For Incarcerated Citizens
A Mentorship Writing Program
Our book: Scrolls from a Forgotten World:
Prisoners' Writings and Reflections
"This collection is a dazzling testament to the drive and talent of these incarcerated authors, and to the truth that education is the key that sets us free."
Editor, The New York Review of Books
Donations of $20 or more, receive this book as a thank you gift!
Transforming Lives Was Created To Help Incarcerated Citizens So They Don't Get
Stuck In Prison's Revolving Doors
What We Do:
1. We help people behind walls create rehabilitative programs - since none are available inside.
2. Assign each person a mentor from the outside world so they can get support for writing - as a creative tool to write their stories; as a necessary educational tool - and as a way to examine what led to becoming incarcerated. Plus: hope and support in a dark authoritarian world where none is offered
3. Supply notebooks, pens, and educational resources.
4. Prepare incarcerated individuals to go before the Parole Board with their skills and journals when they're ready to be released.
Recently we have begun mentoring women at Bedford Prison!
IN COLLABORATION WITH:
We Got Us Now is the first of its kind - a national, nonprofit advocacy organization amplifying the issues that children and young adults impacted by parental incarceration face. With a mission to engage, educate, elevate and empower this historically invisible population through the use of digital narratives, safe and inclusive spaces and advocacy led campaigns to ensure our voices are at the forefront of strategic, policies and practices that help to keep families connected, create fair sentencing and end mass incarceration.
Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) is a grassroots advocacy campaign created and led by formerly incarcerated people. We work to end the racist law-and-order policies that have more than doubled the number of elders behind bars over the past 20 years, to expand the use of parole, compassionate release, and clemency, and to end life imprisonment. By advocating to free incarcerated elders—women and men who have served decades in prison for crimes including those of violence; who have taken responsibility, transformed their lives, developed profound skills and abilities, and who pose little if any public safety risk—we strike at the system of endless punishment that fuels mass incarceration and damages Black and other communities of color.
“HATE IS TOO HEAVY A BURDEN TO BEAR!"
By Knowledge Johnson
The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was an advocate of love as a social force. He is quoted as saying, "Hate is too heavy a burden to bear!". (See, "Where Do We Go From Here?", an address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at their 11th annual convention on August 16, 1967.)
The bible and mostly all other holy books reference a "breath of life" having been imparted into the first human being. The "breath of life" statement is one point in eastern and western philosophy that I see rise above secular distinctions that often lies at the root of separation and confusion among varying religious beliefs. Because Dr. King was a religious man and said to have fashioned his life in such a manner the best he could, I study his life from a religious perspective, however limited my religious understanding may be.
My life experience (and I do not impart this upon anyone else) has helped me to recognize the distinction between religion and culture which I have adopted as a guideline in my life's journey. I have accepted as a truism this phrase of Dr. King and in doing so I have fashioned a foundation for myself to work from.
What little I know about Dr. King and his work has inspired me to try to work within myself to allow my outer-self to reflect what I desire and seek for myself within. I seek peace, first and foremost, in my life and in the lives of others as well. To have peace does not mean that all is or will be perfect in life, but only that we as a society can move forward in this life as a helpmate to others in their journey. Of course I have my faults and I struggle with them every day, but now I know I have a more concrete destination to reach, which opens the door to another destination along the way.
"HATE IS TOO HEAVY A BURDEN TO BEAR!" is a very powerful revelation to me as the hate I carried blinded me to the point of making it impossible to see the forest because of the trees or the fire because of the smoke. For me the hate I carried blinded me to the gifts that were awaiting me, sitting right before my very eyes, and the many other gifts in life one could enjoy throughout their journey in this world. Most of all, hate blinded me to relief from the suffering I endured all these many years.
At the same time, some burdens are not so easy to unload. Some burdens have been a part of my life for so long and carried so far that it almost seems to have become a natural part of me. I mean, when we look at our memories and constantly replay in our minds the actions and deeds of others or a series of events, we actually begin to incorporate some portion of these memories into our psyche. The longer we retain the memory, subconsciously, the greater the impact it may have in our lives. We have both good memories and bad memories. Certain events in life trigger these memories and bring them to the forefront of one's thoughts and we must then navigate our way with these thoughts in mind. There are many attributes of unseen burdens, both mental and physical. How to unload and ease the burden we carry becomes our objective once we recognize and accept that we have burdens to unload. What is a burden? A thought or idea that tends to flow freely in your mind that causes one to revisit an act that has occurred and has impacted one's life.
I share all of this not to boast or brag but to share what has helped me these past few years and how life seems to me to be a little bit easier for me. Burdens are a heavy load. There is not enough strength in no one person to carry such weight for eternity. Eventually it wears one down and before too long, minor decision-making can become disastrous in results ... all because of thoughts of burden weighing ones sense of reason down.
Let us learn to do more for ourselves and take the opportunity to help others along the way. Let us let go of the unnecessary lights and ideas we carry that can become a burden and problem to ourselves and others. We have enough to deal with without having to invite extra problems into our lives. We have nothing to prove except to ourselves. Let us make this challenge our best challenge. Let us unleash the burdens we carry.
CANDY MADE HER SICK
by Jose Colon
Luz Maria is a 32-year-old Latina who goes by the name of "Candy." She’s gone by the name of Candy since she was 12 years old, after her first trick, when she literally took candy in exchange for sex. Candy is currently serving a three-year sentence for prostitution and drug possession, and is required to take an alcohol and substance abuse program while serving out her sentence. Candy has been arrested for drugs and prostitution several times, and although this is her second state bid, it's Candy's fifth time participating in a drug program. Candy is correct when she says these programs aren't helping her. Candy believes if the program was any good she would have overcome her drug addiction. You see, substance abuse and prostitution are only symptoms of a deeper issue. Candy's real issue is that she has suffered multiple childhood traumas which have caused her emotional and phycological instability, and ultimately led her to substance abuse, prostitution, and incarceration.
When people see Candy they only see a drug-addicted prostitute. But Candy's story--and problems-- run much deeper. Candy's problems began when she was molested by her neighbor's boyfriend when she was six years old, and continued until Candy was about twelve. She struggled dealing with her emotions and the trauma of being sexually assaulted at such a young age. Due to her being sexually molested as a child, Candy was promiscuous as an adolescent. At fifteen, Candy began to use heroin as a coping mechanism. She didn’t know she was suffering from depression and bipolar disorder. However, she knew what she was feeling wasn't good.
Many people who suffer from mental illness have also suffered from some former traumatic experience as a child or adolescent. There have been some reports that approximately half of the adult population in the U.S. will suffer from some form of diagnosable mental illness during their lifetime. The CDC has reported that 42% of people say they have exhibited symptoms of depression and anxiety. Mental health has come to the forefront with celebrities such as Kanye West, Simon Biles and others opening up about their mental health issues. However, stories like Candy's are not often told. Because she is poor, because she is Latina, because she is a woman, she is overlooked.
I tell Candy's story because many times we look at the surface issue of substance abuse and mental illness and thus provide services that only address the symptoms. This is the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a gun-shot wound. When we walk by someone on the street who is homeless, we see a homeless person and do not consider why or how he or she got there. When an adolescent commits a mass shooting at school, or someone shoots up a concert, do we consider, what would make them commit such an atrocity? Most times we try to discern whether or not it's a terrorist attack, as if "terrorism" explains the mind that would commit a mass shooting.
Trauma, especially childhood trauma, has been a growing issue causing mental health issues around the world. Closer to home, we see traumatic events happening more and more often and the effects of them have resulted in an increase of suicide, substance abuse, and mental illness. Instead of seeing the root cause we only see the symptoms and call it "insanity" and "crime". Unless, and until we start to address the root cause of these issues we will continue to fill our social medicine cabinets with band-aids for oversized wounds instead of a cure that will actually remedy the problem.
One Incarcerated Citizen Explains Why
They Need Mentors From The Outside World
"The most important part of rehabilitation is helping us identify the factors in our lives that formed the seeds of our criminality – so we understand the huge mistakes we made and don't repeat them.
This work involves thinking deeply about what happened in your life and the choices you made. To honestly do that, you need the guidance and support of trusted mentors because many in here want us to stick with our old ways.
Most of us have lost family support, or never really had a family to start with. We feel totally isolated - with no emotional grounding.
Inside, guards and counselors are not interested in helping inmates get into the programs that facilitate this kind of thinking. Why would they? It works against their own interests to keep the prisons full - more overtime.
They know that without rehabilitation, we will make the same mistakes again and return to prison for even longer sentences. According to the National Institute of Justice, within five years of release, about 3/4 of those released were rearrested. Some guards feel as stuck as the prisoners -- why should they help us to prepare for a better life when we get out if they can't?
Transforming Lives was designed by Cynthia Kling, two other prisoners, and myself. We know how hard it it is to ask for help because of how demeaned the system makes us feel and ways for motivated inmates to do this thinking and writing -- and get support while doing it -- with your help. The goal is to develop full productive lives. This is the way we all want to live, with dignity.
incarcerated 20 years ago
for 31 years to life.
Prison: Stories From Those Behind the Wall
No one wants an 80 billion dollar prison system that
keeps people locked up
and doesn't work.
Contact Us Today.