SAGEWRITERS IS 16 YEARS OLD!!
An update by founder/director, Judith Trustone
Box 215 Swarthmore, PA 19081 610-328-6101 info@Sagewriters.org
Judith Trustone, Director
Who would have imagined that out of a Creative Writing class back in 1999 at Graterford PA Prison would come Sagewriters, a national organization dedicated to publishing books of social and literary merit by prisoners, families, victims, advocates and progressive corrections professionals?
So far, we’ve worked with more than 2,000 people behind bars, all aspiring writers, and we’ve published more than 30 books. For now, we’re putting the publishing on pause until someone with a passion for the work, the time, energy and funds with which to do it comes along. Are you out there?
It’s been more than ten years, and it’s amazing what we’ve accomplished with a lot of help and no budget to speak of. We want to acknowledge the work of Cameron Holmes, David Bannister, William Jackson, Michael Forest, Trevor Mattis, Tyrone Werts, Larry Rocky Harris, Paul Perry, Lynwood Ray, Richard Gelfen, John Pace, Luis Suave Gonzalez, Darrel VanMastrigt, Patrick Shane Siscoe, Carl Hirsch, Gregory X Moore, Christina McLean, Men on a Mission, Byard Lancaster, families of prisoners, Gale Muhammad, Sister Helen Prejean, Angela Davis, Jaclyn Fleming, Niki Kast, Larry Robin, Rich Lewine, Rafi Kushmir, Pam Africa, Melanie Rigney, Doug Jennings, John Harnish, Peter Brigham, Tom Gregory and so many, many more. We are grateful.
WHAT WE’VE ACCOMPLISHED
* Published more than thirty books.
* Created three documentaries: “How to Create a Kindness Circle“; “Healing Justice: a journey into Shadow America” which highlights the musical and artistic talents of prisoners and the formerly incarcerated. It was shown several times on PBS and area universities. In “Soothing and Nurturing Human Spirits” healing techniques were taught to the formerly incarcerated and to prisoners’ families so they could do healing work with loved ones in visiting rooms. This was taped at the AFSC”s STOP MAX conference in ’08 about abuses in prisons.
* Proposal for a holistic approach, “Creating a Healing Lifestyle in Re-entry” in partnership with visionary Gale Muhammad, director of “Women Who Never Give Up.”
* Through our Healing with Words Project, we facilitated “Re-entry Healing Through Writing Circles” for men and women at the Philadelphia Prison, culminating in a workbook by the same name, which serves to share the stories and techniques with others. It was co-edited by Cameron Holmes of the PA Prison Society who worked as an assistant editor when he was first released after 22 years.
* With Larry Robin of Robin’s Books and the Moonstone Art Center, we urged the Philadelphia City Council to pass a resolution declaring March 2007 as “Justice Month,” a tradition we’re continuing in different forms each March.
We organized 28 artistic events related to prison issues culminating in a national conference, “Locked Up: Keys to Prison Change,” which featured Sister Helen Prejean and Angela Davis. Afterward we published and distributed 10,000 directories listing 200 regional organizations supportive of prisoners and their families.
* Out of Justice Month came the Coalition of Ex-Offenders Support Groups, and out of that coalition the Ray of Hope Project is partnering with the inside People Against Recidivism to form a new approach to re-entry, utilizing the expertise of prisoners and the formerly incarcerated.
* In March 2008, we participated in “Justice Week” in Chester, Pennsylvania, partnering with the Human Rights Coalition Chester and supported by the mayor, formerly incarcerated and families, prison and parole administrators.
* In March 2009 we facilitated the “Justice Month Film Festival” at the Moonstone Art Center in Philly, an event we try to continue every year. Art by Juvenile Lifer, Luis Suave Gonzalez, was displayed.
* Luis Suave Gonzalez contributed 15 of his remarkable paintings for an art show at Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat center, to benefit Sagewriters. It highlighted music by the internationally acclaimed Men on a Mission, who met in a homeless shelter, and jazz legend, Byard Lancaster.
* With the support of Infinity Publishing, we held a Book Contest for Writers in Prison, and our first prize winner received a complete publishing package. James Krivacska, Ed.D. from Avenel, New Jersey, won with his thoughtful Reflections from the Jetty.
* Perhaps our most exciting accomplishment has been the partnership between Sagewriters and prisoners of conscience at Graterford in the formation of the Global Kindness Revolution, which says that Kindness is the antidote to violence. To date, we’ve distributed over 100,000 Kindness Cards (30,000 in Spanish) in Philadelphia schools, churches, jails and community groups, as well as in Paris, Jamaica, St. Croix and to prisoners’ groups in Kansas City, St. Louis and Memphis, where we gave Kindness Cards to Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover!
The Global Kindness Revolution is where we’ll be focusing our efforts in the future. We are creating Kindness Circles on both sides of the walls, and we’ll have a guided CD out soon. Our Community Kindness Initiative is a transferable model for any group or neighborhood.
* In April, 2008, wanting to give the public a more positive face to those coming home from prison, we held an evening of music and dance, “Healing Justice: a celebration,” featuring performances by those who once were in prison, their families and supporters, including the Philadelphia Blues Messengers. Also performing was the a cappella gospel group, Men on a Mission, formerly incarcerated singer-songwriter, Cameron (Murray) Holmes, and jazz saxophonist, Odean Pope.
* In 2008 working with insiders, we arranged for two concerts at Graterford Prison; one with the Blues Messengers, and one with the R&B and doo wop group, 43rd and Woodland, along with WOGL disc jockey, Harvey Holiday.
* Screenings of the documentaries are available to groups of ten or more for education, discussions and inspiration. We also plan to reissue the Stress Survival Skills CD, “The Chocolate Meditation & Other Delights.”
* We’ve been interviewed several times on Power 99, WDAS, WRTI, WURD and, of course, gtownradio.com. We’ve also been highlighted twice on WXPN from the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. We’ve read prisoners’ poetry at numerous poetry gatherings, most recently the Germantown Poetry Festival at Vernon Park.
* The Hallmark Channel did a feature on Sagewriters a few years ago, and an on-air interview on Delaware 28, an ABC affiliate. We’re hoping Oprah’s people will catch it! Meanwhile promotional packages are available for producers of all the major media shows in the country – let us know if you need one. You can find several interviews as well as short pieces of the documentaries on YouTube, TrustOneKindness.
EFFECTS ON SAGEWRITERS AND THEIR FAMILIES
There are too many stories to recount here, but what has kept us going so long is the incredible impact being involved in writing and publishing has had on so many writers behind bars, and their families. There’s lifer Larry “Rocky” Harris in Mt. Pinckneyville, Illinois, who has the support of the DC-based Westin A. Price Foundation in a lawsuit about prison nutrition. In his book, he documents the cases of all of those who were on death row in Illinois when the moratorium against the death penalty was the first in the country; and he shows how so many of them were wrongly convicted. His poem reflects the feelings of many of the writers we’ve worked with through the years. Others have shared how Sagewriters “restores and elevates our humanity.”
SAGEWRITERS BRINGS HOPE
by Larry “Rocky” Harris
Doom and despair, agony and loneliness,
they were my days, and my companions for years.
Rage consumed my soul.
My mind screamed for a way to be heard.
Long days locked in a box,
the stigma of a convicted armed robber,
the case false, but conviction so true.
No one cared what I had to say.
The courts turned a cold shoulder;
I almost fell into the void of no return.
Hope, a word or just a thought?
No, it is a way of life for me,
a chance for justice again in my life.
Sagewriters, who, what, where,
a Light at the end of that dark tunnel.
My life started to change.
You gave me a voice to be heard;
I have cast off the shackles of the walking dead.
I have a voice again.
People are listening now.
I am a person again, with a story to be told.
I write and cast off the clouds of darkness.
I am alive again through my published words.
To write heals my soul, patches my torn spirit.
Justice may again be within my grasp.
Then there’s Jamaican Trevor Mattis, lifer and author of Contemplations of a Convict: a journey to freedom when innocence isn’t enuf, whose half-brother had been searching for him for years and found him on the Internet through Celling America’s Soul. He also has reconnected to his high school friends now living in America, and formed a support group to help free him. His latest book in progess is a sociological/political analysis of the criminal justice system in America. His vision is for Sagewriters to host a conference with Hip Hop artists to explore prison issues.
There are so many of you whose work has touched the hearts of many, and we have been honored to help nurture your talents and your humanity through writing.
We just can’t keep up the pace of the past ten-plus years, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially. Upon deep reflection, after 15 years of prison work, we see that our energies want to go in the direction of raising public awareness of prison issues, especially Pennsylvania’s Life without Parole. We hope that our Global Kindness Revolution will create dialogues about prisons. While too few people care about prisons, most everyone yearns for Kindness. Our hope is that by developing Community Kindness Initiatives and Kindness Circles and distributing Kindness Cards, we’ll open more doors for discussions about prisons and our Culture of Cruelty and Vengeance. We’ve had several consultations with business people, and they’ve all said the same thing: What we’re doing needs a new website, a new focus, an umbrella to bring together all of the parts. So we’ve created this site, TrustOneKindness.com, tools for education, inspiration, transformation, healing and entertainment. Sagewriters exists under that umbrella. www.Sagewriters.org still covers everything, as well as TrustOneKindness on YouTube.
For those of you with a book to publish, contact us and we’ll try to put you in touch with an appropriate publisher.
While focusing on the Global Kindness Revolution, we’re developing programs for all levels of society, and are making a guided musical CD for those wanting to take part in Kindness Circles. Right now we’re working with a group of Swarthmore citizens to create a model for a Community Kindness Initiative that hopefully will spread like a pebble in the world pond of Kindness. There are Kindness projects in 91 countries! We’re establishing Kind Neighborhoods, one block at a time, led by the formerly incarcerated who are dedicate to giving back, one group, one neighborhood at a time. We’ll send our model to President Obama.
People in prisons are finding ways to use the Kindness Cards (when they can get them) and creating programs to use inside (please let us know what works.) We see that the media might respond to Kindness more easily than to prisons (cruelty). We’re sorry but we can no longer do advocacy for individuals. No more letters to parole boards, employment offers, support for legal cases or Internet searches. Regrettably, we just can’t do it anymore. We wish we could.
You can write to us; we really do want to hear from you. Also, if you know of any possible patrons for our films, or people who can help, especially with Internet and other marketing, please send them our way. Those of you inside who’ve been mentoring aspiring writers, please continue to do so, for even if the work isn’t published it still has a healing effect. This has been an incredible journey these past ten-plus years, and we’re excited about the possibilities for the future.
Thank you for sharing your hearts and your souls with me. KEEP WRITING!
Be in Beauty,
JOIN THE GLOBAL KINDNESS REVOLUTION
BE KIND ALL THE TIME!
Sagewriters advocates for books of literary and social merit by prisoners, families, victims, activists, visionaries and progressive corrections professionals working to give an artistic voice to movements for change.
“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.”
Healing Justice: a 23-minute documentary highlights our broken criminal justice system and those working toward healing it, showcases the musical talents of those formerly incarcerated, their loved ones and advocates, and celebrates the kickoff of The Global Kindness Revolution and the distribution of Kindness Cards internationally.
Learn More at sagewriters.org