Black Prisoners Caucus Youth Summit
February 23, 2018
Correctional Unit Supervisor Bobby Greene (Right) and incarcerated speaker Demar Nelson (left). (Karen Takacs, DOC Communications)
SHELTON – The Black Prisoners Caucus (BPC) at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton hosted a Youth Summit. The panel was comprised of 11 incarcerated men who shared their stories of what led to their incarceration.
The men also shared their recommendations for the 125 community partners in attendance on how their work with youth could impact and decrease incarceration rates. The community members included representation from youth detention centers, prosecutors, professors, juvenile advocates, Village of Hope staff, local Boys and Girls Club representatives and legislatures. No youth were invited to attend.
The Black Prisoners Caucus was founded in 1972. The organization started as workshops led by incarcerated men and has since extended to five state correctional facilities in Washington State. The facilities include Clallam Bay Corrections Center, Monroe Correctional Complex (Washington State Reformatory Unit), Cedar Creek Corrections Center, Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Washington Corrections Center. The BPC focuses on fostering respect, responsibility, self-worth and unity. It aims to bring the African American community together to create a healthier future and promote cultural growth.
All attendees were greeted at the door by a reception line consisting of incarcerated men, including the speakers and were welcomed by Superintendent Dan White. He was in awe by the size of the crowd and thanked Correctional Unit Supervisor Bobby Greene for all of her hard work in coordinating the event. White stated, “We hope to be part of the national conversation around incarceration.”
The BPC members all had diverse stories focused on topics such as making choices, formative years, gang violence and education. Andre Parker, inmate and president of BPC, started the speech by saying, “We are not trying to minimize our reasons for being here. Our voices can serve as instruments of inspiration.” Parker was incarcerated in 2012 with a 21 year sentence. The youngest member of the BPC, Lydarius Stewart, is 19 years old. After being raised in a single parent household and then being kicked out, Stewart felt like there was “no one in my corner. I was left to dig myself a deeper ditch.”
All of the men openly shared their experiences. Charles Pouncey, born to drug addicted parents, stated, “The road to success is never easy and if it is, you are on the wrong road.” The men also expressed their gratitude for the programs offered in the prison that helps to guide them down productive pathways. The programs include education, the Taking Education and Creating History (T.E.A.C.H.) program, apprentice opportunities and employment.
The members of the BPC fundraised close to $700 for the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. The check was presented to members in attendance at the interactive lecture session. The funds will be used to support youth in the community.
Correctional Unit Supervisor Bobby Greene reflected on the event stating that she hopes the community will “take what these gentlemen presented and make change happen. I hope we can reach kids before they reach incarceration.” Greene views the lecture as the first step in starting the conversation to reach at-risk youth before they make a negative choice.
Janet Jones Preston, a sponsor for BPC, feels as though the lecture “gives us an opportunity to better understand the needs of young people. They need support and guidance. This (incarceration) shows what happens when they don’t have it.”
The Youth Summit ended with an hour of questions from the attendees. Most speakers mentioned their own stories and asked questions of the men on how to reach the youth in an effective manner. The men focused on assisting kids with what they need and offering support and community connections to help them feel supported.
Programs such as the BPC’s Youth Summit help to promote public safety. The Department of Corrections’ key values include recognizing the diversity of individuals and their contributions. The agency works to treat all people with dignity, and acknowledges that incarcerated individuals have the need and ability to grow and change. Additionally, having positive interactions with community members helps to aid in the promotion of public safety, protection and understanding.