Doing Our Time on the Outside
100 Stories Project
In Partnership with the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University, the Criminology Program at Hofstra University, Prison Families Alliance, and Humanities New York
Doing our Time on the Outside, Prison Family and Reentry Voices for a Change, a project funded by Humanities NY, takes its title from a groundbreaking book by Barbara Allan, founder of Prison Families Anonymous, written in a Herstory workshop that brought together high school students with parents in prison, law students and criminal justice system reformers.
The Visit by Gwynne Duncan
Beginning in the summer of 2022, Herstory workshop facilitators have been inviting justice-impacted writers to help change the narrative of incarceration. With support from Humanities New York, Herstory facilitators have partnered with staff at prisons, re-entry programs, youth programs, and shelters to invite some of our society’s most marginalized writers to this platform. We are more than halfway to our goal of collecting 100 stories, and already we can see how listening to individual experiences of incarceration changes our hearts and minds—now it is up to us to help these stories change policy.
It is our hope that the stories generated by this project will be widely read and passed from one person to another, through our websites and the websites of our partners in carceral justice reform, though social media and newsletters, that they will be taught in criminology classes, used to train correction officers and police, and in presentations to legislators, probation, and parole officers, and shared with people impacted behind and beyond bars.
The first step in these efforts is to share these stories with you—our readers! While we are waiting for many pieces to be approved by several different Departments of Correction—a necessary step that both challenges and motivates this project—we are delighted to begin sharing work from writers on the outside. Our first collection of stories includes memories from people living in shelters in Denver, participants in youth and reentry programs on Long Island, and members of Prison Families Alliance, STRONG Youth, and formerly incarcerated people who have worked with Herstory over the years. We invite you to listen to these writers by reading their work and to please spread the word!
We invite you to view a pdf version of the zine I Don't Really Know Where to Start, which compiles stories about incarceration written by people living in shelters across Denver.
Paintings by Gwynne Duncan www.gwynneduncan.com/
Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University
Boat Junkie Blood Flow
Anthony Ray Valdez
Concrete arteries control footsteps around the prison yard. Yellow faded arrows tell to go this way or another. Clots of cops stare at the congestion of groups shaking hands, passing kites and pleasantries. Their badge shines with authoritative gleam as I shudder with arbitrary guilt -- butt clinch awareness of the inventory within my pockets. I find the path least traveled, noticing as I walk by flowers and bunnies and the two-tone fade of an old-school convict’s pants.
Change: My Story
As I’m walking out the doors of Unit 2 to head to the chow hall I hit the pavement, look around at the yard. The oh, so small prison yard that it is and see all the other fellow inmates like me dressed in yellow and green and some white and green outfits. I think to myself, I have got to change my ways.
I walk into the male offender restroom as I feel the men walking by the neighboring pods and hallways staring at me through the windows. I am wearing my faded canary yellow shirt and orange sleep shorts that fall below the knee as I am walking in black flip flops smacking on the moldy floor. My peach beach towel, a soap dish with Tone soap, a flimsy orange Bob Barker security razor, and a fresh 2-ply cheap toilet paper roll are in my hands as I place my shower hygiene on a wood bench.
My Inescapable Past
The work week concluded as I strolled down the hallway ramp, stopping to say “hi” to the same 30-second friends, continuing past cold concrete walls to my living unit. Thirty hours closer to completing a college computer course, proving what I already know, and a dozen hours helping adult men transition from counting on their fingers to solving quadratic equations to earn their GED. This routine became my new normal a few months back. I get to leave the cacophonous 250-man gymnasium of parking spot-sized rooms. Here, I find direction, logic and future. The staff here don’t have badges or handcuffs. They aren’t wearing all blue. Jeans and blouses replace combat boots and mirrored sunglasses. I am Fredericks here, not offender. I have found daily refuge.
I watched the needle enter into my arm. The brown liquid inside turned into black from my blood being mixed into it. All hope faded away from thoughts and I watched as dreams became nightmares. How and when did I get to this point in life? Is this everything I have to look forward to in life? In only a couple years, I went from a happy kid, or so I thought, to just another person in prison using heroin. Looking back you might not have seen this life for me, but deep within I have been waging a battle for my sanity. Prison only added to my heartaches of a troubled life.
As I walk across the immaculately polished hardwood floor of the courtroom, feet shackled and hands cuffed, I am escorted to the jury box where a dozen men are sitting. I know all of them: I’m married to one of them. It’s suddenly clear why the DEA picked me up from the state prison this morning.
In the solace of my room, surrounded by the things that have the audacity to make me happy, in a place that is constructed to bring me pain and sadness. Pictures of my children, family, and friends who no matter what have chosen to stand by me. Certain quotes that inspire strength, change, growth, and love for yourself and others no matter their choices cover my wall…I was finally able to, after five years of praying and struggling to find the strength, to forgive my co-defendant.
PTSD-Empathy = Decade of Decadence
Everyone loves Thanksgiving! 😊 That year was a two tray, Styrofoam, through a slot in the door special…even in the hole they went out of their way to get us sliced turkey…A cold blob of cranberry sauce, mystery stuffing and instant mashed potatoes with cold watered down gravy…it was the thought that counts, right? I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it. Hours ticked by and those two Styrofoam trays sat there like ghosts, bright white reflecting off the soft count light that NEVER went off. I kept thinking, “Michael and Aimee and Laurel can’t eat Thanksgiving dinner…” 😔
I Was Not Thinking About... Release
I will never forget June 3rd, 2021. There I was in my 6’ x 10’ cell. As it was a minimum restricted facility surrounded by other prisons in the East Canon Complex, it had real drywall on 2x4s instead of all the concrete of a higher-level facility. My steel bunk was 2 and ½ feet wide and 6 feet long and reduced the emptied area of my cell by even more, with the Stylus wheelchair in the center of the cell. There was almost not enough room for the officer to enter when he brought me my evening mail.
“Bill, I love what I’m hearing. You are doing good, I’m proud of you. But before our time runs out on this call, I need to share something.”
This is my 6:30 p.m. Thursday, once a week call with my dad, who refuses to call me William. I was named William after my grandfather, first grandchild on my dad’s side. It’s weird that when I was growing up I butted heads with my grandfather Bill the most.