Among the attendees: Effie Jones Bowers, a black student who desegregated Hall High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. "She has a thousand-watt smile," says Jon Marc Taylor, a Crossroads inmate and Branch #4003's convention and resolutions chairman.
|The banner reads, "Prison Branches: 'The Untapped Resource?'"|
Conventioneers showed up at the prison around 8:30 a.m. Saturday, and were treated to a catered lunch between discussion sessions. Topics included the disproportionate number of African-American men incarcerated in U.S. prisons and the challenges that felons face when they're released back into society. When the seminar ended at 3:15 p.m., Taylor says, "The guests didn't want to leave. We almost literally had to push 'em out the door."
Because of space restrictions, only 28 of the 60-some NAACP prison branch members took part in Saturday's events. Factors like seniority in the group helped determine which inmates attended.
Other attendees included Paula Skillicorn, widow of Dennis Skillicorn, a death row inmate who was executed in May 2009; Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative; the Rev. Elston McCowan, the Missouri NAACP's prison committee chairman; and Niaz Kasravi, the NAACP's national senior program manager for law enforcement accountability.
Taylor expressed gratitude to the leadership of the NAACP and to Larry Denney, Warden at the Crossroads prison, for allowing the session to take place. "We are pleasantly surprised by the level of cooperation and support we've received, and we really hope this is a great example of where we can go forward in the future with programs," Taylor says.