Exec. Director's Report: More than 20 Years of Prison Visits

Last year we celebrated the RFC’s 25th anniversary, but another significant milestone passed without fanfare: 20 years of our prison visit grants.

We began making these grants in 1995. In the first 10 years, we awarded a total of just over $87,000 from this program (later named the Attica Fund Prison Visit Program in honor of generous gifts from a survivor of the Attica uprising, and several of the attorneys who won a settlement for the victims). In the last decade, we awarded more than twice that amount, bringing the total for these grants to over a quarter million dollars!

The numbers are impressive, but in some ways they’re the least important part of the story. Instead, it’s the families and their individual experiences that illustrate the real importance of these grants. In just the last few years, these awards allowed the daughter and grandson of a COINTELPRO target to visit him in general population after his release from decades in solitary confinement; made it possible for two political prisoners, one incarcerated for more than 40 years, to meet their great-grandchildren for the first time; let the three children of a housing rights activist travel with their grandparents to visit their incarcerated mom; and will allow two young women to see their father as one of them dealt with graduating from high school without her dad there to celebrate with her.

In August of 1951, my father and uncle were able to visit their parents in Sing Sing prison for the first time after more than a year of separation. They continued to make trips to see my grandparents until the executions in June of 1953. My dad was only three when his parents were arrested; without prison visits he would have no memories of them. So perhaps it’s not surprising that enabling children to stay connected to incarcerated loved ones is a priority for the RFC Board and staff.

A significant percentage of the communication we receive from our beneficiaries comes from Attica grant recipients, many of whom are moved to share their experiences of both separation and too-brief reunions with us, including these:

“I really can't express how much everything you've done means to me, and to my mom. Without your help, I don't even know if I could've afforded to visit a single time this year.”

“My children, now young adults, both encountered serious changes and challenges – and our separation made it so very difficult for me to be present and supportive in their lives. It meant everything to me to be able to hold them in my arms and to reassure them as much as I could that we’re still a family….Your organization is wonderful for the work you do helping families, communities (and the movements they are part of) transcend the barriers of concrete and razor wire.”

Over the last two decades, these grants have funded visits for hundreds of children, grandchildren and in a few cases great-grandchildren of a diverse group of political prisoners, including Black Panthers, American Indian Movement members, international solidarity activists, Puerto Rican independence activists, war resisters, and environmental and animal rights activists. While we wish these awards weren’t needed, as long as they are, we re-affirm our commitment to ensuring children can visit their incarcerated loved ones.