Beyond the Bars of Hopelessness

My new article on Truthout Beyond the Bars of Hopelessness: How We can Revive Parole begins: “A newly released Sentencing Project report, “Delaying a Second Chance: The Declining Prospects for Parole on Life Sentences”, lays it on the line: Incarcerated people who have been sentenced to “life” but are eligible for parole are serving excessive sentences. This is the case in spite of the fact that research shows that lifers are extremely unlikely to be rearrested if released. More

Hope you’ll read It!

We Want Real Change!


Massachusetts_State_House,_Boston,_Massachusetts_-_oblique_frontal_viewImage courtesy of Wikimedia


To be delivered to The Massachusetts State House, The Massachusetts State Senate, and Governor Charlie Baker

Join 70 Massachusetts organizations issuing an urgent call for immediate and substantial changes in policies, practices and procedures in the state’s justice system. 500 SIGNATURES BY VALENTINE’S DAY!


We know that you all have been flooded with incredibly important actions at this time. But justice in Massachusetts cannot become a footnote. Even though 70 orgs. signed the urgent call for action on January 17th, WE MUST KEEP THE HEAT ON.

Led by the Coalition for Effective Public Safety, we now ask individuals –as well as organizations who did not sign on to the 10 pg. letter– to do so!

We are also asking you to tell your legislators to call on Governor Charlie Baker, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to address the clear and profound disparate treatment of people of color in our justice system and to address necessary justice issues spelled out in the letter.

We demand that state leaders make good on promises to improve fairness and outcomes for those in the system, reduce prison and jail populations, decrease recidivism, and cut prison costs. We also urge the Governor and legislators to take responsibility now in executive actions and legislation to address long-standing failings of the Department of Correction and the Parole Board.

The full letter is here, and check out ACLU and Citizen for Juvenile Justice’s calls for action on their sites.

PLEASE SIGN ON and SHARE THIS PETITON on Facebook and Twitter, and please email your organizations. Even if your organization signed, we encourage all individuals to sign on too. WE NEED TO LET MASSACHUSETTS LEADERS KNOW WE WON’T SETTLE FOR INJUSTICE.


Inspired by the Women’s March, here I am with my niece only a month after knee surgery! We had 175,000 in Boston. What a day.


Keep the actions going! Here’s more info from the #WomensMarch

Action 1 / 10

Write a postcard to your Senators about what matters most to you – and how you’re going to continue to fight for it in the days, weeks and months ahead. We’re offering printable postcards for you to download.

You can go it alone, or consider inviting some friends, neighbors and fellow Marchers over for a drink or dinner sometime in the next ten days to talk about your experience and fill out your postcards.”

It’s easy! Just print them at home or at a print shop and send to your senators.

For more, see The Campaign that is folowing from the millions who marched world-wide on January 21st: 10 ACTIONS / 100 DAYS.

Important Justice Resources You Need Now


photo curtesy of Merrimack College

I’m posting a few resources that will be useful to activists in the coming era. As I find more I’ll add them.

First up by Mariama Kaba:  Compelled to Act #1: 10 Concrete Actions to Take in January 2017. This is a list of concrete actions you can take now in January. As Kaba, known as @prisonculture says, “Every month, I will be posting concrete actions that we can take in the ongoing struggle for more justice. Victoria Safford shared a quote from someone in an essay that I appreciate very much: ‘You know we cannot do this all at once. But every day offers every one of us little invitations for resistance, and you make your own responses.” I love the idea of “little invitations for resistance.’”

Secondly, from Bill Moyers’ website, Preparing for President Trump. Written by Peter Dreier, this is a “10-point plan for activists, politicians, the press and everyday citizens.”

Touched by Mery Streep’s activism, I think we all should read or re-read something I strongly learned putting on plays at Framingham and relearn every article I write: Art is dangerous”: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, and Sonia Sanchez in conversation.

I’ve been meaning to share this amazing resource with everyone since the election. It bursts the bubble of who voted for Trump. This is a Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves  passed on by activists who I trust enormously. Here’s a small piece of the rationale “We need to be thinking about how we are thinking about this election. This sense of comfort, of insulation from the horrors of America, is precisely what this syllabus is meant to disrupt. We, white people, clearly weren’t listening hard enough to people of color, to women, to queer people, to immigrants, to Muslims, to anyone who holds a marginalized identity. This did not come as a shock to many marginalized people. Instead, as a friend of mine put it: “I am hurt but my hurt comes mainly from having my fears proven. Not from surprise. I am so angry because there are so many people who needed this result to prove to them the divide of this country instead of listening to the voices of their token friends. Instead of hearing. Instead of trusting.” Now is the time to hear. Now is the time to educate and propel that education into action.

Finally, a wonderful Prison Abolition Syllabus posted on the African American Intellectual History Society site (AAIHS) and compiled by excellent contributors Dan Berger, Garrett Felber, Kali Gross, Elizabeth Hinton, and Anyabwile Love.

New Addition! A Resistance Manual  from Aditi Juneja from NYU, a project that includes many interesting ways to deal with the new administration and “get educated, get organized, and take action.”

New addition! “The 65 has compiled a set of scripts for over a dozen issues in the progressive agenda. The demands in these scripts aren’t radically left-leaning. That’s intentional. We believe that progress happens slowly, from the middle out. The middle isn’t where we want to end up, necessarily, but it’s where we have to start.”

What writing a book about a juvenile lifer taught me

In April, 2016, my book Boy With A Knife: The Story of Murder, Remorse, and a Prisoner’s Fight for Justice was published by Ig Publishing. But getting the book into print was hardly the beginning of my getting to know Karter Reed, a once juvenile lifer, who eventually won parole by suing and then settling with the Parle Board in Massachusetts. It was hardly the beginning of my coming to understand now firmly held beliefs: that our country must not send youth to adult prisons and that as a nation, we have come late to the compassion table


Karter Reed killed a boy when he was sixteen and while there is no excusing the tragedy that his murder of Jason Robinson incurred—for both Jason and Karter’s friends and famiies and for the communities they hailed from—he was a child who ended up serving time in a prison with adults, subject to rape, violence, with difficult barriers to get more than his GED, therapy and age-appropriate programming. Karter was like more than 200,000 youth who each year are tried, sentenced, or imprisoned as adults across the United States. On any given day, 6,000 youth are detained or incarcerated in adult jails and prisons. We know that punishment is more severe for kids of color all across the board and that housing kids with adults creates more mental health as well as safety issues.

I learned all this slowly and much of it through Karter as well as through six years of digging into trial transcripts, books, articles and case studies. This began in 2007, when Karter first wrote me from prison. He asked me, a college professor and writer, if I could help a friend with parole. We wrote over one hundred letters to each other, and I learned the truth about the boy, who in news articles from the early 1990s, had been condemned as a “monster,” carrying out a “methodical crime.” Instead of a monster, I discovered a fallible human being, a teenager at the time of his crime, who had made a serious, life-changing mistake, but had spent his time in prison maturing into a man who thought each day about the life he had taken, while at the same time fighting the unfair and arbitrary justice of prison officials and the parole board.

Through knowing Reed and through my six years of work understanding his case and others like him, I came to see that he would have done fine if tried as a juvenile. And the country would have been safe because he has shown he did have the power to change and was not equally culpable as an adult might have been if convicted of murder. Research has shown us that children are not little adults. Their brains are still developing and this leads to the kind of impulsive, erratic behavior that sends them diving headfirst into dangerous risks because risk can also provide great rewards. They hang out with the “wrong kind of kids” and make poor choices be in storming into a classroom to finish a fight or carrying an open knife to school in a pant’s pocket. As scientists know adolescents mature at varied rates. It is teenagers’ heightened vulnerability to seek rewards and fulfill their need for excitement that drives risky behavior. Karter believed he was standing up for a friend and by finishing a fight, that he would be a heo. How many teens are driven by misguided loyalty to their friends!

When the book came out there were protests from the community where Karter’s crime occurred. The family did not want my book published  because they were afraid that I glorified a killer. But in fact, the book and much of the work about kids like Karter, aims to show that there are many victims who suffer when juveniles create harm. The intent is never to excuse murder. There were also many letters I received from people thankful to hear that Karter had received a second chance with parole, and some who lived in the area, were grateful to learn that kids can change and in fact do.

Our country has come late to giving kids who are sentenced to life second chances. Supreme court cases and changing understandings have helped us along but we have a long way to go. As I wrote in an article for Truthout this year, in “the first-ever national survey of victims’ views on safety and justice, published in August 2016 by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, crime victims overwhelmingly said they support spending money on treatment and crime prevention instead of on prisons and jails.”

Karter Reed is doing well these days. He has earned an Associates Degree (4.0 average!), has a job where he is a manager, owns a house, has developed good relationships with many in his family, and has a fledgling relationship. He constantly reminds me that he is not different from many of the other young men and women who are still behind bars. As the year comes to an end, I urge us all to recommit our efforts to help kids get out of prison. It is not what will help they heal, help communities heal, and as we have shown time and time again, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”