Saturday, June 30, 2012

John Grant: "Forgotten Casualties of the Vietnam War" @ This Can't Be Happening!

This is the most recent article by one of my favorite writers, John Grant at the TCBH news collective.  He has taught creative writing at several Pennsylvania prisons for over 11 years, and is a Vietnam veteran, a film maker and photo-journalist.  

While many today celebrate Independence Day today, instead of breaking with the wage-slave masters and not working on "the true Fourth of July" I thought it appropriate to place this article here while so many Americans are cheating the calender.

Graterford Pennsylvania state prison. Images by John Grant. Courtesy the TCBH news collective.

... It’s something I’ve grappled with and have come to terms with. I understand completely why they do it; anyone in their right mind would do the same. I've taught writing in the Philadelphia prison for 11 years and have been in and out of Graterford and other state prisons many times. Prison systems in America are fortresses of assumptions very alien to people like me, and if you want access, you have to march to their drum. After while, you get to know corrections officers and others in the prison system and you realize many of them are just as trapped in it as you are. 

One day in the Graterford lobby waiting with a regional VA representative to get inside for a meeting of veteran inmates, I got to chatting with a ranking white-shirted Graterford corrections officer who was an Iraq veteran. I told him I was a vet and about the two trips I had made to Iraq during the war. We compared places we’d been; we shared a few laughs. At one point, I said I’d been in Graterford a number of times before. He looked at me and a bit ominously said: “Oh, we know who you are.” I felt a little like Joseph K. waiting to find out from some mysterious entity who exactly I was.

Some years ago, a fellow photographer and I had hopes of making a film about incarcerated veterans. We attended meetings, and prison officials considered our request. In the end, we were not permitted to film in the prison. Then, a few weeks later, Oprah Winfrey strolled in with a camera crew. Apparently, it had to do with the theme of our film and that we were loose cannons lacking corporate sponsorship. It’s possible the climate is changing; we’re hoping a short film will be possible soon. 

My only foray into the state political arena in Harrisburg came when we first thought a film might be possible. A Philadelphia activist friend had a job working for Governor Rendell. She had excellent contacts. I emailed her and described Commer Glass, his case as a veteran and the film idea we had focused on incarcerated veterans. Would she run some interference concerning permits etc with the Department of Corrections? Sure, she said; she’d get back to us. 

Then I got an email with no greeting or salutation at all; it just said: “He’s a lifer?”

I e-mailed back: “Yes. As I told you, he’s a Vietnam veteran lifer.”

I never heard from her again. Nothing. It was as if I’d extended a deadly electrified rail into her office and had tried to ruin her political career. ... 

Read this very interesting and timely article at This Can't Be Happening!

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