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"We Are Witnesses," and a few updates

First things first: Our next meeting normally would be scheduled for September 9; however, that's the morning when we'll be having a special coffee hour to bless the newly renovated lower level, so our next meeting will be September 16, at 11:30 in the Lichtenberger Room. Hope to see everyone there!

Thank you to those who attended Sunday's meeting! For those who couldn't make it, the series of videos we watched — "We Are Witnesses," produced by the Marshall Project — is available freely online at https://www.themarshallproject.org/witnesses. These videos are 2 to 6 minutes in length and feature people who have been involved in the criminal justice system in some way telling their own stories in their own words. Former inmates, parents of inmates, crime victims and their families, police officers, prison guards, judges, public defenders — a cross-section of the many people affected by mass incarceration. Everyone involved in the system has their own struggles, and no one escapes unharmed.

We ran out of time before we could finish watching all the videos, but we did also squeeze in one announcement: the Prison and After group at St. Cecilia's has extended an invitation for two or three of our group members to attend a couple of their Monday Night meetings; you can read more about St. Cecilia's and their Monday Nights program here. If you think you might be interested in attending one of these meetings, let me know!

I also want to mention some news and other updates on the website. You may have heard about the strike that's currently taking place in prisons around the country and in Canada. It has been getting a fair amount of press, and I've included a few links to relevant stories on the In the News page. However, I've now also read an interesting report published by the Marshall Project about their inability to verify exactly how many incarcerated people are participating. It may be the case that the extent of the strike is somewhat more limited than what has been reported. Nevertheless, having the attention of the public drawn to the terrible conditions in which incarcerated people live and work is a good thing. From the article:

Criminal justice reform advocates point out that inmates can’t freely choose how to spend their time, and that the fear of retribution by prison officials undermines any attempt at mass demonstration.

"What is far more significant, is that thanks to cell phones and prison newspapers like the Bayview and Prison Legal News, people responded with a coordinated articulation of what the problem is and what the demands are," said Heather Ann Thompson, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning-book about the Attica uprising, “Blood in the Water.” "Whether or not they are able to stage a walkout because of fear of reprisals doesn’t matter as much as the public recognition of how bad the nation’s prisons really are.”

The strike has also prompted action among nonincarcerated prison reform activists, who have held demonstrations in solidarity, including this one outside Nashua Street jail in Boston.

Another recent report that I've included on the site and hope people will read was published by the Prison Policy Initiative: "Nowhere to Go: Homelessness among formerly incarcerated people." On the basis of their analysis, they estimate that formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general population. They found that those who have been incarcerated multiple times, people who have recently been released from prison, and people of color and women are groups that are at particularly high risk.

Finally, on the short documentary front, I want to mention a new documentary about Fr. Gregory Boyle and his work at Homeboy Industries that was published online last week and is available to watch on YouTube. It's called "Healing Trauma: Beyond Gangs and Prisons" and is about 23 minutes long. I hope you'll check it out!


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