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I joined civil rights and antiwar activities, and I was in a feminist consciousness-raising group as soon as such movements emerged. In these groups, I discovered that as a woman in a patriarchal society, I, too, was an underdog. When I saw that I was discriminated against as a woman, I began to identify my dissatisfaction with the way things were in our society; I was tormented by social inequality, gender discrimination, class bias, racism, and militarism. As a social worker in New York City, a therapist at mental hospitals and mental health clinics, and while working with alcoholics and drug addicts, I was fascinated by people who did not fit the norm.

I always wondered how they could do it, since I tended to be someone who could not do much that was illegal.

Welcome to Sharanda Jones

After many years of education and training, I became a college professor. I began to study deviance and its complexity, wanting to understand what drove people to do harm to others. At first, I began working with victims of domestic violence, but I was soon drawn to the perpetrators, to the challenge of their complicated minds. As a feminist, I felt it was my social obligation to work with people who caused pain to women.

While working in a summer program for students about to enter college, some of them asked to visit a prison. I, too, was interested in such places, knowing that people there could help me understand perpetrators of domestic violence.


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In , in what was to be a pivotal moment in my career, I took the high school students to the Elmira Correctional Facility in upstate New York for a tour by the warden. I was struck by the cold, harsh facility and the fact that it was years old.

The Woman Behind Inmate #33177-077

When the tour was over, I asked the warden if the inmates had any educational opportunities. In an impetuous moment of generosity, I offered to bring some college education programs inside.

How Sharing Books with My Dad in Prison Made Life Bearable for Both of Us

The warden was thrilled, and thus began my career with prisoners. Drawn once again to the dark side, I began volunteering there and was once again taken with the work because it was so gripping to find human connection in such a dark and miserable place. When the class ended, a few prisoners who were my students asked if I would lead a group of lifers. I was flattered that they thought enough of me to have our own group.

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New Leaf on Life, a name chosen by the prisoners themselves, has continued since its inception in These men were sentenced to life in prison—with the possibility of parole—not to death in prison. And yet there they stay because of the attitudes and prejudices against them. Having paid their dues to society, most pose no risk to that society anymore, and many guards, educators, and administrators in prisons agree that they should be out.

Certainly, this money could be better spent elsewhere than for these men who no longer need to be there. The experience in prison has set me on a new path of work. As I sat in my cell, day after day, working on my art I noticed something very beautiful. All the art I would do one month that I felt was amazing, six months later when I looked back at it, I began to notice so many errors.

This cycle would repeat over and over again, and I absolutely appreciated these moments, because what was happening was I had surpassed my original skill set. When one creates art, they do it to the best of their ability with the skill set they have in the moment. Consistent effort day in and day out produces growth and results.

Two years later, I was named one of the best artists on the compound and was even requested by the prison to paint a mural.

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As my art progressed, it soon became an outlet. I no longer drew for the sake of art, but instead I would pour out my journey, my pain, my failures, and outlet them through my pencil onto the paper. The truth about all prisoners is that we are in pain, but I chose not to project my pain through violence but instead through art. The simple choice to draw saved my life in that maximum-security prison. It taught me that hard and honest work pays off. Jeremy Corbyn.

Robert Fisk. Mark Steel. Janet Street-Porter. John Rentoul.


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Full Day in Prison - A Day in The Life

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