Faith & Dignity for the Days Ahead
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A picture is said to be worth 1000 words. However, in eight years hundreds of pictures have never fully captured the experience of a conference that really isn’t a conference at all. In fact, several years ago one attendee proclaimed, “This isn’t a conference; it’s a community!” So, when I put the “facts” about the 8th annual InterNational Prisoner’s Family Conference, May 6th -8th, in writing, and even include a few photos taken there, something intangible will be missing for those who weren’t there to absorb the fullness of the experience! But, let me give it a try!
The 8th annual gathering of prison family members and many who support prisoners and their loved ones through various organizations—ministries, advocacy groups, academia, social services—began with a cheery pre-conference Dutch treat dinner on May 3rd! Greeting old friends and meeting newcomers is always lively! Lots of chatter and laughter punctuated this year by international perspectives on our very odd presidential campaign! After all, the next president will influence laws and policies impacting prison families.
The conference opened with a typical somber welcome, followed by an inspirational prayer and a serious report from the conference Advocacy in Action Coalition task force on having drafted a resolute White Paper affirming coalition members’ concerns about the deplorable state of mass incarceration–a continuum spanning from the school to prison pipeline to youth sentenced to LWOP and extending to life-ending prison hospices and executions.
The serious opening panel presentation was intended to set the focus, but not the tone for the next three days. So, as the opening session ended and networking began before adjourning to various breakout workshops, attendees were pensive and somewhat subdued! That tone wouldn’t last long!
By the time attendees gathered in the ballroom again for lunch, the chatter and laughter was challenging to interrupt to announce the first keynote, and as the days progressed, the chatter and laughter intensified, reinforced by warm embraces and tons of group “selfies” to serve as reminders of the amazing unique experience.
More concretely, workshop topics ranged from grief recovery to strengthening family relations to becoming effective advocates to overcoming re-entry challenges. Powerful keynotes included international guests from Wales and New Zealand, sharing remarkable work done in their countries where prison visitation is held in bright family-friendly surroundings and intentionally used as time to build strong family relations! A Howard university professor told of her classes held inside a D.C. area prison with students actually living in the prison for one full week of the semester!
Most keynotes were provided by family members, including former prisoners—all memorable: the mother inspired to achieve her PhD by her son’s incarceration; the formerly incarcerated robber just elected to his 6th term as Mayor; the father whose son was incarcerated eight years ago at age 18. Together they creatively use Facebook-Live to advocate changing the perception of prison families…and the hope-filled presentation of the lovely college junior, daughter of two incarcerated parents, who just won the title of Miss Africa Texas using children of prisoners as her pageant platform.
Evenings were filled with advocacy sessions as members of the conference Advocacy in Action Coalition and International Coalition for Children with Incarcerated Parents shared accomplishments of the past year and set goals for next year. A new student social justice forum facilitated by university instructors met to encourage young people to become involved in social justice advocacy. Exhibits, which included a prisoners’ fine art display and silent auction, provided a multitude of secular and faith-based resources to support and encourage prison family members.
Wistful goodbyes ‘til next year were delayed for a dozen or so conference attendees who enjoyed an after-conference adventure at the famed Ft. Worth Stockyards and a taste of Texas at the world renown Cattleman’s Steakhouse, offering an opportunity to further relationships.
Three words most often used to describe the experience: Inspiring! Empowering! Hopeful!
Chair of the InterNational Prisoner’s Family
We are grateful for all donations this past year to our Ministries. These donations enable us to grow, reach out and serve this community for which there is far too little understanding, compassion, empathy and accurate information. Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc. is a CT Religious Corp. with 501c3 status –
all donations are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. We hope you will consider making a donation to our appeal this year. Donations can be made by credit card/PayPal here, at the “Donate” button on on our site, prisonist.org or by sending your check payable to: “Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc.” P.O. Box 1232, Weston, Connecticut 06883. We have enclosed an addressed envelope for your use. Thank you.
If you, a friend or a family member are experiencing a white-collar or nonviolent incarceration issue, please contact us and we will promptly send you an information package by mail, email or via Dropbox.
The darkest days of a person’s life can be a time of renewal and hope.
Progressive Prison Project/ Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director
Lynn Springer, Founding Advocate, Innocent Spouse & Children Project
George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
Jim Gabal, Development
Babz Rawls Ivy, Media Contact