By Chris Lotze, TNC Graphic Designer & Archivist
I was sitting at my desk going through our November Coalition mail for the day when I came across a package addressed to me. I was shocked. I usually don't get mail addressed to me in person, much less a package. I opened it like a little child at Christmas and inside found a video with a sticky note attached to it saying, "Khalid wanted me to give this to you."
I wanted to run out to the TV and watch it immediately, but I didn't know what was on it and didn't want to look like I wasn't working. I went home for lunch and put the tape in my VCR without even taking off my jacket or closing the door behind me.
At first I didn't know what it was. The first images on the TV screen were men working out with weights in prison, with music playing in the background. I'm quickly 'into' the tape and very intrigued. It was a video of three prisoners telling their stories of what a true friend means to them. Each of the three stories conveyed the message that when you are 'down and out' is when you learn who are your true friends.
The stories were honestly sad, but at the same time very hard hitting. One story followed another, each man saying how once he had good close friends, or so it seemed. Each of the three men repeated the same conclusion: that their family has been their only true friend throughout this whole tragedy, that 'family' has stood by them through thick and thin.
Khalid, one of the three men in this video, has told me a little of the background behind the making of this video. "The Insiders" put that video together for detention centers dealing with youth in trouble or about to be. "The Insiders" are basically trying to reach and teach young people walking the path to prison, or death, youth already in juvenile centers and detention lockups.
Selected young men would come into the prison's visiting room on Wednesday and Thursdays for three hours each time, and "the Insiders" would tell them their personal experiences, gang relationships, drug problems, accomplishments, failures, their true life stories. It's not a 'scared straight' copycat program, Khalid told me. The 'cons' don't get in kids' faces with yells and threats. They just tell them the dark truth about prisons: rapes, stabbings, fights, riots, lock-downs, extreme boredom, monotony, drug overdoses, killings.
This blew me away. I had no idea that prison officials would allow the use of this powerful tool on the 'inside'. Next morning I brought the video back to the office and gave it to Chuck and Nora, seriously telling them they "had" to watch this. They were as speechless as I. We had no idea that prisoners and administrators are cooperating to allow this valuable educational activity.
So, my question to everyone out there is this: are there more videotaping activities like this going on? If so, let us know. We'd love to hear about them and possibly get selected tapes distributed publicly.
The demanding challenge before all of us on the outside is the need to listen to the men and women on the inside. The imprisoned have far more to teach than I once thought.
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