Human Rights Pen Pal Program: A Project of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS)

From: Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity weblog/site

Dec 5th 2012

A Project of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition  (PHSS)

WHAT IS THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM?
“A wall is just a wall;
It can be broken down.”
Assata Shakur

            The Human Rights Pen Pal program is an anti-racist, grassroots organizer training program in solidarity with the human rights of prisoners in California’s solitary confinement cells.  The program will promote principled relationships between prisoners in solitary confinement and supporters outside the walls; and combine practice, political education, beginning community organizing skills, and evaluation.

The Human Rights Pen Pal program is specifically intended to support the ongoing work of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition which works to end solitary confinement and address the human rights of prisoners confined in SHU’s (Security Housing Units) and Ad Segs (Administrative Segregation), California prisons’ names for solitary confinement.

The Human Rights Pen Pal program complements and supports other forms of pen pal programs, all of which are crucial for transcending the walls between activists outside and inside the prisons, and for winning some justice for all prisoners in California.

WHAT WOULD THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM LOOK LIKE?

            The program is centered around the relationship between the pen pals inside and outside the walls. It assumes that the developing relationships will lead to a growing commitment of those ‘outside the walls’ to work in solidarity with the prisoners and their human rights campaign.

The ‘outside the walls’ group would be small, limited to 6 to 8 pen pals. Each pen pal would write to a minimum of one person in solitary confinement.  Priority for prisoner involvement would go to people in Pelican Bay and Corcoran Prisons who are already in contact with PHSS.

Our monthly meeting would include political discussions about California prisons, solitary confinement, prisoners’ resistance, questions that arise from prisoners’ correspondence, and strategies of solidarity used by local and national anti-prison organizations.

We would exchange ideas for responding to prisoners’ letters, write our letter to our pen pal in solitary, invite each other to local anti-prison activities, suggest ways that each of us can share our experiences as pen pals with our own friends and networks, and evaluate our work together.

‘OUTSIDE THE WALLS’ PEN PALS WILL BE ASKED TO COMMIT TO:

(1) Meeting once a month for 6 months, for about 3 hours, at a San Francisco apartment;

(2) Corresponding with his/her/their ‘inside the walls’ pen pal twice a month: once during the monthly group meeting, and once in between group meetings;

(3) Actively participating in the interactive  political education component by reading suggested short essays, preparing questions for discussion at the group meetings, keeping abreast of PHSS and other anti-prison events and activities, and learning how to do constructive evaluation of the Pen Pal program;

(4) Sharing your experiences as a pen pal participant with your own friends and networks;

(5) Consider continuing your correspondence with your prisoner pen pal for at least a year; and discussing whether the structured pen pal program should continue and, if so, what it should include.

WHEN AND WHERE WOULD THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM MEET?

            The program would run for 6 months, from January through June, 2013. The pen pals and the PHSS coordinator would meet as a group once a month in a San Francisco apartment. Each meeting would last about 3 hours.  Pen pals and the PHSS coordinator will collaboratively determine the best day for the monthly meeting.  Each pen pal will then be expected to attend and participate actively in each meeting.

HOW TO APPLY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM
(Deadline Dec. 20)

             For more information, and to schedule a phone conversation, please email Sharon at cws@igc.org.  Leave your email address, phone number, and what evenings (Tuesdays through Sundays) from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm that you might be available for the monthly pen pal meeting beginning in January, 2013.

            Deadline for holding this conversation to see if the pen pal program is a good fit will be December 20.  First Pen Pal meeting will take place the week after Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in January, 2013.

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