Report on Old Chatham Quaker Meeting’s Exhibit of a Solitary Housing Unit at the Columbia County Fair
From August 29 through September 3, 2017 members from four monthly meetings plus additional volunteers staffed a booth exhibiting a replica of a solitary housing unit at the Columbia County Fair for a total of 65 hours with 26 people participating. The replica was built by Doug Van Zandt who has taken the replica all around NY State.
The exhibit was funded by a grant from NYYM’s Outreach Initiatives Support Fund, an allocation from OCQM’s Bob Bacon Fund Bacon Fund for Peace & Justice and with additional support from OCQM’s Special Projects Budget. Our meeting is very grateful for the financial support it received to present this exhibit again this year.
Our goals were to advocate for passage in the NY State Senate of the Humane Alternatives to Long Term Incarceration (HALT) Act, (the NYS Assembly passed the HALT Act in June), to educate about the problem of mass incarceration in the United States and to raise the profile of our meeting in the community. We conducted training within our meeting about the HALT act and how to listen carefully to opposing views. We put up all the materials available at the fair on our website. We obtained 360 signatures for the HALT petition which we sent to Victor Pate at the Office of The Correctional Association of NY. Didi Barret, NYS Assembly member for District 106, stopped by as did Tistrya Houghtling who is running for NYS Assembly District 107. They were both very supportive.
We kept a diary in the SHU which received many entries, some unsympathetic, but most expressing compassion and understanding. We were interviewed by Corrine Carey, a volunteer from radio station WOOC , who made six visits to our exhibit, to tape fairgoers’ reactions to it and to talk with our volunteers. We distributed a lot of material on the HALT act and on mass incarceration as well as brochures on our meeting and wallet sized cards with our website and phone number. We displayed copies for sale of Ellen Condlief Lagemann’s Liberating Minds: The Case for College in Prison and discussed the book with several people. We had scores of lengthy conversations with prison guards, ex prison guards, families with current or former prisoners, and the general public, some of them very emotionally moving. Several people remembered our exhibit from last year. It was an excellent outreach project for our meeting.
Challenges this year were soliciting volunteers for the shifts, enduring the heat at the fair exhibit, keeping the committee on track with regard to fulfilling their responsibilities timely as they are all very busy and not having the time for following up those who indicated on the petitions they wanted additional information.
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