Reader Stories And Letters

Prison Stories and Letters:

Here are the letters we've received so far in response to our recent investigation of crime and punishment in the U.S. and alternatives to the current system (YES!, Fall 2000).

Beloved Sarah Ruth van Gelder and YES! staff,

I wish to express my deepest gratitude for allowing me to continue receiving your most wonderful magazine YES! without cost. Though, after my release in the near future when I will get some finances in again, I will then be able to contribute more besides prayer. You and your staff and publisher are doing so much good via YES! Surely there are infinite positive futures awaiting all of us, especially if we each are wise enough to create the positive and good in the present, we can count on a positive and good futureÉGods Cosmic Law of Cause and Effect.Thank you again for your caring efforts and loving kindness. May Spirit bless each of you, your families and your work always!

David Barker


My name is Eugene Robinson ##BT 2495. I am presently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Greene in Waynesburg PA 15370. I am interested in knowing more about your program with regard to closing down prisons. Also I would like to know if you all that are so-called prison rights advocates ever take into consideration who you may be helping to get released from prison? I have been inside the state prison system in Pennsylvania for over nine years and I have personal testimony that can attest to the need to close down some of the prisons, however, we must know who to release. The racist state correctional officers employed at the prisons in Pennsylvania have been murdering black men, women and children for the past 37 months. The following prisons where these murders are actively taking place are S.C.I Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh PA and SCI Greene in Waynesburg PA. The local, state and federal government of Pennsylvania is allowing these murders to take place inside the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections are covering it up. Also the Multi News media is intentionally excluding this information from the news. So far over 67, 000 black people have been murdered including my own two children Khalil L. Robinson and Fatimah L. Barfield inside the state prison at Greene and about 10,000 of these 67,000 and more were murdered at S.C.I Pittsburg. Please contact the proper men at the black news media outlets all over America and have them broadcast and print this information. Louis Farrakhan and the Final Call News proper staff refuses to print this information and are working with the white racists who are causing this secret genocide on African Americans.Thank you.

Eugene Robinson

Dear Ms Estes,

I can only begin to tell you how thankful I am or your kindness in sending me a copy of the YES! Journal. I am very impressed with the journal as it has many articles that I can relate to and I find the resource section to be of great value itself. As an inmate of the Illinois Dept of Corrections, I find it extremely hard to locate groups and individuals conducive to my goal of finding a worthwhile purpose in life. For years I have held sales positions for a variety of companies, knowing full well that the customers were not getting what they were paying for. Upon my release this coming October, I would like to provide services and goods that are beneficial to individuals as well as society as a whole. Your "Working fir Life" issue of YES! is extremely helpful in providing the direction needed to change my dreams and realities.Again, thank you so very much for your consideration and for providing an optimistic and positive outlook. I'm enthusiastically looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Richard Weddel

Lately each of your issues seems to top the last one. YES! has a growing body of devotees here at our college - especially in our Earth Literacy Master's program. And the new issue on prison reform is especially timely for our Peace & Justice group. As an ex-con myself, I've watched with horror the slide toward lockdown-mania in U.S. prison systems. Most Americans have no idea what extreme sensory deprivation does to the mind.Keep up the good work!

Prof. Paul Salstrom

Wow! What a great issue! I feel especially privileged to have been a contributor because the insight in this issue is so "right on" with its mix of the positive with the starkness that defines our criminal justice system. Great work!Because most inmates are indigent, magazines that enter a prison are like community property; they get passed around from inmate to inmate, cell block to cell block. May subscription will travel well beyond my home in cell A-126.

B.Raymond Roy

This was a thought-provoking issue and contained horror and abuse stories, especially related to our "war with drugs."However, the piece on Tyrone Werts was not one of them. He participated in a robbery where someone was unintentionally killed? He wasn't unintentionally present when it happened. Because of such people, we should think a long time before we close prisons.As for people who become writers, artists, and helpers of others once they're locked away for crimes, they always had those talents and options but chose other, more destructive paths.I don't have a lot of sympathy for those who prey on others.

Anne Neighbors

NOTE: The following letter is a response to a question from the editors about whether proposed WTO regulations that require governments to open procurement to all corporations could require governments to contract with the lowest corporate bidder to operate prisons.

I just have to write and let you know that I think your issue on prisons was fantastic. I sat down and read the whole issue cover to cover when it arrived! You took on a very difficult issue, didn't flinch at looking at the pain and problems, and left the reader with hope regarding positive alternatives. Thanks so much. It will take tremendous political will to make the changes. I hope we can find that will.On the question of WTO and prisons: I think the jury is still out on specific ways that the GATS agreement could accelerate privatization. We are watching closely what they do with Article VI on Domestic Regulation which can be applied in a top-down manner to all service sectors whether or not countries have included certain services on their schedule of commitments. Right now national treatment only applies to those services included on country-specific schedules. This too could change with the current negotiations, leading to more private companies getting into the market here in the U.S. Certainly the GATS goal of "Progressive liberalization" does not bode will for any public services including prisons.

With much appreciation for the contribution you are making to the movement,

Ruth Caplan

From Within the Walls of a DungeonGreetings! Brothers & Sistahs.

My name is Tyrone Demetrius Robinson. I'm a 37-year prisoner presently being held captive here in the "last stop" Pelican Bay State Prison's SHD (Security Housing Unit) Isolation. I was shipped here from San Quentin in March of 1992, which is now a reception center for prisoners/parolees of Northern California. I'm from Oakland "West Oakland," California, now known as the Lower Bottoms. I've been locked up now the past eleven (11) years since August 1989, which is the day that would "strip" me of the rest of my life! in the free world "society," because on the day of 8-22-89 I would be charged with taking the life of another Afrikan Brother. Not just any brother, but Huey P. Newton, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party. (Let me say that the killing of any brother/sistah or human being is wrong outside of self-defense). I know many of you may have wondered whatever happened to that "fool" or brother that killed Huey "Double-R." Well, for the past "8" years I have been on a journey in search of who I am and what I have done. There are so many issues surrounding the tragic incident which resulted in my return to these prison plantations. (I say plantation because prisons are exactly that, not only because of the brutal conditions which mask slavery, but because many of the brothers in these places are like runaway slaves who have no true knowledge of self but know in their hearts they yearn for freedom. But due to the circumstances, we find ourselves struggling back here more over the conditions than we do learning). However at this time I cannot elaborate wholeheartedly because right now it is inappropriate.After my conviction in 1991, a lot of pressure was taken off my shoulder, and reality had taken its place at the moment. And time began my grind towards educating myself, learning more about beautiful Alkebulan (Afrikan) history and how Afrika is the cradle of civilization and that Blacks are the pioneers in medicine, sciences, architecture, and writing. This awakened the spirit within me to acquire that consciousness which guided our ancestors toward a road that would reconnect us to our past so we could go forward living righteous and determining our own destiny.Sometimes it is hard for a man to come to grips and accept his failings as his own, and I would say that's why my search for who I am, as well as inner struggles, has been so complex and unfulfilling at times. And I know my heart craves all that's right for my people. And I want to be instrumental in correcting the ills that led to me being in this situation and help our young brothers/sistahs avoid the traps that lure and snare us.I'm hoping by me reaching out to you this can be the beginning of dialogue in many areas. I have been many things and have to believe it's time to share them. Be good to yourself. May the God of our ancestors embrace you.

Kambui Nantambus/n Tyrone Robinson C-82830

Received Fall 2000 #15 issue of your wonderful magazine from an outside friend.

I am really amazed that there is no article on controversial Measure 11 (Now yes on 94) mandatory sentencing law. Do the Citizens to Repeal Measure 11-2000 even know who you are? Do you know about their long uphill battle on this issue? They now have Measure 94 on the November 7 2000 ballot. Measure 94 repeals Measure 11.I'm a overly charged, wrongly convicted, under-defended, overly sentenced, white, 56-year-old first-time offender, Happy recipient of 140 months on Measure 11. No evidence, no witnesses, charged 1 1/2 years after the alleged accident. Hit and run drunk driving. Wow. Not guilty as charged. I never had a racial bone in my body until I hit OSP. I spent from 3 years old to 11 years old in a one-bedroom apt--Mom-Dad-Brother-I-sister-behind the old fire station, at the entrance to the Tacoma Dome parking lot. They tore down the ghetto to build the dome. The people of color here are the troublemakers. They try to take me or scam me every day. They call me names when I won't go along. Sorry, whites have it just as bad here.Sorry, did not mean to rattle on. Will get to the point next page. I was in the retail business for 30 years, dealing with all of the world's people. Never had but one racial problem in all that time. Also in all those years had very little contact with the justice system. I had no idea that the injustice was as bad as it is for all people. I will be joining the reform when my current problem is handled. For all I am worth.

Steven R. Miller

Your current issue on Prisons is outstanding. I regret that you did not know about our publication as the issue was being planned, as our editor, Paul Wright, would have certainly had valuable material to contribute, and we have the network to distribute this issue to people who really care.As a subscriber to your wonderful magazine I have never been disappointed in the quality and content of YES!, and I always share my issues. Keep up the great work!

Linda Novenski Prison Legal News 2400 NW 80th St. PMB#148 Seattle WA 98177-4449

You all really did an incredible job putting the fall 2000 issue together. Your piece on "race" [Carol Estes/Robert Jeffrey, "White on Black, Black on White"] - I'll have to talk to you about this, as there's only one race, human. I shared the magazine with my fellow death row inmates - they absolutely loved it! And thank you for mentioning my new book of poems, Leaving Death Row. I am

-Reggie Lewis

Your issue on prisons is terrific, eye-opening and profoundly dispiriting. If it is not already in the hands of every editorial page editor in this state, I think it ought to be and would be willing to contribute up to $200 to see that it is. I hope that it is also in the hands of key legislators. Great work!

Bill Sieverling

Thanks for the issue focusing on prisons. Something needs to be done to reverse the awful trend of the recent decades.Nonetheless I have to say that your editorial comments are overblown. I have been leading Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops in Western New York - 60 to 80 3-day workshops over the past decade. I know that most long-term inmates [earn] a GED, most learn cooperative skills in a variety of way, most learn ways of turning aside a slight or perceived insult without being either macho or a wimp, and it is not unusual to hear an inmate say that having got caught saved his or her life. As George Fox said (in 1663), "truth can live in the jails. "We need both to drastically reduce the number of people held in prison and also increase the constructive programs (especially college programs) available in prisons. The reduction can occur both by reducing sentences an d also by releasing far more of those eligible for parole. You are quite right that the small rural towns have become dependent on the prison, and this makes the reduction a complicated political task. But it is urgent. But there will still be prison, and it is therefore important to begin to treat as human those who remain confined. Inmates help facilitate the AVP workshops. One of the inmate facilitators, when asked what he likes about AVP, said, "Well, it reminds me of who I really am." He committed a crime, but he is a caring, self-respecting, intelligent person and responds well when treated as such. There need to be many more "reminders" such as AVP. Others that often work well in prison are Kairos, AA, and Islam.I was glad that you ended your article on Genesee County with a quote from Doug Call. He is a deep and complex man, and made an exceptional sheriff. I doubt that any of what you mention would have happened without him having been sheriff.

Newton Garver

I have been most appreciative of your many articles in YES. This last one on prisons - death penalty, etc. was especially great.We lived in Monroe for 10 years and I worked in a support "house" for wives (and children) of inmates when they came to visit - and became very aware of the many issues relating to prisons.One of the women who came to work in the prison became active in our Methodist church. Barbara Schartz was working with sex offenders and had developed a very constructive process for creating change in such persons. She is now in the east, and is doing consulting work on a regional basis, I think. If you are interested in carrying on your prison related emphasis, she would be an excellent person to write about the positive methods and procedures for rehabilitation of sex offenders. Of course, part of this is educating the public that change can take place!I am giving a subscription to YES! to her, and will alert her to possibilities of contributing some of her "expertise" in this area.

Mary Emma Hibbard

The new issue of YES! looks wonderful and is especially timely: I'm part of a far-flung statewide Quaker group here in Wyoming. (There are very small meetings in several communities in the state and the larger Wyoming Friends Meeting gathers several times a year in different places around the state).At our July gathering we came to consensus about the need to abolish the death penalty. I am writing to obtain copies of this issue (#15) for as many of the Wyoming Quakers as $75.00 will buy.YES! (and In Context before it) has been so important to me for many years, and I will be pleased to be able to introduce it to some of my friends who may not know it yet.Thank you so much for your great work.

Jean Jorgensen

I just read YES! Fall 2000. Congratulations to you and your staff. I don't think I have ever read a more moving piece than "White on Black" by Carol Estes and "Black on White" by Robert Jeffrey.I'd like to tell you about The Red Bird Center, Inc., and Rev. Shianne Eagleheart. She turns prisons into "healing centers" by educating the warden, the guards, and the inmates. I saw Shianne's presentation at Grailville in Loveland, Ohio. It was powerful! She is Native American. Check for her book, which she says is coming out this fall. I don't know what the name will be.I'd like to suggest you do an issue on Women-Defined Theology. I just spent 9 days at Grailville with people like Shianne, and there is an enormous number of books written by women theologians, beginning in 1968 with Mary Daly's The Church and the Second Sex and then 1972 Beyond God the Father. Each decade since, this flood of books increases. I think our theology has a lot to do with what is going on in this world. Male defined theology in many ways has supported it with a vengeful, punishing male god. Women see god as loving unconditionally and nonjudgementally )" Judge not and ye shall not be judged.") The Conversation with God books by Neale Donald Walsch are also a paradigm shift to a God of love and are (like WDT) very empowering to humans. They are doing amazing things to prisons.

Frances Kern-Crotty

At the June meeting of the Black Radical Congress in Detroit conferees decided to launch a campaign for "Education, not Incarceration."That means we have to redefine what we mean by education. We can not possibly mean the present system, which is widely recognized as responsible for so many of our young people ending up in prison. For example, at the Back to Basics Community Convention held in Detroit on Saturday, May 6, the Education Task Force passed the following resolution:

WHEREAS the current educational system has been organized to fail 50% of our young people, many of whom end up in prison, and WHEREAS the current system does not develop critical thinking or build community, BE IT RESOLVED.

1.That we create a community curriculum that will empower our children to recognize the truth from untruth and develop the ability to assess information for the best possible solution for themselves and for the community; and

2. That we develop tutorial programs that will implement a community curriculum that includes remediation but emphasizes critical thinking and empowering children to make a difference.

Today's schools build addicts and prepare our children for prison because they teach passivity whereas what our children need most is a sense of themselves as change agents and decision makers. Our children need Not only academics but character building. To appreciate their neighborhoods and understand their environment. To be developed as whole persons with manual, mental, social and environmental skills. To become resourceful and independent thinkers. To see themselves in the context of community and practice what enhances community life. To recognize their worth because their input makes a difference to work together to change the community. In the 1960s Movement activists had to create Freedom Schools in the South because the existing school system had been organized to produce subjects, not citizens. People in the community, both children and adults, needed to be empowered to exercise their civil and voting rights. To bring about a kind of "mental revolution," reading, writing, and speaking skills were taught through the discussion of black history, the power structure and building a Movement to struggle against it. Everyone took this basic "civics" course and then chose from more academic subjects, like algebra and chemistry. All over Mississippi, in church basements and parish halls, on shady lawns and in abandoned buildings, volunteer teachers empowered thousands of children and adults through this community curriculum.This is the kind of Freedom Schooling that we need today.

Death Row Inmate Artists, desiring to make restitution for their crimes, have made their first cash distribution to family members of murder victims and charitable organizations. The money comes from print sales of the inmates' art work at a cyberspace art show on the Internet. The National Death Row Inmate Restitution Art Show is sponsored by Restitution Incorporated, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting healing between offenders and victims. Cyberspace visitors to the art show at (editors note: this website is not accessible as of 1/23/03) receive a quality reproduction of original art work for each $20 tax deductible donation. The donations are distributed to a list of surviving victims and charitable organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and the Shriners Burns Hospital of Galveston, Texas. "Although the inmates receive no financial benefit from making restitution, the emotional and spiritual benefits are profound.

In an effort to promote a more peaceful society, these inmates seek to heal themselves by using art to make restitution," says Betsy Wolfenden, executive director of Restitution Incorporated.Restitution Inc. helps inmates make restitution for their crimes. One death row inmate, Michael Fullwood, established a college fund for his daughter after killing her mom 15 years ago when his daughter was an infant. Proceeds from note card sales made from Fullwood's art work support his daughter's education. When Fullwood's daughter found out about her college fund, she communicated with her dad for the very first time since the murder. A section of Restitution Inc.'s website called "Victims Forgive" contains stories written by victims of crime who strive to find healing and forgiveness in the aftermath of tragic violence.Inmates who have committed violent crimes ranging from rape to murder also offer their apologies on the website to those they have harmed.

Betsy Wolfenden

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