Monday, June 22, 2009

Prison Action Network

This is a wonderful resource that has a ton of articles, links, and a monthly newsletter on criminal justice and prison issues around the country. Judicious Judith keeps up this wonderful site, and will be making linking to Pens From the Pen in her July '09 newsletter! Check out the newsletter entitled "Building Bridges" at

Prison Action Network seeks to unite people who are incarcerated in NYS, people who have a loved one in a NYS prison, and people who care about the impact incarceration has upon our society. Once we learn we are not alone we can begin to work together to create a safer and more just society. To contact us please write

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who is Smiling Sara?

Hello all, I'm Smiling Sara. I'm very excited to be maintaining this page for my good friend Pens, and when he suggested I have my own space on the page, I wasn't quite sure how I would approach it, but I think starting with an introduction is a good start.

I am a recent graduate, both from Vassar College and the Otisville & Vassar: Bridging the Gap program. The program at Otisville opened up my eyes and my mind to many gruesome realities of this great nation, yet at the same time, I was able to feel a sense of hope that was completely different from anything I had even ever felt at Vassar. I'm looking forward to seeing where this work takes me because goodness knows there's a lot of work that needs to be done in prison reform and to break the cycles of violence that exist in America and around the world. But I'll speak to those issues later...

For now, I'll begin by telling the story of how I came to be Smiling Sara. On my first day entering Otisville Correctional Facility, I was a bit nervous and uncertain of what to expect. I wanted to be open-minded but I had never been to a prison before...

Upon entering the Transitional Services classroom, however, I was taken aback by the brightness and laughter and joy in the room. The twelve facilitators, many of whom I would work with over the course of the next year and half, were so friendly and welcoming that I think some of the new students were not quite sure how to react. We all sat in a circle, the twelve facilitators, one counselor, and twelve students, and played an ice breaker game called the adjective name game. Basically we all went around the room and said our name with a positive adjective in front of it. However, before you said your own name you had to name all of the people who spoke before you. I remember I was early on in the circle, and I wasn't sure what would work, but since I tend to smile a lot, I blurted "Smiling Sara!". Turns out it was a good fit; I remember that everyone who followed me remembered my adjective name because I couldn't quit smiling. They would say "oh and of course that's Smiling Sara over there"! From that first day, I entered that room with a smile and left with one. Of course it wasn't all smiles all the time- there were many difficulties, frustrations, challenges, and even tears. Yet the joy and positive energy generated in that room gave us so much light and so much knowledge and so much hope- all of us. I still feel that hope today, and a lot of that is what has given me the direction I'm currently headed. Who knew all of that could come from a silly icebreaker game?