Our Prisoners Elevate is a grassroots, volunteer-based prisoner outreach organization whose motto is “Bridging the gap
between the Captives and the Community.” Founded in September 2000 -- by a small group of former prisoners, prisoner
advocates, parents and wives of prisoners, journalists, teachers, lawyers, and community activists -- our primary work centered
on sending books of a transformative and an uplifting value to men and women that were incarcerated in state and federal prisons.
collecting donated books from the community, it was determined that the quality of the content did not meet the criteria H.O.P.E.
had established. Moreover, within Michigan state prisons, used books could not be sent to individual
prisoners but were instead donated to prison libraries. Therefore, efforts shifted to raise money to purchase new books so
that outreach could impact individual prisoners.
More than a thousand
books were sent into Michigan state prisons before a growing
number of prison mailroom rejections led H.O.P.E. to temporarily suspend its books-to-prisoners
program until the organization could fulfill its work without prejudiced impediments. Many books were rejected arbitrarily
due to biased, rural-based prison mailroom clerks who regarded Black cultural and political content
as inflammatory. H.O.P.E. has continued to reach out to MDOC officials and state representatives towards overcoming this problem.
Keeping Families Together
Over the course of H.O.P.E.’s
development and involvement in the community, it has expanded its programming to include outreach to the families of the incarcerated
with its “Prison Parenting Program.” As part of this initiative, H.O.P.E. successfully transported several Detroit
families to visit their loved ones incarcerated in Ionia, Michigan,
in December 2003. Since then, H.O.P.E. has transported numerous families at no cost to prisons in Jackson, Muskegon, Carson City, and again to Ionia. Our
most ambitious effort at family reunification was achieved with two overnight bus-filled trips to the Upper
Peninsula to the prisons in Kincheloe.
Ensuring that the community
is informed of H.O.P.E.’s efforts, we publish a quarterly newsletter Spreading HOPE, which is distributed free
throughout community and is sent to prisoners. Additionally, H.O.P.E. published Coming Home: A Reentry Manual for Released
Prisoners, which offers guidance and resource information to newly released prisoners.
At the beginning of 2004,
H.O.P.E. earned a seat on the Wayne County Community Corrections Advisory Board, in which capacity it represents a community
voice in the policymaking of corrections initiatives in Wayne County. During 2004, H.O.P.E. also conducted two educational
courses to men incarcerated at the Dickerson Detention Facility. One class focused on Afrikan history, from the past to present,
and the other explored multiple disciplines in a focus on reading, writing and critical thinking.
H.O.P.E. outreach has
connected directly with prisoners as members have participated in prisoner-led programming at several prisons, including Macomb
Correctional, Mound Correctional, Ryan Correctional, Carson City Correctional, and the Richard Handlon Michigan Training Unit.
Understanding that the
success of its efforts requires wide-reaching community support, H.O.P.E. has organized several events – including telethons,
cultural extravaganzas, and a natural hair show -- that served to generate needed funds and to inform the public about its
work in specific and the crisis with the criminal injustice system in general. To date, most of H.O.P.E.’s operating
revenue has derived from the generosity and support of the Black community.
In 2005, H.O.P.E. had
obtained its 501©3 nonprofit status. In January 2006, H.O.P.E. was bestowed a grant from Wayne County’s children and Family Services to help fulfill its community work.
Healing Our Community
In 2007, H.O.P.E. is intensifying its community programming
through its Highland Park Project. Through collaborative efforts with existing Highland Park organizations and city government, the organization
is planning a range of outreach activities that are geared to providing support to the children and families of prisoners,
and to providing preventive outreach to Highland Park youth.