We’ve Got Work to Do: Inside-Out and Ethical Engagement from Haverford
"We've got work to do on the outside." My friend Ghani always ends our in-person encounters with a charge and some words of encouragement to "stay strong."
"The outside" is referring to when he is released from prison. Kempis Songster, known to most as "Ghani," was sentenced to "life without parole" (or as most of us fighting to abolish the sentence refer to it, "death by incarceration") when he was just 15 years old (30 years ago). The United States is the only nation that sentences children to die in prison. Of the approximately 2,500 people serving this sentence, 571 are in Pennsylvania. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled mandatory life sentencing for juveniles unconstitutional. This doesn't abolish juvenile life sentencing, but it does limit it significantly. And as a result, "juvenile lifers" have been given the opportunity to be re-sentenced and have begun returning to their communities.
This July, Ghani was re-sentenced to 30 years to life, which essentially means once granted parole (any day now, since he has served 30 years as of September), he will still remain on parole for the rest of his life unless he is able to successfully appeal that portion of the sentence. But the good news is, he will likely be home by Thanksgiving. Home will be Philadelphia, where he has a fiancé, several job offers, and community.
I met Ghani (and many other friends and colleagues) through my previous work with Inside-Out. Though it began through a professional role, I very quickly began to understand this work as part of my life's work-- the work of global citizenship. The work of global citizenship is the work of understanding my humanity as it connects to the humanity of all people everywhere, Of understanding that "global" means the Abura-Asebu-Kwamankese district in Ghana and SCI-Graterford prison an hour away from Philadelphia, equally. In fact, Ghani is the first person I heard use the term "global citizenship," in a poorly ventilated auditorium in the largest maximum security prison in Pennsylvania.
I'm privileged to be able to continue to connect my professional work with my life's work and to help other people make similar connections, most immediately in the following ways:
- Inside-Out at 20: The Power of Connection and Community—a conference taking place inside SCI-Graterford prison, at Temple University, and at Swarthmore College (for which registration is still open for the Temple and Swarthmore portions)
- CPGC's faculty seminar on engaged ethical learning, where we meet with groups and organizations in the surrounding areas for thoughtful conversations about the ways in which we might partner and enrich the shared work of Haverford College and these groups. On December 1, we will meet with Let's Circle Up, a restorative justice group at SCI-Graterford that has partnered with Haverford on multiple projects.
I feel it’s important to include a short video produced by The Redemption Project, co-founded by Kempis "Ghani" Songster and Mike Lyons from Saint Joseph's University, for the sake of hearing Ghani's story in his own words and also as an example of ethical engagement.
Ghani's comment about "the outside" also struck me as it relates to the many partnerships that connect Haverford students to the world off-campus in meaningful ways. I'm always working to find the connections between what keeps me charged and what keeps the lights on in my apartment (it's all energy :)). For me, the passion is for ending mass incarceration. For you, it may be engaging under-resourced children with STEAM programs or ending the water crisis. Whatever it is, we at CPGC want to help you deepen the connections between that passion and your passion for the important work you do at Haverford College. With that in mind, I invite you to inquire about attending any of the events listed above and/or to sit down with me at the CPGC Cafe to discuss ideas for courses or projects in the future.
We've got work to do on the outside.