VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: An Invitation to Incarcerated Writers from Vanguard Incarcerated Press

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By Jamel Walker

Currently, we have the unique opportunity to lend authentic, credible voices to the conversation surrounding the prison reform movement. The question is, who are those voices, and what will they sound like. In this issue, I, Angie D. Gordon, and D. Razor Babb, three of the advisory board members of Vanguard Incarcerated Press (VIP), would like to share our vision of who could be those credible voices, and what they could sound like.

VIP has the unique opportunity to distinguish itself from other prison publications currently being published. The question is how can we accomplish this? I would argue that we focus on our mission of “social justice, prison reform, and civic oversight of the criminal justice system.” Another question is, how should our writers and contributors speak to these issues? Axiomatic for every writer is, to know your audience. We must keep in mind that, although we have multiple audiences, they have some important commonalities. They all are interested in the ability to speak truth to power, eliminate mass incarceration, and promote racial and economic justice. Thus, in speaking to our audience, we must tell stories about the impact these issues have on us, our fellow captives, and our families. For far too long, those who have not been subject to the oppression we have endured under this criminal justice system have tried to tell our stories. How can well-meaning journalists, activists, and academics speak about something they have not experienced? Admittedly, there are many things writers can credibly write about that they have not experienced firsthand. What is it like to spend a decade or two in prison while under the watchful eye of our paternalistic keepers, who are all too eager and content to break you down rather than build you up? Who can speak to the experience of being hated, humiliated, and dehumanized by the people who are responsible for your “care, custody, and treatment?” In other words, who better to tell our stories than us?

Another aspect of VIP’s mission is our ability to shine a light into the darkest shadows of the penal system. In seeking to be that light, we should be laser-beam focused on the injustices we, our fellow captives, and our families endure every day. We should not write personal rants. Instead, we can write about the impact of injustices we have personally endured and their actual, or potential, impact on our larger community. For example, why are there no body-worn cameras at every institution? Why do DOCs throughout the nation have regulations in place restricting the media’s free access to speak with us, or why do we not have free, unrestricted access to the media? Who is going to write about the ineffective grievance system that, for decades, has not served to improve our conditions and treatment at the hands of our keepers? Who is going to expose the disciplinary process that provides due process in name only, a disciplinary process that deems us guilty until proven innocent? How many of us have been victims of a disciplinary hearing officer who has said, “If my officer wrote you up, you’re guilty,” or, “who do you think I’m going to believe, you or my officer?” Who will write about the mistreatment of our family members when they come to visit?

Indeed, we have a very unique opportunity to be the authentic, credible voices that can shine a light into the darkest corners of a system of mass incarceration that has been dark for far too long. How many of you want to be that voice that is the catalyst for changing this narrative? How many of you are willing to speak truth to power? How many of you are willing to tell the stories that need to be told? The VIP invites all who are willing to tell these stories because they desperately need to be told by us. So, let us tell them!

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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