NOVEMBER 19TH MARKS the five-year anniversary of the Men for Honor’s Sharing of Language class. Twice a month, twenty-five Hispanic prisoners, led by inmate facilitators Jessie Trujillo and Hilario Arroyo, gather inside the Facility ‘A’ education department where they share their experiences that steered them to crime and prison. “The men come here because they want help, then they learn we all have similar stories that got us in trouble: like dysfunctional households, alcoholic parents, even child abuse.” Says Trujillo.
The original intent for Sharing of Language was to create a safe space to teach English to the Spanish speaking population. For years, the Hispanic community has been grossly underserved on Facility ‘A’. Before Sharing of Language, the only Spanish-speaking program was a Sunday Church service. Sharing of Language has evolved into a support group where the participants can learn and grow from their peers without the stigma of a language barrier.
The group celebrated its milestone with certificates, food, and drinks. Special guest’s speakers from Healing Dialogue and Action Director, Javier Stauring, along with Brenda and Juanita, both survivors effected by violent crime, were in attendance. Sebastian, a class participant sharing his experience reflected, “My turning point came while I was in the Segregation Housing Unit, I realized that I was hurting my parents and I made a promise I would do good, I would change.” This October, Sebastian was found suitable for parole by the Board of Parole Hearings and is waiting to be released after twenty-two years of incarceration. “I am happy I came here—its classes like these that helped me change. I was surprised how everyone wanted to help me succeed.” Sebastian is the first Sharing of Language participant found suitable for parole. What makes Sharing of Language so unique is the fact that participation is voluntary—the men come because they want to change, they want rehabilitation. –Allen Burnett
To learn more about Healing Dialogue and Action or information about how you can support Sharing of Language, visit www.healingdialgueandaction.org
ON NOVEMBER13tha group of 100 plus family members, and prison reform organizations rallied outside the State Capitol Building in Sacramento, in an effort to bring additional awareness to the men and women sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP). The families held up signs and banners asking Governor Jerry Brown to commute LWOP sentences before he leaves office in January. The demonstration was organized in part by long time sentence reform advocate Geri Silva of the Fair Chance Project, along with the help of the men of the Progressive Programming Facility at Lancaster. Prisoners from all over California were represented during the rally.
In a telephone interview with Geri Silva, she announced, “We took your personal letters to the Governor, family photos, messages, and proposals and created books that we presented to the Governor’s representative on prisoner’s behalf. Each prison had its own book—Corcoran, Pelican Bay, and California Institution for Women. The work isn’t done until LWOP is over and you are all home!”
Additional organizations in attendance were California Coalition of Women Prisoners, Place for Grace, Felony Murder Elimination Project, and Families United to End Life Without Parole (F.U.E.L.). Life without Parole implies that a person can never change that rehabilitation is not possible. There are currently 5,000 men and women sentenced to LWOP in California.
If you would like to learn more or would like to get involved, visit fuel @ endlwop.com or Fair Chance Project, Fairchanceproject.com
The men of the Paws for Life program volunteered to help the West Valley Shelter in Chatsworth by taking in twenty-one dogs effected by the Woolsey wild fires. Since the fires began, the fifty-nine men that make up the program are up at dawn each day wrapped in bright orange CDCR foul weather coats. The men are eager to lend a helping hand by feeding, walking and comforting the frighten dogs.
While tending to Misty, an adorable terrier mix, PFL trainer Curtis Loftis remarked, “I’ll never get tired of caring for these dogs they have so much spirit and life.”
A number of the West Valley dogs have lived inside the shelter for months. Louie Brash, another PFL trainer, laying inside a doggy crate with a handsome tri-colored terrier named Hennessey reflects: “you can tell this is the most physical contact he’s had in a long time, it’s like he forgot what it’s like to be touched.”
There are currently forty dogs being cared for in the Paws for Life K9 Rescue program that are in need of a loving family. Our prayers are with everyone effected by the Woolsey fire.
To learn more, follow about the Paws for Life program visit PawsForLifeK9’s@Instagram
The Men of the Progressive Programming Facility Give Back
Fundraiser to Victim Survivors of Violent Crimes
In 2015, the men housed on the Progressive Programming Facility began working with the Human Rights Watch, Healing Dialogue & Action and the Orange County Witness Assistance Program raising thousands of dollars in charitable donations to survivors of violent crimes. These donations, initiated by inmates in the spirit of rehabilitation, are a part of their living amends giving back to the communities and families victimized by crime.
This holiday season the men are once again working with Human Rights Watch and Californians Against Rare and Extreme Sentences (C.A.R.E.S) to help provide for those families in need. The voluntary effort of the men housed on the Progressive Programming Facility is an excellent example of inmates dedicated to personal growth and rehabilitation.
On Monday, August 27, 2018, Cal State L.A. celebrated the start of the 2018-2019 academic year for their students at California State Prison-Lancaster. The celebrations’ theme was Reaching Higher, which featured the highly anticipated student performances, Imagine That and A Fresh Start, performed by cohorts 1 and 2. Readings from Words Uncaged journal DisConnected/ReConnected, and student presentations was shared with family, CSU-L.A faculty, staff, prison administration officials and students in attendance. The night was commensurate to the rehabilitative and transformative power of education. Warden Debbie Asuncion presented letters of commutations to eight inmates who recently received commutations of their Life Without Parole sentences by Governor Brown. The celebration was inspirational and illustrative of commitment to change, redemption and creating empowering narratives. Special thanks to Mr. Covino, CSU-LA President, tiffany Lim, Senior Director, Center for Engagement, Service and the Public Good, Dr. Roy, Dr. Afary, Mrs. Asuncion, Warden, CSP-LAC, Mr. Choate, Director, Division of Rehabilitative Services, CDCR, Mr. Underwood, Mr. Olsen, J.D. Hughes, CSU-LA Community Impact Media, Elizabeth Malone, Project Rebound, and family.
All that matters is my heart beats. In the spiritual life of Native Americans, ceremony plays a unique performance-based, dialogical, and interpretive role in communities. For Native Americans in prison, the fastest growing reservation in the United States, this is an amplified experience. The sweat lodge ceremony, a part of Native American spiritual culture here at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, has been a part of life for indigenous people for centuries. As one Elder stated, “I did not choose to be Indian…I was born Indian.”
The power of the sweat is in the ceremony itself, enabling its participants to have continuing relationships with higher spiritual powers, and yet no revelation is universal. Just as there are many tribes, there are many different ceremonies and as time continues to pass, conditions change. Attending sweat lodge ceremonies is the single most important and widespread religious activity among Native American prisoners. It provides a unity of traditional and spiritual expressions and serves as a humbling experience. When someone enters the sacred sweat lodge, they do so on their knees, to symbolize their connection and closeness to the Mother of all: the Earth.
If you remain true to your faith and beliefs, you will begin to understand your path in life. I pray the Creator will continue to bless your journey.
AHO! All my relations,
Andrew Kicking Horse
Native American traditions, stories (like below), teachings and much more are rooted in oral translation. The father passes down to his son, the mother passes down to the daughter; seldom are words written in a book of how-to or know my history!
In prison, lessons are taught, usually during the second round inside the sacred Sweat Lodge. Those lessons are passed on. Once you learn this lesson, you are then responsible for passing it yourself!
- Andrew Kicking Horse
A long, long time ago, before the coming of the palefaces, there were only Indians and animals. Back then, the animals could speak with each other. Also, back then the Rabbit had a long tail.
One extremely cold morning, a Rabbit was out early hopping around and looked down the small trail towards the Dancing Rabbit Creek and saw a Fox coming towards him, and the Fox was carrying a string of fish.
The Rabbit hopped out there and met the Fox and said, “Hey Fox, where did you catch all them fish?” and the Fox said, “I went down to the creek, it’s frozen over solid, but I cut a small hole in the ice and I dropped my tail down through the ice and I sat there and after a while my tail got heavy so I pulled it out and that’s how I caught these fish.”
So the Rabbit took off like a swift arrow towards the Dancing Rabbit Creek and when he got down there, he cut a hole in the ice, then dropped his tail through the hold. He sat there and sat there and sat there and waited and waited. The weather kept getting colder and colder so after a while, his tail seemed awful heavy so he pulled and pulled but it wouldn’t come out. He gave one hard jerk and the tail snapped off…
That’s why the Rabbit has a short tail today!
Last night, regardless of what type of music you prefer, Common’s enthusiasm and infectious energy got you moving. As our upraised hands and faces lit up the slowly rusting sky, he paced back and forth before us. As kaleidoscopic lights coalesced in the air above us, wave after dulcet wave of sweet sounds bathed us with a harmonized language, speaking an eloquent yet simple message: “We believe in your humanity.”
Before my arrest, I was fortunate enough to go to concerts on a weekly basis and those experiences are some of my most cherished memories. They played an important part in motivating me to pursue writing and playing music and I am grateful for their effect on my life. I quickly discovered this was the first concert for a majority of the audience, their first experience with live music. I can only wonder at the transcendence of this event for them. As I swept my gaze through the crowd, I saw something different and beautiful chiseled into the faded stone of familiar and new faces alike—Hope. Joy. Delight. Something pure and unrelenting in its existence, something amazing. The drums shook us with a rumbling groove, pounding, sizzling—bright and powerful. The pianos danced with distinct steps—spinning, cascading like silver waterfalls—in elegant unison, giving vital breath to the songs. The warm bass hypnotized; it slithered, it popped, it shimmered with flashes of funk and hip-hop—flares of an elusive, yet undeniable blaze burning deep within a divine mix of skill and creativity.
This intricate, professional production was performed for us. Not for money—he wasn’t hawking merchandise or albums. Not for fame or notoriety—he’s already famous and well-known. His passion for us, for our lives and futures, led him to that platform. And when he exploded from backstage, a bass blast burst through the air, hitting hundreds of unsuspecting chests with invisible fists, and walls slowly melted away, and dead cages opened, and elation exorcised sorrow from countless hearts, and in those all-too-short moments, we were free.
Music is everything and I don’t say that because I am a musician—I say it because I am Human. Last night, beneath the sliver of a crescent moon, when Common and Scott and Joel and everyone that showed us the profound honor and respect of having our scarred and weary backs talked to us as equals, we were Human. Not convicts or criminals or prisoners—we were Human. Because we are Human, and always will be.
I have always loved dogs. I had two when I was younger. I moved to building five to be closer to them. Their barks are music to my ears! My friends in the program let me pet and interact with them. It was thrilling for me. It brought back my fond childhood memories of my dogs (Penny and Willy). I watched Karma Rescue’s “Paws For Life” program from a distance. I observed the trainers and the men who handle the dogs. I was impressed by their confident, and comfortable demeanor. I decided I’d like to become part of the group. It is not easy to get in. Dozens of men applied just as I did. When an opening became available, I jumped at the opportunity. I was interviewed and accepted. I was overjoyed and grateful.
Paws For Life’s ninth graduation ceremony was in the visiting room in Lancaster, California, on May
11th. I had only been in the program for three days; I really did not expect to be invited. To my surprise, my name was on the list! I had no idea what to anticipate, but I was excited.
All the dogs were washed and brushed. We were escorted in groups of ten; some men brought their portable beds and toys. The dignitaries began to arrive. I was unaware the men could invite their friends and family members. The atmosphere was electrifying as men hugged their loved ones and showed their dogs to them. After the warm greetings, the ceremony was called to order by the emcee, Associate Warden C. Wood. She introduced the Warden, D. Asuncion, and two representatives from “Karma Rescue,” Alex Tonner, who is the Director of Operations, and Robin Keefe, the C.E.O.! Ms. Wood launched the “Paws For Life” program and continues to be involved in its success.
Three men who are exceptional artists painted beautiful portraits which were presented to some special guests who are supporters of the PFL program. Ray, Chuck, and Tin displayed their works with pride. Each recipient was deeply moved by their compassion. Tears of joy clouded many people’s eyes. Chris Lynch was given a painting of his son who served in Afghanistan, and later died in military exercises. Sergeant Major Acosta was given a painting of himself, receiving the purple heart. Dawn Ayers, a longtime PFL supporter and adopter of a dog, was given a portrait of her nephew who died in combat. Four men in the program, Duck, Travielle, Pete, and Marcus, gave short speeches of how the program has changed their lives.
Pete gave a very emotional testimony. His love for the dogs was obvious. He shared his experiences training and playing with them. His commitment and devotion/love will help these dogs get adopted and go to happy homes. He also announced that he was found eligible for parole. The crowd went from tears to cheers! Soon afterwards, certificates were given to all the trainers and refreshments were served. Three large colorful cakes were decorated with dog themed quotes. They were very delicious. Yes, I had a large corner piece with lots of icing.
Everyone mingled and introduced themselves to each other. Wonderful conversations regarding dogs were shared. The room was full of smiles, memories, and laughs. Unfortunately, it was time for the event to end. The visitors said goodbye to their loved ones. Before departing, they bid farewell to the well-behaved dogs as well. It was a morning I will never forget and will always cherish! I am excited for round ten to finish in September, when I will receive my certificate with my loved ones in attendance!
-L. Edward May
Nerd Alert! This culturally diverse, inmate-led, self-help group is dedicated to teaching communication skills and reinforcing problem solving, literacy, and literary comprehension, using the Magic: the Gathering card game and a fun, positive, and respectful environment as its mediums.
In 1993, I was 13 years old and completely obsessed with Magic: The Gathering. Near the Mission Valley area of San Diego, there was a small hobby shop called “Game Empire” and I was a steady customer. Magic was still relatively new at the time but droves of fans would gather to play, host small tournaments, and trade with each other. I did not play much back then, preferring to collect and trade cards, but the experience was sublime and intoxicating for my young mind. I felt comfortable and at home within the group of “regulars”, many of whom had nicknames like, “Stench”, “Artifact Face”, and “Mana Burner”. It was all in fun and I loved every second.
I have many good memories of that time in my life. In 2013, after reminiscing with a friend, we decided we would try to get back into the game. Thanks to our generous administration allowing us to order and receive Magic cards and materials, we have been able to invest and cultivate an interest here on “A” Yard. “The Gathering”, an inmate-led self-help group, was created in 2016. Our first priority is establishing and maintaining a stable, diverse community of like-minded men who enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering. By using the structure and creative context of the game, we seek to strengthen our members’ critical thinking and decision-making skills. Plus, it’s fun!
Over 50 dudes are playing Magic: the Gathering on a daily basis. Occasionally we host our own tournaments, with prizes ranging from Fat Pack Boxes and Deck Boxes to Planeswalkers, card giveaways and the almighty Riot Piker. (Inside joke) Men from diverse backgrounds come together and enjoy this wonderful game, and I am proud to be a part of this group.
With the release of the new set, Aether Revolt, I will be buying a booster box, because you never know what you might get...and that’s the best part. Happy Gaming from us nerds!
Daniel Whitlow, “The Gathering” Facilitator
Each day I wake up around 4:30. I clean and try to stretch out the old muscles but mostly it is time to catch up on paperwork and plan ahead for the new day with the dogs. See, after decades in prison I have finally found something to dedicate myself to, something bigger than myself that just happens to give back to the community as well as help others save the lives of dogs and now, help in the training of dogs that will someday become Service Dogs for Veterans. Those of you who have been in prison for many years understand how easy it is to lose your faith in humanity. The days slowly blur into one long day that never seems to end, full of stupidity and the boring repetition of prison life. Then Paws For Life came along and my eyes opened up to a whole new world. It now has meaning.
Each morning I walk out to the sound of dogs barking, barking with happiness to see their trainers coming to get them. Each day I watch my Paws For Life brothers put aside whatever is going in their lives to love their dogs, to take care of them in a way that has touched even this old hardened heart. I smile as I watch men debate (yes, argue!) over the best way to brush and groom their dog! I watch men try to convince the guy who passes our dog treats how “their god” needs some more treats, or toys, for this or that very serious reason, all because they love their dog. I have watched men walk miles with their dog who would much prefer sitting and eating a honeybun or candy bar in the cell! Yes, because they love their dog!
Each day, I watch men take care of these amazing animals for hours and hours, for no pay. Most of these men, myself included, have LWOP so we are not doing this for pay and we are not doing this to get out of prison. We are doing this because we love these dogs so much that we have dedicated ourselves and our time to helping them grow into dogs that will be adopted into families that will love them as much as we do.
Karma Rescue brings dogs to us that are sometimes abused and neglected in ways that I don’t even want to put into print. So these dogs need love and a lot of attention. It is a lot of hard work, many long hours are needed to bring these dogs back to life and show to them that not everyone in this world will hurt them. I watch not just one or two but every single one of these men in this program get down on the floor with these dogs and show with their actions that they love their new dogs and earn their trust.
I have watched this, round after round, and each time a group of dogs goes out those gates, a part of me leaves with them. I admit, it is HARD watching them go, but it is their time, it is time for them to be free and go to their new homes, where they will be loved for the rest of their lives. I watch my friends and brothers in the PFL program and I have learned that we haven’t lost our humanity, it is still there, we just need a reason to let it out.