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 [TWENTY?] years, and it’s amazing what we’ve accomplished with a lot of help and no budget to speak of.
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.
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.
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. We’re fundraising to print Kindness Cards in Farsi for Afghanistan and Iran, and Arabic for Egypt. Our Community Kindness Initiative is a transferable model for any country, group or neighborhood. The first 5 minutes of Sagewriters’ documentary on prison reform, Healing Justice. With music by Byard Lancaster.