VC Hosts 19th Green Haven Reunion
At 11 a.m. on April 28, Vassar students, faculty and former prisoners and their families gathered together in the Aula for the 19th annual Green Haven Reunion. The event served as a way for current members of the Vassar community and alumnae/i to interact with former inmates at the Green Haven Correctional Facility (Vassar Africana Studies Department, “Greenhaven Prison Program”).
Formally organized conversations between Vassar students and prisoners began in 1979, when former Professor of Sociology Larry Mamiya founded The Green Haven Prison Program as a means by which to initiate a dialogue between Vassar students and inmates at the the Green Haven Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Stormville, NY (Vassar Calendar Info, “Greenhaven Reunion”). In class, Mamiya’s students learned about the concept of institutional racism; through visits to the prison, they were able to interact with individuals who experience firsthand an extreme form of structural racism (The Miscellany News, “Alum reflects on life after prison at Green Haven reunion,” 04.08.2015).
20 years after these discussions first began, Vassar invited a number of the inmates who had been released during that period to visit the College. This first reunion in 1999 set a precedent, and each year since, former prisoners and their families have come to campus to meet and spend time with current Vassar students, professors and alumnae/i (The Miscellany News “Alum reflects on life after prison at Green Haven reunion,” 04.08.2015).
At the 19th reunion, the discussion was primarily aimed at examining the ways in which mass incarceration functions as a form of state violence. The event also focused on how the criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates and targets those in marginalized communities, including transgender people, gender nonconforming individuals and people of color (Facebook Events, “Annual Green Haven Reunion,” 04.17.2018).
Part of the discussion was led by keynote speaker Topeka K. Sam, who was formerly incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury. After being freed from incarceration, Sam went on to found the Ladies of Hope Ministries (The LOHM). The LOHM is an organization that uses education, spiritual empowerment, entrepreneurship and advocacy as means by which to assist disenfranchised and marginalized women in their transition back into society (The LOHM, “About Us”).
After her incarceration in federal prison, Sam created the organization in response to her firsthand experience with the impact not only of mass incarceration, but also of the disproportionately high rate of incarceration of women of color (Hope House NYC, “About”).
As executive director of The LOHM, Sam helped in 2016 to establish Hope House NYC, which functions as a safe space for single, formerly incarcerated women to stay for up to one year while they are transitioning back into life in New York City (Hope House NYC).
In the past, keynote speakers have included the first formerly incarcerated person to graduate from Vassar College, Jeffrey Smith, and a group of previously imprisoned women known as the New Jersey Four, among others (The Miscellany News, “Green Haven Reunion brings New Jersey Four to campus,” 04.12.2017).
—Pazit Schrecker, Guest Reporter