Writing For Social Justice: An Intimate Conversation On the Impact of Mass Incarceration & Criminal Justice Reform

We’re exited to announce we’ve received our first round of essays for a new project and achieve we’re building: The Social Justice Autobiography Project which is an online forum dedicated to providing a platform for prisoners across the United States to provide us with first hand accounts of their experiences on the inside, which are then shared with tomorrow’s leaders – college students – in an interactive process.

Incarcerated participants have be tasked to write a 2 to 3 page essay reflecting their views on the subject of social justice and the criminal legal system. The essays were be read by a class of college students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who then selected 10 to 25 to respond to and for publication. In an interactive process, the essays and responses were edited and compiled for publication.

Incarcerated participants were asked to write an essay, reflecting on what social justice means and whether they believe it can be achieved; their understanding of the nature and achievements of social justice movements, factors that have informed their understanding and experience of social justice; and how they have arrived at that understanding over the course of their lives.

These essays and the student responses are now going to be used as the basis of long form journalism that our incarcerated founder, Ivan Kilgore, will undertake to unpack the effects of the system on individuals and families.

What is significant about this project’s approach? It creates an opportunity to develop, inform, and shape the perspectives of people both inside and outside the system. Many college students who have an interest in criminal and social justice reform are seeking opportunities to work directly with people impacted by mass incarceration—prisoners.

Here, we have those closest to the problem and those seeking to better understand and change our country’s position as the world’s largest incarcerator, both invested with the power to shape the narrative using firsthand accounts, and increase the public’s understanding of the changes that need to be made to fix a “broken” system.

Notably, this project was inspired by the our founder’s 20 plus years of serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole during which he discovered the power of the written word. Through his writings, he learned to affect change and inspire people to look beyond their current circumstances to find ways to make a contribution to society. Today his writings are required reading in college level classes across the nation. The the proceeds generated from his writings are used to support this organization.

The idea for this project grew from Ivan’s correspondence with Professor Megan McDrew who was teaching a college course on sociology in prison; it was suggested that he use the Social Justice Autobiography project in the Writers’ Room Workshop he taught in prison.

As of January 14, 2021, Ivan was able to present the details of the project to a group of students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and 20 students signed on as volunteers. To date, over 100 prisoners across the United States were mailed a copy of the writing prompt and encouraged to enroll.

As noted, the impact that we hope this project will have is its ability to shift control of the narrative to incarcerated people to humanize their condition and redeemable qualities. Moreover, we hope it will impact our readers and the public and expose the many tentacles of mass incarceration. Our target audience will be proponents for criminal justice reform, abolitionists, students, social science researchers, and community-based organizations addressing the root causes of mass incarceration.

This effort strives to catalyze conversations on mass incarceration and amplify the voices of those impacted. Autobiographical storytelling has proven to affect changes in perspectives on crime and punishment in the United States. We believe our student participants will come away with a newfound understanding of the criminal justice system and carry this over into their careers as future policymakers, social workers, legal scholars, and more. We also believe the prisoner participants will be invested with a sense of value and inclusion in the process of change, which will provide them with hope for the future.

We hope the exchanges derived from this forum will inspire readers to take a moment to pause and reflect on current reform efforts. We hope to facilitate change by mending the bridges between communities: inside/outside, prisoner/student, prison/university, citizens/policymakers, activists/society, and more.

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Make Cell Phones Legal In Prison

“People don’t understand… Saying ‘What are you doing giving inmates phones in the facility?’” said Union County Sheriff David Taylor. “They [inmates] purchase the phones for a $100.”

Sheriff Taylor says his office no longer runs the jail but has been worked to bring this CellMate Mobile service to its inmates through a company called Lattice Incorporated.

He says inmates buy the phones in the commissary and relatives can add minutes for the inmates to use from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“For them to make phone calls. They’re able to text from these phones,” Sheriff Taylor said. “They don’t have any access to the outside world other than what we allow them to have.”

He says the devices do come with restrictions, like the inability to contact alleged victims.

“They can’t access Facebook, SnapChat, none of that stuff they can use. They can’t get on the internet – period,” said Sheriff Taylor. “But we’re still able to monitor. We can view their text messages. We can listen to their phone calls.”

So why these new phones? The sheriff says idle inmates can mean trouble.

Salesforce has built a deep bench of executive talent via acquisition

When Salesforce acquired Quip in 2016 for $750 million, it gained CEO and co-founder Bret Taylor as part of the deal. Taylor has since risen quickly through the ranks of the software giant to become president and COO, second in command behind CEO Marc Benioff. Taylor’s experience shows that startup founders can sometimes play a […]

How Prison Has Effected My Family & Community

By Ivan Kilgore
—May 2019

(The following is an excerpt from my latest book Domestic Genocide: The Institutionalization of Society.)

I begin by informing you that institutions affect people in both positive and negative ways. Arguably, the positive aspect of prisons in American society has been said to remove presumably criminal elements from the community. The down side, however, is mass incarceration of Black males, for example, destabilizes family and other social networks in the community.

Here, I borrow from Professor Todd Clear’s Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse. Clear provides a “coercive mobility theory” that states: “… high rates of incarceration, concentrated in poor communities, destabilizes social networks in these communities, thereby undermining informal social controls, economic prosperity, and stability.”

It is important that we observe here that social networks are composed of “human” and “social” capital. Both human and social capital are the building blocks of a community’s social and economic progress. Human Capital refers to the personal resources an individual brings to the social and economic marketplace. A typical example of human capital is education or a particular skill-set like experience in sales and marketing. Others include the ability to pickup on things fast (intellect) and ease in social situations….

“Social Capital,” as defined by Clear, “is the capacity of a person to call upon personal ties (usually within social networks) in order to advance some personal interest. Social capital and social networks are related. Social networks define the underlying structure of interpersonal relationships that hold the capacity for providing social capital; social capital is the capacity of networks to provide goods for people within these networks.”

Social capital is a relatively new concept in the social sciences. It has come to indicate that networks of social relationships represent a “resource” for both the individual and the community, since they provide support for the individual and facilitate collective action. Although this is not an entirely new idea, the more systematic way in which capital captures such an intuition has created a new theoretical paradigm and has assisted to develop a series of innovative research programs in politics, economics and the study of human progress—or, in the case of the ghetto, the destabilization of communities. As this suggests, the systematic approach to manipulating social capital has gained currency beyond mere academic rhetoric and has for ages extended itself to the various social policing measures which influence the ghetto.
When reflecting on the prevailing social policy of incarcerating vast members of poor communities, we must note how this policy of mass incarceration in itself creates criminogenic conditions in the ghetto. Here, Clear further provides the

…[r]enewal of young residents for imprisonment is a mobility process that affects crime. It changes the density and spread… [of] secondary relational networks. This reduces the capacity of those networks to link to resources outside the neighborhood and bring them to bear on problems of people in the neighborhood. It weakens attachment to the neighborhood and ties to neighbors, and thereby erodes the collective efficacy that serves as a foundation for informal social control. The social stresses [e.g., unemployment and income inequality] are increased stresses on the high economically stressed communities, it generates the parental dysfunctions that lead to delinquency. In short, high rates of removal of parent-aged residents from poor communities sets off a series of efforts that destabilize the capacity of those communities to provide informal social control.

What Clear has provided here with his coercive mobility theory is the deteriorating social and economic impact Black families and communities are to experience as a consequence of incarcerating young, productive Black males.

As a young huslta out there peddling death to feed my family, I did not realize the traps that were awaiting my downfall. Nor did I realize the gravity of my responsibility to my family and how vital I was to their future progress. Despite the fact that I sold drugs, the financial and emotional security that I provided to them kept the lights on and plenty of food in the ‘frig. That’s not to mention the Nikes I put on my sisters’ feet. Notably, Professor Clear stresses that such activities, irrespective of their being criminal, tie into the coercive mobility theory.

As a M.A.N., my incarceration has forced me to reckon with my greatest shame. This comes not on account of any stigma associated with being in prison. Rather, I’m ashamed because I now realize how I allowed my environment and the activities it influenced me with to deprive me of not accomplishing my goals in life and fulfilling my responsibilities to my family, which has always been my greatest source of pride and joy. I’ve been incarcerated almost 20 years. As the years have passed and I’ve come to recognize the destruction and its causes, the burden this has set upon my shoulders has been heavy yet embraced. I am to my family and community the fountainhead of stability, provider of economic opportunities, teacher, and emotional soundboard. When I slipped and was incarcerated the first time for three years, then for a second time with a life sentence, the impact this had on my peers and family was devastating. My lil’ sisters depended on “Big Bruh” to make life good for them and provide the direction our vice ridden parents had not. Without my financial and emotional support my daughter’s mother would find it with another man. So too would my sisters eventually. From this grew a perverse dependence on not only other men, which of course has been problematic over the years, but so too the state. My wife, like many single mothers, came to rely heavily on welfare. Fortunately, unlike the welfare queens of the Reagan era, she was motivated enough not to allow herself to become systematized by the welfare system.

My lil’ sisters, on the other hand, have struggled with the disparaging affect that came of the periodic welfare our mother received when we were kids. Needless to say, this for our parents was yet another drug; torpid and systematic like the old plantation system that created the African slaves’ subservient mentality….
Yet, there has been a greater impact on my community with my incarceration. Sure, me poisoning it with dope and lead was of no benefit. My activities were simply a means to an end that I believed at the time would better situate my family and I.
During the course of my incarceration I’ve noted how many of my friends and associates have fallen out with each other. Homies have killed and robbed homies out of greed and envy. Some have turned-state; became addicted to hard drugs; and not handled their business as fathers. Many have remained “stuck”—having not advanced beyond the illegal activity we were engaged in as young hustlas tyrin’ to get a buck.

Consequently, I feel this has occurred due to my absence in influencing block affairs, which has caused things to get outright messy. No longer is there any integrity; principle guiding better judgment.

Moreover, there is no solidarity. Up until I was incarcerated, I sponsored a number of weekly events ranging from BBQs to house parties that allowed for the ‘hood to come together and address issues. In addition, I encouraged the homies to attend the local NAACP community meetings, which I often partook in in an effort to facilitate solace between the young hustlas and the old heads. All this, of course, has come to an end over the years. No one stepped up to fill my shoes. So people in the community kind of just went their own way.

What has been the greatest impact of my incarceration? That, I’ll say, has been the effect it has had on the relationship between my daughter and I. She was 5 years old when I got locked up. She’s now 24. I’ve only seen her one time on account of the fact that she lives in Oklahoma. And while we speak regularly, I know that my influence in her life has been limited in terms of assisting to develop her confidence, ambition, goal orientation, and providing a positive example of male and female relationships.

These things and more have affected her in such a way she makes a poor decisions in respect to the type of men she dates; she doesn’t value education, she doesn’t have a healthy self-image of herself and, because of this, she is not motivated to do much of anything.

Now, I’ve used the above to paint a larger picture. Where I have drawn on the negative impact of my incarceration, Professor Clear magnifies the impact by urging us to consider the deteriorating impact on poor communities around the nation where millions have been incarcerated. Using the metaphor “death by a thousand little cuts,” which represents the instability caused by the removal and return of a significant number of individuals for prison, Clear points to the fact that “communities that provide large numbers of prisoners to the state and federal prison system struggle in a variety of ways. The laundry list of social and economic problems which ensue are extensive and beyond the mere examples that I have provided. Ultimately, they lead to a complete breakdown of “collective efficacy.”

Take for example how in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina countless poor Black Americans were without the necessary “collective efficacy” to aid themselves or others. The high level of social disorganization witnessed in the New Orleans crisis [speaks to] the gravity to which America’s penal institution has devastated the collective efficacy in poor Black communities… [It makes cities like New Orleans repositories of surplus population that are incarcerated at disproportionate rates].

This is only a small take on the impact of prison on my life and family. It is a difficult subject for me to address and really open up to. I can only hope that with what little I have provided I have assisted you to understand that this is one institution that is definitely destroying the lives of those who are connected to it as well as those who are locked up and hidden behind it’s walls.

Learn more about Ivan’s writings you can visit his blog websites at: willisraised.wordpress.com and ubfsf.org.

The Power of Labels: Murder & Society

By Ivan Kilgore

I’ve been looking at this for quite some time: the power of labels! Recently, I was speaking with one of the comrades who, up until Senate Bill 1437 was passed in California, had been serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole after being convicted in a first-degree murder case. His conviction was based solely on him being accessory to murder. Whereas, the jury found that he was just as culpable as the triggerman himself. All in all, he would serve some 26 years in prison before SB 1437 changed the game and freed him.

Notably, on September 30, 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 1437. SB 1437 altered the state’s murder law by limiting who can be prosecuted for murder and felony murder. The three most important features of the law are 1) felony murder can now be prosecuted only when the accused had the intent to kill, 2) there can no longer be convictions for natural and probable consequences murder, and 3) the law is retroactive,

On September 30, 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 1437. SB 1437 altered the state’s murder law by limiting who can be prosecuted for murder and felony murder. The three most important features of the law are 1) felony murder can now be prosecuted only when the accused had the intent to kill, 2) there can no longer be convictions for natural and probable consequences murder, and 3) the law is retroactive, meaning people convicted of felony murder under the old law can petition to have their sentences reduced. Meaning people convicted of felony murder under the old law can petition to have their sentences reduced.

What’s the difference between the murderer & the soldier? Read and learn.

During the course of our conversation, my friend mentioned he was recently interviewed for an upcoming episode on 60 Minutes. In a nutshell it’s about how one day he’s doing a life sentence deemed a threat to public safety, and then the next, “poof!” With a mere change of the law he is no longer a threat and is free after almost three decades in prison.

Ivan Kilgore, convicted at 26; sentenced to life without parole


My point? When you watch this episode of 60 Minutes, I want you to think about just how manipulative the criminal justice system is. Particularly, look at how with this case and countless others, including those where the triggerman is at fault, just how easily we are manipulated to condemn and label what we deem a threat to Public Safety one day and the next it’s an upstanding citizen freed after decades in prison on a wrongful conviction or some draconian law.

Four Gut Wrenching Radio Interviews on the Rhetoric of Prison Rehabilitation in California.

Listen to four gut-wrenching radio interviews on the rhetoric of prison rehabilitation by United Black Family Scholarship Foundation founder Ivan Kilgore. Hosted on Prison radio. Click on the following links:

https://www.prisonradio.org/media/audio/ivan-kilgore/contradictions-rhetoric-prison-rehabilitation-1-442-ivan-kilgore

https://www.prisonradio.org/media/audio/ivan-kilgore/contradictions-rhetoric-prison-rehabilitation-1-521-ivan-kilgore

https://www.prisonradio.org/media/audio/ivan-kilgore/contradictions-rhetoric-prison-rehabilitation-1-348-ivan-kilgore

https://www.prisonradio.org/media/audio/ivan-kilgore/contradictions-rhetoric-prison-rehabilitation-4-509-ivan-kilgore

Socialism vs. Capitalism: Food For Thought!

It done got real UBF fam! Tomorrow (Sunday, August 18th ) our most recent addition to the organization, Cedric O’Bannon, informed he will be conducting a video interview with the following individuals for an international conference on socialism. On behalf of the organization, he requested UBF founder Ivan Kilgore submit the following questions to be asked of each speaker:

1. Barbara Becnel (author, writer, producer, Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story).

Ivan’s question: What impact, if any, do you see a socialist society having on the question of the death penalty?

2. Robbie Meeropol (Son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg).

Ivan’s question: How can we better develop proletariat (I.e., working class) consciousness to counter capital exploitation?

3. Alice Walker (Pulitzer Prize Novelist, author The Color Purple).

Ivan’s question: Whether in capitalist America or communist Cuba, the plight of the descendants of Africa continue to suffer under the social construct of race. Explain why it is we continue to witness the same discriminatory practices in socialist societies as with capitalist?

4. Cindy Sheehan (Organizer/Coordinator, Women’s March on the Pentagon).

Ivan’s question: Sexism and misogyny in their myriad destructive forms permeates every aspect of American life from the church to the workforce. As an African-American man, how do we get young brothers (and sisters) in the hood to recognize the deep-seated culture of hatred and prejudice towards women is also propagated by the white supremacist structure?

5. Pam Africa (Chair, International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal).

Ivan’s question: Author and sociologist Amos Wilson once said, “The violently oppressed react violently to their oppression. When their reactionary violence, their retaliatory violence or destructive violence, cannot be effectively directed at their oppressors or effectively applied to their self-liberation, it then will be directed at and applied destructively to themselves.” My question is, what promises will introducing socialism have on reducing black-on-black violence given the fact that it is often said much of the violence that we see in capitalist societies is based on the oppression that Wilson speaks of?

6. Nora Barrows Friedman (Associate Editor, Electronic Intifada).

Ivan’s question: The late Dr. Bobby Wright once said that for socialism to be a reality it requires the cooperation of the masses of the white race. With that being a condition, is this even a real alternative given exploitative nature of Western culture?

University of California, Irvine Prison Pandemic Oral Archive

Hear the testimonies of those inside.

New site shares personal stories of COVID conditions inside California’s state prisons in effort to raise awareness, action

Irvine, Calif. — Limited access to cleaning supplies and protective face coverings. Months-long, 24-hour lockdowns with no family visits. Living quarters that make social distancing next to impossible. And a case rate that keeps climbing. The COVID conditions inside California’s prisons paint a stark reality of the mental and physical health toll the pandemic is taking on incarcerated individuals, says Kristin Turney, University of California, Irvine sociologist. She’s part of a group working to raise public awareness of the Coronavirus crisis in the state’s prisons through a new website, www.prisonpandemic.uci.edu.

“These personal stories highlight hardship in a profound way,” says Turney. “And what’s really poignant are the racial disparities in our country’s incarcerated population. People of color and those from low-income communities are overrepresented in prison, meaning that the plight of the pandemic in prison is being felt more heavily among an already marginalized population. By sharing their stories, we’re giving them a platform they may not otherwise have.”

Launched in March, the site features first-hand accounts of what the pandemic looks like in prison as told through letters and recorded phone calls collected via the project’s anonymous hotline. The work is a collaborative, donor-funded effort between Turney; UCI criminology, law & society associate professors Keramet Reiter and Naomi Sugie and graduate students Joanne DeCaro and Gabe Rosales; and other School of Social Ecology field study students, as well as student volunteers.

“Being incarcerated is itself a risk factor for chronic health problems and early mortality, yet those in prison face persistently inadequate access to medical care. We hope the accounts we collect will reveal how COVID-19 has magnified these problems, and be a resource for journalists and scholars alike seeking to understand and mitigate the health harms of incarceration,” says Reiter who has played a key role in creating the first in-prison B.A. completion program offered by the University of California system.

Statistics emphasized on the site track current COVID outbreaks in the state’s prisons alongside personal narratives to highlight the human element that is often missed in public perception and understanding of the experience of individuals who are incarcerated, says Sugie.

“We often think of prisons as closed institutions that do not affect us or our communities. But, in fact, our society’s health, safety, and well-being are closely tied to our prisons. The COVID crisis in prisons is revealing long-standing and entrenched problems with mass incarceration generally,” she says.

Joanne DeCaro, who has helped curate and transcribe the stories, hopes the project will help draw attention to the magnitude of mental and physical health concerns that are apparent in each of the shared narratives. “The stories we have collected so far overwhelmingly describe a sense of helplessness and fear,” she says. “Helplessness because they often have limited to no means to protect themselves, and a strong fear that they might never see their loved ones again.”

United Black Family Scholarship Foundation founder, Ivan Kilgore has been a guest speaker for multiple PrisonPandemic undergraduate cohorts, educating them on the circumstances facing the incarcerated population during COVID-19, the detriments of the criminal justice system, and sharing his relentless drive to selflessly improve conditions for impoverished communities nationwide. Big thanks to Ivan and the UBFSF for helping educate our students working on these projects.

The group hopes to expand the project’s focus beyond COVID-19 narratives to continue raising awareness of health and racial disparities inside California’s prisons, and work toward effective solutions to the state’s overcrowded prisons.

For more information, visit http://www.prisonpandemic.uci.edu. To share a prison pandemic story, anonymous calls can be made to 949-824-6600 and letters may be mailed to PO Box 4430, Sunland, CA 91041. The project is collecting calls from those currently incarcerated, recently incarcerated, loved ones of those incarcerated, and staff. The hotline accepts collect calls.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit news.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.

UBF Juvenile Mentoring Program

In order for tomorrow’s youth to become leaders and not statistics, they require the support of the greater community.

With all the controversy surrounding mass incarceration of adult African American males, little, if anything, has been said about the fact that in some states as much as 77% of the youth incarcerated are African American. This, in part, is unquestionably the consequence of a lack of role models and mentorship.

We are currently accepting proposals for an unconventional approach to providing mentorship for at-risk youth. We aim to assist children to develop the skills and emotional resilence necessary to promote positive mental health; engage in constructive social behavior; and prevent violence and drug use among other challenges children face in today’s world.

None of this, of course, would be possible without the assistance of the community itself. To submit a proposal, contact us.