The following is a contribution from the Asian Pacific Islander Group at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, WA.
As the Asian Pacific Islander Group (API Group) at Coyote Ridge Correctional Center, we identified four areas that we wanted to write about for this essay: (1) humor, (2) being humble and taking pride in yourself, (3) prison programs, and (4) making the best of any situation. This provides an overview of some of the views and experiences of our group.
A sense of humor is important and is good because it reduces stress. As one of our members said, we don’t want to see any fighting in a family. Everyone needs to be happy in a family and humor helps to make that happen.
Being humble and taking pride in yourself are also important. Being humble means not feeling like you have to prove yourself. It’s a willingness to walk away from a conflict. At times, even when you know you can win, you choose not to. In prison, being humble also means putting aside former loyalties to gangs or other groups, and finding a more positive brotherhood in the API Group. This provides us with a family in prison and encourages us to improve ourselves with education and job training.
Taking pride in yourself means respecting the neighborhoods, cultures, and nations that we came from. It is about having love and fond memories of family and friends, like going to the beach in Hawai‘i with a sister and nephews, or going to the bar with your uncles in West Seattle.
The biggest obstacle the API Group faces are policies that prevent some members from taking educational programs in prison. For example, a person with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer is not allowed to participate in any education activities. We would like all of us to have the opportunity to obtain a GED or associate’s degree and take vocational classes—accounting; welding; graphic design; and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC). These classes help the participants in getting a job when released, but also changing the mindset of that individual, being empowered to earn a living instead of being in the streets.
In addition, besides the ICE detainers, inmates with long sentences are also not allowed to take educational programs because the Department of Corrections feels they will not be able to use the skills acquired from the classes. This policy should be changed because of the way educational programs can help prisoners develop themselves and become more positive members of the prison community. English language learning courses should also be added. Ultimately, the biggest thing coming from these programs is, as statistics have proven, reducing the recidivism rate of incarcerated felons.
Lastly, when we think about making the best out of any situation, several things come to mind. We believe that we have to be optimistic with what the future holds. Also, having a better communication with our loved ones will take the pain and stress away. Making the best of the situation is also using our time wisely, having a happy state of mind, and being mindful with our surroundings. Plus, it’s important to keep yourself busy, stay out of the way of the drama and negativity.
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Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together (F.I.G.H.T.) was started by a group of Asian & Pacific Islander (API) men who were at one time incarcerated in the Washington state prison system. F.I.G.H.T. is a direct outgrowth of the organizing that many of us did through different API groups in different prisons. This organizing built deep bonds of unity among us. Together we learned about our own diverse cultures and political histories, life experiences, and perspectives. We also created cultural celebrations featuring various forms of traditional arts, like language, music, and dance.
Upon being released, we stayed committed to continuing to support each other, whether inside or outside of the prison system. We support both current and formerly incarcerated APIs through mentoring, advocacy, outreach, and political education. We encourage each other to embrace positivity, compassion, strength, hope, confidence, and building healthy lives and healthy communities, while breaking the cycle of mass incarceration. For more information, visit www.fightwa.org.