The Graterford Think Tank

Coordinator: Lori Pompa

Following the completion of the summer 2002 course, participants decided to continue meeting on a weekly basis to develop projects focused on re-educating the public about crime and justice. This effort came to be known as the Graterford Think Tank, and the group has done – and continues to do – many and varied projects over the years. Additionally, Think Tank members provide critical expertise and guidance in the development of Inside-Out’s curriculum and trainings, acting as an advisory committee on research and organizational strategies for The Inside-Out Center and assisting with training sessions for new Inside-Out instructors.

The composition of the Think Tank has changed since it began. At any given time there are 12-15 inside and 12-15 outside members of the Think Tank. Almost all of the current inside members are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. All are engaged in other political, religious, and educational activities in the institution. Outside members of the Think Tank are students who have taken Inside-Out classes or individuals who have taken The International Inside-Out Instructor Training Institute. The Think Tank has met at Graterford Prison outside Philadelphia consistently every Wednesday since 2002.

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Pitch-blackness. In the center, a twinkling dot, growing bigger, or coming closer; flickering wilder now; a flame, yes; a crackling campfire. Glowing ashes rising up, swirling like fire flies, flying higher everywhere into the blackness, becoming countless twinkling stars.

I’m under a starlit sky, sitting Indian-style by a campfire. The silhouettes of endless pine trees surround me.

I hear sounds: crickets, frogs, owls, wind, whispering tree leaves… howling wolves… my heartbeat… pounding. And a familiar voice: “Kempis, in five words, say something about your situation.”

I spin around, turning my head in every direction, scanning the landscape. But my view is besieged by monstrous concrete walls and towers all around me. I swivel back around… on my metal desk stool to face the campfire… that is now my desk lamp. The stars are gone; the sounds are that of jingling, not like bells but more like…keys… and footsteps.

“Say something about your sentence to life without parole, in five words.”

“Five words?”

“Yes, five words.”

Jingling keys and footsteps getting louder. A full moon appears, unusually and disturbingly bright, blinding me. But hold up; that ain’t no moon…

It streaks away as suddenly as it intruded. The afterglow fades with the jingling keys and footsteps.

“Your sentence in five words,” the voice persisted.

“Okay, that’s easy,” I said. “This…is…not…my…destiny.”

– Ghani (Graterford Think Tank)