Monday, December 15, 2008

Free Free Freed at Last Essay by Robert Rigler

The garden he took care of for twenty years took care of him.

The younger prisoners used to laugh at him when they would see him smiling and talking to the flowers as he weeded and hoed. They would ask: " What's up Old Timer?" His answer: "These flowers take me out of here sometimes and I don't feel like I'm in prison, I am free."

The count was off by one man; it was Old Timer. Everyone said the last time they saw him he was in his garden. They went out there and all they found was his ball and chain on the ground. The ankle bracelet was still locked. The guards searched everywhere. They knew that after 20 years in prison, Old Timer couldn't have really escaped. After all, he was old, out of shape, he had a bad heart, never got a write up, or got into trouble.

Some say that if you talk to his floweres they'll talk back; or if you look at his garden long enough you can see his smiling face in the flowers and plants.

Did Old Timer escapre, or did the flowers set him free? Who knows for sure, bu this year people signed up with the Horticultural project and they all asked if they could work Old Timer's plot.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Colored Pencil #4 by Luis Suave Gonzalez

John A. Pace was 17 in 1985 when he was charged with robbery, aggravated assault, and possession of an instrument of crime PIC. Because his victim passed away 10 days later, he was re-charged with robbery, murder, and PIC. Prior to his arrest for this crime, John had never been convicted or incarcerated for a crime and he had a known drug problem, for which his high school principal sought to get him treatment. However, his problem went untreated and he consequently was arrested for this crime a year later while intoxicated and on drugs. The judge in his case had a chance to decertify him back to the juvenile system, or allow him to be prosecuted as an adult and he deciced to maintain his case in the adult system. John was subsequently advised by his trial counsel to plead guilty to second degree murder, and that he would be released after serving 10-15 years. Prior to being sentenced and after expressing that he was sorry to the victim's family for what had happened, the judge in his case stated, "I am convinced that right now, as you sit before me you are, but we can't change what happened and I am bound by law to impose a sentence which is required by the crime that you have pled guilty to". John has now served over 21 years of a mandatory life sentence for second degree murder.

During his incarceration, John has completed every treatment program recommended to him by the institutional staff. He has developed vocational skills in plumbing, carpentry, and bricklaying. He has learned how to do legal research by working for the Para-Professional Law Clinic, and became a certified paralegal.

He is currently working on obtaining his bachelors degree from Villanova University in General Studies and tutoring in the Graterford Literacy Council, as well as a volunteer member of the Prison Literacy Project. Lastly, he is involved with Temple University, Drexel University, and the Universtiy of Pennsylvania in discussing criminal jsutice issues with students and professors. John is also one of the coordinators of Juvenile Lifers for Justice.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Juvenile Lifers #3 Colored Pencil by "Suave Gonzalez"

Mollo Figueroa

In 1991 when Mollo(Moyo) Figueroa was just 16 years old, he was one of four participants involved in a homocide. At 16-and the youngest of the four defendants, and the only juvenile, he was misled by his public defendant into believing he would only serve 17 1/2-35 years. Under the advisement of his attorney Mollo pled guilty to first degree murder. Mollo was coerced into making a statement while his aunt(who was illiterate) was present.

Since being sentenced to life without parole, Mollo has tried twice to appeal his conviction. His counsel has being uneffective has gone unheard by the appellate court. For the last fifteen years Mollo has completed several different programs, like: Citizenship, Conflict Resolution, and End Violence. Mollo currently works in the wheelchair restoration shop where he restores wheelchairs for third world countries.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Juvenile Lifers 1: Colored Pencils by "Suave Gonzalez"

"It is extremely difficult explaining to anyone about the intellectual and spiritual changes that take place within the teenager who is destined to become a man in prison. A man that is condemned to die in that very institution. "

Erik VanZant was 14 years old when he broke into his neighbors house and fatally stabbed her. No psychological examination was performed to determine his competency prior to his hearing to remand him to the juvenile court system. His case remained in the criminal court and a jury found him guilty of first degree murder. Erik's second request for Post Conviction relief was recently denied by the State Superior Court.

Nevertheless, since his imprisonment he has endeavored to educate himself by taking courses in business and criminal justice. He is planning on registering in the spring with Villanova University to continue his studies. Erik has also been trained to facilitate Restorative Justice workshops. He has completed programs in Impact of Crime(a class that shows the effects of crime from a victims perspective), a Character Development course, End Violence(a course in leadership and transformational thinking, a Citizenship Program, Alternatives to Violence workshops, and Drug awareness groups. Erik has always taken a pro-active approach to rehabilitating himself and is currently the coordinator of the Juvenile Lifers for Justice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Link to Unity: Lee Fox and Luis Suave Gonzalez

Whether we are English, Spanish, or Spanglish, we're striving to have our voices heard. From city streets to prison blocks, our voices have been silenced. Not any more. Blinded by the Ghetto American Dream and a false sense of reality, we as a people have been stagnated. However, no longer do we wear blinders, we now stand united, see what's around us, behind us, and what lies ahead of us.
In every aspect of unity, we are utilizing every tool and form of expression and dedicating it to forming and informing a Latino front/movement. We are opeing our eyes, dispelling the lie and the rise of our own unbeknown demise. We hear our people cries and we now strive to make a change. We are, L.A.C.E.O. Latin American Cultural Exchange Organization.
Dating back to the early 70s formerly known as L.P.R.O(Latin Prisoners, Rights Organization) L.A.C.E.O. was formed and has had a long history of community service within the institution. As the years passed, we branched out into the communities we came from and reached out to make a difference. Our organization, despite being formed and ran behind penitentiary walls is in partnership with Centro Pedro Claver, Lighthouse, Norris Square Neighborhood Project, 503 Coorperation, Village of Art, Art for Justice, Correspondence to Christ, and many more community groups, dedicating our time and skills no longer silencing our voice to promote community unity.
Too many of our Latino youth are fallng through the cracks of the Crminial Justice System and ending up in Juvenile Detention Centers and adult prisons. It is the responsibility of those who help create this dilemmma in our community to reach back and help rebuild our communiities. Those of us, who have experienced the effect of being caught in the street game must help erase the limited vision our youth have become accustomed with, if we are to create a better quality of life.
Prison(s), crime(s), and drug(s) have become so pervasive and so insidious it's now threatening to destroy the Hispanic community. Over the last decade, despite all efforts to the contrary, the problem has become progressively worse. Hispanics and African Americans are the major victims of crime, primarily victimized by other Hispanics or African Americans. The only solution to this problem, law enforcement tells us is harsher and longer prison sentences. Longer prison sentences do not deter crime.
L.A.C.E.O. has taken a non-traditional approach, and offers other alternatives instead of incarceration. We advocate for fairness in justice, contribute to the welfare of the elderly and shut in, act as a conduit for inmates/family through our community suporters, assist in job placement after release, beautify our community using art, un-muting the silenced voice, and most importantly, making a change for the better.
We are more that just an organization, we are the foundation to building a structure of Latino love, unity, and proper representation of Boriquen.
If you wish to know more or want to become a link in the chain of unity known as L.A.C.E.O. please contact Centro Pedro Claver , Julia Lopez, Executive Director 215-227-7111

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Juvenile Lifers for Justice Part II

What types of Community Service does JLJ(Juvenile Lifers for Justice) perform?
Members of JLJ are committed to several outgoing community outreach projects. Some of them are: (1) mentoring adjudicated youth from the Mitchell program at St. Gabriel's youth facility in making postive lifestyle changes. (2)Developing a youth crime prevention booklet that is based upon our collective life experiences. This is our warning to them about the consequences of a life of crime. (3) Participating with the Mural Arts program of Philadelphia in the creation of murals. (4) Being active in social justice forums with local university professors and students that deal with reforming the criminal justice system. (5) In addition, many of our members attend college and have esteemed jobs within the prison, such as: tutoring other prisoners, painting murals, translating for both non-English speaking inmates, and volunteering in programs that involve changing the prison and community.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"The Super Bowl Creed" by Chuck Zehring

The Super Bowl Creed
( A Pro Football Player's Prayer)
Yea though I walk through the valley of the
shadows of the billboards of corporate greed,
I shall fear no evil because the lord of competition is with me,
His tax-payer,subsidized, team manager,
doctor, and life-flight helicopter comfort me,
He hath revealead to me that my head is my helmet
and even though an occasional concussion confuseth
me and maketh me lie down in the short green grass of the field,
I shall fear no evil because this involves higher
cognitive functions that are no longer with me,
His pastor's playbook and locker room talks give me courage,
he blesses me with unsubstantiated wealth and fame before my fans,
He has my knees anointed with coritsone,
Only fleeting consciousness and lasting injury
shall follow me all the days of my life,
But I shall fear no evil because upon my death,
I shall dwell in the locker room of my lord forever,
Now let's play ball!
(c) Chuck Zehring

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Introduction to Juvenile Lifers for Justice: Part I

  • How many members in Juvenile Lifers for Justice?
    SCI Graterford has approximately 70. Statewide there are over 330.
  • When was JLJ established?
    In November 2005 JLJ was established after the Human Rights Watch published their report in October of that year. The US Supreme Court decided Roper v. Simmons in March of that same year. The report "The Rest of Their Lives"(Human Rights Watch) brought attention to the issue of juveniles around the globe serving life sentences without parole. Included in that report was the USA where there are overe 2,225 juveniles serving life without parole compared to only 11 in three other countries. Pennsylvania has the greatest number of juveniles serving life sentences without parole: 332 and climbing.
    Also, as indicated in the Human Rights Watch report the sentencing of juvniles to life without parole violates the CRC(convention of Rights of the Child) treaty that over 123 nations have signed onto. The USA and Somalia are the only two countries that refused to sign the treaty.

Juvenile Lifer: Colored Pencil by Suave Gonzalez

Colored Pencil drawing of Thomas Tomoney. Thomas was 16 years old when he was charged with murder. Growing up in North Philadelphia, he found himself in a great deal of trouble when he was 13 years old. During this particular time, gang wars in Philadelphia were prevalent and Thomas found himself in many fights because he was from a rival neighborhood. This led to him being placed in reform school and a youth detention center. On the day of his offense a rival gang member was stabbed to death in a fight. Thomas was tried as an adult and he was convicted of first degree murder. As a result of his conviction he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Thomas is now 47 years old and since his incarceration he has obtained his GEd, completed all the prescribed treatment programs recommended to him and he is currently seeking to obtain his bachelors degreee. Thomas has maintained a steady job since he has been incarcerated, and he has been miscondut free for over 13 years.