By Marissa Religa
Niagara Gazette —
Karima Amin first began storytelling as a teacher in the Buffalo public school system. Little did she imagine one day her stories would help her change the lives of prisoners throughout the country. Her work continues with a "Family Empowerment Day," planned for Saturday.
Amin was a teacher for 24 years,and during that time she began to share her passion amongst audiences in churches, community centers, libraries and the radio. One day she Amin got word that the Buffalo radio station was looking to fill a 90-second on-air segment Monday mornings. She teamed up with the station and began to share stories of moral lessons she hoped would impact the lives of listeners and encourage them to share them with others.
Unbeknownst to her, Amin was captivating an audience from behind metal bars. It was when she received and accepted an invitation inside Attica Correctional Facility to share her stories at a Kwanzaa program word of her great storytelling abilities began to spread. She then received invitations from prisons all across the state.
Amin traveled from prison to prison, and one day she saw a familiar face behind bars, one of a former student, who she remembers as a smart and kind young man. This emotional experience pushed Amin to dive headfirst into the world of prisons.
“I was eager to understand what was happening in the community that brought people to such horrible places,” she said. “I began to read more about prisons, talk to more people involved with the prison system, and see more of what really went on behind the prison walls.”
She quickly learned prisoners and their families were struggling and there was a serious need for change. Harsh punishment, torture, unreasonable parole proceedings and prejudiced treatment after release were just a few of the issues incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals can face on a daily basis, according to Amin.
She saw their need for guidance in the right direction through fair treatment and through therapeutic programs that would allow them to rehabilitate their lives and become positive pieces of the puzzle in what makes our society whole.
“The average person doesn’t know what happens in prison or what families go through. We need to understand how prison functions and we need to be aware that things like police brutality, abuse, and racism do exist and change is needed,” she said.
Amin created Prisoners are People Too, Inc. in 2005 to educate the community about these issues with emphasis on the humanity of both the victim and the offender while making sound changes within the prison system.
Through PRP2 she has also organized a Family Empowerment Day. The first FED was held in 2005 in NYC as a result of prisoners in the Otisville Correctional Facility who believed men on the inside who were proactively seeking to change their lives could work more closely with the community to facilitate change.
This year’s conference, being held Saturday in Buffalo, will provide families who are dealing with the many hardships of having a loved one incarcerated the opportunity to come together and learn about available resources to help smooth the road to rehabilitation.
The eight workshops which will cover women’s issues, employment, kinship caregivers, voting, family issues, mental health behind bars, reentry, and parole. The conference will be keynoted by Ebony Magazine’s “Couple of the Year”, Rufus and Jenny Triplett of Powder Springs, GA. The couple experienced incarceration in their family’s life and created Dawah International, LLC, a multimedia company that produces"Prisonworld Magazine" and Prisonworld Radio.
With the help of organizers from Buffalo and the Niagara region, Family Empowerment Day will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at SS Columba-Brigid Church 75 Hickory St. Buffalo. Breakfast, lunch, workshops, and childcare is complimentary. For more information, contact Amin at 834-8438 or email@example.com. Attendees are asked to pre-register online at Facebook (search Family Empowerment Day and follow directions) or at www.prp2.org.