Author Archives: Emily Abendroth

James Canady on Mass Incarceration and the Need to Speak Out

Letter from James Canady on December 23, 2014

Interview #2

You write in your letter that you have been speaking with older men to help you mature and develop, Can you tell us more about the mentorship or guidance you have received from others inside of prison? What do those relationships look like and how are they built/fostered? Do you feel like you are also a mentor to others?

First I’ll like to say that mentorship in here is not at a all time high but when I do speak with the older guys its nothing but love. The relationships is really built on the life sentence. About me being a mentor I am still learning myself but when I can help a friend I do. Continue Reading

Avis Lee on the Endless Frustrations/Pain of Life Without Parole

Letter from Avis Lee on July 20, 2014

Interview #1

I could have certainly answered the questions with a lot more uplifting tone, however, it would have been BS. The reality of a life sentence is ugly; it’s brutal, barbaric, and unending torture of the psyche for sure. Add to that the fact that you’re not the killer and it’s just pure HELL.

Believe me when I tell you that I’m a fighter. I have more support on the outside than I’ve ever had before… but, I’m getting tired fighting. I’ve been locked-up teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s. I’m just weary. I feel like I’m a burden on everyone. I feel like I’m a project sometimes – “the girl with the life sentence” – instead of just Avis.

Continue Reading

Avis Lee on Challenging DBI and Imagining the Future

Letter from Avis Lee in October of 2014

Interview #2

If you had the PA General Assembly’s ear or the Governor’s ear for ten minutes, what would you say to them/him?

In 1973, when the legislature revamped the Sentencing Code a seed of confusion and inconsistency was planted regarding parole for lifers. Their (the legislature’s) reworking of the Sentencing Code includes a provision which appeared to extend parole eligibility for some lifers.  Continue Reading

Avis Lee on Resistance and Public Engagement with Politicians

Letter from Avis Lee on January 18, 2015

Interview #3

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 do you do to keep hope alive concerning regaining your freedom? How do you handle aging, specifically how do you try to counteract its effects on your mind and body?  Continue Reading

Dawud Lee: Some Things You May Not Know About Me…

Letter from Dawud on November 1, 2014

Interview #4

My oddest habit is probably _______________________

My oddest habit is probably something which I say every single day without even thinking about it. I say that I am tired even if I just woke up from a full night’s sleep. I got this practice from my late father. He used to say “oh boy” all the time. But now my odd habit has taken on a life of its own because I also say this in response to the agony I feel each day of my existence. Continue Reading

Dawud Lee on Struggles Inside and Outside

Letter from Dawud on August 10, 2014

Interview #3

What does successful inside/outside collaboration look like to you? What 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 organizing for me means that conscious people on the outside begin to see and understand the value of the conscious people on the inside. We’ve spent many years working and studying so we can contribute in a positive manner to the struggle for freedom. We know that most of these prisoners are going to someday return to our community, so we want them to return as assets, rather than destructive agents. Outside organizations have more influence than you realize, and with your help we can help transform the currently criminal mentality of the majority of our youth in these prisons, into an activist mentality. The same goes for prison administrations, they treat us differently when they know that we’re represented by committed outside groups and organizations. We can use that credibility to address many issues. Credibility goes a long way with both the prisoners and the administrations we must deal with. Then we can also pull families together to serve as a united force. Continue Reading

Dawud Lee on Organizing and Mentoring on the Inside

Letter from Dawud on June 28, 2014

Interview #2

You mention that you have done a lot of work over the years mentoring youth and providing guidance to them. Would you describe in a little more detail what shapes that work has taken – whether formal or informal in nature?

In regards to mentoring the youth, it has been both formal and informal. It is something that I naturally do. I’ve been able to work with other conscious prisoners to build youth development programs, beginning in Huntingdon. The program ran for a few years, and we were allowed to meet once a month. It was difficult to get the process off the ground because the administration initially told me that no one would be interested in such a program. They were flooded with request slips from the “non-interested prisoners” the very next day. They ended up giving us one day a month which in reality was not enough time, but it turned out to be a successful program which a lot of young men in the prison benefited from. Even here at this institution, SCI Coal Township, we’re trying to erect such a program. We successfully ran a pilot program which started at the end of April and went on for about five weeks. All the men spoke highly of the program and are awaiting a response from the administration in regards to the proposal we submitted to have the program extended. The program centered around discussions about family, community, relationships, respect, love, and much more. Continue Reading