On any given day, we can turn on our nightly news channel and see the faces of those accused of crimes, some guilty, some innocent. While we see their faces, rarely have we had the opportunity to hear their voices. On March 24, 2023, about three hundred people from all walks of life entered Sing Sing Correctional Facility to attend our inaugural Beyond the Block: Voices from Sing Sing (BTB) event and hear the voices of more than twenty incarcerated men.
In my almost 29 years of incarceration, this was by far the best event I’ve ever been a part of. Beyond The Block was more than an event; it was an experience. Hearing these men share their journeys of pain to purpose has been the most inspiring thing I’ve ever experienced and has left an indelible impact on my life.
As I sat with those that attended, they shared their tears, smiles, laughter, and thoughts. Repeatedly, audience members shared their wishes that there were ways more of this could be done and more people could hear and witness the humanity of those incarcerated. They shared how much these stories resonated with their own lives and how much these incarcerated men were like them. There were no labels like criminals, prisoners, or convicts that divided us, we were simply people sharing our stories.
While prison is a cold and dark environment, Beyond the Block gave us a moment of warmth and light. A safe space to feel, express our true selves, and experience a moment of freedom. In this moment, many of us went from hopeless to hopeful because we understand our humanity is inextricably connected to yours.
I hope the world gets to hear and feel the voices of these men and understand there are countless other incarcerated people, both men, women, and nonbinary people, who are just like them and need the opportunity to share that they are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done. We are not our past, we are not our mistakes.
Nancy-Laurel Pettersen says
Thank you for this, which is true of all of us, inside and outside, both.