North Philadelphia resident Debra Wilson has donned various forms of attire to signify where she was in life. Her first was the military camouflage of a drill sergeant. Her next was the uniform of a prison inmate. On Wednesday, Wilson joined 11 other women in royal blue caps and gowns for the fourth annual Women Working for a Change graduation ceremony.
The United States was founded on the restoration of rights, and Americans have historically taken pride in the civil liberties and individual freedoms we offer the people who live here. But the country hasn’t always done a great job of making sure people know how their rights can protect them.
At age 35, Jermaine Myers has spent most of his adult life incarcerated. The cycle started when he was 16, charged with armed robbery as an adult. He got out at age 21 with the idea of getting a commercial driver’s license. Instead, he said, “I went back to drugs and guns within two months.”
“When we sit with pain or discomfort rather than act on it, we learn that feelings and sensations come and go. We don’t necessarily need to act on them all. We have a chance to pause and make a thoughtful choice about how to respond.”
This week’s #solutionoftheweek blog post is about an initiative that made headlines at Upworthy, Newsweek, the Washington Post, CNN, and other news sites back in 2016. I decided to highlight it this week because, although it is not directly related to prison reentry, it is related to the way we as a culture see and think about punishment.
Instead of suspending students, Baltimore’s Robert W. Coleman Elementary School gave students an alternative route to making “thoughtful choices” by utilizing a meditation room. As the CNN article linked above points out, many children who face suspension also face difficult circumstances at home. Although they can’t change those circumstances, they can change the way the circumstances affect them and their choices at school.
“Giving these kids the chance to breathe deeply, to focus their attention on themselves rather than what’s going on externally, can be an effective way to combat the stress, improve attention and usher in calm.”
Although the meditation room hasn’t been a complete fix for suspensions, it has decreased them and had impact on the school culture.
This solution was lauded because it offered an alternate way to think about punishment. Suspension, like prison, excludes a group of “misbehavers” from their school, their friends, their support groups. It also labels them as “bad” or troublemakers, and goes on a permanent record that may follow them through the rest of their academic career.
Students who are suspended face several challenges assimilating back into their classes after missing multiple days of instruction. One of the major challenges is the lack of support from teachers, peers and parents on the information missed. There is a chance that students can be left alone to figure out this process, but the climb to getting back on the same level as their peers can be long and hard. Not all will make it back to that point.
This is similar to the narrative that many ex offenders face when they are released from prison.
Have any prisons in Philly tried meditation or some holistic technique to help prisoners deal with adversity? Well, yes. The Transformation Yoga Project is one such initiative at work at two Philadelphia facilities: the Cambria Community Center, and at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia. The Prison Yoga Project works with inmates at SCI Graterford in Schwenksville, Pa. Heart-to-Heart offers not only yoga but meditation and journaling workshops at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia and the Camden County Jail.
For returning citizens, a number of Philadelphia FIGHT community health centers offer yoga and other stress-management classes as part of their drop-in and holistic health services for adolescents and young adults, women, and formerly incarcerated folks living with, or at high risk of, HIV/AIDS.
Know of more reentry programs using meditation, yoga, etc. to make the reentry process more successful? Let us know!
Jeff Clayton is the Policy Director of the American Bail Coalition. He joined Stephanie Renee to discuss the bail system and Senator Sessions as the potential new US Attorney General.
Search Ban the Box policies across the country with this website from a Philly startup – Generocity Philly
Keeping up with policies pertaining to employment practices can be tough for employers. That’s why Philly-based hiring and talent startup JaneHires launched a site called Ban the Box States, aimed to equip employers with what they need to know about Ban the Box laws, which, in a nutshell, prohibit employers from asking applicants about their criminal history.