What do you think when you hear the word "Attica"? Prison? Riot? I know I did, but I was curious...nearly 50 years later, what was it like? I spent the last couple of years working in Attica on a TEDx event there with a great group of incarcerated men, correctional officers, staff and administrators. These are their stories.
Speakers may not be confirmed. Check event website for more information.
nonviolence activist + authorArun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, was born in Durban, South Africa during the apartheid years. At age 12, Arun was taken to India to live with his famous grandfather and learn ways to cope with his anger and violent reactions, having been a victim of color prejudice while growing up. During his time in India, he learned valuable lessons on life next to his grandfather. Arun is now the President of the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute to take the message of nonviolence all over the world and to rescue and train children living in poverty so that they can break the oppressive cycle crushing them. He and his wife Sunanda Gandhi started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in 1991, currently based at 929 Plymouth Avenue South in the Plymouth-Exchange (PLEX) neighborhood of Rochester, NY, which runs programs for inner city children, inmates of correctional facilities, and poor families while teaching nonviolence to students.
authors + activists + podcaster + filmmakerCo-authors of "Just Sit: A Meditation Guidebook for People Who Know They Should But Don't" and sisters-in-law, Sukey and Elizabeth Novogratz have been leading meditation workshops through the United States. Elizabeth recently launched the podcast "Species Unite" and lives in Brooklyn, NY. Sukey is the executive producer of the acclaimed documentary The Hunting Ground. Together, Elizabeth and Sukey have travelled the world to study meditation in every kind of classroom, from Lakota sweat lodges to Tibet House, from ashrams to vision quests to Oneness retreats. They have learned from many renowned teachers, including Sharon Salzberg, Krishna Das, Ram Dass, Amma, and the monks at One World Academy in Chennai, India. Their inspiration for writing this book is drawn from friends, readers, and complete strangers who echoed their own questions about how to take the first steps toward making meditation part of a more mindful, reflective, and joyful life.
teacherBrian Edwards is an academic teacher for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision with 13 years on the job. He suffers from anxiety and depression and isn’t afraid to talk about it. Well, maybe he’s a little nervous. One time, while at a funeral, he heard the person giving the eulogy describe the deceased as “the most genuine person I’ve ever met.” All Brian wants is someone, one day, to say the same thing about him.
mentorBruno Langevin, a.k.a “Frenchy,” is a native French Canadian who moved to the U.S. to work as an international risk manager for Fortune 500 companies. He wrote computer programs for nuclear reactors and aluminum factories, managed computer and physical security risk at banks, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical companies, but his greatest contribution to the world is his two daughters.
artificial intelligence enthusiast + law clerkColin is an unapologetic nerd. He worked diligently in sales until he discovered his love of programming. He is particularly captivated by the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). The eldest of seven children, a former rower and coxswain, Colin currently clerks in the Law Library in Attica
poet + mentorDamoni Hall is a man of integrity and a great encourager to all people. He has attended Alfred State College and Erie Community College, where he studied psychology. Among his many accomplishments since being incarcerated, Damoni is now a clerk in Attica’s Industry Department and an active member in the Youth Association Program. He loves sports, reading, and writing poetry.
Zen student + physicianDavid Williams grew up in a small town in Michigan where he completed his B.A. degree in biology before entering Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit and getting his M.D. degree. After finishing his family practice residency at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn, MI, he worked for a federally funded rural health organization in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He later moved back to Detroit to work for the Henry Ford Health System in several primary care centers and in the infectious diseases department treating HIV/AIDS patients. In 1999, he moved to New York to work for the Bassett Healthcare System and to be closer to Zen Mountain Monastery where he has been a student since 1996. Since then, he has worked for the University of Rochester Medical Center, the Cayuga Medical Center, the Neighborhood Health Center in Buffalo before taking his present position at Attica as Director of Health Services.
David WoodrowAn American-born Jamaican of mixed Scots-English lineage, having attended Cornell University on a full soccer scholarship, leaving early to assist family in running their business in their time of need, this former criminal thinker descended into the underworld of crime and violence, eventually landing in the NYS DOCCS maximum security prison system with a 20- to 25-year prison sentence. But watch for the miracle....Initiated as a youth into the House Order in Western Jamaica, West Indies, this Ekklesiastical MC achieved the Hodmoras 79, blood diamond/humbil lion degrees while in prison, specializing in the Certain Way and possessing the Distinguished Features while digging in the Attica Mine(d)s. Now he embodies Healthy Thinking, his life now dedicated to service of the Most High, serving humanity, creating profits and win-win-win situations, loving/reverencing the Most High with all his being, loving others as himself and practicing integrity in all matters.
mentor + studentDonovan Jackson was raised by his preaching mother and teaching grandmother where church and school were mandatory. A well-known rebel, he embraced an opposite path in life where he majored in bad decisions and choices. When he got tenured at Attica, he made great strides to shake off all he learned at the university of knuckleheads. At 33, he now spends his time at Attica mentoring at-risk youth, counseling his peers, and spreading his infectious smile to others. He is devoted to his wife of 9 years and their four daughters.
correctional officerA correctional officer for 30 years, Mr. Nowak looks forward to working with his son as he begins his own career as a correctional officer at Attica. A whiz at everything automotive, Mr. Nowak enjoys building race cars and driving them and with his son fixing cars throughout their neighborhood. Mr. Nowak is a first lieutenant in his local fire department, where he works with the Boy Scouts of America Explorer Program. Here at Attica, he serves on the Fire Brigade Team, is an expert on SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), a member of C.E.R.T. (Crisis Intervention Response Team), the Youth Assistance Program, and a certified drug tester for NARC. He has worked a locksmith fixing cells, doors, gates and locks and as a fabricator building objects for the facility from steel. In his spare time, Mr. Nowak loves to hunt and fish. Above all, he is devoted to his family and his wife of 31 years.
mentor + leaderWith much work, Jemar Kelley has left his negative influences behind. While in prison over the last 20 years, he has completed multiple substance abuse programs as well as aggression replacement training. He has learned to think in terms of intelligent options and consequences before deciding upon a course of action. He is a man who checks and constantly renews himself, realizing that life is a continuous growth process, requiring adjustment, ever evolving and changing. He is deeply committed to mentoring youth recognize their own negative behaviors to help them avoid making the same bad choices he made that will lead them down a road of poverty, incarceration, and or death. At 42 years old, Jemar is the proud father of two intelligent daughters. His oldest is enrolled in college to be a medical assistant. His youngest has received acceptance letters from 18 colleges and graduated from high school with honors. She is enrolled in college to be a business administrator.
teacherThe oldest of three children, I experienced the true blessing of being raised by devoted and loving parents who instilled in us three critical attributes: the first being absolute reverence for our Polish heritage; second, the often underappreciated ability to connect with others on an emotional and intrapersonal level; and third, the life lesson that if you are good to people, they will be good to you. During a parochial, public, and now correctional teaching career that has spanned 20 years, I have worked to hone these attributes not only to celebrate my Polish heritage, but also to try to brighten the future of others. The winding road that I have traveled has been filled with incredible highs and soul crushing lows, yet it is these experiences that have helped me realize how critical suicide awareness has become and how a once taboo subject has shaped my life and the person I have become.
youth mentor + writer + activistJohn Tolliver is more than the “Criminal” he was once regrettably known as in the streets of Buffalo, N.Y. He is no longer robbing the world or even himself of his full potential. At 16, armed with his GED, he dropped out of college—this was the first in a series of bad decisions that eventually led to him being incarcerated for 25 years to life. On both sides of the bars, he has sought to encourage youth to remain in school and not replicate his mistakes. While incarcerated, John has earned a certificate as a legal assistant/paralegal from the Blackstone Career Institute and has spent over seven of his years in Attica working with the Inmate Grievance Program. The father of three awesome boys, John constantly strives to improve and to live as a contributing member of a healthy society.
teacher, nonviolent communicationJonathon Jones grew up in Rochester, NY, and learned deeply about nonviolence in many forms while incarcerated, including becoming a trainer with the Alternatives to Violence project as well as learning and then teaching Nonviolent Communication through the Gandhi Institute. Since his return home, he has continued his study of nonviolence, completing a six-month course with the Metta Center for Nonviolence. Jonathan teaches and speaks on nonviolence in a variety of community settings.
facilitator + rapperJordan and his older brother were raised by their mother and stepfather. Although growing up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, Jordan graduated high school and found solace in his local recreational center. He participated in a community building project called Bridges to Wellness that paired the recreational center youth with college students from Rochester Institute of Technology to bring awareness to the problems within the community. Having been incarcerated since the age of 21, he has participated in programs such as the 64 days of Non-Violence and the Alternative to Violence program. He is a former member of the Inmate Liaison Committee for the Attica Correctional Facility and is now a member of the TEDxAttica organizing team. Every day, Jordan strives to change from being an anger-filled, adolescent into an honest, loyal, and responsible man. Upon his release from prison, Jordan aspires to be a productive influence conducive to positive change within his community.
innovator + musicianLazarus Clyburn is a drop of water from the Fountain of Life and believes that rising every morning is a blessing and another chance to invoke change. He's a man risen from the dead of immaturity to understanding that life is a journey of being perfectly imperfect. He's a survivor of extreme gun violence, a father when doctors said he couldn't be, a college student of sought-after degrees. He's also an alternative to violence project facilitator, a gifted drummer, and an exceptional welder -- all while doing his best to be persistently resilient and encouraged enough to believe that God made him the way he did so his purpose in life matches the gifts He gave him.
singer/songwriter + musicianMark Pelfrey is a songwriter/musician who has played for small venues and written numerous songs over the years. He taps into and uses his unique life struggles to create art. He takes as his motto: “It’s never too late to change, to be better today than yesterday, or to help others, even if just with a smile.” Mark is a simple man who loves the outdoors. He grew up rough and made some bad life choices, but Mark stands today as a changed man.
poet + actorMichael has been incarcerated since the age of 23. He is now 58. Michael’s endeavor to reconnect to his humanity through the arts finds its roots in the same fertile ground that produced the Harlem Renaissance. Rising from the ashes of his past, he has produced a chapbook of poems entitled, “Guerillas in the Mist.” Michael co-created and co-founded the Phoenix Players Group at Auburn Prison. He also initiated a domestic violence prevention program while at Auburn. At Attica, he created and co-founded the 3rd Prison from the Sun Theater Group. Michael obtained his associates degree in Arts and Humanities from the Cornell Prison Education Program.
artist + photographerI am a photographer and letterpress printer living on a farm in upstate New York. Shooting with film and printing in a dark room remain my favorite way to create photographs. My work is varied; I have shot weddings, in prisons, my family, home interiors, around the world and especially around this farm. I work primarily with a Leica M7 and a Holga. For events, including weddings, I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II as well. I have been printing on a Chandler & Price for over two decades. The letterpress branch of Beech Tree is my effort to encourage handwritten communication for every occasion -- for gratitude, for congratulations, for mourning, for keeping in touch. The paper is usually from Italy but I recently began working with a heavier card stock. Collections change seasonally.
artist + mentorPhil never expected incarceration would give him a second chance for a life worth living and happiness. After arriving at Attica, he became an accomplished artist/designer and has created numerous murals throughout the facility. His painting "Art, In Cell Window Perspective" received the Best Donated Work award for the Crime Victims Fund Exhibition and was chosen for the prestigious 1990 Rochester Finger Lakes Exhibition. In 2013, he started the Attica Active Veterans Group’s Kite Artwork Team and its Knitting Squad. Phil is grateful to be able to use his God-given talents to lift people's spirits and raise funds for community causes. He is an Eagle Scout and received an Honorable discharge after serving seven years in the U.S. Coast Guard as a 1st Class Damage Controlman. Phil just celebrated his 25th anniversary with his wife, Kathy, who with her Master's Degree in art and theater is a perfect companion for him and his many art projects.
comedian + correctional officerRick Matthews was born and raised in Western New York. Taking what that region has taught him, he is hard working, gritty, and destined to be in second place. A correctional officer for 16 years, Rick has worked at the Attica Correctional Facility for 14 of them. He's also been a stand-up comic for the last 12 years. His family, past, and full-length mirror provide him with all the material he needs to fuel his relatable brand of humor that keeps audiences laughing. He has toured around the country with Jim Norton, and has performed in numerous clubs, casinos, colleges, and festivals throughout the U.S. He is also the creator of the hit "Comics Against Humanity" show, based on the popular card game "Cards Against Humanity," which is now featured at other Helium locations around the country. Rick teaches both introductory and advanced stand-up comedy classes at Helium Comedy Club.
optimist + mentorRoland Murphy is a proud father, loving husband, and resilient being. He's on a quest for success and is using what he learned from his past experience to get him there by remembering that the decisions he makes will ultimately decide his fate. Murphy was raised by two amazing parents who are now deceased but will forever live in his heart. They were excellent providers and always stressed the importance of working hard and getting an education in order to obtain sustainable success. By the time he was 12, he became very lazy at life and his decision-making, as he chose the streets over school, friends over family, and drugs over his dreams. By doing so, the only thing he achieved was a 25-to-life sentence. Hopeful that he'll receive a second chance, he is determined not to make the same mistake twice and is now embracing his parents' words of wisdom. While incarcerated he obtained his GED, completed various drug and anger management programs, and mentors youth.
former Governor of Virginia + author + entrepreneurTerry McAuliffe served as Governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018. He also served as Chair of the National Governors Association from 2016 to 2017 and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005. During his term as Governor, the unemployment rate in Virginia dropped from 5.4% to 3.6% and initial unemployment claims fell to a 44 year low. By the end of his term, McAuliffe had restored voting rights for 173,000 released felons, more than any governor in U.S. history. He also issued more pardons than any Governor in Virginia history and reduced the state’s population in state-operated Juvenile Correctional Centers by nearly two-thirds. His new New York Times best-selling book, Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism, describes the tragic events at the "Unite the Right" rally that resulted in the deaths of three people in Charlottesville, Virginia during his governorship.
mentor + emceeAs an 18-year-old, Walter thought he knew it all. Yet, he squandered the privilege of a higher education and countless opportunities to be succcessful, including as a college basketball player. However, in prison, Walter was able to rebound and gain another shot. Graduating from college in 2015, Walter dedicates himself to mentoring at-risk youth and has completed a plethora of rehabilitation programs. Today, as a 37-year-old man and proud father who has served 19 years in prison so far, he now realizes that your decisions determine your direction, your direction determines your destiny, and your destiny determines your legacy.
Anthony F. MackiewiczOperations
Jay Anthony PaganTeam member