Centre of NU Leadership on Urban Solutions

IMG_4967 IMG_4966 IMG_4968 IMG_4971You can find info about the centre n:http://centerfornuleadership.org.

We  find the centre in the middle of one of the seven neighborhoods of New York where all incarcerated people from NYC come from. You find the “million dollar blocks” here, called after the amount of money the state has to pay every year to incarcerate  the people of this block! Our host is Kate Rhee, the deputy director (which usually is understood as the executive director).of the centre and Divine Pryor and Bryonn Bain also join the meeting for a short while. They are busy with numerous projects: Divine, who is a professor, is also a priest and had to move his church from one place to the other this afternoon. Bryonn is involved in about 30 projects all the time. They are all very intelligent, energetic and passionate people and from the “do everything in an unusual way”. I understand it is very community-based, they want the neighborhood to be the owner of the innovation, involve everybody, be connected to very relevant player in the context they are working in. That means: very hard work, avoid time and energy asking “bullshit” and institutionalization. And they are innovative. Which has to be done “bottom up” and appears to be intelligent, effective and chaotic. 

Very inspiring is the “arrest diversion project” for juveniles. In cooperation with the police they want these juveniles which the police wants to arrests to be brought straight to the centre. The youngsters in the neighborhood are stopped several times a year and usually manhandled in the proces, thrown in a cell for one or a few days and released. A very traumatizing fact as I also found out in my prison in Holland: waking up incarcerated people very early reminds them of arrests in the early morning….. Divine says: “we even do not want them to be handcuffed: we do not want them to experience that”. The youngsters get help, programs, courses and social assistance. “They often do not believe that anything could be done for them, do not know that there are ways for them to get out of their hopeless situation”. The chief of the police cooperates: NYPD is very worried about the whole situation and this guy, who will retire in two years, want to try to do something valuable.

The people of the centre are also very busy with the new legislation on raising the age to be treated like an adult in the juridical process from 16 till 18. We heard about this upcoming law from John Flateau. It turns out that the governor has been advised by a committee not to involve violent crimes. Which turns this law into windowdressing. As we know: a child using violence is still a child and you have to look into the violence done to him and find manners to support his recovery.

Another issue is the fact that everybody who gets in touch with the police, guilty or not, gets a criminal record. Due to RAP sheet errors, which is not uncommon, people who are convicted of a non-criminal act (violation) whose records should NOT be revealed when a background check is run by a potential employer, sometimes face questions about arrest charges that did not result in any criminal conviction.”  There is a trade in criminal records: the authorities sell them to companies and special bureau’s hired by employers to track the records of their (future) employees

We were invited spontaneously to perform in a documentary about Human Justice. We did our best, despite the English of some of us (like me) and I hope it attributes something valuable. And it was a very interesting experience.

And at the end we only had a few minutes left for the matter for what we travelled to New York for in the first place: preparing Prison Dialogue and Action day. We exchanged a few remarks and decided to continue the discussion by email and a video-conference in the course of juin. I remember a few remarks:

– Start with an oversight of figures about the different countries/cities involved: crime, incarceration, recidivism etc.

– Try to give a voice to those who suffer the most severe consequences of the system: (former) incarcerated persons, victims, their families. Others, like scientists and professionals are there mainly to (learn to) facilitate the empowerment of those who are in the worst situation.

– Prepare well, do not make it to big. Probably less cities and/or countries.

– Use a better communication-system then Skype to do the videoconference!

– For Holland: ask the people who were involved in the conference of 2014 if they have idea ‘s and/or what they think can be done better in 2015!

And while I am typing this, Stefan van der Heijden dents me a whatsapp to have contact tomorrow. He is on a big conference in London for numerous former incarcerated persons from various countries in which he will stand on stage with the pope himself. He will discuss with them how they can participate in Prison Action Day!i


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