Sunday, December 6, 2009

Otisville's Resource/Re-entry Fair & The Direct Relationship Flow in 2009

In August 2008 Otisville Correctional Facility held its first Resource/Re-entry Fair. The Resource Fair Planning Committee was a mixture of incarcerated professionals: Curtis Holder (deported to Trinidad in March 2009), Andrew Imani Ward (released in January 2009), and myself, Marlon Peterson, teamed with facility staff: Micahel Kaplan, Supervisor of Corrections Counselors; Dennis De Rose, Counselor; Christiana Bracy, Counselor, and Janet Murphy, Supervisor of Volunteer Services. The first fair was a success, with 15 different re-entry service providers coming into the facility to expose and offer their services to the incarcerated men. This year's Resource Committee, consisting of three new members, Moses El-Sun White, Charzell McGill, and Henry Ramirez, that replaced that two that were released, built upon the success of the 2008 Resource/Re-entry fair.

This year's fair was held on August 27, 2009. For the power lunch period with DOCS administrators, inmate organization representatives, and the service providers that included: The Osbourne Association, Fortune Society, Families for Freedom, Bowery Residents' Committee Inc., ComALERT, Family Unification and Resettlement Initiative, Exodus Transitional Community, Housing Works, Legal Action Center, Network in the Community, Orange County Re-entry, Orange Works, Palladia Inc., RECAP, and 820 River Street Inc., the incarcerated committee members presented the Direct Relationship Flow in 2009 to the service providers.

The Direct Relationship Flow, a concept taken from the Non-Traditional Approach to Criminal and Social Justice (NTACSJ), designed by Eddie Ellis and Larry White, propagates that "There are no criminal punishment, crime or prison problems per se, only community problems. Once we begin to address the community problems, the crime and prison problems will also be addressed" (Eddie Ellis, "Criminal Justice in New York: Just Us", The State of Black New York City: 2007, p. 173). This approach, which was revised by the Prisoner's Alliance Community at Green Haven Correctional Facility in 1997, is ingenious, particularly because it provided leverage for further revision.

We, the Resource Committee, contend that in 2009 there are contemporary issues that require contemporary solutions. There are more women and adolescents in prison. The prison population is increasingly geriatric. There is a skyrocketing number of people being deported to other countries, particularly to the Caribbean. More than 50,000 people were deported to the Caribbean in the past 10 years. The demographics have changed since 1997; therefore our approach should also evolve.

For instance, there was a key equation that was presented in the 1997 NTACSJ that illustrates the relationship with the entities associated with the criminal justice system:
1) Prisoner vs. Administration (i.e., State vs. Society). Pre-Attica
2) Prisoner and Community vs. Administration. Post-Attica

We contemporized this equation with the following:
1) Prisoner vs. Administration = Pre-Attica
2) Prisoner + Community vs. Administration = Post-Attica
3) Prisoners vs. Community + Administration = 1980 - mid 1990's

Exponential crime and prison increases. What is now necessary:

4) Incarcerated persons + Community + Administration vs. Crime Generative factors and Attitudes = BETTER COMMUNITY CONDITIONS

Also, you will recognize differences when you view the two Direct Relationship Flow charts, the 1997 version and the 2009 version. The 2009 edition corroborates with the 1997 version that prison is an institution that now serves the Black and Latino community, much the same as the church, mosque, and schools. We agree that the direct relationship reveals that each feeds from and is sustained by the other; that there is a socioeconomic, cultural, and political umbilical cord that exists between local communities and the prison system. Considering today's political climate, the increased access to the political establishment and information we also added more links to the chart.

The local communities have entities within its grasp that should be utilized to affect all aspects of the political and criminal justice system. Not only should the local communities vote legislatures into office, but they should utilize their privilege to insert their perspectives into public policy and research. They can form political action committees and lobbies to pursue issues that affect their communities. They can testify at legislative hearings. They can play a role in writing legislature. bottom line, the local committees have the privilege and responsibility to care for itself at the highest levels of local, state, and federal government. All resolutions to local issues must be community specific. We cannot depend on people in rural New York to cater to the epidemic of crime and recidivism in NYC. With 75% of NYS prison population coming from NYC and 85% returning to NYC (40% to Brooklyn alone), the local communities must become empowered to strong-arm their power as major stockholders in their own communities. The late-great Michael Jackson said, "All I really want to say is they don't really care about us." Just food for thought.

Our objectives for the presentation were threefold:

1) Encourage our community by bringing to their attention the avenues in which their voices can be heard, and the mediums available to them. We advocate for inter- and intra- agency collaborations.

2) Educate our communities to be proactive and informed spokespersons of their neighborhoods, not a bystander constituency.

3) Empower our community members to be change agents. We intend to help them understand that they can and should have a preeminent say in how resources are allocated to their areas, what programs are implemented, and what the local, state, and federal agendas should be.

Our propositions stand as follows:
- More collaboration between service providers and the criminal justice system
- More volunteers from servicing agencies to partner with prison programs, incarcerated facilitators, and inmate organizations
- The introduction of civics education/workshops into re-entry programs and curricula.
- Periodic legislative, task force, and community roundtables inside of Otisville to brainstorm, discuss, and evaluate criminal and social justice concerns.
- Resource/Re-entry Fairs in the communities most affected by recidivism as a complement to the one that occurs at Otisville.

While the presentation was well, we await action and support. If you are willing to work with the Resource Committee members to work towards those propositions and objectives, you can contact the following men at Otisville Correctional Facility, P.O. Box 8, Otisville, NY 10963:

Charzeel McGill, DIN: 98A6139
Henry Ramirez, DIN: 99A2556
Moses El-Sun White, DIN: 92A8711
Marlon Peterson will be released in December 2009, so you may contact him at and

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thank you, Barack—From THE INVISIBLE MEN By Marlon Peterson & Clifton Hall

“His self-determination inspired so many of us to watch CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. He inspired us to read more than the sports section of the newspaper. His self-determination inspired us, the most marginalized and politically blasphemed of society, to walk this prison debating about things we never thought about: left wing and right wing politics, pork barrels, the electoral college, Senate seats, bipartisan politics and so on.” --Marlon Peterson, Keynote speech excerpt, 2nd night of Kwanzaa Celebration at Otisville Correctional Facility

Those words were delivered during the second night of the annual Kwanzaa celebration at Otisville Correctional Facility, a medium security prison located in upstate New York. Decorated with black, red, and green streamers, wrinkled posters of notable figures in Black History, the over packed room of 40 or so gathered for seven consecutive nights to celebrate the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The audience were a mixture of the politically unconventional—Bloods, Crips, former drug addicts, swindlers, opportunists, functional illiterates, and so on. The accumulated years of imprisonment of the men that attended the event for the seven days totaled to a staggering 1,200 plus years. The event was filled with the invisible men that Ralph Ellison wrote about.

Despite the doleful numbers, despite the isolation of the prison gates, despite the political disenfranchisement of the men, hope penetrated. President Barack’s presence, his eloquence, his message proved to be too much to keep out of even the most darkest place that America has to offer.

President Barack offered us a model to follow—to emulate. When the authors of this article volunteered to speak at Kwanzaa they immediately decided that they wanted to give a speech just like Obama. The organizers of the Kwanzaa celebration (also incarcerated men) enlisted as many of the young men of the prison as possible to participate in the celebration—just like Barack. Although unable to vote, many of the men used their stamps, phone calls, and visits to encourage their friends and families to vote—just like Obama. They vicariously knocked on doors and registered people to vote—just like the Barack campaign.

One man donated $20 to the campaign, although the money was returned (probably because the campaign did not want to risk any backlash for accepting donations from a convicted felon). A shrewd decision, considering the eleventh hour attempts by the McCain/Palin ticket to scandalize Obama.

Nevertheless, the donor was inspired; the thought was counted.

Whenever you get people in prison to speak and think about things that are not relative to their current predicament you have succeeded in taking their minds out of prison. The cliché, “you can imprison the body, but you can’t imprison the mind,” becomes a reality and not just a quotation in a “Thinking of You” card.

The success if a tribute to the effect that Barack has had on men within Otisville.

The Barack movement is a social phenomenon not simply a presidency, especially for the men of color languishing in these prisons. This movement has given the demographically self-defeated and those with the vacant self-esteem a reason to think a little more of themselves. A reason to have pride in their government. A reason to have pride in their race. A reason to love sports, but to depend on academics. A reason to be inspired and a reason to inspire.

A reason to hope.

President Obama’s greatest achievement thus far has been his ability to inspire others. The dream if inspiration is the dream that keeps on living. His being the unconventional candidate has given him the ability action—a different—in the unconventional.

His inauguration is not just the panacea, but it is a movement, and even the worst hurricane begins with just one raindrop and a cool breeze.
President Obama, thank you. Your cool breeze is picking up speed and the invisible men are eager to grow into your hurricane.