Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, TN / American Baptist College
Community Building and Conflict Resolution Circle, the think tank on Riverbend’s death row, has expanded their project on art and writing, especially focusing on the cradle to prison pipeline and some of the young folks they are working with. Ndume Olatushani, one of the organizers and an artist who spent 20 of 28 years in prison on death row, has created an amazing art project with groups of young people who are struggling with the streets and school. Using his death row uniform and 11 orange jump suits, Ndume, in collaboration with the young people and the think tank, found old wooden school desks and stuffed the prison uniforms, so that they sit in the desks. The young folks write/draw pieces of their stories on the desks plus data on the pipeline. Think tank members call out to talk with the young folks working on this project. Omari Booker, an artist who was locked up for almost four years, is also working with the project. The art exhibit has been accepted for a national conference with Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson and Howard Zehr in April. SALT: Schools for Alternative Learning and Transformation has also worked with young people on the cradle to prison pipeline. SALT outlined a possible curriculum, sharing the stories of insiders with teachers, social workers and school administrators to shift from programming for kids on the edge to listening to, learning from, and partnering with young folks.
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You come into this setting
but do you really think you know me?
You stop and take a look around
but only what you’re allowed to see.
You bring with you the baggage
of what you think you know
Criminals, do gooders, deviants, gawkers,
guilty, innocent, although...
There is something familiar in that face
across the room I hadn’t anticipated
Guarded, uneasy, anxiety, curiosity
Optimism, hope, Are we related?
It’s true that labels were made
and perhaps boxes prepared
but stigmas soon fade
When common ideas, values,
and experiences are shared
We don’t all agree
that’s painfully clear
but as we humanize others
we displace the fear.
– Rob (Inside Participant)