Monday, August 22, 2016

Between the Lines: Humans Beyond Boxes

by Zinta Aistars

for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guests: Allison Kennedy and Jerrin Yarbrough

Members of Humans Beyond Boxes

Feeling human again: that’s the goal of the Kalamazoo nonprofit called Humans Beyond Boxes. The grassroots storytelling collaborative helps heal people affected, directly or indirectly, by incarceration. It offers creative writing workshops, chapbook publishing, life skills training, readings and performances, as well as a supportive atmosphere for those struggling to re-enter the community after years of incarceration.

“We also work with Michigan United and the Michigan People’s Campaign,” Allison Kennedy says. She's a co-facilitator at Humans Beyond Boxes. “We recently helped to get Fair Chances For All passed,” she says, referring to an ordinance approved by the Kalamazoo City Commission that requires employers to hold off on background checks until after a job applicant is given serious consideration and a chance to interview.
“It means not putting a box to check off on an application,” Kennedy says. “And it means not considering a record that is more than seven years old, or charges that don’t have anything to do with the job requirements.”
Humans Beyond Boxes' mission includes working for legislative change to ease the path back into society for those who've been behind bars.
Jerrin Yarbrough, one of the founders of Humans Beyond Boxes, speaks about healing through creative writing that he's experienced.
“I mostly use Humans Beyond Boxes as my own recreational release,” he says. “Technically, I was one of those who helped with the set-up. But now I use it mostly to cultivate my writing (and) to meet others with similar interests. Many of us use it as an emotional release. Humans Beyond Boxes is somewhat subjective in what it offers to individuals. For me, it is something I don’t get in other places.”
Jerrin Yarbrough at a public reading
The United States currently has the world’s largest prison system, with a prison population of about 2.2 million, including 45,000 in Michigan. The recidivism rate is around 70 percent.
Humans Beyond Boxes brings its programs to places such as K-PEP, the Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program, to help people cope with the challenges of adjusting to life in the world outside once they're released. They hold many events at the FIRE Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative, 1249 Portage Road, in Kalamazoo.
“Otherwise people tend to find us by word-of-mouth. Or just call me. My cell phone and email are on our website,” says Kennedy.
Kennedy says shame is a predominant emotion she sees in people who do reach out. Incarceration leads to ...

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