Yesterday was exciting, as we sent out the announcement that the conference is coordinating the 1st-ever Annual National Prisoner FAMILY Month for May 2018.  With each passing minute it has become clearer that this event is far past due! 


All of which makes planning the 2018 10th anniversary conference all the more exciting, despite the fact the date is almost 16 months off!  So we are planning a series of pre conference activities…many focused on advocacy, and we believe we’ve hit a high note with advocacy, because we we’ve finally learned something we should have known and responded to decades ago and it should make advocacy far more productive!


All of these years – FOR DECADES! —  we have been asking, even demanding change; improvement; humane treatment for an entire population that the community at large cares nothing about.  If they don’t care, they’re certainly not going to worry about making improvements!  We are now referring to that lack of caring as the EMPATHY GAP. 




If we don’t find a connection, we don’t care about that person, and we are hardly going to move mountains for a person we don’t care about – right?




So, before we can even expect change, let alone demand it, we must first find ways to make people care. 


Thus, our focus now has turned to CLOSING THE EMPATHY GAP. 



We are finding ways to give our communities a reason to connect with the entire prison family – We are sharing our stories and by doing so we are showing others we have a lot in common; we are just like them!  We are brothers and sisters; We are parents.  We are sons and daughters. – We are school teachers or mechanics or business owners or employees. 



We face daily challenges just like everyone else; we must repair flat tires and replace frozen water pipes; we rush children to the doctor when they have a high fever; we struggle to save money as prices soar; we muster energy to make dinner and play with the children after a long day’s work; we enjoy an occasional movie or a rare day at the beach with family and friends…and the list of our commonalities goes on and on, but the community doesn’t know it! 



The community must know that we have many commonalities before they will care about someone affected by incarceration.  Before they will care we must close the EMPATHY GAP.  We can do that in part with our newly released Faces of Mass Incarceration documentary.  The 32 minute film puts a face on real people directly affected by mass incarceration; the film humanizes real members of prison families; it gives community members reasons to connect with prison family members and bursts erroneous but frightening myths and stereotypes that blind the community to our commonalities.


Additionally, it was just announced in our July newsletter that the conference steering committee is now coordinating the 1stb Annual National Prisoner FAMILY Month scheduled for the full month of May 2018. 



We are asking individuals, groups and organizations with concerns for the affects of mass incarceration to plan various events for their communities – viewing documentaries such as ours; inviting speakers; holding prisoner art displays and book signings, even featuring fun events such as family picnics, walks or runs…activities that will humanize, but also will shed light on the serious consequences of mass incarceration on families and communities throughout the country.  You will be hearing a great deal more about National Prisoner Family Month.


We are holding several competitions between now and the next conference, and one of those is a writing competition that we welcome prisoners and their family members to participate in.  We will also be holding a competition for a new logo for the conference. Keep watching for more information in our newsletters and posts on our Facebook pages.



Our focus remains on creating self-advocates.  The Advocacy in Action Coalition continues to develop resources for use in advocating; this year we will be developing several one pagers – handouts addressing serious concerns with medical and mental health care of prisoners, as well as humane treatment of the entire prison family.  So we are on a roll and believe once we humanize the prison family for the larger community to close the EMPTHY GAP – it will take a great deal of work – but when we do it, our road to achieving those things we’ve long been advocating for will be much easier.


Why is criminal justice reform so elusive, despite decades of angry and pain filled outcries?

 It’s because we’ve been crying out all wrong!


We’ve been attempting to get an uncaring public to care about an entire population they loathe and fear – prisoners – without giving them anything to care about.


Sometimes we fail to see the big picture, and when that happens we fail at the entire project. We’ve failed in our effort to see real criminal justice reform because we failed to see the EMPATHY GAP standing in our way.


When we failed to see the EMPATHY GAP, we did nothing to close that gap and therefore, our outcries fell on deaf ears.


Here’s how the EMPATHY GAP stands in our way:


Empathy is the glue that binds people together. Empathy connects people to one another. Empathy lets us care about each other.


Without empathy there is no connection between people.  If there is no connection, people don’t care.


The fact is, unless they have been personally affected by mass incarceration, the general public cares nothing about prisoners they don’t believe they have anything in common with. Therefore, the general public hardly gives a thought to the fact that prisoners actually have families and friends.  So they don’t care about prison family members either. 


The general public sees no connection between themselves and the incarcerated. Therefore, the general public has absolutely no empathy for anyone personally affected by mass incarceration. That results in an EMPATHY GAP that actually prevents the public from caring about criminal justice involved people.


Thank you to Kate Boccia and the National  Incarceration Association  for naming it!  Simply put, it is the “Empathy Gap.”  It is exactly the reason criminal justice reform efforts rarely or barely result in change, despite all the outcries.  PEOPLE JUST DON’T CARE.  People have no empathy for prisoners or their loved ones because they don’t find a connection.


Before we can expect the public; our legislators; criminal justice officials to respond to our outcries for equitable treatment; for humane treatment we absolutely must close the EMPATHY GAP.      That is the only way people will come to care enough to understand why reforms are necessary. Closing the EMPATHY GAP is the only way to achieve the reforms we’ve been futilely attempting to achieve for decades.


It’s actually called, “insanity.”


Trying to do something the same way over and over and over again and expecting different results is INSANITY. We must stop the insanity and do things differently to achieve a different—a desired response. In this case we must stop butting our heads against a brick walled EMPATHY GAP and start closing that gap if we ever expect to see the reforms we desperately seek.


Finally we’re making progress.  Now we’re calling it by its name: “The Empathy Gap.”


Now we are doing something about it that can make a real difference.  We’re working to close the Empathy Gap by pointing out similarities; pointing out connections between us so people will care; so people will respond when they hear our outcries.


“If we really want change, this is what we should have addressed first!” says InterNational Prisoner’s Family Conference Founder and Chair, Carolyn Esparza. 


“We’ve been spinning our wheels!  Nothing will ever change unless people care about the issue, and clearly people haven’t cared about anything related to criminal justice.  We must give them a reason to care.  We must give them a reason to connect.  Now we have a way to do that!”


How do you get people to care about a population it not only doesn’t care about, but has come to fear?


“You put a face on it!” says Esparza.


Indeed, that is exactly what the annual Prisoner’s Family Conference has done with its “Faces of Mass Incarceration” documentary.  It has given mass incarceration a FACE to connect with; a FACE to care about.


The powerful yet sensitive documentary reduces the “Empathy Gap” by introducing the community to real members of the prison family.   Each one belies the erroneous stereotypes and myths that have plagued the prison family for decades. Each face tells of a connection with the general public—i.e. I am a school teacher; I am a father; I am a mother; I am a child being bullied at school; I am just like you—we really do have connections.


By reducing the EMPATY GAP, the documentary humanizes the entire prison family. By reducing the EMPATHY GAP, the documentary gives the general public a connection with prison families; a reason to care. 


Showing the documentary everywhere criminal justice and prison reform issues are discussed further reduces the EMPATHY GAP, providing more and more members of the community a connection; a reason to care.


Whether shown in classrooms, boardrooms or churches — wherever mass incarceration issues can be discussed, the film compels meaningful discussion that reduces the EMPATHY GAP and makes room for many of the reforms we seek. 


Order your download of the documentary along with the facilitator’s guide. Reduce the EMPATHY GAP by putting a face on mass incarceration.