Passports Behind Bars

We’re thrilled to introduce our new program, particularly because it involves all of you from The Kite community. Some of you are aware that just across from Rikers Island is LaGuardia Airport. During class, you can hear the planes thunder above, setting off to untold destinations. I often wondered if it depressed the kids to think about where the planes were going when they couldn’t leave the confines of their unit. Upon discussing this in class, I realized that many didn’t associate the aircraft with travel. It was just white noise that had passed over many of the students’ houses their entire lives.

When I was their ages (16-22) I would have said the same. I lived in a flyover town and didn’t start traveling until age 23. Once I did, it directly affected the choices I was making. It changed my life. Many people ask how I was able to defeat the tides of recidivism. How did I manage to make it into the small percentage of ex-inmates who were able to stay out? Besides having a mentor (which was major) the ability to travel took a front seat in my conscience as something not worth the risk of losing. There are passport restrictions that can make it difficult if not impossible for those with criminal records to leave the country. Then there are the countries that require visas. India, Brazil, Vietnam, Tanzania, and Thailand might not have let me in if I had an adult record. My mentor helped me straighten my life out but travel was the incentive that restrained me from committing more crimes.

We already link students with mentors, but now we’re adding an extra layer: travel behind bars. In our new passport program, we’re going to introduce the cool places you live and visit via videos and images that you send us. You can take these videos while hanging out, going to local hotspots, visiting museums and monuments or even just chilling on the balcony and looking at the skyline. We want to know about your culture, the things you eat down to the clothes you wear. If you’re traveling somewhere cool, send us a video. You’re our travel guide!

When recording your 1 to 2-minute video, please begin with the following:

“Hi, this is [your first name]. I’m sending this Kite from [wherever you’re located and what you’re showing us]. 

 Side note: A Kite is prison parlance for letters sent and received, hence the name of our org.  

Other things to add:

  • What language do you speak? Say something in it followed by a translation. 
  • Show us your traditions and your pastimes.
  • Take us to work with you!
  • Every train system in the world is cleaner than the NY Subway. Let us take a peak of yours.
  • Introduce us to your pets or local wildlife and plants.  

We will be viewing videos along with images of your city/state/country and learning historical fun facts, so if you know some off hand please mention it in your message!

The students will then be asked to pretend they visited the place and to write a journal entry about what they did that day. The more details you give, the more they can imagine.

Each student will have a Passport Journal, which will receive stamps and stickers of places you’ve taken them. If you can suggest local snacks (or send stuff to share, please email me to arrange gigi@gigiblanchard.com ).We’re in New York so we might be able to track down certain treats.

The journals will double as scrapbooks where we’ll glue in media and “keepsakes” printed from the web. If you go to a show or event that has tickets, send a snapshot so we can make mini versions of them to attach to their journals.

If you are someone from a particular place and will be in NYC, come in for a workshop and explain your city in person.

Their bodies might be stuck on the island, but their minds can travel the world!

Please send videos and images to gigi@gigiblanchard.com

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FAQ

  • How long do I have to send it in? This project is ongoing throughout 2018, you can send as many videos of as many places as you want!
  • Do we need to be from the city we are showing you? No, we can be tourists or transplants with you. If you’re visiting multiple cities, tell us about your plan and the type of transit you’re taking.
  • Can give a shout out directly to the students? Yes! I can’t share names but you can say something like, “This is for the young men and adolescent girls on Rikers.” Tell them that they’re in your thoughts. It’s amazing to see their reactions when they realize people out in the world care about them.

More questions? Email me or leave them in the comment section.

3 thoughts on “Passports Behind Bars

  1. GI-GI!!!!! Thank you for helping me when I was going through the struggle. I appreciate it so much! You do way more than people think for us. I’m trying to get in contact with you….I don’t know how. But I would love to connect and touch bases.
    Straight from the 6 building passing this kite. 🙂

    1. I’m so happy you reached out! Check your email. I can’t wait to catch up. We’re having a shindig in the next couple weeks but you can stop by the office anytime. Let’s chop it up!

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