John N. Mitchell Tribune Staff Writer Mar 5, 2019  Shawn Baker, locked up for eight years, is now working and productive — John Mitchell John N. Mitchell Tribune Staff Writer

 

After her release from prison in November 2017, Shawn Baker
needed help.

“I didn’t know what to do next,” said Baker, who served eight
years on an aggravated assault charge. “You are by yourself
when you get out and you can become desperate if you don’t
have help.”

She got that help through  Ardella’s House , a nonprofit that helps
incarcerated women transition back into society. They helped her
find a job with  Peerstar LLC , which helps incarcerated women find
housing and jobs upon their release from jail.“I’m helping people,”
Baker said. “People helped me.”On Tuesday at City Hall, Baker
joined local politicians, lawmakers and other stakeholders
participating in the  National Day of Empathy (NDE). The brainchild
of #cut50, NDE is a national bipartisan program whose goal is to
cut the national prison population in half over the next 10 years.

Almost 3 million Americans were behind bars at the end of
2016,  according to the Prison Policy Initiative .“We’re trying to

humanize mass incarceration. If you listen to the stories, they are
powerful,” said Tonie Willis, executive director at Ardella’s House
and the #cut50 Pennsylvania ambassador. “Once the people tell
the story, they want you to take their story and  put  a face to mass
incarceration. Words are powerful. Our hope is that if you listen to
the words it might make you move on empathy and think about
the things that incarcerated people are going through.”

The program, which ran for about three hours, included brief
addresses by state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, City Council
members Jannie Blackwell and Curtis Jones and state Reps.
Jordan Harris and Joanna McClinton. Other speakers, all of them
addressing the subject of empathy, included District Attorney
Larry Krasner and Keia Bradford-Grey, chief defender of the
Philadelphia Defenders Association.

Bradford-Grey wanted to drive  home  the point that the day was
not about creating good feelings around a discussion about
empathy, but about encouraging those who participated in the
session — there were about 100 people in attendance — to
consciously guard against having biases against the incarcerated
and the formerly incarcerated.

“Empathy will guide our actions. If you understand people and
human capacity, you  start  to see the value in them,” Bradford-
Grey said. “When you start to see the value in them, you don’t just
make these biased decisions that keep them in cages or not give
them opportunities when they come out.

“Empathy helps us to recognize people for who they are rather
than what they may have done in their worst moments,” she
continued, “and not label them forever based on that factor.”

Baker didn’t speak with the elected officials on Tuesday. However,
that does not prevent her from telling others about her
experiences and those who helped her.

“I worked on myself while I was in jail. I was determined to come
out a better person,” Baker said. “And then others helped me. So I
feel obligated to do the same thing for other people going through
what I’ve been through.”

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

OPERATION FRESH START

OPERATION FRESH START (TM) – SCI GRATERFORD, PA LIFERS 

PUBLIC SAFETY INITIATIVE LAUNCH SET FOR

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER FOR MEN AND BOYS

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: insearchoffatherhood@gmail.com or 267-581-3963.

Long Term Solitary Confinement Must Be Abolished

Channeling Mr. Charles Dickens, very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony solitary confinement has inflicted upon me. The last twelve months in solitary confinement have been a terrible endurance that none but those who have suffered the like can fathom. Lon term solitary confinement is a mode of punishment which no man has a right to inflict upon a fellow human being.

I hold that this insidious daily tampering with the mysteries of the mind is immeasurably worse than any torture of the body. All who have been subjected to this nefarious punishment must return to society morally unhealthy, diseased of mind, and unfit for the rough and tumble contact and busy action of the real world.

Long term solitary confinement as a mode of punishment must be abolished if we are to stake the claim of being a civilized society. Only the most depraved would sanction a protracted wasting of the flesh and slow mortification of the spirit as a legitimate form of human punishment–a punishment bereft of hope and promise.

The vast majority of human beings who have endured long term solitary confinement are transmogrified into zombies – living breathing creatures with no heart or real feelings, senses numbed dulled and atrophied by extended extreme isolation and deprivation of real human contact. They are like a caged bird that after years of not using its wings is released only to realize that despite retaining the appendages of wings it can no longer take flight. The muscles and nerves required having wasted away.

Long term solitary confinement as a mode of punishment is reprehensible to modern human conscience and must be abolished, permanently discarded upon the pile heap of the history of man devised barbaric and inhuman punishments like quartering, the rack, and crucifixion.

 

Words Do Matter

Trump’s tossing out of real and made up words without thinking of the consequences is a most dangerous trait for someone with power. His verbal spillage is more a sign of mental illness than of a mature, thoughtful leader. Our Global Kindness Revolution’s co-director, Afghani-American Atta Arghandiwal, used to listen to the speeches of President John F. Kennedy when he was a boy in Afghanistan. Learning English from Peace Corps volunteers, his soul was imprinted by Kennedy’s words, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

These words motivated Atta to devote his life to humanitarian work on behalf of refugees and immigrants. He escaped as a refugee himself when the Russians invaded Afghanistan over three decades ago, finally landing in America where he had a successful career in banking. His upcoming work, GLOBAL RESOURCE GUIDE FOR IMMIGRANT FAMILY SUCCESS brings a roadmap for negotiating foreign systems and customs from the first thought refugees and immigrants have of leaving their home to eventual integration into their host country. There’s no other book like this and it will surely have a most positive impact for current and future refugees and immigrants seeking freedom and opportunity as wars and climate change force more mass migration. With our “Kindness at Noon, Everywhere, Everyday for Refugees and Immigrants” effort (see www.Trustonekindness.com for info), we hope the energy of altruism and kindness will overtake and neutralize the hatred encouraged by Trump’s words that encourage our MEAN MINDS and discourages our KIND MINDS.

French-Canadian visionary, Luc Goulet, offers a blueprint for the future with his BigBang Project and his soon-to-be published LEVERAGE YOUR MIND: A BETTER ME IS A BETTER WE. His analysis of the positive economic impact of shopping locally and volunteering is incredible.

This country, despite its noble calling, has always been resistant to refugees to say nothing about its treatment of slaves and people of color. My grandparents came from Ireland, Italy and Russia, and all experienced discrimination and threats including the burning of a cross on their southern lawn, which permanently traumatized my father and his younger sister, who witnessed it.

Recent studies indicate the size and activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain dealing with emotions, is related to altruism—those with smaller amygdala and little altruistic brain activity have little altruism, like psychopaths like Trump. Those with high altruism tend to have larger and more active amygdalas, one assumes like Atta and Luc. Another study shows that psychopathic children also show evidence of brain involvement in their pathology, and though previously considered untreatable, are found to be trainable in altruism. By positively rewarding them, they learn to act altruistically even though it doesn’t originate from the amygdalas. So “Kindness at Noon” and our efforts like “Kindness Behind Bars Training Program” show promise, if enough of us commit to truly leveraging our mental power every day at noon. The easiest revolution ever!

Can we stand strong and not succumb to the Trump lies and fear-mongering that ISIS thrives upon, using Trump’s words in recruiting terrorists, putting not just our nation but all nations at risk in the distorted name of a religion, making sure that our kind minded voices are heard over the angry hoards celebrating their ignorance and violence globally, embarrassing kind, thinking Americans. Edmund Burke wrote that “All that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”

No matter where you are, go to www.indivisibleguide.com to find an indivisible or other community group working on issues important to you and to a flourishing democracy. Or write a letter to the editor. Start a blog. Join demonstrations when you can. Speak out! Call your legislators! Volunteer! Shout out! Sing out! Be mindful of your words-keep them positive and kind…words are energy and as they fly through the air you never know where they will land. Will they be used as recruitment by ISIS or to inspire a young boy or girl in a third world country to become an active humanitarian?

Judith Trustone, GLOBAL KINDNESS REVOLUTION: HOW TOGETHER WE CAN HEAL VIOLENCE, RACISM AND MEANNESS.

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.