"We all need energetic people to spark us," says Vanessa Agard-Jones, the coordinator for the Prison Activist Resource Center (PARC) located in Berkeley/Oakland, California. But, more importantly, she points out, "People trying to build this movement need to learn how to work together, collectively, so that we can provide a model for community groups."
And, looking at the success and growth of PARC's outreach nation-wide, it is clear that the collective spirit and struggle is alive and well.
Camped out in a small office, in the midst of computers, posters, and piles of paper and files, are PARC's dedicated staff, interns and volunteers. For hours each day they prepare and coordinate resources, including their well-known and well-used, Resource Directory . Their goal is to link communities of prisoners, their families, organizations, and activists/organizers throughout the country.
Founded in 1994 by Eli Rosenblatt, PARC has grown to dozens of people who teach classes in schools and provide curriculum programs for teachers; organize art and cultural programs; and research and prepare fact sheets and educational materials covering such topics as the prison-industrial-complex and immigration detention centers. PARC members also respond personally to every prisoner's letter sent to them.
PARC's newly redesigned website (www.prisonactivist.org) is a national treasure of helpful information with a record number of 1.9 million hits and more than 69,000 site visits in April of this year.
PARC has sent more than 300 Prisoner Support Packets per month to prisoners in recent months, conducted dozens of presentations in classrooms, and filled dozens of requests for curriculum presentations from teachers and activists. Since the fall of 2000, the powerhouse organization has sent over 200 Student Organizing Packets to student activists nationwide.
PARC has an outlook that benefits from the best and the brightest of the 80's generation. As Agard-Jones states, "We are the generation of public schools and metal detectors. Prisons are in our culture, homes and communities. We grew up surrounded by the War on Drugs, policing, and the reality of prisons and confinement." And as Kali Akuno-Williams, the Development Coordinator and Staff Organizer says, "It is just the way it isprisons are just there . You know your family members are in prison. Prisons are their homes, and you visit them here at one prison, and you visit them there at another prison."
Ari Wohlfeiler, who organizes PARC's Curriculum Project, talks about the reactions of students to PARC speakers. "We present facts, guessing games, puzzles and role playing to students about criminalization of youth, as well as prison labor and industries. In effect, we provide a space, even if it's for a few minutes, in which kids can experiment, articulate and challenge the information we provide, and that they feel and live everyday."
It is the kind of education and sharing of experiences on the grassroots level that can affect people for a lifetime. This is what PARC is about. Rather than feeling isolated and alone, prisoners should realize that through the efforts of PARC and its contacts, millions of people throughout the nation know of their needs and their struggles.
As with virtually all non-governmental supported organizations that are doing effective and independent work these days, financial support is always tenuous. Attorneys, legal workers, students, and prisoners' supporters are encouraged to contribute. Now is the time! Please, send your donations to PARC, P.O. Box 339, Berkeley, CA 94701.
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