THE LASTING WEIGHT OF FELONY CALL FOR PARTICIPATION
To explore the lasting social consequences of felony convictions, we are creating a book that combines first person accounts of people with felony convictions—both when serving their sentences and afterwards, including those who have successfully reintegrated and those who have not—along with the stories of the many other people involved in these cases: affected families, victims of crimes, members of law enforcement, lawyers, judges, youth workers, social workers, psychologists, employers, legislators, and activists for both prisoners and victims. Our focus will be on non-violent crime and those entering the criminal justice system as juveniles and young adults.
Numbers rarely change our attitudes, stories often do. The purpose of the book is to provide a broad, multi-faceted, narrative description of what it means to be convicted of a felony that can be used as a catalyst for constructive community conversations in various settings, so that people of different ages and in different circumstances can have a felt sense for the complexities of our justice system, especially for those who are already at greater social disadvantage and vulnerability.
Our intention is to invite readers into an evocative, affective understanding of these experiences so they can ask themselves what they might do, how they might feel when faced with similar situations—as an actor, a family member, neighbor, teacher, police officer, lawyer, judge, employer, legislator. We focus on first person accounts, even of difficult systemic issues, and, in particular, on moments of insight and moments of choice, because stories help us understand complexities of motive and consequence in a way that engages our emotions as well as our reason, an understanding that holds up well in real-life situations, encouraging us to put ourselves in the shoes of others.
SOCIAL REALITY THAT INSPIRES THIS BOOK
This project is motivated by our deep concern about the individual, familial, community, and societal consequences of mass incarceration in the United States, a social reality that is very evident in Atlanta and other large cities. We are alarmed that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, currently around two million behind bars. Further, this rate has increased seven fold since the 1970s from 110 to 743/100,000. The weight of this tragedy falls disproportionately on poor and disadvantaged individuals and especially on African Americans. The incarceration rate for black males is more than six times that for white males—not too long ago it was almost eight times higher. Juveniles are also incarcerated in the U.S. at the highest rate among industrialized countries, again with a greatly disproportionate rate for blacks. Sentences are also longer, especially for non-violent crimes. Most importantly, the consequences of felony conviction last far beyond serving one's sentence—often permanently limiting an individual's chances for employment, professional development, housing, social welfare, voting rights and jury duty. Young people compose a large part of the prison population, serving sentences for crimes, often non-violent ones, they committed at points in their development when they may not have been aware of the life-long consequences of their actions. We are alarmed that as a society we give so little attention to the consequences for those imprisoned long after their sentenced are served and on their families and communities.
WHO WE WANT TO REACH
Our two main audiences are citizens who may feel untouched by our criminal justice system, or overwhelmed by its complexity, but who have voting influence, and young people at risk of criminal convictions that will mark them for the rest of their lives. Our larger aim is to create more fully informed and compassionate civic engagement at all levels of society around the issue of crime, crime prevention, and justice.
We hope the book will facilitate discussions in schools, community centers, churches, juvenile facilities, and with groups who have had much—or little—exposure to the criminal justice system. We will provide this book free, if funding is found, or otherwise at cost to groups working with at-risk youth and youthful offenders, concerned parents, educators, groups focused on reintegration—and legislators at different levels.
HOW WE ARE MAKING THIS BOOK
Understanding the Lasting Weight of Felony will be based on extensive interviews encompassing the entire range of people involved in the experience of felony conviction and its consequences. We estimate that we will conduct over a hundred interviews, looking for differences of perspectives at every level. Drawing from these many unique experiences, these distinctive voices, we will then create a book that is a social collage that gives us a sense of both the individual and the systemic forces at work. We invite people to share their own experiences, participate as interviewers, and, later, as facilitators of social discussions.
HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE
PERSONAL ACCOUNTS: Tell Your Own Story
We are interested in personal accounts of the challenges of living with felony convictions, and especially in ways in which these challenges have been successfully managed. We are also interested in hearing from those who have directly experienced these challenges, people in close relationship with people with felony convictions who have also directly experienced some of the lasting consequences of felony convictions, and members of the justice system with direct experience of these lasting impacts.
If written, accounts should be no more than 2,000 words. These will be not be published in their entirety. They will be carefully read and excerpts will be used to create the larger voice collage.
All people whose stories are included in the book will be acknowledged in the book.
If you would like to be interviewed, write or call 404/276-6046.
People interested in the subject are invited to join us in the interviewing process, both in Atlanta, where we are based, and in other cities where they live. We are especially interested in including interviewers with backgrounds in law, criminology, social science, or social work.
We ask selected interviewers to:
1) Read a core set of readings.
2) Conduct at least three interviews—with people at different points in the justice system, so that they begin to get a felt sense for the complexity of the choices involved at different stages and for people with different roles. Everyone is asked to interview someone with a felony conviction or a family member of someone with a felony conviction.
3) Work from standardized questionnaires that the advisory committee has developed because this allows us to combine interviews as well as to more deeply and systematically explore core social questions and stances.
4) Listen with their hearts and their minds.
5) Provide us with either written transcripts of their interviews or audio files of their interviews.
We will provide you with standardized interview questions for different categories, so topics of special interest and concern can be viewed through numerous eyes, allowing for a more nuanced compilation, one that is national in scope.
If interested, interviewers can be part of the final compilation process.
We estimate that people will be donating 10 to 15 hours to the project.
All interviewers will be acknowledged in the book (with an indication of who they interviewed).
If interested, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a CV and a short statement telling us why you are interested in this project and what you hope to gain personally from it.
If you have direct experience with these issues and would like to be interviewed or know of someone who you think brings a valuable perspective to the subject and would like to be interviewed, please write us at email@example.com or call 404/276-6046 to provide us with names, areas of experience/expertise, and contact information for the person to be interviewed. We will follow up promptly.
HIGH SCHOOL INTERNS: ATLANTA AREA ONLY
We are going to have an internship program involving three interns at a time, for two month internship periods in the summer of 2014 and winter/spring/summer of 2015. We intend to involve nine interns in sets of three, to allow for adequate mentoring. Each group will work with us for two months, during which time they will participate in conducting interviews with individuals at several different points in the felony process to allow them to get a felt sense of the complexity of the systems involved. They will also help in editing and interpreting the interviews they have helped conduct and participate in interviews themselves. There will be regular discussions to help apply what they are learning to their own life situations.
Interns must be rising juniors through graduating seniors.
This is a volunteer project and a group one. No one is getting paid. There are no star turns--but hopefully everyone will experience genuine social rewards. Everyone's participation in the book will be publicly acknowledged in the book even if all the material gathered is not included. The purpose is to create a book that moves evocatively between different intimate and engaged voices, so all the material will be edited and brought into surprising juxtapositions, just as so often happens in life. The reward here is helping others to be heard—and learning something that furthers our own growth as citizens who share responsibility for our systems of justice.
Charles D. Brockett, PhD taught political science at Sewanee: The University of the South for over thirty years. He is the author of two well received books, Political Movements and Violence in Central America and Land, Power, and Poverty: Agrarian Transformation and Political Conflict in Central America, and many journal articles. He is a recipient of several Fulbright and National Endowment for the Humanities awards. His Ph.D. is from UNC-Chapel Hill.He is the co-editor of seven Wising Up Anthologies, including Shifting Balance Sheets and Complex Allegiances.
Heather Tosteson, PhD, is the author of five books, including God Speaks My Language, Can You?,the first Universal Table/Wising Up Press research project, a qualitative study of the spiritual journeys across faith traditions of over a hundred people living in the Southeast. She has worked in health communications at CDC, focusing on racism, social trust, and how belief systems develop and change. She holds an M.F.A. from UNC-Greensboro and Ph.D. from Ohio University. She is founder, along with Charles Brockett, of Universal Table/Wising Up Press and co-editor of nine Wising Up Anthologies.
Patrice Fulcher, JD is an Associate Professor at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. Prior to teaching, Patrice served as a criminal defense attorney specializing in indigent defense. She worked as a Senior Staff Attorney for the Georgia Capital Defender, successfully litigating death penalty cases; a Senior Staff Attorney for the Fulton County Public Defender, handling all major felony cases; was the CEO of her own firm, The Fulcher Law Group, Inc., representing clients with misdemeanor, serious felonies, and civil cases; and a Senior Staff and Supervising Attorney for the Fulton County Conflict Defender, representing adults and juveniles charged as adults. She is a graduate of Howard University and Emory University School of Law.
Juarlyn Gaiter, PhD is an experimental research psychologist. In her twenty-six year career at the Centers for Disease Control, she conducted HIV prevention research specifically for adult prisoners and juvenile detainees and published many scientific articles in the areas of HIV prison prevention and reform for men, women and adolescents. She received her BA from Eckerd College and PhD from Brown University.
Anna Steegmann, MSW, MA has lived in New York City since 1980. She holds a MSW from the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany and a MA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York. She worked for 18 years as a counselor and psychotherapist until making writing and teaching her priority. She has taught at CUNY and the International Summer Academy Venice, Italy; translated several books; published short stories, essays, features and academic texts; and written for radio and TV in both English and German.