September 9th, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, during which hundreds of men incarcerated at Attica banded together, after years of abuse, to take control of the facility until their demands were met. The men’s demands were simple; better living conditions and opportunities to improve their lives. The same spirit and belief in the transformative power of positive programming can be found in people pursuing higher education while incarcerated today. Directly impacted practitioners offer not only lived experience, but also expertise and scholarship we have honed through academic study and training both inside and after prison.
Higher education in prison is a field that has experienced a period of rapid expansion over the last twenty years. Although there is a lot of discussion in this field about the importance of including directly impacted people, it is rare to see spaces where those directly impacted people are leading the conversation. Many college-in-prison programs include directly impacted people as tokens on panel discussions, but rarely are they included in leadership positions. The time has come for those with lived experience to set the full agenda for the conversations we believe need to be had. While there is value in working with those who were not incarcerated as collaborators and thought partners, these conversations must be led by those affected by college in prison programs. After all, our expertise and perspectives should be strongly valued in the field, because we lived through it and thrived!
* Prioritizing and learning from the voices of people most closely impacted by the problems our
collective work is intended to solve
* Shifting power, resources, and control of the agenda to those people who have been disenfranchised
and marginalized by the criminal legal system.
* Recognizing and legitimizing the expertise of directly impacted scholars beyond their lived
experience, and providing professional development opportunities for these scholars
* Practicing true collaboration through shared leadership and allyship
Sandra Brown EdD Candidate and Visiting Scholar, Women's Justice Institute (WJI)
Ms. Brown is a visiting scholar with the Women's Justice Institute. She is also an incarcerated survivor completing the final months of her sentence at the Fox Valley Adult Transition Center in Aurora, IL. While incarcerated, Brown has become the first incarcerated woman in Illinois history to earn an academic master's degree and the first accepted into an academic doctoral program at California Coast University. A host of her spoken-word poetry and critical narratives have been published in the volume, "Critical Storytelling from behind Invisible Bars: Inmates and Undergraduates Write Their Way Out. Upon earning an EdD in Organizational Leadership, Brown aspires to help other justice-impacted women empower themselves through education.
The time to form a collective power and act is now. We owe it to those we left behind and those who are to follow. Keeping that in mind we have selected the 50th anniversary of that Attica uprising, September 9th, as the first day of a two-day conference designed and produced by directly impacted people.
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