In 1980, TRNN’s Eddie Conway helped organize a prisoners’ educational outreach program called “Say Their Own Word,” where thinkers and scholars came to Maryland Penitentiary and spoke about topics like impending U.S. fascism, the prison-industrial complex, capitalism, increasing surveillance, and many other issues that have become even more pressing today. These speakers included Amiri Baraka, Askia Muhammad, Bruce Franklin, Nijole Benokraitis, and Charlie Cobb. As part of a TRNN series, Conway revisited the predictions made by these speakers in 1980 and discussed how they resonate today.
The 13-page booklet reproduced below (PDF download) was created as part of the original To Say Their Own Word series, and documents photos of participants in the project. The text inside the booklet reads:
For fifty weeks, once, they/we emerged from a culture of silence to say our own word.
Confined in the bowels of a great American city, 200 men, alive, in a stoned village, designed and constructed in 1811, came each, alone, to become, some, together, to examine a history, to portray a reality, to probe an enigma. To risk a trip into consciousness, an odyssey through fields of Humanities, an exploration of society. And so it went, the fantastic Monday night celebration of will and spirit and human determination. In an atmosphere of archaic conception and medieval deprivation, forged to the purpose of solitary introspection, by moral indignation, we proclaimed to dialogue about humanity.
To describe the constraints in which we mounted our weekly festival would result in extreme admiration for our endurance. In lieu of an attempt to describe the correctional problems created by this production, an expression of gratitude on behalf of the project staff to the management and staff of the penitentiary must suffice. Toward an attempt to describe those who came along on the journey, we created this album. Brenda Vogel, Project Director.
Robert Chapman, Photographs. STAFF: Judith Uhlmann, William Peck, Marshall Conway, James Ray-Bey, Spenser Hurst, Harrold Haskins, Dennis Hale, William Collins, Tony Lightfoot, and Sharrieff Abdullah.
VOLUNTEERS: Samuel Cortijo, Stephen Briggs, James Wallace, James Norris, Kemry Hughes, James Carmichael-El, Charles Davis, David Murray, Wayne Plant, Floyd Bockman, Arnold Wilson, Thomas Barksdale-Bey, Alondo Edwards, Eric Lynch, Robert Hamlin.
Prisoners worked closely with librarian Brenda Vogel, who wrote the grant that funded the To Say Their Own Word project. Brenda Vogel was one of the project directors, along with Eddie Conway, a former member of the Black Panther Party and political prisoner during that time. Their leadership is an example of the synergy in community organizing that transcends prison walls.