Walls…They’re a Tricky Thing.

Walls…They’re a Tricky Thing.


The walls we put up and the walls we break down.

The walls that we paint, the walls that we reach over, dream over, seep over, and peer over into the horizon line. To the sunset, and the sun setting on the mass incarceration of men and women that our society has labeled felons, crooks, criminals, vicious animals, monsters, and threats to our supposed homeostasis of peace and wellbeing that exists out in the “real world.”

But what is the “real world?” And who are these supposedly “innocent” people that make up the majority of society that exist on the exterior of these walls?

What makes them innocent, and what makes them immune to the harshness of a system dedicated to indicting for misdemeanors, felonies, and hard earned TIME?

Time away from loved ones, time away from children, from metro cards, from the birth of the iPod, and the election of a Black President representing the so-called “post race” era of our “democratic” country.


It’s a tricky thing. A slimy thing, Especially when it is against you, or rather sticks to you, adheres to your soul and keeps you perpetually in IT and in a historical moment that is long gone to those of us on the OUTSIDE, the real world, the space where justice is served and handed appropriately on a platter to those who await (blind) justice’s eyes.

Walls. They are constructed. Guarded. Shot at. And guarded once again.

Attica. Where an uprising began and men gave their lives to ensuring that those that would come after them would not suffer like they did, or like their grandfathers did during Jim Crow, or like their great grandmothers did during slavery, or like their great great grandparents did when they were brought to this “just” country on slave ships that held their souls, and their breath within them.

Movement. It’s a tricky, slimy thing. The movement of people down corridors. In lines. In silence. Batons being twirled to signify power. Masculinity, Control. Dominance.

Timed movement. Of men into blocks and yards. Into the mess hall and the chapel, the shared bathroom half stalls – half open, half closed to the pieces of tissue paper that construct the roll of their


Lost, in time. Time gone. Time taken away. Thrown away the key. Swallowed the key and down into the deep well of darkness, of power, of control, of mischief and sneaky, slimy, dominance.


Overcome with power, overtaken by their need to control, by their need to prove, by their need to provide, for their families, communities and children.

Corrections officers. These men.

These men who have been brainwashed, washed over with notions of keeping security, and maintaining order, of yelling harsh words and whispering harsh stigmas, of

Power. It’s there at the end of the hall.

And in every room.

In every cell block. And every hall that twists and turns inside the belly of the beast and the beast of the burden of



But at who’s expense?


Incarceration, it’s costly…


Incarceration, it’s costly. But the cost in dollars is only a drop in the bucket compared to the toll on the humanity of the people who fuel our nation’s system of mass incarceration.

Attica’s bars bind not only those who inhabit the prison’s cells, but everyone who finds themselves confined within its walls.

Teresa Miller, The Bars That Bind Us

Murals Inside (& Outside) of Prison Inspire Empowerment

A piece on Groundswell’s mural projects – an alternative to incarceration – and a chance for fair employment for youth to build their artistic skills – both personal and professional.


More from Groundswell

Chris Soria’s incredible work bringing the creativity and freshness of art into Rikers Island and various communities of the Five Boroughs. A breath of fresh air, and a new sense of community expression and empowerment.

Credit: Chris Soria
JUSTICE MANDALA © 2011 (mural triptych)
Groundswell Community Mural Project – House Of Detention (Brooklyn Detention Complex) Summer 2011

…The Kids are Doing Time Too

“The kids are hurting, because the kids are doing time too.”

Take a look at the preview of this upcoming incredible film by Professor Teresa Miller at the University of Buffalo. She looks at the full picture of incarceration; it’s impact on families’ and the bars that divide us all through the justice system’s detrimental impact.

Gant Family Visit Scene from Teresa Miller on Vimeo.

See an article published by the University of Buffalo on the full project. The Bars That Bind Us – all of us, those in prison, those directly connected, and all of us as a society who are apart of a system that breaks apart families in the supposed name of Justice.

New Documentary by UB’s Miller Sheds Light on Attica and the Human Costs to Workers, Inmates in Maximum-Security Prisons

  • [ photograph ]

UB Law Professor Teresa Miller is working on a documentary about the human costs of living in a large men’s maximum security prison.

Release Date: August 8, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The scene looks normal — a father kicking a soccer ball to his children, rubbing their heads in playful affection. The iconic towers and fence in the background tell the real story.

The Air Smells Fresher Up Here

“The air smells fresher up here.”

I’m on the Greyhound bus now, taking the symbolic ride ‘upstate’ that so many have taken before me – whether riding hundreds of miles to visit loved ones, or to reach the new destination of their containment. The ride is long from Boston where I’m coming from, and also from New York City (7.5 hours) mostly all of the incarcerated, and their family members are coming from.

I have to change buses twice, once in Albany, and another time in Syracuse, before I get to Rochester where I am staying with a fellow member of the AVP Facilitator training I am participating in this week. Although my ride is interrupted during these recharging stops, my mind is not. I am on the journey of our justice system, one of a complex history of racial discrimination and disenfranchisement, of the cold water of our War on Drugs, and the hard earned labors of our new racial caste system in the US, which Michelle Alexander denotes as, “The New Jim Crow,”

“All I know is when I show up on that block they’ll be saying, ‘Damn, why’d you come here?'”

I visited Attica earlier last week in order to participate in a volunteer orientation. The first thing that struck me about Attica was its paradoxical universe. There it was, the famed, the notorious, the legendary, Attica, right next to a corn field. And at that, one of the most gorgeous corn fields which lead its pastures into a valley vista view. A straight road separates Attica on one side, the gray foreboding castle of towers, and the field on the other, shiny grass melting into many different shades of yellows, and greens, and others of the rainbow, construing a beautiful meadow overlooking the mountain ridge line of Buffalo, New York. I was truly in the wilderness.

But I was in Attica. Attica, the site of the ‘riot’ in 1971 that left 29 inmates, and 10 corrections officers dead. The deceased laying motionless, at the hands of the state troopers that openly fired over a two minute window on the tear-gassed yard. Yet after the ‘riot,’ and once the gas had cleared, and the bodies removed, while the beatings of inmates continued, and the blame was deflected, real change had still occurred. Attica marked a decisive mark in criminal justice history when inmate demands were met and conditions were improved.

“It was just like they indiscriminately shot everyone.”

(M. Smith)

Following the movement at Attica, Volunteer Services were started in the New York Justice System. Many of the demands made by inmates were met – basic in and of themselves – and prisons throughout the country felt the resolution caused by what had happened at Attica. These basic needs, they were human rights. Human rights that had been denied by a system determined to restrain rather than support, and constrain rather than rehabilitate. Rehabilitation – when was it on the agenda of the US Justice System, the leader of the world’s incarceration?

They wanted change within the system. They wanted improvements, and primarily in areas that struck me as, mostly humanitarian. Food, wages, education– those were the primary areas. At that time there were no black staff. There were no Hispanics. No one spoke Spanish. The inmates felt that the training was inadequate as far as equipping them for when they got out of prison to find work and have a productive life.

Michael Smith,

Corrections Officer at Attica

Photo Credit: The Bars that Bind Us, Teresa Miller


The inmates at Attica had invited the press in, and invited William Kunstler, the famous lawyer, to represent them.

That indicated to me that the inmates were requesting that ethical and moral issues and real issues be addressed in the prison system and that they wanted the world past the wall, surrounding Attica, to be aware of it. You know, people on the outside. I think that the inmate population felt that they were not only locked up but that anything that goes on inside a prison is locked up and locked away from the outside world. (M. Smith)

The Attica ‘riot’ significantly changed the discourse within the prison system in the United States and the capacity for social change driven by incarcerated men and women from within the system. The historical event opened up new pathways for communication of social grievances, and ultimately, the solidified power for unification against systematic abuse.

“When you go through this shit man, you get a whole different outlook.”


*Michael Smith: Eyewitness to the Attica Prison Uprising
Originally edited by Andrew Lutsky and edited for the PBS classroom by Cari Ladd.
**all unidentified quotes taken from an anonymous man sitting in the seat behind me on the Greyhound bus.

Attica Prison Rebellion: POV | PBS

Watch Video | Attica Prison Rebellion: Additional Video | POV | PBS.

PBS POV: Documentaries with a point of view

Attica Prison Rebellion

Forty years ago, the national mood of political unrest and protest filtered into the United States prison system. And on September 9, 1971, and prisoners at New York’s Attica Correctional Facility seized control of the prison. The prisoners took hostages and demanded better living conditions. William Kunstler was called in to negotiate on behalf of the prisoners. After three days of negotiations, armed troops amassed outside the prison gates. What happened next was one of the bloodiest encounters between Americans since the Civil War.