Posts Tagged ‘Ashanti Witherspoon’
When my father was granted parole….. Hallelujah!!!!! was all I could say. It was like the road that never was supposed to end, but finally there was an end and a new beginning for us all. With a green light that said just go. The best feeling ever!
Our relationship has grown stronger. We have really gotten a chance to get to know each other as who we are completely. Everyday is still a growing moment.
I am very proud of my father for the work that he does in the community. He changes peoples lives and inspires them.
Doing the motivational speeches with my father were very uplifting. I would love to see the effect that it had on the people we were speaking to. The questions that were asked. I enjoyed the fact of how we would change at least one person’s thought process.
I mostly tell others to stay focused on their goals.Do their best and be the best at all times. Never be a follower, always a leader. There will always be others to follow you even when you do not want them to. Whether it is a family member, friend, or just someone that is impressed by your style of being who you are. Show people what you are made of, not where you came from.
After leaving prison I didn’t have any problems socializing, because I am a people person. I don’t meet strangers and can function well in most given situations involving people. I had a solid team of eight to ten people who had agreed to be my transition team and help me during my adjustment. All of them had agreed to be a “phone call away,” and promised to help me with any challenges I that i was facing.
I immediately became involved in the activities and events that were close to my heart. I hosted a radio talk show, was a co-host for a tv talk show, assisted in developing town hall and community meetings, worked with organizations that were focused on helping people who had been incarcerated for long periods of time. I became involved in ministries and men’s groups (all of which helped me to develop a personal foundation in society), and a public speaking organization like Toastmasters International. As a motivational speaker I travelled the country, but i also became a board member of organizations like the Innocence Project of New Orleans, La. Coalition for Reform, the Freedom Project, the Teen Summit, the Prison Foundation, am a Senior Justice Fellow with the Soros Foundation, etc., etc. All of these things helped me in my transition. I lived an active life as a leader in prison and I knew that is what I needed to do in society.
There was, however, something that was a challenge for me. I noticed, when I was first released from prison, that I began to have feelings of apprehension when the sun would begin to set. There was a part of me that really didn’t want to be out after dark because I didn’t want to be anywhere where someone might falsely accuse me of anything. Those feelings remained with me for several months, but when I began to travel they begin to diminish.
In the midst of all of my activities stood my transition team of men and women who vowed to help me during my transition. They were true to their word, and were always merely a “phone call away.”
My last day in prison was filled with mixed feelings. There was a part of me that was excited, happy and looked forward to the adventure of being free. There was another part of me that felt like I was leaving many parts of my heart behind. I was leaving men who had become family. We had grown up together and survived many challenges over the years. We were survivors who had conquered our little world and become leaders within our society. We had built a lot of life enriching programs and ministries that helped the institution over the years and i was leaving those friends behind.
Being a father behind bars was a challenging experience. It was several years before I saw my daughter in person, and those were often depressing times. I used to write her a letter almost every day. I would write her as if I were writing to a young adult. I knew that she couldn’t read, write or understand, but her mother promised to read the letters to her.
As time passed, we had the opportunity to visit and share in each other’s love. I received a lot of letters and photos, and I wrote her letters and sent photos when I was able to take some. I used to give her advice on everything and I enjoyed every opportunity to answer any questions she presented to me. Over the years we developed a very close relationship. She wasn’t only my daughter, she was my friend and we could talk about anything. It made me feel special. During her teenage years she often called me her hero and although I felt pride in the fact that we were so close, I also felt a pain of not being with her and sometimes I was hard on myself for making the decisions that caused me to be confined and not physically in her life. We would talk about all of the things we were going to do when I got out of prison, and lived as if I was going to be released soon. Neither of us knew that it would take many more years before we had the opportunity to spend time together in society.
In 1998 we premiered THE FARM at the Sundance Film Festival. I couldn’t even sit in the theater, but paced outside on pure nerves, peeking in from time to time to feel the audience response. Ninety minutes later the credits rolled, the applause began, the standing ovation and the energy it inspired were harbingers of good times ahead. Its success (we were Grand Jury Prize winners) shaped my career in ways I can never fully understand.
Last week, on June 3rd, over a decade later, I premiered THE FARM: TEN DOWN in Angola Prison. The setting could not have been further removed from Park City, Utah. Instead of a big screen in a theater, we were watching on a large size television monitor in the visiting room of the prison. Instead of filmmakers, film fanatics, media, festival directors, there were 400 inmates, guards and administrators. Then beyond the visiting room the film was being broadcast on Angola’s closed circuit television station so the other 4500 men in the prison could also watch the film and the Q&A that was to follow.
This time I was a lot more nervous.
I became an advocate for inmates while I was in prison during my early years. I was a jail house lawyer, classified as a militant and there was a group of us who used to practice martial arts together on the yard who were often found in stand-offs against some of the groups who were involved in raping other young inmates. As I grew older in prison I was always developing new programs, classes or life enrichment programs for others. I believe that I was a part of God’s movement that gradually brought about change in prison on the tail of a federal court order that mandated sweeping changes to take place in the prison.
Once I was released from prison I became involved in a number of prison ministries, and developed several legislative advocacy groups geared toward making changes in the laws so that deserving men and women could return to society. I left a lot of friends in prison. Them and their families need voices and dedicated people like myself and the many others who have gained their released to do what we can to make a change.
THE FARM: 10 DOWN TO PREMIERE AT ANGOLA PRISON ON JUNE 3, 2009
The sequel to “THE FARM: LIFE INSIDE ANGOLA PRISON”, Academy nominated and Emmy winning documentary, will also be broadcast on the National Geographic Channel, Tuesday, June 16th 8:00 p.m. EST under the title, “A DECADE BEHIND BARS: RETURN TO THE FARM”.
Two former inmates featured in THE FARM will return to Angola for this “red carpet premiere” and participate with inmates in a Q&A with two time Academy nominated filmmaker Jonathan Stack and Warden Burl Cain.
NEW YORK, NY (May, 27, 2009) – In 1997, the documentary THE FARM: LIFE INSIDE ANGOLA PRISON reached an enormous and receptive audience and garnered many of cinema’s top awards, including the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, the LA Film Critic’s Award, the New York Film Critic’s Award, an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary, 2 Emmys and 4 Emmy nominations.
Now, Jonathan Stack and his company, Highest Common Denominator Media Group, bring us a powerful new documentary that reconnects with the surviving characters to witness first hand the impact of THE FARM and the intervening decade on their spirits and their sense of purpose. The film also chronicles profound changes at Angola Prison, once known as “the bloodiest prison in America”, where violence is down 74% and a philosophy of “Corrections” promotes education, rehabilitation and reconciliation to increase public safety.
In a groundbreaking departure from traditional film openings, THE FARM: TEN DOWN will premiere inside Angola Prison on June 3rd, 2009, before the inmates, wardens and correctional officers who have allowed their stories to be the source of documentary films for over a decade. The premier, like the film, exhibits the transformative power of hope, even behind bars. The film will be shown on the prison’s closed circuit television station, LSPTv, for the 5,100 inmates.
Two of the subjects of THE FARM – Ashanti Witherspoon and Bishop Tanniehill – will return to Angola Prison for the premier event. Ashanti was granted parole in 1999 after 27 years behind bars and Bishop was pardoned by Governor Kathleen Blanco in 2007 after nearly 50 years at Angola. Their stories help to inspire other inmates. Ashanti and Bishop will participate in a Q&A with inmates following the film’s premiere They will be joined by Q&A with inmates following the film’s premiere They will be joined by Warden Burl Cain, the warden of Angola Prison for the last decade, and by Jonathan Stack, director of the films.
The footage from the Q&A and the screening will be available online for the public and the film team will twitter live from the event updating the public regularly on the HCD Media Group-run website: www.GabrielCity.com, an online community for those affected by incarceration.
THE FARM: 10 DOWN will have its national broadcast premier on the National Geographic Channel on Tuesday, June 16th at 8pm EST, as A DECADE BEHIND BARS: RETURN TO THE FARM. National Geographic Channel is also hosting free streaming of THE FARM and WILDEST SHOW IN THE SOUTH, Jonathan Stack’s documentary about the Angola Prison Rodeo, online at Natgeotv.com/farm. They are also both available free on HULU.com
For the partners of Highest Common Denominator Media Group – Jonathan Stack, David Deniger, and Mara-Michelle Batlin, – the release of THE FARM: 10 DOWN marks a major milestone in achieving their mission to use the power of story-telling to illustrate the elements of our humanity that unite all of us, the shared values that are our highest common denominator,
HCD Media Group is also launching GabrielCity.com, an online community offering support to those affected by incarceration.
THE FARM: 10 DOWN is directed for Highest Common Denominator Media Group by Jonathan Stack and produced by James McKay. Executive Producers are David Deniger and Mara-Michelle Batlin. Nancy Novack is the editor and co-director.
For more information please visit: http://www.hcdmediagroup.com
While at the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride Jonathan Stack and Ashanti Witherspoon gave an interview about THE FARM: 10 DOWN, the sequel to the award-winning film THE FARM. 10 DOWN played at the Mountain Film Festival, and Plum TV interviewed Jonathan and Ashanti about the making of the film and the impact of film on the prisoners in Angola Prison, and the prison itself.
Watch the interview below.
The National Geographic channel has posted some preview clips of THE FARM: 10 DOWN, which will premiere on National Geographic as A DECADE BEHIND BARS: RETURN TO THE FARM. Check out some of these great videos of Warden Cain and Ashanti Witherspoon.
Growing up, was always as if I was the only one with family in jail. I always felt like I was the only one with a parent in jail, then one day my cousin’s father went to jail, but our experiences were totally different.
I know I am different having to grow up with a father behind bars. If he could have been there (home), the push and drive that he would give me over the phone and through mail, I know would have been enforced much harder. The hard head that I had, would have been easily softened up. I could have opened doors for others. Not like it is too late, I am just saying…….