This page is for the words we recieve from our allies and comrades inside Pennsylvania's prisons. Many of these statements were given to us to be read at protests and rallys, including the February 20th Occupy for Prisoners rally and the November 19th Tribunal to put the PA Prison System on trial.
If you or someone you love is currently incarcerated and wants to submit something for our Voices from the Inside section, write to us at:
PO Box 40764
Philadelphia, PA 19107
STATEMENT IN OPPOSITION TO PENNSYLVANIA’S PRISON EXPANSION
KERRY SHAKABOONA MARSHALL, Human Rights and Social Activist
My name is Shakaboona. I am a wrongly convicted prisoner with a juvenile life sentence, who has been incarcerated for a quarter of a century now. However, I have not allowed my incarceration to define me or prevent me from struggling for human rights and social justice for all. I have championed the cause of obtaining our inalienable human rights to be free from poverty, war, racism, sexism, and to have social justice for all oppressed people, despite my imprisonment.
My socio-political activism over the past 25 years has taught me some valuable lessons in life. One lesson in particular that I would like share with everyone is in the form of a simple advice: that which you do not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn – or be forced – to accept.
We must begin to fully understand that there is a for-profit, billion dollar market for the mass incarceration of human beings that operates behind the mask of “Law and Order” in our society, and which necessitates the ever expansion of the prison system in Pennsylvania, in the United States, and throughout the world.
In Pennsylvania, Decarcerate PA has challenged Governor Corbett and his Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel for their continuation of a decades old plan of prison expansion – carried out by both Republican and Democratic party politicians – that shamelessly uses citizens’ tax dollars to pay for the costs of constructing new prisons, while simultaneously and contrarily defunding public schools in Philadelphia and claiming with a straight face that there is no money available.
Governor Corbett and Corrections Secretary Wetzel are attempting to force the people of Pennsylvania to accept the defunding and privatization of public schools; to accept their use of citizens’ tax dollars to fund the expansion of new prisons; to accept a “schools-to-prisons pipeline” policy; and to accept a multi-billion dollar market for the mass incarceration of poor, disenfranchised people whom the government deems expendable and exploitable.
However, Decarcerate PA is an organization that is on the side of people and public safety over profit, and it is showing everyone how to resist and mobilize to stop corporate Tom Corbett and his wingman in Corrections Secretary Wetzel from using taxpayer dollars to expand the prison system while he cuts funding for the social services needed by the people. Decarcerate PA, along with the people of Pennsylvania, will not learn – or be forced – to accept the “unacceptable” policy of prison expansion by the Republican and Democratic political establishment of Pennsylvania.
A change from this direction will not occur by crying to the Republican and Democratic politicians; it will only occur by the people taking to the streets in protest and demanding change. We must join Decarcerate PA to engage in street activism, form coalitions with like-minded organizations, organize the families of prisoners and member of the community, mobilize the 350,000 ex-felons in Philadelphia who are allowed to vote, form a Voters’ Bloc to influence the outcome of elections and change candidates’ policies, wage political action campaigns against politicians who are pushing for prison expansion, and never learn – or be forced – to accept that which we know is unacceptable.
Peace and blessing to you all.
Your brother in struggle,
PUBLIC STATEMENT – LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE: LIFERS, INC.
Building two prisons on the grounds of Graterford while a new, unused prison in Centre County already exists is an example of poor accounting procedures, akin to locking the barn after the horse has run away. No one should be convinced that building two prisons at the cost of $400 million will save the department money over the long run when the Secretary of Corrections say it will only cost $50 million to repair the old Graterford prison. No business could afford to remain in business when their bottom line shows negative growth and a huge deficit.
The only sane and reasonable thing to do is to deincarcerate by either dismantling the prison industrial complex, doing away with mandatory sentences (e.g. mandatory life without parole), or getting rid of the parole board.
Hugh Williams, Co-Chairman
Lifers, Inc. – Legislative Committee
PUBLIC STATEMENT – PCRA INITIATIVE: LIFERS, INC.
Politicians tend to be a cowardly lot. They avoid doing anything difficult even if what needs doing makes perfect sense. They were told that mandatory sentences and get-tough-on-crime policies would exacerbate prison overcrowding. They doubled down on the same policies, even as the Department of Corrections budgets increased every year. Now, tough economic times are presenting a stark choice – stick with the same criminal justice policies at a cost to education and other government services or do something different.
Governor Corbett has chosen to double down by the planned construction of 8,100 new prison cells throughout the Commonwealth. The 4,000 bed institutions sited near the existing SCI Graterford alone, are estimated to cost $400 million to construct, with an annual operating cost of $80-100 million. Meanwhile, every so often, the legislature commissions blue ribbon panels (costing more money) to recommend solutions to address the problem of prison population growth, and then promptly discard or ignores the findings and recommendations. For example, Senate Resolutions 149 and others have consistently recommended that the legislature or the Governor effectively address the lifer population in Pennsylvania’s prisons. Former governors Shaffer and Shapp effectively used clemency, in part: to maintain a stable prison population, to correct excessive sentences, and to bestow mercy upon fellow human beings. But, politicians do not get elected on these kinds of principles and they don’t sound “tough” enough, particularly to the Commonwealth’s rural citizens.
We must demand that the legislature, the Governor, and the agencies responsible for criminal justice policies do a better job of rehabilitating prisoners, identifying those who can be released safely, and releasing them. There are thousands of rehabilitated men and women in the Commonwealth’s prisons, many of whom are elderly and have outgrown crime tendencies. The consequences of doubling down is a bigger loss. Yet that is the direction our government stubbornly chooses.
Floyd Wilson, Chairman
PCRA Initiative, Lifers, Inc.
PUBLIC STATEMENT – JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: LIFERS, INC.
Pennsylvania’s prison population is bursting at the seams; while other states are closing their prisons and saving money, Governor Corbett wants to build more prisons burdening taxpayers who are already struggling with day-to-day survival in our recessive economy.
Something is fundamentally wrong with this picture! It costs approximately $40,000 a year to warehouse one individual in a state prison regardless of his crime, time served, or his/her efforts toward rehabilitation and atonement.
There are thousands of prisoners incarcerated in Pennsylvania state prisons who pose no threat to the public or public safety, and they should be released back into mainstream society as law-abiding taxpayers.
Proper administration of the existing Pennsylvania prison system coupled with judicial and penal reforms, geared toward rehabilitation, would relieve prison overcrowding and alleviate this tax burden. The solution to the problem is simple: we just need responsible leaders to act. Pennsylvania doesn’t need another prison, Governor Corbett – put that money toward our schools.
Charles Sheppard, Chairman
Judiciary Committee, Lifers, Inc.
A Prisoner’s Statement against the Expansion of PA’s Prison SystemMy name is James Hough and I’ve been imprisoned for almost two decades for a crime I committed as a juvenile. While I’ve been here I’ve watched the prison population grow larger, younger, and browner (as if wasn’t brown enuff!). I’ve witnessed the prison rip families and communities apart by transferring prisoners hundreds of miles away from loved ones. I’ve seen the economic burden that prisoners’ families and friends must endure – the “prison tax” – for cheap and unreliable services, such as the expensive, long-distance phone calls and high travel/visitation rates.
However, those pale in comparison to what I consider to be the vilest aspect of this prison behemoth: the psychological torture inflicted daily to break the spiritual will of the imprisoned. Instead of becoming rehabilitated advocates for personal and social transformation, many of these tortured minds become more fearful, docile and semi-childlike under the authority of slave master-ish correctional officers. These “invisible prison scars” are apparent in the high recidivist rates and high levels of violence in brown/urban communities by participants with direct ties to the current prison system.
With new prison construction underway in Pennsylvania, we can only expect more taxpayer debt, more cutting of education budgets, and more young brown bodies (male and female) to be dehumanized in Pennsylvania prisons. To ALL within eye and ear of my words, I beg you to get involved in the struggle to dismantle this prison system by educating, agitating and organizing against it.
Robert Saleem Holbrook is a politicized prisoner at SCI Coal Township serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole that he received as a juvenile. He is an active member of the Human Rights Coalition, and a prolific writer on prisons and other political issues. In addition to fighting his own case, he is a fierce advocate against JLWOP sentencing in general. To read more of Saleem's writings or learn more about his case, go to http://freesalim.net/. This statement was written for our February 20th rally outside of Heery, International.
IF YOU BUILD IT, WE WILL COME
The corporation behind us does not see the prisoners that will occupy its $300 million atrocity as human beings, but rather as human profit and capital. And therefore, it will not stick around to hear the cries of brutality, humiliation and injustice that will echo throughout its gleaming prison – ironically named SCI-Phoenix. However, unlike the Phoenix, the mythical bird that resurrects itself from its own ashes, the prison that this corporation will build, in alliance with the morally bankrupt state government of Pennsylvania, will stand as a monstrosity on the landscape of Pennsylvania. Another massive warehouse of humans added to its current collection of human warehouses across the state which confine over 50,000 people today – people who have been reduced to numbers and statistics that are the raw capital in the unholy alliance between the state and corporations that defines the modern Prison Industrial Complex.
In building this prison, the state government and Heery International are operating on the principal of “if you build it, they will come” – that is, more prisoners will come to fill its beds, cells, isolation chambers, holes, etc. and more guards will be hired to control its cell blocks, yards, and other features of life behind prison walls. It is OUR hope, however, that with its construction will come instead more radical prisoners, more prisoner activists, more prison writers and more rebellious prisoners in general who will help expose the injustice that goes on in these human warehouses. And it is OUR hope that more activists and protesters on the outside will turn out to continue protesting and exposing the injustice, brutality and humiliation that accompanies the construction of each new prison. If you build it, WE will come!
Robert Saleem Holbrook
This statement was also written by Saleem, this time for the segment of our April 5th march and rally that took place outside of the Criminal Justice Center. In this statement he specifically addresses the need to end Juvenile Life Without Parole. The video shows the statement being read in front of CJC.
**Statement for Decarcerate PA Action Day, April 5th, CJC
Children are the most vulnerable segment of any society because their lives and rights are entrusted to the society they belong to. Children are also the most preyed upon segment of the so-called criminal justice system by both those claiming to uphold the law and by those who break the law, especially in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, there are more prisoners serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed or participated in as child offenders than in any other state in the United States. According to Human Rights Watch and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections statistics, the number has well exceeded 400. In the United States, there are over 2,000 prisoners serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed or participated in as child offenders while in all the other countries of the world there are ZERO. Consider the absurdity of that for a moment. A child offenderin Pennsylvania who makes a terrible decision that tragically results in a homicide would receive a more balanced sense of justice and leniency in authoritarian regimes that are habitually cited for human rights abuses by the United States, and yet these same regimes extend more compassion to child offenders than the world’s self-proclaimed defender of human rights and democracy.
Sentencing a child offender to life without parole is a violation of a child’s human rights. No matter what language the state employs, often being the language of vengeance, a child does not cease being a child because of a terrible decision she or he makes that runs afoul of the law. We also must ask ourselves what type of society needs protection from its own children to the extent that they must be locked away for life? The fact that Pennsylvania, and the United States, sentences more of its children to life without parole than the rest of the world combined speaks volumes about the nature of our society because in the end children are reflections of their societies.
There are many who question why child offenders sentenced to life without parole should ever be considered for release. For a moment try and put yourself in an offender’s shoes. Just imagine what it is like to be a 35 year old man or woman condemned to die in prison for a terrible decision you made as a child. Imagine being denied the opportunity to demonstrate that the person you are at 35 is not the child you were at 16. A life under a cloud of hopelessness perpetually drifts over the head of a prisoner serving life without parole for a crime he committed or participated in as a child. He is forever condemned to his past despite the accomplishments and maturity he or she has developed as an adult. Only a justice system predicated on vengeance could justify such a sentence that holds children to the same accountability standards as adults.
It is always healthier for a society to incline towards justice and away from vengeance. The state of Pennsylvania and the United States in general must dispense of and abolish this draconian sentence that rests in vengeance as opposed to justice. Undertaking this measure would provide child offenders sentenced to life without parole the ability to demonstrate that despite the mistakes of our pasts we will not be defined by the past and are human beings worthy of redemption who can contribute to society and help mentor and work with at risk children to help prevent them from making the same mistakes we made. Otherwise to continue this practice of sentencing children to die in prison constitutes not only a travesty of justice but also the inhumanity of a system that sacrifices its children on the altar of vengeance.
In Solidarity With All Who Fight For Justice,
Robert Saleem Holbrook
The following statement is from James White Eagle Robinson on behalf of the SCIG Native American Community at SCI Graterford. This statement was read aloud at the February 20th Occupy for Prisoners action.
The following statement is from John, who is serving a juvenile life without parole sentence at SCI Graterford. This statement was read aloud at the February 20th Occupy for Prisoners action.
The following article was submitted to us by Larry Stephenson, who is incarcerated at SCI Graterford, so that we could read it at the February 20th Occupy for Prisoners Rally. It was originally printed in the Delaware County Daily Times.
Increase Spending for Education, Not Prisons
To the Times:
The pipeline from urban school districts to the penitentiary, is now put into motion. With all the recent budget cuts and the already-low academic performances at these schools, there’s nothing to be expected but a future of mass incarceration for this segment of society.
It is truly a lack of vision by legislators when the only growth industry they can come up with is expanding the prison industrial complex to make profits off of human beings.
All students deserve justice and education — justice in the sense of having their basic needs for good quality education met, to allow them to meet their full human potential, to advocate civilization in a positive way.
Denying any child the chance to be properly prepared for a successful future, educationally, is downright criminal. After spending millions of dollars, during the past decades on building new prisons and cutting educational budgets, society does not appear to be any closer to achieving the goals of public safety.
The money spent on warehousing nonviolent and geriatric, reformed, medically ill offenders should be used for educating our youth. A total of 19 prisons have been built since 1974, making a total of 27 prisons in Pennsylvania, and it hasn’t done anything to deter crime or make neighborhoods any safer.
It must be understood that about 90 percent of all prisoners will be released back into society some day — some in worse shape, morally and educationally than when they first entered the penal system.
If the bad decisions by those in charge of our children’s education is left unchecked on the front-end, it will cost society big time on the back end.
Budget cuts to education, plus low-performing schools, plus increased spending for the prison industrial complex, equals a pipeline to prison.
Reverse this equation and things may get better for everyone concerned.
Peace and hope!
The following statement is from Commer Glass on behalf of the Veterans of Graterford/VVA Chapter 466. This statement was read by Decarcerate PA at the February 20th Occupy for Prisoners Rally.
By Thomas Gordon
I have been housed in the Secure Housing Unit at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center for over five agonizing years. During these five years, I have spent the majority of my time suffering through the harshest forms of confinement. I have been placed in punitive segregation, twenty-four hour mechanical restraints, and strip cells. I have been denied food; fed meager portions; fed nutra-loaf; abused both physically and psychologically; and cut off from all things that create a healthy individual. I have been introduced to the cruel tricks used by dog fighters to turn kind puppies into monsters. I have been malnourished, abused, separated and teased. Left alone in my rage waiting for the chance to strike back at my abuser. An abuser who will turn me free to strike out at someone else.
I was once told by Lieutenant Benson that “thunder is more than just a loud bang. It is a warning cry alerting the people to take cover and prepare for a storm. A storm that could bring joy or a storm that could bring sorrow.”
My period of incarceration has brought together all of the things that make for a bad storm. With no way of effectively releasing the negative friction that fuels my rage, it can easily be assumed that the storm will be that much worse when it finally breaks.
My release is evident. In under two years, I will be unleashed on an unprepared society. A fierce black cloud just past the horizon creeping so ever slowly near. I know not which way I will head next. Could it be east, to the dry deserts so desperately in need of rain? Could it be west, where a storm could cause floods reminiscent of the times of Noah? I know not which way I will head. Nor whether I will bring joy or sorrow, growth or destruction. All I know at this point in time is that I hear thunder and so should you.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is an African-American activist, writer and journalist, author of six books and hundreds of columns and articles, who has spent the last 29 years on Pennsylvania’s death row. He was recently released from death row but remains in prison. To learn more about Mumia and read some of his writings, go to http://www.freemumia.com/. He wrote the following statement for the February 20th National Occupy for Prisoners day of action.
Souls on Ice
When I heard of the call, just raised In Oakland, California, to "Occupy the Prisons", I gasped.
It was not an especially radical call, but it was right on time.
For prisons have become a metaphor; the shadow-side, if you will, of America. With oceans of words about freedom, and the reality that the U.S. is the world's leader of the incarceration industry, it's more than time for the focused attention of the Occupy Movement.
It’s past time.
For the U.S. is the world's largest imprisoner for decades, much wrought by the insidious effects of the so-called 'drug war'--what I call "the war on the Poor."
And, Occupy, now an International movement, certainly has no shortage of prisons to choose from. Every state, every rural district, every hamlet in America has a prison; a place where the Constitution doesn't exist, and where slavery is all but legalized.
When law professor, MichelIe Alexander, took on the topic, her book, The New Jim Crow, took off like hotcakes--selling over 100,000 in just a few months.
And where there are prisons, there Is torture ; brutal beatings, grave humiliations, perverse censorship--and even murders--all under a legal system that is as blind as that statue which holds aloft a scale, her eyes covered by a frigid fold of cloth.
So, what Is Occupy to do?
Initially, it must support movements such as those calling for the freedom of Lakota brother Leonard Peltier, the MOVE veterans of Aug. 8th, 1978, the remaining two members of the Angola 3: Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, Sundiata Acoli, Russell 'Maroon' Shoatz and sisters who've spent lifetimes in steel and brick hellholes.
But the Occupy Movement must do more.
As it shifted the discussion and paradigm on economic issues, it must turn the wheel of the so- called 'Criminal Justice System' in America, that is, in fact, a destructive, counter-productive, annual $69 billion boondoggle of repression, better-known by activists as the Prison-Industrial-Complex.
That means more than a one-day event, no matter how massive or impressive. It means building a mass movement that demands and fights for real change, and eventually abolition of structures that do far more social damage than good.
It means the abolition of solitary confinement, for it is no more than modern-day torture chambers for the poor.
It means the repeal of repressive laws that support such structures.
It means social change--or it means nothing.
So, let us begln--Down with the Prison Industrial Complex!
LISTEN to Mumia reading the statement below:download the statement