Category Archives: Interview

Clinton Walker on the Social Costs of Being “Tough on Potential”

Clinton "Nkechi" Walker
Clinton “Nkechi” Walker
Excerpt from an Interview with Nkechi on 2/2/15

In your last set of responses you describe a system and approach to young people (and particularly toward urban youth of color) that has become “tough on potential.” Layne and I thought this phrasing was very powerful. We wanted to follow up by asking, what does it mean for a society to be “tough on potential” and what are its impacts? What would a different approach that alternately encouraged human potential look like?

A society is tough on potential when its first course of correction towards its citizens is punitive.

The essence of tough on potential begins and ends with the children of its society. I believe education is a direct root to all potential. When society and its electors allow its educational system to fail in value and care, it do so with deteriorating the growth and possibilities of its children. It’s the epitome of being tough on potential when society allows its children to be subject to the harshest penalties of the judicial system such as a Life sentence in prison. It’s tough on potential when an ex-offender returns to society only to be confronted with a depressing and discouraging reality, that many opportunities to become a productive citizens are limited or stripped from them, opportunities such as adequate employment, state and federal benefits and the right to vote. It’s tough on potential when society and its elected refuse to recognize and exercise the ability to forgive and allow a second chance to those who have been incarcerated for decades and has achieved the highest degree of rehabilitation. Finally, it’s tough on potential when the lawmakers and members of the court who make up the judicial system blatantly disregard the lasting effects of sentencing a person to a prison stint of no return. These effects consist of displacement of families and the dismantling of communities.
Continue reading

Mechie on a childhood mistake, and an adult life of activism

M._Scott._2013_Photo_#2_1Letter from Marie “Mechie” Scott in July of 2014

What’s one thing that you think people would be surprised to know about you.

That I’m the first female to have written a bill that was sponsored by five senators in its original version. It called on several state agencies to conduct a study of the problems and needs of children whose parent(s) are incarcerated. It later became Senate Resolution 71. Out of that experience, I’ve published several articles on the subject. I’m the editor of C.O.P.I.N.G. newsletter (Children of Parent Inmates Needing Guidance). And I’m in a book, coauthored by a very close friend of mine, Howard Zehr, on the subject of children of incarcerated parents.
Continue Reading

Mechie on breaking co-dependency and fighting for justice

Marie "Mechie" Scott
Marie “Mechie” Scott

Letter from Marie “Mechie” Scott in September 2014

Would you speak a bit more about what motivated or drove you to craft the language and ideas for what eventually became Senate Resolution 71?

When I gave birth to my daughter, and her aunt nicknamed her Hope (in hopes that she did not turn out like her parents who were in prison and on drugs), I agreed to it. Unlike the legacy left by my father, I did not want my child to ride the vicious cycle in inter-generational incarceration.

What started out as an incentive to save my daughter’ s future ended up being a life-long endeavor. Try raising a child from behind bars. It is no easy undertaking. In fact, it would test my endurance to become who I am today.
Continue Reading

Mechie on personal decisions and mass incarceration

Marie "Mechie" Scott
Marie “Mechie” Scott

Letter from Marie “Mechie” Scott on January 12, 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?

  • Do they feel as if it is gender disparity inside of the commutation process?
  • Do you believe the new governor will have the “unanimous decision” in the commutation process repealed?
  • Have they heard talk of the commutation board supposedly letting people out? If so, can they be more detailed in what they heard?
    Continue Reading

Terri Harper on trying to heal in a damaged system

Letter from Terri Harper in July of 2014

Please tell us something about yourself. Feel free to include whatever you feel comfortable or interested in sharing.

I am 45 and counting, but I’m not aging in a negative way, despite having had major back surgery, and carpal tunnel surgeries. Amidst all this ugly, I envision light and beauty every day through faith, the valuable friendships I’ve built and with the love of those I call my family (blood related and not). I absolutely love to read and write, and yet I find the most peace in total silence, which is a rarity. Oftentimes, I feel I’m on an island all by myself, because I seem to see things so very differently than most of the people I come in contact with, and then I chide myself for my momentary disassociation with all that makes this world go around (differences). My main goal is to make a difference, so I need to fully embrace different people and their ways. I want to be known as one who overcame her poor choices and weaknesses of character and became the human being worthy of another opportunity at happiness, fulfillment, and a positive legacy. For today, I want to be seen in 2014, not 1991.
Continue Reading

Terri Harper on the cruelty and cowardice of mass incarceration

Letter from Terri Harper on August 8, 2014

When you write about the current “justice” system, you mention several ways in which the amount of money and privilege a person has determines how the system treats them and who ends up getting sent to prison. What do you think has caused the conditions of mass imprisonment, why has the broader public allowed it to happen, and who has benefited from it?

In part the conditions of mass imprisonment, I believe, have been caused by the great lack of education, via budget cuts and defocus on its importance for future success in this life; on the unavailability of jobs with wages commensurate to today’s cost of living and taking care of a family unit, to loss of solid family structures with positive male models for children and young people to follow; mass media/entertainment/social media being the go-to for everyone and everything, so people aren’t doing enough research or truth-seeking in matters of utmost importance, and the easy road is the one most traveled, which is the downfall of so many. I think the broader public has allowed it to happen either by feeling they no longer can win against the greater numbers of people unwilling to change and grow, or they feel they don’t have the knowledge to make the difference, or they’ve been defeated before and are afraid of being defeated again, so they just don’t try. The rich, and the legislators who have the mindset that people can’t change, benefit from mass imprisonment. The closed-minded people who choose to live in fear and feed into media propaganda also benefit, because a good number then invest in companies that supply prisons.
Continue Reading

Terri Harper on fighting (and living with) death by incarceration

Letter from Terri Harper in October of 2014

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?

If I were going to ask other people serving life sentences who are participating in this project questions, I would first ask, “who are you doing this for?” After that I’d ask 2) who do you feel you most disappointed, 3) who do you think is best served by your realizations/growth/development? 4) How do you stay engaged in real life matters, without wishing too intensely for something you may never have? 5) why are projects like Lifelines important? 6) who or what are you living for/what’s your purpose? And lastly I’d want to know what’s next for you?
Continue Reading

Phill on redemption and restorative justice

Letter from Phill on June 26, 2014

What strategies have you used in your organizing/advocacy work over the years that felt most effective and why?

The only strategy I used most of my incarceration up until a few years ago was my fight to get myself out through the courts. Only recently since joining R2R have I expanded my energy to the larger fight to end DBI. I’m sorry to say that I don’t think any of our efforts have been effective. We’ve been trying to change the conversation to include every human being’s right to redemption, that all people have the capacity to change and should have some opportunity to prove they are more than their worst act. We also have been trying to change the language with which we talk about these issues. By avoiding negative labels and giving common phrases more appropriate and critical titles, we believe minds can begin to change. We believe these are good strategies but we haven’t been able to implement or spread them much.
Continue Reading

Felix Rosado on dispelling the myths about incarcerated people

Letter from Phill on June 8, 2014

Please tell us something about yourself. Feel free to include whatever you feel comfortable or interested in sharing.

I’ll be 37 in 3 weeks (which I’d rather not think about!!) and have been fighting a death-by-incarceration sentence for going on 19 years.

My story began in 1977, in Newark, NJ. Pop left mom shortly after my birth. Left with no real choice, mom packed up me and our things and headed over to Reading, PA, where her mother and 14 of her 15 siblings had migrated from PR a few years earlier. We lived in a first floor apartment on Elm Street, in the northeast section of the city, notorious for drugs and violence. Most of the family lived nearby, many on the same block. We spent most of our days and nights together in a red-bricked alleyway that we considered ours. It was our safe space amid the danger.
Continue Reading

Phill on Death By Incarceration and the problem with banishment

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?
Continue Reading