Lived Experience as a Source of Knowledge

Danny MurilloPosted by John Gardner Fellow Danny Murillo

Founded by Dr. Donald Roden of Rutgers University – New Brunswick, the MountainviewProgram (MVP) initially started as a volunteer GED tutoring group for incarcerated youth at the Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility in Annandale, New Jersey. In 2013 the MVP program was incorporated into a consortium of higher education institutions known as the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ – STEP). The MVP then transitioned into the reentry component within NJ – STEP’s prison to higher education pipeline and is housed at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University – Newark.

Following the formalization of NJ-STEP, the Vera Institute of Justice selected them as part of a five-year national initiative that provides incentive funding and technical assistance to three selected states to participate in the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project. The consortium is a membership of community colleges and public and private universities that collaborates with the New Jersey Department of Corrections and State Parole Board by providing post-secondary courses to incarcerated students in seven state correctional facilities and formerly incarcerated students in various New Jersey community colleges and the Rutgers University. Continue reading

Amid Anxiety, Human Rights Should be a Priority

Paras blog headshotPosted by John Gardner Fellow Paras Shah

December in midtown Manhattan brings tourists, holiday lights, and time with friends and family. The year’s final month also celebrates two important global human rights events: The International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, and Human Rights Day on December 10.

Recent events make us realize how important it is to include planning to meet the needs of  people with disabilities in emergency and conflict situations. And human rights as a concept has taken on particular meaning and urgency in the last few weeks.

In recognition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Human Rights Watch issued a  news release on people with disabilities in conflict situations. Governments, donors, and aid agencies are overwhelmed with many competing priorities during emergencies. Yet it is  essential to make sure that the needs and concerns of people with disabilities are not lost in the shuffle Continue reading

Becoming More Intentional

danielle blogPosted by Gardner Fellow Danielle Puretz

On December 6, 2014 I wrote myself a letter as a closing exercise for the Global Poverty and Practice capstone course. I remember our discussion on the day we received the assignment: very few of the students in the class knew what they would be doing upon graduation, and among those that did, all were applying to grad school. I remember the professor passing out the sheets of blue paper, the black and yellow sketch of a tree I’d included with my letter and the smugness I felt at my idea to enclose a twenty dollar bill as a reminder from my past to present self that we have cause to celebrate.

In December of last year I did not know that come fall, I would be embarking on the John Gardner Fellowship, I did not know where I would be or what I would be doing and my biggest fear was that I would be “tired and stuck in a lease I can’t afford.” But beyond the evidence of chaos and confusion that was my life at the time, I asked myself some crucial questions, shared some personal insights and posed some exciting challenges. I dared myself to do things that scare me, shared the hope that I would be making art and writing for the sake of it, reminded myself to read and exercise my mind, wrote that “creative processes are opportunities for [us] to listen to [ourselves]” and incited a call to action telling myself to cultivate insatiability, never stop seeking inspiration, listening, learning and experimenting. Continue reading

Post-Secondary Education is Critical for the Formerly Incarcerated

Danny MurilloPosted by John Gardner Fellow Danny Murillo

It’s early Tuesday morning and I am on a flight to Detroit-Metro Airport. Due to weather conditions the flight is being delayed. As the plane sits on the runway at Newark Liberty International Airport I am second guessing my participation in this trip. I am accompanying my colleagues Rebecca Silber and Sean Addie to Michigan to meet with our partners and students of the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project. Thirty minutes have passed and the plane is still grounded. I am beginning to feel anxious. My anxiety is compounded as I think about the two prisons I will be entering; Parnall Correctional Facility (SMT) and Macomb Correctional Facility (MRF). This is my first time entering a prison facility since my release in 2010. I am concerned for my well-being, and I understand that my anxiety is linked to the trauma of incarceration.

Channeling the Spirit of Detroit, with my colleague Rebecca Silber.

Channeling the Spirit of Detroit, with my colleague Rebecca Silber.

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Perpetual Self-Renewal

Paras blog headshotPosted by John Gardner Fellow Paras Shah

In the season finale of his recently released Netflix mini-series, Master of None, writer and comedian Aziz Ansari grapples with the tendency to become complacent, what John Gardner characterized as lack of self-renewal. Month three of my Fellowship at Human Rights Watch brings new opportunities to work on disability rights in the context of emergencies and conflicts, but also gives me time to pause and ponder.

Increasingly, I am able to work on assignments with an eye toward what I find exhilarating and frustrating. Desk-based research, something my future promises a great deal of, can at times be isolating and requires that I constantly keep the bigger picture of a project or task in mind. On the other hand, advocacy strategy and writing media articles or press releases allows me to synthesize a narrative from many different sources, while collaborating with internal teams and external partners. As I note these preferences, I also question how my future career will unfold. Continue reading

From Incarceration to Reentry: The Importance of Higher Education

Danny MurilloPosted by John Gardner Fellow Danny Murillo

A month after moving to the east coast to begin serving my fellowship, I’ve hit the ground running. In this short time I returned to the University of California, Berkeley to attend the 30th anniversary of the John W. Gardner Fellowship. I was invited to the White House by President and Mrs. Obama to attend the 50th anniversary of the White House Fellows. Lastly, I participated in a round table discussion with New Jersey Senator Corey Booker’s legal team to discuss best practices for reentry and higher education. In my personal experience with reentry I recognize this process is not an individual effort. The intellectual influence of my friends whom I was exposed to during my time in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison played a key role in my reentry process. In collaboration with those around me I overcame my learning insecurities and gained the confidence to participate in the education and reentry programs that were being offered in the SHU.

NJ-STEP & Mountainview Program Alum Amarilis Diamond-Rodriguez greeting President Obama on his visit to Rutgers University-Newark to talk about prison reform policy.

NJ-STEP & Mountainview Program Alum Amarilis Diamond-Rodriguez greeting President Obama on his visit to Rutgers University-Newark to talk about prison reform policy.

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Brave in the Attempt

Paras blog headshotPosted by John Gardner Fellow Paras Shah

Disgust, then sorrow, and finally anger flashed across my face. I blamed this deluge of sudden emotions on a New York Times article—the white lettered headline, framed against a colorful rug and pair of shackled feet, declared “The Chains of Mental Illness in West Africa.” This piece, authored by Benedict Carey, draws upon research by Human Rights Watch to document the use of chains and shackles for people with psychosocial disabilities throughout West Africa.

A deep stigma toward disability coupled with a lack of resources and cultural beliefs around mental health conditions have contributed to the conditions for widespread abuse in West Africa. According to the article, “At last count, Liberia had just one practicing psychiatrist. Niger had three, Togo four and Benin seven. Sierra Leone had none.” To fill the lacuna created by lack of formal medical treatment, religious retreats, known as prayer camps, are seemingly the only options for many families. These camps range from small family-run outlets to large, elaborate operations, often reflecting the personality and vision of the head pastor. Continue reading