Joi C. Spraggins to Speak in Philadelpia

By Diane Sears   Dr. Joi C. Spraggins / Image courtesy

DR. JOI C. SPRAGGINS, recognized as a global legacy leadership expert in business, education, communications and civic engagement. is the founder and president of Legacy Pathways, LLC, an innovative management consulting and training firm specializing in leadership development, communications, education, health care reform, public policy and social justice. She will deliver remarks at the City of Philadelphia’s observance of the first annual International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys on Sunday, November 16, 2014 at the First Unitarian Church at 2125 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103.  The City of Philadelphia’s observance of the First Annual “International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys” will be hosted by DR. SAMUEL BERNARD LACKEY, JR., at his “Sunday With Sam” program from 3:00 P.M. through 7:00 P.M.   The International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys will launch the observance by 80 nations – including the United States – of International Men’s Day on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 under the theme, “Working Together For Men and Boys.”   

A globally recognized expert in leadership, communications, diversity and workforce development, Dr. Joi® designs and implements best-practice performance models; provides program and public policy analyses; and structures sustainable public/private collaborations through Legacy Pathways. Her company is an innovative management consulting and training firm specializing in leadership development, communications, public health and safety, economic, diversity and workforce development programs, public policy analysis and supply chain regulatory compliance. Service industries include public health, education and justice reform, law enforcement, sports management, government, energy, construction and transportation. Our mission is to provide cutting-edge products, services and solutions that accelerate our clients’ leadership and global industry competitive advantage. The results create Legacy, Pathways and Footprints™ (LPF) that transform the lives of individuals, families, communities, businesses and the world. 

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7 Prison Survival Secrets

By Christopher Zoukis /

Surviving a term of incarceration is no cakewalk. For all first-time prisoners, the transition from free-world living to prison culture is abrupt, extreme, and caustic. It’s like nothing else, and there are very real consequences to violating the unspoken codes of decorum and the concept of “respect,” a term which takes on a whole new meaning in the prison context.

Image courtesy

This article presents seven secrets to surviving a term of incarceration. By internalizing and abiding by these principles, anyone new to prison culture will save themselves a lot of strife and possibly violent encounters.

In short, they can transform potential hard time to easy time.

Secret One: Don’t Snitch

The number one rule in prison is to not snitch. There is no worse crime in prison culture than to inform on a fellow prisoner. When serving time in prison, inmates often see others engaging in unsavory, unethical, or even illegal conduct. This is simply the way it is in prison. When such conduct is observed, the inmate should simply look away, continue on with whatever they were doing, and keep the knowledge of what transpired to themselves. When someone is found to have informed on fellow prisoners, they are usually either assaulted or “checked in” (forced to go into protective custody). By refusing to provide the prison administration with information, this very dangerous trap can be avoided in its entirety.

While there may be instances when it appears that keeping one’s mouth shut can result in disfavor from the powers that be, those consequences pale next to what can happen to a prisoner who is identified as a snitch by his fellows.

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SCI Graterford’s Fathers and Children Together Program: Raising the Village

By  Diane Aisha Sears   Image courtesy

Once upon a time we were a village.  Now life was not perfect, but the village’s greatest treasures and most vulnerable members – its children and its Elders – for the most part, were loved, protected and respected.  Parents, extended family members, educators, school administrators, religious leaders, health care professionals and providers, social services professionals and providers, the business community, legislators, and neighbors worked together to help positively shape the minds and souls of the children of the village. In their eyes, children were the “Promise of a New Day” and the “heart and soul” of the village. The village symbolized hope – it was a vibrant oasis.  Today, a dark cloud of chaos and hopelessness hovers over the village as it grapples with chaos, fatherlessness, intergenerational incarceration, the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and rising violence.  It is difficult to feel loved, protected, and safe or to dream about and plan for your future in an environment that is besieged by chaos and hopelessness.  Perhaps we simply need to rebuild the village.  Perhaps it is time for the children who were once raised by the village to, in some way, raise the village.

Through a powerful two-tiered initiative – Fathers And Children Together  (F.A.C.T.) – Mr. Sam Brown, the Chairman of Unity Community Action Network (UCAN) and Mr. Luis Gonzalez, President of the Latin American Cultural Exchange Organization (L.A.C.E.O.) at SCI Graterford are raising the village by helping the village raise its children.  F.A.C.T. is the result of a historic collaboration among African American and Latino incarcerated men at SCI Graterford to resolve the key challenges of Fatherlessness, intergenerational incarceration, the “school-to-prison pipeline” and violence that serve as obstacles to living a happier, healthier, and longer life and helping our children – the Next Generation of Leaders, Husbands, Fathers, Wives, and Mothers – from maturing into purpose-driven, productive, and successful adults.  Under Mr. Brown’s leadership, fathers at SCI Graterford are reunited with their children while mothers are simultaneously moved into the Fatherhood equation.  The initiative is fully embraced and supported by Pennsylvania State Representative The Honorable Ronald G. Waters.  F.A.C.T. is a national model to resolve Fatherlessness, intergenerational incarceration, and the “school-to-prison” pipeline that provides an orientation session and workshops for Fathers incarcerated at SCI Graterford and visitation with their children.  The conclusion of the program is punctuated with a graduation ceremony where participating Fathers receive a certificate.

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A Little Respect Would Go A Long Way Towards Cordiality

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy

Today, at 11:00 AM, I approached my unit team area — F-North in FCI Petersburg — seeking to submit a form which authorizes the Federal Bureau of Prisons to send money to a friend of mine from my commissary account (BP-199).  Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM is the designated “Open House” time period for my unit team.  This is when inmates housed in the F-North housing unit are allowed to make inquiries with our counselor, case manager, and unit manager.  Today, like many Tuesdays and Thursdays, my unit team decided that it just wasn’t a good day to have open house, so they simply didn’t bother to have it.  Naturally, no advanced notice was made and no rescheduling will occur.  Same old, same old.

While disappointed about not being able to submit the money request form, I’m used to such inconsistency at FCI Petersburg (more specifically in the F-North housing unit), so I just brushed it off and decided to carry the form around with me until my counselor decided to make an appearance.  My opportunity came at 4:36 p.m., right after my cell door was unlocked following the 4:00 p.m. count.  It’s the interaction which subsequently transpired which motivated me to write this personal exposition of my experience.

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A Lesson My Cellmate Taught Me: Standing for Principles

By Christopher Zoukis

The other day my cellmate presented a situation for my review.  He explained that a certain person I regularly sit with in our housing unit’s day room had a bad reputation for some of his political and social beliefs.  While I challenged his opinion on the matter, after taking some time to reflect upon his statements, I realized that he was right.  By sitting by and allowing offensive discussions to be held around me, I was contributing to the problem.  By remaining quiet, I was not combating or showing my disproval of the topic, but providing my tacit approval for such offensive conversations to be had.  It’s this standing — or lack of standing — for principles which I’d like to touch on today.  Image courtesy

As a prisoner, I am sometimes surrounded by some who aren’t of the best character.  This isn’t to say that these are bad people — much like how I’m not a bad person — but that all of us in prison have the propensity to make stupid decisions and, most likely, have impulse control and conduct issues.  But even with these inherent problems in the incarcerated population, there are good people in prison, people who walk right, are honorable, and are generally stand-up guys.  Simply stated, with a little effort, worthwhile associates can be found.

Those inside prison need to do what we can to promote positive behaviors and dissuade negative ones.  We do this through positive reinforcement (e.g., verbally agreeing, clapping, and associating with others) and negative actions of stigmatization (verbally disagreeing, leaving, and not associating with others).  But in prison, the conversation often turns to the negative, or if not the negative, then those having the discussions tend to not be as decent as they could be.  After all, we are all in prison for breaking societal norms and mores.

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Our Sons

By Diane A. Sears  Image courtesy D. A. Sears

Fourteen years ago, immediately after the launch of IN SEARCH OF FATHERHOOD(R), something very profound happened.  I began receiving letters from young men — Our Sons.  Their letters enclosed brilliantly crafted essays and soulful poems.  They asked me to publish them.  And I did.  In exchange for their essay or poem, they received a free copy of IN SEARCH OF FATHERHOOD(R).  A number of these young men continued to send essays and poems.  And they sent letters.  These were young men — Our Sons — from, among other places,  New York, California, Texas, Alabama, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana.  So, what was profound about receiving poetry, essays, and letters from these young men?  Each letter had a similar introductory sentence: “I am 23 and I have been incarcerated since I was 18.  Will you publish my essay?  Can I get a free copy of your publication? “ or “I am 28 and I have been incarcerated since I was 16. I’m sending you a poem I’d like you to publish.”  Many of these young Men — Our Sons — are Fathers — Fathers of daughters and sons. They do not tell me how or why they embarked upon a path that led them to a maximum security correctional facility.  Nor do I ask.    But I do have questions:   What is going on with Our Sons?  What is going on in Our Sons’ homes, schools, and communities?  And how do we fix whatever is going on that is driving Our Sons down the path to prison with all deliberate speed? 

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Editorial: Negative Attitude Towards Prisoners Hurts Rehabilitation Efforts

By the Editorial Board of The Daily Campus

Recently, Eric Bolling of “The Five,” a Fox News program, was under well-deserved attack by the illustrious Stephen Colbert for the former’s comments regarding the suicide of Ariel Castro, convicted for 937 criminal charges among which included rape, kidnapping, and aggravated murder. While this article isn’t quite a defense of Castro, it is an attack on Bolling’s statements which posited that taxpayers saved $780,000 by his suicide. Bolling’s argument here is insensitive, even when one considers the magnitude of Castro’s crimes, and is indicative of the negative attitude towards criminals and their opportunity for reform. America wholly believes once a criminal always a criminal, and this social stigma prevents them from re-entering society successfully.  Image courtesy

With this in mind, it’s clear why recidivism, or the term to describe former felons re-entering prisons or re-arrested for similar previously committed crimes, is so high in this country and why rehabilitation programs struggle to take effect. When one in thirty-two Americans is on probation, parole or in prison and America has that largest population of criminals (you know, that popular statistic, 5 percent of the global population, 25 percent of its prisoners), one would think that the public attitude towards criminals would be more supportive. Instead, America has collectively decided to abandon these people with the idea that they are a lost cause and deserve the barest of dregs we can throw at them, leaving them to struggle both in and out of the prison system.

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Marriage, Minorities and Drug Sentencing

By Jean Trounstine

An interesting article in the NYTimes last week made me think about marriage and incarceration and the inevitable link to how we send people to prison for years due to the so-called “war on drugs.”

Charles Blow, NYTimes columnist, quoted public health expert Ernest Drucker’s well-known 2011 book, A Plague of Prisons with the following stats:

■ “The risk of divorce is high among men going to prison, reaching 50 percent within a few years after incarceration.”

■ “The marriage rate for men incarcerated in prisons and jails is lower than the American average. For blacks and Hispanics, it is lower still.”

■ “Unmarried couples in which the father has been incarcerated are 37 percent less likely to be married one year after the child’s birth than similar couples in which the father has never been incarcerated.”

And guess why so many black and Hispanic men are in prison? You got it, the so-called “drug war.” Or as Blow calls it “the disastrous drug war,” or “a war on marijuana waged primarily against young black men, even though they use the drug at nearly the same rate as whites.” With television and the media, “reefer” has been glamorized to “reefer madness,” and indeed the sentencing of reefer is madness.

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The drug war has brutalized so many with lengthy sentences. How can these sentences not affect marriage and families? Take for example Stephanie Nodd who according to her page on Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)’s website served 21years of a 30-year sentence in a federal prison in Florida for a crack cocaine conspiracy she had been involved in for just one month. FAMM was able to influence the Sentencing Commission to make new guidelines and Stephanie was released.

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Love Behind Bars

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Rachelle Spector and Amy Friedman have something in common. Both women fell in love and married men behind bars convicted of murder. Katie Couric’s interviews with Spector and Friedman aired July 9, 2012.

When Rachelle Short, an aspiring 23-year-old musician met Phil Spector she was immediately smitten with him. When she Googled Spector’s name, she discovered that he was suspected of murdering actress Lana Clarkson. The information did not deter the love-struck woman from continuing a relationship with Spector and marrying him after a brief courtship. Three years after the couple met, Spector was convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to 19 years to life behind bars.  Rachelle Spector / Photo courtesy

Ten years later, beautiful, youthful looking Mrs. Spector sits in front of Katie Couric and continues to defend her husband’s innocence. Even with Spector’s former girlfriend, singer Debra Harry’s disclosure that Spector allegedly threatened her with a gun, Rachelle still asserts her husband is “a good man.” She views Spector as a brilliant and funny man. Spector has charmed his wife into being content with a marriage that consists of 15-minute face to face visits holding hands. Conjugal encounters are not allowed. 

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Mentor vs. Tutor: Battle of Both Worlds

By Andres Aznar

In a world like ours – mostly free and full of possibilities – exists a threat. It affects virtually all of the world’s population. It’s called: “The Decision.” Decisions are made in seconds. In fact, without decisions, our lives would be meaningless. Naturally, we strive to make the right decisions in our short lives. However, every decision we make has its own consequences, good and bad. The decisions we choose to make in life can bring many rewards, like success in life or the creation of a better future for our children and their children. Good decision-making can also foster a life with fewer struggles and better opportunities.  Image courtesy

Some possess an enhanced ability to make decisions which allow positive consequences. They weren’t born with that ability. They just had very good guidance when they were children and while they were growing up. As such, those men and women are geared for success. Much comes easy to them. They’re the ones you remember from high school. The ones that you envied because they were always receiving perfect scores with seeming ease.

On the other hand, for some people, their life is a struggle: a struggle to make ends meet; a struggle to be the best that they can be. They try and try but always get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. While this is a challenging situation to be engulfed in, it illustrates a very telling contrast. By asking themselves, “Why is it so easy for those other people to succeed, but not me?” The answer – and their shortcomings – is evident: Guidance.

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