it doesn’t happen in a way that’s positive for students,” Perry said.
Teachers’ time with students is usually fleeting, Perry said — and, for the mostly-white teaching corps, the “school-to-prison pipeline” can feel theoretical.
“We don’t see the end of the pipeline. And by going up to Monroe, they not only see the end of the pipeline, but they hear the stories from the men up there.”
How they may have dropped out in the fifth grade, Perry said.
About teachers who didn’t take the time to get to know them.
Or teachers who put them in special education in third grade just because they were done with their work and walking around the room.
Perry said it’s a way to confront decades-old gaps between outcomes for white and black children in Seattle Public Schools.
It also has personal significance.
“I was incarcerated in the ’70s,” Perry said. “I thought I understood something about race and racism. What he realized upon landing in San Quentin, he said, “is that most of what I understood was intellectual.”
It’s one thing for educators to read up on racism, Perry said. “We also have to understand it more deeply, so that when things happen, we can begin to ask questions. We can begin to confront it, and confront each other.”
Perry was instrumental in making trips to the prison part of the curriculum for beginning teachers in the Seattle Teacher Residency.
These field trips stay with participants.
Several weeks after the prison visit, beginning teacher Mitch Ahmann said that was his first time in a prison.
Ahmann said he’ll never look at people who’ve been incarcerated – or his students – the same way again.
He said it’s made him especially conscientious about the ways he and his fellow educators approach their elementary students.
“I’m hyper-focused on it, and watching which kids we’re pushing out, and watching which kids are constantly being disciplined in a certain way, and thinking about how our school thinks about discipline,” Ahmann said.
Ahmann said he’s rethinking his tactic of sending kids out of the classroom to help them calm down. “It could be perpetuating this negative self-learning thing that could eventually push them out.”
“I’m like – ‘oh my gosh, I just failed this kid,’ on, like, a micro level, but it feels now it’s so impactful, right?”
Back at Monroe, Tony said this is the sort of realization he wants teachers to come away with: The power they hold to shape the way children think of themselves, each other, and their place in society.
“My biggest thing is to help prevent the next generation from making these same choices, these same destructive lifestyles, and to create positive change,” Tony said. “I just want to make the world a better place.”
He doesn’t want any more kids to end up in prison the way he did — when he was just sixteen.
Originally published at Black Len News: http://blacklensnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Black_Lens_November-2018_Final.pdf
The Black Lens is an independent community publication, based in Spokane, Washington, that is focused on the news, events, people, issues, and information of importance to the African American community. To see the full edition, learn more, donate and subscribe to Black Lens News- http://blacklensnews.com/
Originally posted at: http://www.passthebuc.com/2018/10/finding-freedom-behind-bars/
The patterned linoleum tiles, the overhead lights toeing the line between bright and harsh, and the cork boards covered in colorful construction paper and cut-out animals are reminiscent of anyone’s elementary school. The nostalgic smell of finger-paint and gooey cafeteria lunches feel like they might waft in at any second. The courtyard gives off a similar feeling, displaying perfectly trimmed grass and sporadic clusters of flowers and greenery any kid would want to trample or pick for favorite teachers during recess.
But this isn’t a school. It’s a prison.
Clallam Bay Corrections Center is far from the luxury of a grade school classroom once you exit the lobby. However, the value for education and equipping students with better skills to participate as functioning members of society is just as important to the prison education program.
This promotion of instruction and learning comes from real data around the world. The Research and Development (RAND) Corporation’s 2016 study found that offenders who participate in educational courses are 43 percent less likely to reoffend following their release.
“It’s a cost-effective way to reduce crime and leads to long-term benefits across the US,” stated RAND.
Offenders also have an easier time integrating back into society due to their higher likelihood to find jobs and housing promptly after their release, as opposed to offenders who didn’t participate in any kind of educational coursework.
In the years since Peninsula College (PC) started the first prison-based Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (IBEST) program, students at Clallam Bay have not only participated in higher education during their time incarcerated, they’ve begun exploring other interests and asking for requirements to complete degrees and certificates.
Kimonti, 39, the president of the Black Prisoners’ Caucus (BPC), spoke about the TEACH program. “It was created by the BPC to fill a void that existed here.”
Kimonti explained that undocumented students and students with a sentence of seven years or more take a back seat to “priority” students, who typically get “first dibs” on educational opportunities.
“Education is a right, not a privilege,” said Kimonti, “TEACH was created by people like us, for people like us.”
The TEACH program offers more college courses, like Sociology 101, Intro to Mass Media and Environmental Science. As students get closer to attaining their associate degrees, they request lab classes through TEACH. Kimonti and additional students and faculty are working hard to bring these classes to Clallam Bay and make degrees happen for all students, regardless of priotity status.
Despite living day-to-day in a corrections center, paying for crimes and mistakes alike, hope and ambition still thrive strong in many students.
“I was going to go to Washington State University. I had a full ride through a football scholarship, but I lost all of that when I was 18,” said Richmond, 23, who is focusing on college-level business courses. He’s been corresponding with an advisor at Skagit Valley College, who told him they “considered his situation” and will make sure all of his credits transfer over after his release – a rarity, even for students outside correction centers.
“Eventually, I want to start my own business as a personal trainer, working with young athletes,” said Richmond.
“This is my third time being incarcerated. The second time, I got my GED. Now I’m focusing on college classes. I want to gain skills to be a better person,” said Daniel, 29. “I have four kids going through school right now, and I really want to sharpen up so I can answer a question if they have one.”
Daniel is already utilizing the information in his business classes to plan a future career, “I want to do something that won’t go away or die out, like maybe a funeral home. It’s sad to say, but people are always dying.”
D’Marcus, 34, a computer tech TA, is reflected upon by Clallam Bay’s Education Director Sandy Dimmel as being a very valuable “computer guru.” He wants to work in computer programming, and whether that’s networking or databasing, D’Marcus has found his calling and it’s something he never expected.
“College classes and computers aren’t my background. I didn’t know anything when I started my first class. I didn’t even know how to go through a folder,” said D’Marcus, “now I’m a TA and I’m 20 credits away from finishing my associate degree.”
Students are aware of how much these classes are helping them, so are instructors, and even US presidents.
Brian Walsh, who previously lead the offender education program at PC, started IBEST. His work with this program named him a “Champion of Change” by the Obama Administration, and even lead him to meet the 44th president in 2013.
Walsh believes adult education provides a solution to lower crime rates and supplies offenders with more personal benefits, such as equipping them with tools to better care for themselves and their families.
The recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend) rates alone are enough to prove this true, as corroborated by RAND.
“Knowledge is power,” said Les Scott, an instructor, “without knowledge, you’re useless. We’re giving these guys power, we’re helping them and helping the world.”
Kevin, another instructor, agrees. “It creates less victims. The recidivism rates say it all. If a student participates in just one educational course, it drops to 50 percent. If they get a degree, it drops to five.”
Education is also helping students gain confidence by utilizing academic skills to maneuver through other aspects of life.
Michael, 36, has been attending college through the corrections center for about a year and hopes to get into the welding program at Olympic College following his release.
“English 102 is really helping me with my writing style. When I write letters home, they notice the difference,” said Michael.
“I like the math classes. I haven’t taken very many classes yet, but so far that’s what I’m best at,” said Steven, 37, who plans to take business and entrepreneurship classes at PC after his release.
Students are reaching a level of personal and social fulfillment they might not be able to accomplish otherwise in such an environment. They’re also accessing opportunities for higher education they may have never considered if these programs weren’t offered at Clallam Bay. Lastly, they’re doing their part to reduce crime rates across the country. The prison education program and its faculty have made this possible.
“Don’t be afraid to try,” said D’Marcus, “These classes have been a huge support to me and have helped me further my tech skills. Don’t stray away from something because it’s not your background. I’m so glad I didn’t.”
Black Prisoners’ Caucus – Clallam Bay chapter hosted their annual Youth Summit on October 12, 2018. It was well attended by many community organizers, youth and family advocates, outreach specialists and program policy coordinators from established organizations doing effective work in the community. These organizations included: The Village of Hope, New Horizons, NEXUS, Future Labs, YMCA, Fabians Fund, Youth Care, Friends of Youth, Columbia Legal Services, Sub Pop, Seattle Office of Civil Rights, Seattle Goodwill, KEXP, as well as, The Seattle Times. Each guest made the 4-hour trek up to the Peninsula Coast to sit with the Black Prisoners’ Caucus to learn, share and collectively strategize around what we all can do better to prevent youth of color from being abandoned by institutions and damaged by the Prison Industrial Complex.
The Black Prisoners’ Caucus Youth Committee used the BPC “Circle of Life” to share their pain and lived experiences, because it is only through opening yourself up and becoming vulnerable when the necessary steps can be taken to build authentic relationships. Sharing their stories was one way to begin the healing process, but these stories needed more than being heard, they needed to be felt, because feeling is what compels us to act.
Even with a 4-hour summit there wasn’t enough time in the day to build in depth on all the issues that were unfolding. We worked to gain some clarity about the issues we are most up against; and what accountable relationships look like, how they function, and most importantly, how are they maintained. Our young voices of the Black Prisoners’ Caucus helped our guests understand the power of staying connected.
Everyone was asked to meet again in 60 days on December 12th to come together so we can build better relationships with one another for our youth and build a calendar for the new year. However, we don’t have to wait until December 12th to get to work. We can act now on the momentum that was made, so we are asking that we all make a conscious effort to get connected to the Black Prisoners’ Caucus and our network. The BPC has regular meetings inside (at multiple locations around the state) which you are welcome to attend, as we are always in need of more active supporters and volunteers from the network. There are also weekly community meetings we are a part of that take place at the Village of Hope in West Seattle on Wednesdays from 6 pm to 8 pm. Those willing to connect, work and build; get connected and become a part of the work that needs to be done. Everyone is welcome.
This youth summit was to make sure we understand that our children will continue to be consumed by the Prison Industrial Complex until we learn to stand firm against oppression and speak truth against the power structure which does not reflect our values. Ultimately, what we need, we must build for ourselves, because changing the systems is a waste of energy and resources. However, it must be done in an accountable way, in such a way that it doesn’t recreate an oppressive institution for another. If we should be clear about anything it is this… the only way for us build community is together, so let’s get to work.
Let’s work in truth,
while we fight for justice
with a liberated mind.
Black Prisoners’ Caucus (Clallam Bay)