Prison “reform” or abolition work takes many forms, few of which are welcomed. In the wake of yet another attempt to block efforts to work with the mass incarcerated Marshall “Eddie” Conway offers this defense of the Friend of a Friend program that has recently suffered another expulsion of its members from Maryland state prisons. The program is extremely valuable in maintaining important links with those forcibly held by the State and in helping those within prison walls organize, educate and train themselves. We invite as many as possible to read this message from Conway and follow up with the suggested follow-up actions, including contacting Ben Woods about this and his work with Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI).
Marshall “Eddie” Conway: Why We Must Save A Friend of a Friend
The Friend of a Friend (FOF) program was started by a group of concerned men at the Maryland Correctional Training Center and the staff of the American Friends Service Committee in 2006. Several of us men had come together to address the violence between various street organizations and because of we were concerned about the increasingly young prison population. I had worked with the American Friends Service Committee for several years prior to the closure of the Maryland House of Corrections, and knew they were willing to continue their work with prisoners. Collectively we created the foundation for what would eventually become a system-wide program serving five Maryland prisons.
Over the years the FOF has worked with several hundred prisoners and reached thousands of other prisoners through our outreach programs that include theater productions and guest lecturers from Howard University and Morgan State University. FOF has earned the respect of the Maryland prison population by setting a positive example for others to follow. The real impact of the program is that it has saved many prisoners from engaging in conflicts that could have led to the loss of life and/or additional time spent in prison. Saving lives is the most important task of the FOF program, and members incorporate methods that help younger prisoners gain the skills to negotiate the prison environment and the community beyond the walls.
FOF has been successful at bringing prisoners together from all walks of life; many of whom have differing philosophical and/or political ideologies. This is unique in the prison environment where people tend to segregate according to their specific political, religious or gang/street organization affiliation. Coming together like this allows us to get to know one another and bond during the weekly sessions. This is important because it allows prisoners from these backgrounds to get to know each other, and these relationships allow the FOF to negotiate disputes between members of these different groups. This leads to dialogue rather than violent conflict, and many of these prisoners return to the outside community and work with children and youth, and organizations such as AFSC. There is a broader sense of community and camaraderie among prisoners because the program exists throughout the system.
In this program we help prisoners, (78% are of African descent in the system in Maryland) understand their culture and history as well as their individual impact on their community. They are encouraged to accept responsibility and to create change in those communities. I believe for these reasons alone it is viewed by some Public Safety officials as a threat to the growth of the Prison Industrial Complex. While prison officials claim to have the best interest of the community at heart, their real interest is in their paychecks and positions of power. Programs like FOF break the cycle of re-incarceration and help prisoners to successfully re-enter the community. While FOF has worked to increase the peace in the prison system and the community beyond, other forces have continually attacked the program and worked to prevent unity among prisoners. Now, once again we have to defend our program from these attempts to get rid of it, and we need the help of everyone concerned with peace and justice so that we might keep up this work that has benefitted so many people. WE MUST SAVE A FRIEND OF A FRIEND!
Please join our supporters around the country on November 15th and 16th for a call-in to Maryland Secretary of Public Safety, Gary Maynard. The number is 410-339-5005. Insist that this program be reinstated. Please feel free to email Gary Maynard at email@example.com as well.
For further information please contact Benjamin Woods at 607-339-8188.