Letter from Phil on January 21, 2015
What questions would you ask the other people serving life sentences who are participating in this project? Are there specific things you would most like to hear them respond to?
What’s the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning? What do you think of at night before going to sleep? What gives you hope of one day being free? What are some of your fears about life on the outside? How do you maintain relationships with people on the outside? If applicable, how do you nurture a loving relationship from across a prison wall or fence? What strategies do you think can be used to abolish DBI? What can incarcerated people do? How informed do you think you are about the politics of DBI? Have you read any books, studies, reports, articles, etc. on DBI? Seen any movies, documentaries, TV specials, etc.? Any recommendations to the rest of us?
What other issues do you see Life Without Parole sentencing connected to and how?
I see DBI connected to the larger issue of this country’s banishment mindset, the idea that we can get rid of our problems by tossing them away somewhere where we no longer have to see or hear them. It’s an exclusionary way of thinking that is dominant in our education, economic, and other systems. At its core is the belief that certain segments if the population are unnecessary and thus expendable.
I definitely see DBI connected to poverty and racism. You won’t find many people with money condemned to DBI. And the racial disproportionality is well known and documented.
Unchecked police violence and mass incarceration are both driven by the idea that certain lives don’t matter. And both are allowed to continue because there’s no accountability for those who commit police violence and those who write the policies and laws that feed the prison system. Also, there’s a belief in this country–mostly by those who live outside the communities most affected–that people who get killed by cops or end up in prison deserve what they got. Most people believe that if you do nothing “wrong” you have nothing to worry about.
If you had the opportunity to address the PA General Assembly, what would you say?
Excuse my ignorance, but I’m not exactly sure what the PA General Assembly is :(. My guess is that it has something to do with the legislature. I’d tell them that I’m what a lifer looks like. I have a mother, brothers, a nephew, a partner. I’m a handful of classes away from a Villanova Bachelor’s Degree. I spend most of my time trying to improve the lives of the people around me through nonviolence and restorative justice education. I’m the guy who has been deemed forever irredeemable, too dangerous to ever live outside a prison wall, who’s costing taxpayers 35k a year. That’s me.
What is the shape of your resistance? What does it look like? Sound like? Taste like? Smell like? How does it feel?
I have no idea what my resistance looks, sounds, tastes, smells, or feels like. I really have to give that question more thought! My resistance is steady but not as bold as I’d like it to be because if the vulnerable position I’m in and the severity of the consequences that I face. I always have to think about those I love when making decisions. My resistance is also smart. I’m always able and willing to boycott or strike spending my money because that will hurt the system more than violence. I also use the grievance process if I think it’s about something that’s worth it. Aside from that I raise grievances when I can about issues that we need to fight back against through regular conversations with friends, coworkers, classmates etc.
What is one thing you have never done and would like to try?
I’d like to travel. I hardly went outside of my neighborhood. Of course I can’t wait to get married and have a boatload of kids! I want to do small things like look at the stars or a sunset, big things like speak to crowds, do a TEDtalk, and some crazy things like skydive, go deep underwater, climb a mountain maybe.
What does successful inside/outside collaboration look like to you? What are the features or qualities that mark its success or effectiveness? Are there any particular examples of such collaborations that rise to the top in your mind?
Successful inside/outside collaboration to me is when leadership and decision-making are shared. Consistent and regular communication is necessary, which requires strong commitment. All methods of communication must be utilized: mail, phones, visits. If there’s an inside established and institutionally recognized organization then outside folks can become official visitors and enter the prison to meet with the inside group. With an issue like ending DBI the people who suffer from the sentence need the largest seat at the table. At the end of the day, we’re the ones who will either benefit or be harmed by the decisions made.