Monday, June 30, 2014

The Struggle for Education

I am an inmate in the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). For a long time, I was also a computer programmer. The sad fact is, because I am a prisoner, the State of Tennessee is afraid of me. They have actively impeded my education, and if they recognized the level of skill I actually have, they would ensure that I never touch a computer again and ship me to one of the most violent prisons to languish. I have been threatened with just that.

When I was arrested in the 1990s, I had scholarships to study computer science. I was the product of an excellent public education system filled with dedicated professionals who are not paid what they should be paid by a state which allows its destructive campaign for retribution to soak up more and more of its citizens' hard-earned tax dollars.

History will judge us.

In the post entitled The Community Fountain, I argued that the principles of community lead us to the knowledge we should not poison the well of community, or the community fountain. No public project in our state more uselessly wastes our precious resources than the choice to spend money on prisons. Instead of recognizing our fault here and converting our prisons to education centers, as all studies say we should, we have passed a series of barbaric laws which vacuum up young men and women into a system which will brand them for life, ensure they never get a real chance at education, and then hold them idle for decades while their families and communities languish in poverty.

History will judge us.

A multitude of studies have confirmed what common sense should tell us: there is no better policy to end crime than diverting tax dollars away from long prison sentences and mandatory minimum laws, and either pocketing the net gain to pay for health care (a huge problem for lawmakers) or spending the same money to ensure better educational opportunities for all young people before they get into trouble, thereby relaxing the pressure of generational poverty that has continued to plague poor whites and blacks in the south ever since the Civil War.

But good sense is not in play here. As of now, we still blindly cling to a system of mass incarceration which is not a real solution, and we wonder why it does not work as it should. Prison, quite simply, has been designed to punish and oppress human beings, not to help them transform. Since private interests with political ties have become involved, companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and Global Tel Link, many people legitimately discuss the "prison industry." This prison industrial complex is beginning to resemble the military industrial complex which President Eisenhower warned against generations ago.

How long will it be before the people of the State of Tennessee actually start asking whose interests are really being served here? Do we really need this? Are any self-described fiscal conservatives reading this?

Meanwhile, the current Commissioner of Prisons in Tennessee, Mr. Schofield, refers to the Tennessee Department of Corrections as "a billion dollar company."

As taxpayers, citizens should be asking something like this:

"Mr. Governor, Mr. Representative, Mr. Senator, why do we spend so much money on the prisons? Why are around one hundred thousand former citizens of our State in your custody or supervision? Do I truly need to be protected from all of these people? How many of them are non-violent drug offenders? How many of them have clean institutional records that stretch for decades, but remain incarcerated with no end in sight? How much does it cost per year to warehouse these men away from their families and gainful employment? And most importantly, since I am a taxpayer and I have invested in your 'billion dollar company,' why is your product so defective?"

Academia has held the dual answer for a long time. A search on Google will confirm that people have long known there is no way to make the mass incarceration model work if the goal is to reduce crime. Education and religious community programs are the two best weapons we have against poverty, crime, drug abuse and repeat offenses.

But I want to focus the reader's attention on another fact I have witnessed first hand: once you have a felony record in the U.S., truly valuable education beyond a G.E.D. is difficult or impossible to obtain. If you visit TDOC's website, you will see the claim that extensive vocational training is available to inmates free of cost. While this is true to some degree, anyone with real experience in the system knows the reality is somewhat different.

In over fifteen years in TDOC prisons, I have found very few people actually being educated. The classes are seldom if ever accredited. The certificates obtained are often worth very little in the actual world. There are notable exceptions, such as the cosmetology school at the Turney Center and the computer class at South Central Correctional Facility. Other classes are filled with men who understand the certificates they receive will not get them a job, certainly not when discrimination against felons is legal for employers. They are understandably frustrated.

Since the Pell Grant was made unavailable to prisoners in the late 1990s, higher education is practically nonexistent for prisoners in Tennessee. Very few can afford it, and those who can have a very difficult time obtaining permission and practical consideration. Inmates are unilaterally banned from internet access. The studies say we should turn prisons into college campuses, but we find the idea revolting as a society. If we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that our only real goal with prisons is to discipline, to punish. We have chosen one hundred thousand Tennesseans and tied them to the whipping post, a course of action that is exactly contrary to the common good of our state. Our most valuable resource is humanity.

History will judge us.

I was an academic standout with a bright future as a young man. My community made it clear that they valued me, and they wanted me to stay in my home town and help it prosper. My value made the loss to my community greater than if only the victim had been taken away, an already unbearable tragedy.

So as a young man in prison who knew his value, I was determined to pursue the knowledge I had always wanted in the domain of software engineering in spite of my circumstances. When I was a child I had been fascinated by computers, and as a young man I had already obtained a high level of skill. But I wanted to be a programmer.

I could not afford distance learning, so I made a plan to obtain the syllabus of some degree programs and study on my own by buying the books and teaching myself. With my rare computer skills, I quickly found a job with access to a computer (without internet access) and a couple of friends who had similar interests and potential. But when I asked permission to receive the materials to study, I was flatly denied. In fact, I drew so much attention for a time that the books I had managed to obtain were quickly confiscated.

Those were dark days for me. As a prisoner, I was considered dangerous, and as a smart prisoner, I was considered all the more dangerous. The only explanation I got was from a sympathetic but careful employee of the education department who whispered to me, "They think you will hack their system." I had made the mistake of showing a few employees that I could already program in assembly language and BASIC, and because those employees could not understand what I was doing, they feared what else I might be able to do. I pleaded my case, sought help from people who had perceived my better nature, but no help would come. No one cared that I had been at the top of my class in high school and had never been in any trouble associated with computers. Because I was a prisoner, I was dangerous.

I got very depressed for a while. A lifetime is a long time, and the one thing I wanted to do most, a pursuit which would improve and educate myself, was disallowed. I considered suicide.

Instead, I finally rebuked the State in my heart and vowed to get that knowledge any way I could. Over the course of the next ten years, I smuggled about fifty textbooks into the prison and taught myself secretly at work, trudging through the difficult task of learning software engineering without much help or guidance. I had help from sympathetic people along the way, but my small group of friends and I taught ourselves the principles that would enable us to design and build around a dozen pieces of software, including everything from utility programs related to our work to a 3D racing game built from scratch using only Linux open source tools and the OpenGL 1.2 libraries. We used Blender to create 3D content, including animations for our cut scenes. I did almost all the programming, including physics and artificial intelligence. Later on for a graduate project, I studied the way particles in the atmosphere affect light from the sun and implemented real-time vertex and pixel shaders simulating atmospheric effects for a fairly complex streaming terrain engine, which I also built from scratch.

After accomplishing all I wanted as a programmer, I moved on to other pursuits, but I am intensely proud of the work I have done, and I do not feel guilty that I did it without the State’s permission. I consider myself a veteran in the struggle for education as a prisoner inside the TDOC.

Unfortunately I must hide my identity. I am somewhat embarrassed and quite angry when I say that for some people, I am too well-educated (my teachers would argue). I must remain a faceless voice to avoid being silenced. I can't speak openly. Yet. For now I must remain,


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Stakes

My pebble was a theft, then a robbery
My hypocrisy started the ripples of victimization
Behavior re-calibration minus criminal rehabilitation
By then, it’s too late
For heaven’s sake
Prep school prepared me to think critically
Apply physics to the streets and chemistry
To drug dealing
Biologically speaking I was bred for prison living
Mis-educated misogyny
Mired in complacency
How can the VICTIMS be restored when the STATE stands as the witness?
How can PRISONERS show their humanity when numbers replace stories and pictures?
The system stifles spirits, so I scribe my legacy
My potency poses threats to the complex’s fiscal efficiency
Corrections meets corporations?
It’s the latest business model for exploitation
Itemized violence traded on Nasdaq
Where is our collective conscience at?
Bets are being hedged on future attacks
Stock valuations based on violent facts
Prison demography is poverty times minority
Add that to the concept of a burgeoning prison industry
Stock holder capitalize on the neuroses left in my wake
How can you relate if my reality isn't your fate?
It’s not just me
The whole of the community is at stake

by Vox

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Community Fountain

I know what community is.

Many people in our society live in near isolation in their day-to-day lives. They have family; they know a few people at work; they attend social functions such as football games.

But their sense of community is often weak, if it exists at all. A feeling of isolation even from one's nearest neighbors is all too common.

In prison like in war, it sometimes happens that groups of men become like brothers to one another because they have shared so much traumatic experience together. I have lived with such a group of friends for over ten years in prison. Although the life has been very hard, our community helps us deal with it. We are as aware of our relationships to and dependence upon one another as all human beings are of the rise and fall of the sun. This community continues to be my refuge in a war zone, and it is part of the justification I have for my religious faith.

I am an educated and largely fulfilled human being. And I am a prisoner serving a life sentence in prison. These two facts, in spite of anything you might have heard to the contrary, are not mutually exclusive. Although prisons are violent, chaotic pits of mayhem, we have managed to overcome and express our humanity through genuine community.

When there is a shared sense of identity and purpose among people, they are bound together by the strong ties of familiarity and a shared story. My brothers and I have developed a definite sense of our shared story as we have served our time together in the prison system. I can say with pride that the people I live with are people I choose to have around me every day, and that the home we have built, which is not a kingdom that can be built by hands, is the fertile ground of real community.

Ours is a community of like-minded men built in a place which should not exist and which will be a stain on the legacy of our nation's history. But we flourish as human beings in spite of the oppressive conditions we face. Sadly, we are the exceptions. We have been fortunate, and we are thankful for the grace we have received when we have seen others languish or die here. Instead we have invested in ourselves, our families, our stories, and defended our brothers in every way possible for human beings to defend one another. We encourage one another to keep striving because prison dehumanizes and demoralizes people. It is a weapon designed to spiritually and physically destroy human beings and their families. I have witnessed its tragic success with my own eyes.

And it can only be sold to the public through irrational fear. The people of our nation have been told the lie that they need it. Are you convinced of an illusion? Consider well with us the issues at hand, if you will. In the U.S., the time is now upon us to reconsider mass incarceration: its effects, its justification, its future.

All communities have a common fountain from which flows the waters of harmonious life. Our ancestors understood this. When we are aware of ourselves as a part of something larger than us, we will have a proper regard for standards of behavior toward one another quite naturally. We know that when we harm someone else, we harm ourselves. To dehumanize someone else is to dehumanize ourselves. Why would anyone harm their own body? Poison the well? Hurt my brother? That would hurt me. I would never do that, no matter how angry I get at him. I understand community now.

But those who do not live in such community think that the access they have to the waters of life is completely separate from the access others have, each person having his own little well. Therefore, if we poison the well of another, it won’t affect us.

Poison our well? No, of course not.

Poison someone else’s well? Why not, if they deserve it, if they are dangerous to me and my family?

Such a philosophy governs all of mass incarceration, and we have accepted it because we have believed we needed it, perhaps because we were angry and afraid for our families when we watched the news reports of crime. Yes, of course, there must be some response to crime. But many scholars, authors and speakers familiar with the complex issues associated with mass incarceration, such as Michelle Alexander, Jeffrey Reiman, Howard Zehr, James Gilligan, etc., are now pointing out that this response should be far better informed and less poisonous to the well. In future posts we want to discuss these ideas and more.

When we understand the principles of community, we quite naturally recognize the truth that you and I are part of the same family, the same people, and the same nation. If on the other hand we continue to separate and dehumanize, then we surely will be judged by history for poisoning the fountain.

by Moses

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Justice, or Just Us?

Momma was sobbing as she told me that my sister was dead. I sat in the Chaplain's office in a daze. She was murdered while her daughter was in her lap. I was twenty-eight years old, and I had been in prison for a decade. The perpetrator received a six-year sentence, which he expired in less than thirty-eight months. My family was divided over this travesty of injustice, and some of my brothers contemplated revenge. It was the strangest feeling I had experienced in all of my years as a young adult. I was housed at one of the most violent prisons in the State of Tennessee, and I had become a victim of crime.

I was the third born of seven to a sixteen year old girl. My mother was pregnant at age eleven and gave birth to my eldest brother before she was twelve. My brothers and I were born bastards according to American culture. We were also born out of sin, according to our Baptist version of Christianity. Poverty and an absent father figure were the big issues for me. My mother married a man she didn't love when I was six years old to place us into a home and to recover from the heart-breaking blow of my dad not showing up for their wedding. I didn't respect my stepdad, and I decided to sever my ties and move out at age seventeen. I was a senior in high school working a part-time job and paying a car note when I left my family.

I moved in with a childhood peer known as "Cool Bro." He was the only male that intervened on my behalf against my crazy stepdad, who often became violent when he was high on cocaine or drunk on hard liquor. He was abusive to everyone in our household except for his two biological children. Cool Bro manhandled my stepdad one evening while I was being chased in the back yard after I ignored his command to stay in the house. Not long after I was in my new place, Cool Bro informed me that he could not afford to pay the bills shortly after my eighteenth birthday due to child support and other outstanding debts. Faced with a dilemma of going back home or living on the streets, and remembering my mother's words, "you were born poor, you will die poor, and you don't have any friends," I made a desperate choice to get a gun and to commit a series of four robberies in sixteen days. I shot a man during the fourth robbery attempt, and he died two days later. I plead guilty and received a life sentence with the possibility of parole. That was a quarter of a century ago.

Desperation and reckless choices landed me into a warehouse of concentrated flesh-bodies held under the misnomer: Tennessee Department of Correction. Words are inadequate to express my remorse for the pain I caused the victims and my family. I have worked hard to make amends in any way that I could, but nothing I have done has alleviated the pain and anger of the victims in my case. People ache differently. People believe differently. My mother and I have forgiven the man who murdered my sister; my victims have not forgiven me. I remember one day when my younger brother was cursing about the guy who killed our sister, I calmly stated that whatever you feel about him you must also feel about me. Transformation happened that day. I have built strong ties with other victims of crime and supporting members of our community. I would be grateful and appreciative of an opportunity for victim-offender reconciliation with the victims in my case. However, Tennessee and its practice of retributive justice discourage such opportunities, and it doesn't help that the victims in my case are not in a place to consider reconciliation.

A restorative/transformative approach to justice would encourage healing for both victims and offenders. This would be ideal for a State that believes in justice for all. Also, forgiveness is a core principle of Christianity and to my understanding more than eighty percent of Tennesseans believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

After serving twenty-five years in prison and observing the politics of our society, I have come to the realization that true justice in Tennessee is not a reality for everyone who loves GOD. It is my contention that the State of Tennessee and its agencies (Criminal Courts, Department of Correction, and Board of Parole) and organized religion (specifically churches and individuals who claim to believe in the GOD of Christ Jesus and who do not share their blessings with the poor and do not visit prisons) should be charged and indicted for conspiracy to deny true justice for victims and offenders, and for discrimination and neglect of the poor and prisoners by deliberately refusing to take a moral stance opposing the Prison Industrial Complex (corporate slavery). They have also been complicit in allowing "prisonism" and "felonism" (legal exploitation of prisoners and legal discrimination against ex-offenders) to flourish. They have created a caste system that disenfranchises, marginalizes, demoralizes, and dehumanizes more than one hundred thousand of its citizens who are made in the image and likeness of GOD.

Are we not deserving of the same love that Jesus sacrificed his life for to redeem the lives of all sinners? I am a redeemed sinner who repented and atoned for killing a man twenty-five years ago. I challenge readers to justify why I cannot re-enter the State of my birth. How can we claim to believe in Jesus and practice the above? I will continue to make my case as the weeks go by; and if I am wrong, I will remove my thoughts from this venue. Thank you for your time, attention, and response.

by Souljah Saul-Paul

Monday, June 16, 2014

Should Juveniles Be Sentenced To Die In Prison?

I was a juvenile when I committed a heinous murder. A "jury of my peers" decided I should spend the rest of my life in prison. They weren't a bunch of head-banging teenagers but middle-aged and elderly men and women.

Who were you in your teens?

The law says I was old enough to make right decisions and fully understand the consequences of my actions. Really? I wasn't old enough to smoke, buy alcohol or vote, but I was old enough to spend the rest of my life in prison. What sense does that make? Why do we as a society insist on saying adolescents should be treated as adults?

Science tells us otherwise. Neurology says that an adolescent brain isn't fully developed. Common sense should tell us that. Every other nation in the world knows this. Some states have realized this. Why not all? Why is the U.S. the only modern nation in the world that sentences adolescents to die in prison?

Some would say I was a danger to society and they needed to be protected from me. Yes, I committed a horrible act, but would I ever do it again? Did that one act represent who I was? Did that one act mean I was "irretrievably depraved?" It would take a number of years to see if that is the case. Should we be given a "meaningful opportunity of release after a demonstration of rehabilitation," as discussed by the Supreme Court recently?

After spending almost two decades in prison (more than half my life), I know what a person of irretrievable depravity acts like. This extremely rare type of individual can't help committing acts of violence. In all my years of incarceration, I haven't even been in a fight, much less seriously hurt anyone. Everyone who knows me knows the horrible act I committed all those years ago wasn't a sign of an irretrievably depraved individual, but was the result of a horribly immature decision.

There's no question that I should be held responsible and that it may take years to see if I could be rehabilitated. Some states say after 25 years, juveniles that commit heinous acts should be considered for parole if there is evidence of rehabilitation. Other states like Tennessee still say "no way in hell." What is the most humane? I have demonstrated that I've been rehabilitated, so it's not about public safety.


Will inflicting pain upon me by separating me from my family and society for the rest of my life make things right? Does it help the victims to heal from the terrible loss they suffered? Or does it prolong their hurt and keep the wound open? I wish with everything I am that I could bring back their loved ones. But I can't.

If punishing me cannot bring peace, what can? Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Not that I deserve it, but it's not just about me; it’s about them as well. Forgive but do not forget. Forgiveness doesn't mean the memory of the lost loved one is forgotten or dishonored. Un-forgiveness doesn't allow for healing.

What I did was horrible. I am sorry and will live with deep regret all the days of my life. I was an adolescent, and I do not have an irredeemably depraved character. I have changed, in spite of my circumstances, in spite of the courts telling me good behavior doesn't matter, rehabilitation doesn't matter. It does matter. It matters to me, and it matters for the memory of those innocent lives I took. I am not who I was. I have so much to offer. I could be given a second chance.

Do you think so? Why or why not?

by Joshua

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Forgiveness – A Life-Changing Act

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It is easy to suggest that someone forgive someone else. However, when you or someone you love has been wronged, forgiveness is a harder pill to swallow. For a family to forgive you when you have committed a horrific act on their kin is an amazing act of love and generosity. This is the story I wish to share with you.

After looking at the ordeal of trial and the hardships on everyone involved, I decided the best avenue for me and my family was for me to take the plea offer that the court system had offered me at the time. That plea was for 17 years at 100% in the State of Tennessee Department of Corrections. Facing 17 years seemed like a lot of time for someone who committed a crime carelessly, but not intentionally. However, on reflection I had to realize that I took a person’s life who had no idea what was about to happen that horrific night. I am not the heartless individual that the news media labeled me. I would give the shirt off of my back for anyone in need.

The day came when it was time for me to accept the plea agreement from the courts. Upon entering the courtroom I turned my head to the left to recognize my family, and on the other side of them was the victim’s family. It hit me hard seeing their faces filled with emotion and intently looking at me – the person who took their daughter’s life. The courtroom was filled with news media and supporters for my victim. When it came time for me to face the judge I realized that my destiny was in the hands of this man. He read me my rights and made sure that I understood that the plea offer was voluntary and that I did not have to accept the deal. I told him that I fully understood and that I wished to accept the plea agreement. He read me my rights, I agreed, and thus began my years in prison.

Before I left, the Judge asked me if I had anything to say. “Yes I do, Your Honor.” Everyone in the courtroom got quiet as I turned around to face the family who were there to be the voice of their daughter and to see that justice was served for her. I started tearing up as I said the words, “I am truly sorry and please forgive me.” Then the court officer placed the handcuffs on me and carried me out of the courtroom and placed me back into the holding cell. Shortly afterward, the court officer came to the door and said, “You have visitors.” As he put his key into the door to unlock it and open it, I saw the family members of my victim coming into the cell with me. At first this made me quite scared and nervous, so I held my head down in shame and sadness for what this family had to go through. Amazingly the mother of the victim asked the court officer, “Can I give this man a hug?” The court officer replied, “Go ahead.” So I stood up and the mother put her arms around me and laid her head on my shoulder. She said, “I want you to know you are forgiven and all of us here forgive you.” She then went on to say everyone at their church was also praying for me.

I never imagined that the strength that I needed to go to prison and face that time would come from the victim’s family. It has been the foundation of every positive experience I have had while being incarcerated. It has allowed me to forgive myself and realize that I have a responsibility to be the kind of man that society would welcome as a neighbor. I cannot change the past, but I can live out my future in remembrance of those who so lovingly showed me mercy.

by A Forgiven One

Monday, June 9, 2014

Do You Really Believe The Good News ? (Part 1)

My hope is that in this series of personal blogs I can challenge people who say they are of the Christian faith. I want to challenge Christians who approve of our Tennessee legislature passing laws that demonize, ostracize, and oppress offenders of the law when a majority of these legislators also say they are Christian. These laws lock up the socially weak for ridiculous amounts of time without mercy, without help, and without any real chance for redemption.

I am an inmate in the Tennessee Prison System. I have been here for eighteen years. I have four years left and will then be returning to society. I started my time when I was twenty years old. I will leave as a forty-one year old Christian man. I committed a crime and for the rest of my life I will regret all that I ever did that harmed people. My challenge for you is: can you say that I am a Christian just like you?

Can Jesus Christ change a prisoner’s life? Do you believe that Christ not only wishes to enter into a relationship with all people, but that he also wishes to and can transform everyone, no matter who they are or where they are? Were you a drug addict before you came to Christ? Were you addicted to porn? Did you have emotional problems that affected your every day life? Were you an alcoholic? Abusive? Did Christ transform that? If so, would you want to be treated for the rest of your life like the person you were before you found restoration and transformation in God?

The Gospels are a direct source for a blueprint of how Christ feels about the demonized, the oppressed, and the ostracized, and how he wishes to restore them to life and community. In the gospel of Luke, chapter 15, verses 11-32, you will find a relevant parable that speaks of the plight of the incarcerated Christian at the hands of free, bitter, non-forgiving Christians.

In the parable there is a father (God), and two sons (representing society). The father represents a God who is universally God over our society as claimed by our Pledge of Allegiance, “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Opportunity was given to both sons in the parable. One son squanders his opportunity, while the other capitalizes on his. The younger son began to be in want when he had no opportunities left, and so we can say he fell into a life of crime to supply the things that initially robbed him of his opportunities. In the parable it is said that the son wasted his life away with prostitutes and riotous living. The other son capitalized however and was able to enjoy the local community’s way of life and participate in society with other law-abiding citizens. He felt that he was at home under God due to his being a good, wholesome man.

The one son lives for a time in crime, in the dark recesses of the land. He finds himself so hungry for food (life) that he ends up willingly becoming enslaved by an oppressive system. We can say this is an analogy of a person who commits a crime and ends up in an oppressive prison system, enslaved, and trodden underfoot by that system. The other son stays at home and loses sight of the son who is now gone and enslaved, and could care less about that fact as long as the sun still shines in his/her life.

The son who is lost in prison (the pig-pen) wakes up one day, comes to his senses, and begins to think of the opportunities that he squandered. He hopes that he can come to God who forgives and restores, and then hopefully to a Christian society that would imitate that God.

The son repents and turns toward home. The parable says the father had been watching that road all the while, and when he sees him coming on the horizon, he takes off running to him. The son begins to lament all the horrible things he has done and tries to apologize, but the father only wants to receive him with love and forgiveness without blame or condemnation. The father then calls for the things the son needs to be restored to a healthy physical and emotional state. There are very few Christians out there who fit this profile in the parable.

The other son in the parable represents Christians who seek only retribution and who wish to oppress. He is the one who never left home, who never transgressed the laws of the land, who was comfortable under God and had all the benefits for being a good law-abiding son. We find him refusing to participate in the restoration of the criminal son. He was angry at this show of love and mercy. He hated the fact that the father was willing to receive him as if he had never left home and squandered his life up to that point, willing to remove that stigma.

With a passion for retribution he screams out to the father (God), “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” The father (God) responds, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

Are you like the son who despises the thought that God offers this kind of love and forgiveness to criminal offenders? Do you know that the Tennessee Legislature is filled with Christians who fit this description? Not only have they strayed from the teaching they have received in God’s house, but they also try to destroy God’s attempts to restore anyone else to His house. They are on a retributive campaign to keep the criminal son in slavery (in the pig pen, eating the food that pigs eat and living in refuse). Are YOU really a believer in the Gospel Message?

by David

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Who We Are and What We Want

In addition to keeping offenders confined, the walls and the policies of prisons are designed to keep outsiders out as well. Why? Why are the voices of prisoners suppressed?

When prisoners speak out through the internet or other forms of media, it is common to hear these objections: “Those men are criminals and they deserve to be locked away in silence forever! How dare they speak about their crimes? How dare they complain? Do they want our sympathy? We won’t give it! Do they want to glorify their sins and keep on harming their victims even after we have banished them? Let them rot forever!”

We hear this and weep.

Let us then begin by stating in plain terms that we are men who accept our guilt. We know we have caused terrible harm. We live with that sense of heavy guilt every day. We are penitent. We are sorry. We have suffered anguish in our souls that has nothing to do with the nature of prison. We would go back in time and change what we did if we could. We are living examples of those who commit wrongful acts, suffer for them, and repent. We think of the pain of those we hurt daily.

All of us have unique stories. Most of us freely acknowledge our guilt and seek reconciliation. Some of us are not guilty of the crime for which we were convicted, but nevertheless are guilty. We hope to open your eyes to the injustices suffered on both sides of complex issues. We will talk frankly about the brokenness of a system which doesn’t meet the human needs of those who have been harmed and does further harm unnecessarily. Our objections to what we have witnessed and experienced are heartfelt, and we realize people may confuse these objections with efforts to escape our own accountability. Let us be clear: each of us deeply regrets the tragedies associated with our names. We know there must be a response to crime, but we will argue that this response should be aimed at healing the harm which has occurred, not causing further damage. Those who commit crime have a responsibility to meet the obligations they have incurred and we desperately want to meet those obligations.

We don’t want people to feel sorry for us. We are not complaining. We don’t want a free pass. We don’t want to do any further damage to anyone. We are men who have sojourned a long time in a desert land for our sins, and we want redemption. We want to bear witness to the things we have seen and experienced. We want people to see our fragile humanity. We want our suffering to have meaning. We want a chance to heal as much of the harm we caused as is possible. We want to reveal the great and unnecessary harm which is further being done to our society in the name of justice. We want a chance to be restored to the communities we love and long for.

We are living question marks. What is the point of all this? Are we still human? Is there any value in our lives? Is there any forgiveness, any redemption for those who have truly repented? If not, what does that say about us all?

We are human like you and we want to show that. We are your brothers and fathers and cousins and uncles and sons. We struggle to educate ourselves and find meaning and purpose in life. We need help in order to construct a positive future in community with all peaceful people. Why in the name of all human good and the future of our society would you refuse to help us in such an endeavor? Can the reader honestly believe there are 2.3 million people in the United States she must be protected from, that just can’t be allowed to return?

We are the prodigal sons. We have been told it doesn’t matter if we repent, that we shall not have a chance to give anything back, and there is no return no matter what. We come back to the gates anyway in the name of peace and hope and love. Where else will we go? For human beings, life means forever seeking a home and the love of family and community. No other home exists for us but the one from which we were exiled. We know some of you will kick us and spit on us no matter how true our words or how pure our hearts. We know you are not evil, only afraid and asleep. Wake up. Wake up. We are not monsters. Hear us knocking. We will come back to you again and again.

Where else could we go?

by Moses

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Prodigal Son (Prison Revised Version)

And Jesus said, "A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the
portion of goods that falleth to me.' And he divided unto them his
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and
took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance
with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land;
and he began to be in want.
And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he
sent him into his fields to feed swine.
And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine
did eat: and no man gave unto him.
And when he came to himself, he said, 'How many hired servants of
my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with
'I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, 'Father, I
have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
'And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of
thy hired servants.'
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had contempt, and ran, and pushed him away, and kicked him.
And the son said unto him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven,
and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.'
But the father said to his son, 'Thou art dead to me, and shalt not live again; thou art lost, and have no chance now to be found. Thy mistakes have no end.
'Go back to the fields, live with the swine, and fillest thy belly with the husks and be merry that thou shalt be given that mercy. Thou shalt not be freed of this debt to me or thy brother or our people.'
And the father said to his servants, 'Bring forth the chains, and put them on him; and put manacles on his hands, and shackles on his feet,
'For this my son is dead, and will not be alive again; he is lost, and will not be found.'"

by Job