"Is it safe to assume that we would like a future that has more justice? That we want a better relationship with the planet? How about more interdependence between human beings?"
On October 21st, seated in a prison auditorium, incarcerated and non-incarcerated participants nodded in response to the questions above as they began a workshop co-created and led by Carrie Hutnick and Kempis "Ghani" Songster. For the past five years, Carrie and Ghani have developed and facilitated nearly a dozen workshops intended to bring the intellectual analysis of social issues into spaces of dialogue and collective action, and this event was no different in its intention. All of their workshops have been held at the prison where until recently Ghani served a sentence of Juvenile Life Without Parole. He was recently re-sentenced and soon after became eligible for parole.
Carrie, a PhD candidate in Sociology, and Ghani are trained instructors for Inside-Out, an educational program offering college courses composed of half incarcerated and half university students inside correctional facilities. They are also members of Inside-Out's Graterford Think Tank, a group of incarcerated and non-incarcerated instructors and alumni who meet weekly to discuss the program, pedagogy, and social justice. The Think Tank is responsible for a portion of Inside-Out's instructor training program, and offers regular educational workshops held at the prison for outside community members who have included faculty, students and staff from George Mason University.
Carrie and Ghani had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop for all those in attendance at Inside-Out 's 20th anniversary Conference and saw their scholarship come to life on a large scale. That Saturday, 190 "outside" participants entered the prison where the program began and continues to be a training location for instructors. Outside participants joined 50 "inside" alumni still incarcerated at the prison- all 240 at one time either instructors or enrolled in Inside-Out. After a morning panel and lunch, Carrie and Ghani began the workshop with a series of questions and brief introduction before dividing everyone into 16 "small" groups- all led by other Think Tank members to facilitate discussion. Groups were asked to develop strategies that might respond to a central question: What do Inside-Out courses compel us to do beyond the classrooms where we learn about and discuss social issues in order to take direct action to affect change?
Based on Adrienne Maree Brown's book Emergent Strategies and collectively adapted by the Think Tank to accommodate all attending the conference, Carrie and Ghani designed the workshop in order for content to emerge from ideas and conversations amongst participants, building knowledge and plans for action together to address social problems. In an outreach portion, groups paused their discussion and dispersed for participants to find assigned "partners" from other groups, forming 120 pairs to share ideas and progress being made. Participants then returned to their groups to finish working before gathering back together as a conference to share strategies and make connections. Common themes included education, relationships, and reimagining systems that value all people equally.
Ghani brought the experience to a close by offering a quote by Cornel West: "You can't lead the people if you don't love the people. You can't save the people if you don't serve the people. I want to know: How deep is your love for the people? What kind of courage have you demonstrated in the stances that you've taken? What are you willing to sacrifice for? These are the fundamental questions." He asked participants to get back into their small groups for one final "go-around," where each person would share a “fundamental question” they would ask themselves upon leaving the conference that might compel them to take action. What do we need to ask of ourselves to create the change we want to see?
December 04, 2017