Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mail and Security Policies ‘idiotic’ and Unconstitutional


DOC says safety is paramount, policies have already cut drug incidents in half

Story & photo by Cindy Bailey, GreeneSpeak Editor/Publisher


Rices Landing–Brenda Emerick, 59, of Rices Landing, sent GreeneSpeak a very articulate Letter to the Editor regarding controversial mail and security policies implemented recently at PA state prisons. These measures were announced in September, after 57 staff were sickened at prisons statewide. The state Dept. of Corrections linked the illnesses with expo- sure to synthetic cannabinoids.

ick’s son has refused to accept his legal mail and has filed a lawsuit against the DOC.

Emerick sees the introduction of body scanners and x-rays as a violation of privacy.

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The new regulations concern legal and non-legal inmate mail, body scanners, drone detection, ion scanners which can detect synthetic cannabinoids, and visiting room prac- tices and books.

Also, the vending machines had been off limits, but are supposed to be available by Dec. 10th. “To restrict visitors from purchasing food is detrimental to building family ties,” she said, adding that she always looks forward to buying her son a treat, as visitors are not permitted to bring in food. Emerick’s saga began April 30, 2002. According to the Pocono Record, on that day, her son Heath Gray, then 22, was with a man named Keith Young, 25, who started a fire that killed a five-year-old boy. Eventually, both men were convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life without parole. Young avoided a death sentence by testifying that Gray helped start the fire.

Emerick and her husband who raised the boy with her since he was seven moved to Rices Landing in 2004 from the Williamsport area where this all transpired, so they could visit Heath more often. Through the years, this plucky mom has become quite knowledgeable about prison life and inmates’ rights, penning articles for a newsletter called “Fight for Lifers” and joining the PA Prison Society advocacy group, where she became a “friendly visitor,” meaning she can visit anyone at any state prison.

After more than 16 years, Emerick has become accustomed to wending her way through a life nobody really wants. She looks forward to every minute of the six days each month she’s permitted to visit Heath, where they talk and play Scrabble and formerly enjoyed sharing a snack. She sees the these hastily adopted security policies as unconstitutional and something that could derail the fragile and few joys they can still share together.

In fact, a number of lawsuits have been filed by plaintiffs who say the policies violate the First Amendment, including the ACLU, Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, Abolitionist Law Center and Amistad Law Project.

But Wetzel emphasizes that safety is paramount, noting, “After an unprecedented number of exposures to dangerous sub- stances and 14-day lockdown, we’re are pleased to announce progress, an expansion of our book policy, and the data that indicates our staff, inmates, and visitors are safer today than

But DOC Secretary John Wetzel maintains that, “These policies were put in place for safety and to eradicate drugs from the prisons.” A 45-day report, issued Oct. 19, indicated that the policies “are working.”

Gray, now 39, maintains his innocence.

According to DOC statistics, emergency room visits for employee drug exposure dropped from 48 to 8; drug finds dropped by 46 percent; positive drug tests from random inmate drug tests dropped by half; inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults declined; and drug-related inmate misconducts were cut in half.

At home in Rices Landing, Brenda Emerick holds her favorite photo of her son Heath as a preschooler.

they were late last summer.”
State Corrections Officers Union President Jason Bloom said,

“Our union supports these policy changes…because they protect our staff, who are dedicated public servants and who deserve to come home safely each day.”

Meanwhile Emerick is coping with the situation, knowing that her son accepts his fate, believing that his bad decision to be with a violent person one night may have caused him to loose his freedom but saved his soul.

“He has found God and has read the Bible numerous times,” she says. “He teaches Bible classes and writes Bible study les- sons that he mails to people. He’s an awesome person.” Look- ing back, her voice still trembles as she says, “When they came and arrested him, I was in shock, I couldn’t eat, sleep, read, finish a sentence or complete a conversation.” But these days she says, “I do what I have to do to keep living life to its fullest.”

And that includes continuing to advocate for Heath and other inmates, in regard to these questionable security practices that she sees as efforts to silence inmates, adding, “These policies are dehumanizing. Prisoners need to connect with their families, the DOC is trying to take any meaningful communication away, yet expecting the prisoners to be docile.”

But Emerick, whose son is incarcerated at SCI-Greene in Waynesburg, says, “I’m outraged that the state will spend $15 million a year for idiotic policies that are detrimental…. These new policies are so upsetting because the DOC

is abusing their power while oppressing the already op- pressed.”

Non-legal mail is now being shipped to a Florida process- ing company which scans and emails the items, which are then destroyed. The images are printed out at the various prisons.

“So a child making a birthday card for someone: that card will never be touched by the recipient, ” Emerick says. Nor- mally she corresponds with two dozen inmates who have no family, but this year she refuses to send Christmas cards that will be thrown away. Photos printed out are often unrecog- nizable and four pages of material are squeezed onto one letter-sized sheet.

Legal mail is opened, copied, stored for 45 days, and destroyed. Inmates receive copies which have been handled by several people. Concerned about confidentiality, Emer-


By Cindy Balley

Greenspeak Editor/Publisher


An Experimental Take on Prisons

I recommend this thought provoking article published in Mother Jones about creating a more humane prison system:





PHILADELPHIA, PA (USA) – 20 July 2017 – A collaboration between the OPERATION FRESH START™ Working Group and the USA International Men’s Day Team has culminated in the Fourth Annual International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys becoming a launch vehicle for the SCI Graterford, PA Lifers Public Safety Initiative which is a component of OPERATION FRESH START ™. The Honorable James M. DeLeon, a highly acclaimed jurist in the Criminal Court Division of Philadelphia’s Municipal Court, is the architect of OPERATION FRESH START ™ which is being heralded as a Global Model for eradicating recidivism and creating pathways to reintegration and real-life options for formerly incarcerated Men and Women who return to our communities – for the most part – uneducated, unskilled, and unemployable and in dire need of spiritual, emotional, and psychological healing.

OPERATION FRESH START™ is utilizing the Fourth Annual International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys which is being observed under the theme, “Transcending Boundaries” on Sunday, 5 November 2017 as a “Call To Action” for religious leaders and religious institutions of all faiths to implement the SCI Graterford, PA Lifers Public Safety Initiative by, among other things, creating Transformational Centers which will help detoxify the spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally toxic environment in our communities – an environment which is a breeding ground for crime, blight, dysfunctional behavior, economic turpitude, and hopelessness – and an environment that subliminally drives the decision making and actions of at-risk youths. The SCI Graterford, PA Lifers Public Safety Initiative is a blueprint for moving the key players — Returning Citizens — into the equation of eradicating critical challenges that prevent at-risk youths from reaching their full potential; resisting the gravitational pull of the streets and crime; and maturing into productive and purpose-driven adults. OPERATION FRESH START ™ and the SCI Graterford, PA Lifers Public Safety Initiative are in alignment with the mission of the International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys – a mission which involves helping at risk-youths – Our Children – transcend the key challenges of crime, hopelessness, lack of male role models, lack of access to legitimate real-life options, and making their journey from childhood to adulthood in a spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally toxic environment.

For information about OPERATION FRESH START ™ and the Fourth Annual International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys which is serving as a launch vehicle for the SCI Graterford, PA Lifers Public Safety Initaitive, contact the USA International Men’s Day Team at: or 267-581-3963.

Kindness in the News

This is a great story about a young woman who took time to notice another person in need of help. A few minutes of their exchange went viral and has now expanded into the awareness of others.

That’s the magic of Kindness!


The Science of Altruism

Take a listen to this NPR segment on a very intriguing but disturbing topic, child psychopaths. This interview with Barbara Bradley Hagerty breaks down how this behavior manifests itself in children. She talks about the emotional center in the brain, or the limbic system and how children who demonstrate psychopathic traits have a dysfunction in that area, i.e., the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes fear. Data has shown this part is smaller in those who show psychopathic tendencies.

The interview cites an intensely disturbing account of a 6-year-old girl whose parents witnessed her attempting to strangle her baby sister. It gets even more alarming from there. Hagerty explained that these kids are not only void of any empath, the idea of punishment doesn’t have any influence on them. One approach by medical professionals is emphasizing the idea of rewards as opposed to using punishment as a means to correct behavior.

See also Hagerty’s in-depth article in the Atlantic on child psychopaths.

With regard to my platform of Kindness–(and Kindness at Noon), this topic is at the opposite end of the spectrum but worth examining, especially because it involves children. There is hope that some can be helped through specialized methodology. For kids who will be successfully steered onto a more altruistic path, they are the future in paving the way for practicing kindness. While I was writing The Global Kindness Revolution, future generations was one of the focal points. What will kindness look like 100 years from now? With the breakneck pace of technology, I wanted to dig in and diagnose our collective mindset and the trajectory we’re now taking.

This excerpt from the book’s introduction explains the concept behind genuine kindness as a focused practice (Kindness at Noon):

Imagine if approximately 3,734,000 or 51% of us decided to align our mental energy fields to positively influence the rest of the world! That’s what the Global Kindness Revolution is all about. This is the first time ever that we’ve had the social media tools with which to affect everyone connected through two billion smartphones and a billion computers. If 51% of the population decides to try it, we can strengthen the vibrational field of kindness and weaken the violence and negativity that plagues us all.

For far too long we’ve been operating under the notion that we’re alien to one another. Wars and hatred of those not like us has twisted our thinking into accepting this as the “new norm.” We cannot allow this to continue to grow like a poisonous fungus, destroying our capacity to think clearly and act in rational ways with compassion, not only for our environment, but for others who are less fortunate. We must learn to embrace each other and in turn, improve our planet. That is our challenge and we can meet it together for just five minutes (or more) a day.

The New Science is finally catching up with spirituality and is in the process of providing validation for what was once deemed “unexplainable.” The exercises and visualizations in this book can now be viewed as technological tools, not some way out “woo-woo” theory.

Now, thanks to scientific explanation such as String Theory in the new physics, which postulates that at any given moment, there are eleven different dimensions to reality, or Chaos Theory, which demonstrates how the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil eventually becomes part of a tornado in Toronto—we know the techniques described in this book have scientific explanations for these experiences and their effectiveness. You don’t have to walk on fire to believe these things are possible and in fact, we DO have the power to make the world a better place for seven generations to come.

More than twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha described what scientists are now calling the smallest part of material, “subatomic particles.” If we take two of these tiny particles, invisible to the naked eye, and expand them to the size of a pea, the space between subatomic particles would be two miles. It’s the flow between the peas wherein lies our interconnectedness to others—the life force or FLOW, what some call God, or other deities, exist. It is within that Flow that healing and expanded consciousness occurs in response to minds focused and determined, motivated in part by their DNA and the experiences that affect it. We’ll call the Flow “The Light of Kindness” as this book helps us to learn, live and heal within this Light, and to help brighten this light in others.

Quote of the Day: Jack Kerouac

Timeless Quote from the great Jack Kerouac:

“Practice Kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.”


Read more on Kerouac HERE

The Loss of a Queen

It’s Scary Loving an Old Person: The Loss of a Queen

Have you ever met someone that you loved immediately almost before a word was spoken? That’s how it was with me and Queen Mother Nana. It was as if our spirits recognized each other and filled the room between us with their dance. But she was old and disabled-could I risk loving her only to lose her?

There we were in 2002, a still-feisty community activist and beloved elder from North Philly, known to the community as Josephine “Mom” Johnson, and a white, middle-aged, middle-class human rights activist, author and filmmaker. We’d heard about each other from some of the students in my former creative writing class at Graterford Prison where she and two other remarkable women had volunteered for over thirty-five years, bringing African studies to many behind bars yearning for an identity, community and culture. In these women they found mothers. As did I. Nana told me that they prayed for me by phone every night.

In the sixties, Nana worked with then DA Ed Rendell to end gang violence, to close nuisance bars in declining city neighborhoods and advocated for stronger liquor control laws. She took Yellow Cab to court for their discriminatory practices in services in black communities.

In 1979, she’d begun outreach work at Graterford where they adopted her Pan African Studies Community Education Program (PASCEP) from Temple University. She earned a Bachelor of Historical Education degree from the Pan-African Federation Organization.

In the late eighties, she visited several African countries, delivering educational supplies and over 2,000 books, helping to establish a school in Ghana. On every trip she took school children (and adults) from N. Philly to Africa, instilling in them pride of their heritage. She was “enstooled” in 1992 as Queen Mother Nana Ama Akoffo 2nd.

Philadelphia City Council and the State Senate recognized her several times through the years for her work giving voice to many social issues like housing, voter registration, family unity, teen pregnancy and police abuse.

Nana introduced me to the Incarcerated Community, families of the men in my classes. It was through her strong support of my work that I was able to earn the trust of those with loved ones in prison with whom I was writing a book about them and the criminal justice system. The book, Celling America’s Soul: Torture & Transformation in our Prisons and Why We Should Care has been called by people in prison “the best book in print that describes prisons from most every perspective,” was immediately banned. Families were selling the book out of the trunks of their cars at Broad and Erie. Fresh hope blossomed as we were all sure once the public read about the human suffering funded by unaware taxpayers, conditions would change for the better. Twelve years later, people are just beginning to awaken to the horrors and costs of mass incarceration. I also made a documentary, which includes an interview with Nana, Healing Justice: a journey into Shadow America, which is available at

By the time I met her in 2002, she was confined to a walker and a wheel chair, her lungs impaired by breathing chemicals during the years she ran a successful hair salon. Yet even from her wheelchair she was still helping the community. Whatever the need was, she’d put out word that a refrigerator was needed and one would become available. Each week, at the senior high rise where she lived in an impeccably neat apartment, she delegated distribution of loaves of bread donated by the Vermont Bread Company. Whenever someone needed a sympathetic ear, she was there and did enjoy a bit of gossip now and then. She also grumbled a lot as she became less independent.

This was a woman who glowed with love, who radiated strength and compassion, and who gave us and the community the kind of mothering we didn’t know we needed. She was 94 when she passed into Spirit.

I am glad I took the risk of loving her. Of course I’ll always miss her, her spirit, her love, her sense of humor and her outrage at injustice. I’ll do my best to try to walk in her shoes.



Judith Trustone is an award-winning author, filmmaker and human rights advocate. The Global Kindness Revolution: How Together We Can Heal Violence, Racism and Meanness to be released in early 2016. Her documentaries include Soothing and Nurturing the Human Spirit; Healing Justice: A Journey into Shadow America; How to Create a Kindness Circle (on YouTube)