Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

FULL: Journey through Our Criminal Justice System

Workshop Number: 
Scilla Wahrhaftig, Lewis Webb, Jr.
Who may register?: 
Open to All (adult & high school)
Experiential Activities: 
full-time attenders only

Using real life examples and contributions from those directly involved, this workshop will focus on understanding our broken penal system, from the inequities in society and education that contribute to youth arrests, through incarceration and isolation, to the discrimination experienced by prisoners on release. Participants will explore practical action ideas.

Workshop Description

Quakers have a long history of concern for incarcerated individuals and the conduct of our penal system. Our present system is broken and we need people with a long term vision and discipline to help bring change. We believe that Friends can be very effective in working on these types of intractable issues. We anticipate participants in this workshop will gain extensive understanding of the issues facing people in the criminal justice system and explore practical ideas on what they can do to have an impact.

Using video, firsthand accounts, dramatic readings, the arts, exercises, discussion and worship the workshop will present a comprehensive picture of our criminal justice system.

We will begin with understanding how poverty, racism, discrimination, and broken schools contribute to our youth entering the criminal justice system. We will look at the inequities within our prisons both for juveniles and adult, how easy it is to land up in solitary confinement and the impact of prolonged solitary on a person. Finally we will explore what happens on re-entry to society and some of the challenges a formerly incarcerated person faces.

Each day will start with a period of about 15 to 20 minutes of worship sharing around the theme for the day. The body of the workshop will vary, we will show videos, bring in people with experience in the criminal justice system to speak, undertake exercises to help people understand the issue, use art and dramatic reading to open up discussion. Each day will end with at least 30 minutes to explore what people can do in their local communities to work on the issue.

We are recommending participants read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and Beyond Prisons by Laura Magnani and Harmon L. Wray. Both can be purchased at the FGC bookstore.

We will also be emailing out articles and other materials for people to read and consider.

Leader Experience

Scilla has worked extensively leading workshops at Quaker gatherings, within Pittsburgh Meeting, at yearly meeting and at FGC. Two years ago she led a workshop at FGC on “Listening Projects as a Way of Bringing Social Change”. This workshop was very interactive as are most of the workshops she conducts. The youth group she has organized for the last three years is highly interactive with the youth often taking leadership roles and  makeing major decisions about program.

Lewis has led numerous interactive workshops including at the most recent FGC gathering in 2103 titled “Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow”.  Additionally, Lewis has conducted workshops at Summer Sessions for New York Yearly Meeting and with the Riverside Church Prison Ministry. As a teacher (both high school and college) he has extensive experience using workshops as learning tools. Lewis has also conducted workshops in a variety of other settings including with Students Against Mass Incarceration at Columbia University and with the New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus.