Welcome to Pittsburgh Tamie!

“Everybody in Pittsburgh is in a hurry to go nowhere fast.” — Tamie Gates

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Tamie Gates pictured in front of the  Allegheny River and a train bridge.

On October 16, Tamie Gates moved to Pittsburgh after serving 27 years in PA prisons, mostly at Cambridge Springs.

Tamie Gates spoke with Alan Lewandowski about coming home.

LGF: What would you want to tell someone planning to come home?

Tamie: If possible, make sure you get some computer classes before you get your release.

Even so, what you really need is internet classes. At the moment, those are not offered, and it is a disservice that it is not provided. I have a fair amount of computer literacy and it’s still a big adjustment for me coming out here where everything is on a computer.  Get as much computer experience as you can.

Also, if you’re relocating to a new area, get as much information about the area as you can before your release. It would be great if you are able to get street maps.

The prison really doesn’t prepare you to be successful out in the world, and it is not the concern of the institution.

LGF: So you can’t get maps on the inside?

Tamie: You can look at the atlas in the library or look at a globe. But there is no way to get street maps and bus maps that will actually show where you will be living and need to go, which would be very valuable tools for preparation.

Another thing is be prepared to be thrifty.

I took a money smart class at Cambridge Springs before I left, but they should do a re-entry class demonstrating to people the prices of objects in the outside world.  So you can understand ahead of time how much you’ll need to budget for the things you might need.

Or you can just shop at the dollar store.

LGF: What prices shocked you the most?

Tamie: A gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and the cost of lunch meat- even baloney.  Who knew it could be so high for baloney- $5 a package?- that’s crazy. At the same time prepare yourself to be very patient, because things don’t move as fast as you think they will, and it could take you quite a while to acquire a job.

LGF: What are the biggest challenges in the job search?

Tamie: The internet.  There is a lack of hand-written applications, and everywhere you go someone says “Apply online. Apply online!!!” Apply online means expect to spend an hour and a half on the computer, and you’ll hear back in a month.  Be prepared to be patient.

In general, prepare as much as possible before you come home.  Prepare for what you don’t think is going to happen. Get all your various resumes as ready as you can.

LGF: You have been volunteering regularly at two local shelters.  What drew you to this kind of service.

Tamie: Because Felicia Chapman was part of the women’s shelter, and she used to come to see me at Cambridge Springs; and my friend Sharon Webb is part of the Shepherd’s Heart church.

Knowing those two people connected me directly to that aspect of community work.

I’ve always been a caretaker by nature, and while incarcerated I always participated in the various community projects we did up there.  So it was natural for me to want to get involved with giving back to the community here; and I have two opportunities to do this; for the veterans and the homeless.

LGF: You told friends at Cambridge Springs that you wanted to buy a lottery ticket when you came out.  Have you bought one yet?

Tamie: Yes.  One. Just because I could. It was a wasted dollar. But if I had won $500, it wouldn’t have been.


Post Script: Tamie brought to our attention that the alloted time for meds after you are released is not enough. The prison will give you 30 days of your prescription. What they didn’t factor in is that it takes more than 30 days to sign up for health care, make a doctors appointment and get your prescription filled. Only if you hotfoot it to get signed up can you manage it just under the wire. 2 months would be sufficient. This is something to ask prison officials about and try to get this policy changed.

Let’s Get Smart Launches Today!

It is proven that access to higher education reduces crime and recidivism. There are currently hundreds of online college level courses free on the internet. Why can’t we figure out a way to get these courses into the prisons?

Let’s Get Smart is a small group of people supporting the ideas of Russell Maroon Shoatz, Brandon Moody and Bray Jibril Murray who are  incarcerated at SCI-Dallas. We believe all people in prison deserve access to higher education regardless of college credit (although that would be nice). Our vision is based upon providing all people in prison including prisoners, correctional, custodial, probation and parole personnel access to 21st century education and training, which is easily accessible and affordable through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s), offered by Harvard, MIT, Stanford and a plethora of other prestigious education and training institutions. Join us in bringing this vision to fruition!

Today we have sent letters to both Governor Wolf and Secretary John Wetzel urging them to support and implement these efforts.  Below is our letter to the Governor. Scroll down to check out the amazing list of endorsers. If you would like to endorse please fill out this form

August 6, 2019

Dear Governor Wolf,

Thank you for voicing support for higher education “behind bars” in Pennsylvania’s prison at the recent pre-screening of the documentary “College Behind Bars”.  It’s gratifying to know that both you and Secretary Wetzel are behind the idea of better-preparing those in prison for the day they will be returned to society. We are writing on behalf of a new campaign called Let’s Get Smart. We share similar ideas of education access and safe communities for people in prison. Our goal is to make college level courses available to all prisoners in the PA prison system.

The Bard program in New York State is certainly an impressive example of how to give prisoners access to post-secondary degrees.  We believe that if there were more education in general regardless of class credit or the sentence of student, society both inside and outside of the prison would improve. Many long timers, those with LWOP sentences and “life by numbers” are often excluded from continuing education classes. These very people are often the mentors to many of the young prisoners. Is there not value in allowing them to further their education so that they may be better equipped to mentor? It is also well known that the lifers keep the peace in the prisons. Why not acknowledge this by creating more access to knowledge.

Did you know that Harvard & MIT founded an online platform that offers 1000’s of college- level courses online for free?  These are known as MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses). PA’s own University of Pennsylvania offers MOOC 

Our group is comprised of family members and volunteers who work with people in PA prisons. We have no doubt that there is plenty of interest and ability in our prison populations.

We believe there are innovative ways around a high cost, technology and internet access.  The DOC could implement internet control. For example, a class facilitator would download the course onto a USB drive. The course would be approved by the DOC or facilities security. The class facilitator would show the course to approved students in a classroom setting using monitor. This way you can bypass the need for internet access. All it takes is the motivation to make these already free classes available to people who have a lot of time on their hands and desire to learn.

Whatever technological or security obstacles that may seem daunting can be overcome! We have seen the DOC make very fast and sweeping changes to the prison system. In order to keep the staff and prisoners safe you figured out a way to change the whole statewide mail system in one month! If there is a will, there is a way! And, many institutions set up firewalls to create limited and specific internet access.

But to speak to the point you made the night of the screening,  isn’t this a smarter way to invest in the human potential currently languishing in our prisons?  Mr. Cochran indicated that their program is funded by a combination of public and private resources.  Maybe something similar can be managed in PA.

We would love to meet with you to discuss these ideas. Please connect with us.

Thank you for your time, 

Sharon Shoatz, Sue Wooley and etta cetera

Campaign Coordinators

Endorsers

{Unless listed alone, organizations & institutions are listed for identification purposes.}

Sharif El-Mekki, The Center for Black Educator Development

Lisa B. Freeland, Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Jake Goodman, Executive Director, Opportunity Fund

Gabriel Rockhill, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Villanova University

Marie DiLeonardo, Division Manager of the Petey Greene Program

Five Mualimm-ak, President & CEO of The Incarcerated Nation

James Forman Jr., Yale Law School

Jared Ball, Professor of Communication Studies, Morgan State University

Katy Ryan, Professor of English, West Virginia University

Chris Taylor, Associate Professor, University of Chicago

Sandra Joy, Ph.D., LCSW, Professor Rowen University 

Carl Redwood, Adjunct Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.

Dov CB Chernomorets, Inside Out Facilitator

Danielle M. Wenner, PhD, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Associate

Director, Center for Ethics & Policy, Carnegie Mellon University

Dan Berger, Associate Professor, University of Washington

Caitlin J. Taylor, Ph.D., La Salle University

Peter Odell Campbell, Assistant Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh

Alison Reed, Assistant Professor of English, Old Dominion University & Director, Humanities Behind Bars

Jasiri X, 1Hood Media

yvette shipman, MA

Priscilla Wahrhaftig

Benjamin Kline , Returning Citizen

Elaine Selan RN, MSN

Bekezela Mguni

Art For Justice

Black Unicorn Library and Archive Project

The Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op 

Alliance for Police Accountability

Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project 

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If you would like to join the growing list of endorsers please fill out this form.

Contact us at: letsgetfreepa@gmail.com