Families of the incarcerated coming together for change

JustServe AmeriCorps is inspired and supported by many grassroots organizations working for justice and safety in our community. One of those groups is the Black Prisoners’ Caucus, a group of incarcerated men organizing within Washington State Reformatory, Monroe.

“Men of Vision” by Monica Stewart, from the Black Prisoners’ Caucus website

Founded in 1972, the Black Prisoners’ Caucus leads workshops and dialogue inside the prison for personal and community transformation. The BPC also hosts an annual Criminal Justice Summit at Monroe, bringing community leaders into the prison to discuss the root causes of crime and violence, and solutions and alternatives to incarceration and recidivism.

On Saturday, August 14th, 2010 the Black Prisoners Caucus will bring families of the incarcerated together at the Evergreen campus in Tacoma, to connect with each other and with others who are working for social change.

The Families Summit will…

  • Bring loved ones and families of the incarcerated together with community leaders and organizations for available resources, so they can begin to collectively organize and unify as one.
  • Offer a platform for families to address personal issues and experiences with other families, community leaders and organizations in order to raise awareness.
  • Educate families and the community on issues that exist within the criminal justice system that affect the lack of treatment services, rehabilitation programs, proper education and job training availability – all of which contributes to a high recidivism rate among newly released offenders, while connecting families to organizations that provide resources, support and family assistance.
  • Establish an online network (I.C.O.N.) comprised of families, support groups and organizations to assist in their efforts to unite, organize, advocate and collectively work towards a more humane justice system that works for families of the incarcerated and the community as a whole.

Food, childcare and transportation will be provided.

Here are three ways that you can support this work:

1) Spread the word about the Families Summit to your contacts in the community.

2) Get involved in the August 14th organizing committee, helping to get food, drink and other supplies donated for the event.

3) If you have access to a car, sign up to be a volunteer driver helping to transport families to the event.

For more information, please email bpc@blackprisonerscaucus.org, call Cammie Carl at 206.619.4655, or call Sherrell Severe at 206.937.2701.

I loved my experience at JustServe AmeriCorps

Alex Montances served with Solid Ground’s JustServe AmeriCorps program from 2007-2008. His placement was the Asian Pacific Islander Women and Family Safety Center, helping to coordinate the Annual Vigil for Victims of Domestic Violence at the King County Courthouse, and leading educational peer groups with high school aged Asian and Pacific Islander young men on anti-oppression topics, dating violence and sexual assault.

Read below to hear how Alex was impacted by his participation in JustServe AmeriCorps at Solid Ground–and the powerful work that Alex is doing in the community, today:

“Today I am a second year graduate student at California State University Long Beach in their Applied Anthropology program. My focus is on advocacy and social services for Filipino American immigrants, organizations, and communities. I hope to do advocacy and research consulting for non-profit organizations, state, city and federal institutions so that they can better serve Filipino immigrant communities. I also work with a Filipino American Youth group called AnakBayan Los Angeles that teaches youth about Filipino culture and history while fighting for youth rights and human rights for Filipino communities around the world. Currently, with AnakBayan I teach educational workshops on Filipino culture/history, anti- imperialism, and human rights to Filipino youth and students in the greater Los Angeles county area.

I learned so many great things about people’s movements, anti-oppression, non-profit work, and community activism through JustServe AmeriCorps. There were things I learned about racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, age-ism, able-ism and other forms of oppression in those team meetings that I would have never learned in school or though my friends and family. I learned on the job about humility, patience, and hard work. I learned more about active leadership and teamwork at my placement site, and how people navigate through systems to do real community work.

If anyone is thinking about joining an AmeriCorps program you should really consider JustServe. Its focus on anti-oppression and anti-violence is extremely valuable and will give you many tools to work with communities. Be open to challenge yourself and what you know about marginalized communities and you will definitely grow as an individual and a leader in this program.

If you are a current JustServe AmeriCorps Member, thank you for your service! You will never forget or regret the work you do here! If you are unsure of what to do after your service, talk to your placement site, teammates, team leaders and others in the community, and you may find some unexpected opportunities waiting for you. If you are interested in Filipino communities and human rights, please contact JustServe team leaders and ask for my contact information, I would love to chat.

I loved my experience at JustServe AmeriCorps, and I know that real social change happens when you work together and empower local people to change their communities for the better. Thank you to Solid Ground, Just Serve AmeriCorps, and the Asian Pacific Islander Women and Family Safety Center whose guidance and friendship helped me to serve my communities in meaningful ways.”

Foosbalternative to violence

Cool: Chevas Gary is a member of Solid Ground’s JustServe AmeriCorps team working with youth at risk of involvement in violence. Program Supervisor Tera Oglesby told us about this comment Chev made in a recent AmeriCorps report. It sums up why Chev was born to be a youth worker, and how awareness, creativity and foosball are all important allies in addressing youth violence.

“At my site, Aki Kurose, there is a foosball table in the YMCA Community Learning Center. There are about 20 students who…rush to the CLC during lunchtime every day to play. Because foosball seemed to draw some of the students who would not normally be involved in school activities, we decided to organize an afterschool foosball tournament. These are the kids who tend to be forgotten or overlooked. It is when kids think that they are only having fun that I can slip them gems of inspiration and encouragement. Not to mention when we keep a kid off the streets after school, it reduces the risk of any mistakes they might make out of boredom.”

Everybody talks about reforming the justice system, here is something YOU can do…

We probably don’t need to restate or debate the obvious: our justice system has huge problems. Institutional racism, lack of support for reintegrating ex-offenders into their communities, misguided priorities, I mean how much time do we have to talk?

Turns out, not much. The proverbial stuff is hitting the fan with failures of the system made all the more clear by recent high-profile shootings in communities throughout Puget Sound.

So, let’s stop talking. Here is something you can do: Seattle’s Community Court  is an alternative to incarceration through participation in community service and connection to social service resources. To quote from their website:

Rather than go to jail, non-violent misdemeanor offenders who enter the program can help themselves in overcoming their own problems as they complete community service to improve the neighborhood and make a variety of comprehensive social service linkages to help address the root and underlying issues of repeated criminal behavior.”

Community Court participants clean up New Holly P-Patch

Community Court participants clean up New Holly P-Patch (from Community Court website)

One of the cool things is that defendants who enter the program give back to the community where their offenses occurred. In addition to their service work they attend classes for skills enhancement and positive change, complete referrals to agencies that help them with benefits, housing, employment, education and alternatives to prostitution and substance abuse.

Turns out Community Court is always looking for more service project sites throughout Seattle–especially projects that can be done indoors when the weather is ugly. They are also looking for community members who would like to sponsor (lead) defendants in service at various sites.

Here’s where we all come in: figure out how your favorite non-profit community agency could utilize Community Court participants. Volunteer to help lead the project. If that sounds like more than you want to commit to, talk to the folks who run your favorite community groups and help them brainstorm how to use this incredible resource.

Solid Ground’s JustServe AmeriCorps has been a proud partner of Community Court for a number of years. In fact, team member Stan Kehl recently completed work on the spiffy new Community Court website. (Nice work, Stan!) We invest in this incredible program because it works. You should, too!

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