Media Undermines Civil Rights

Diane Seltzer is a design artist who graduated with a BFA from Syracuse University. She taught in inner city schools in Boston and Pennsylvania where she used her artistic talents to help educate and bring inspiration to our youth. She is presently an executive in an import/export business. She has been a long time community organizer and social activist fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, the elderly and children.  She is also an ardent animal welfare advocate and recently has extended support to prisoner’s rights and assisting the wrongfully convicted fight for exoneration.

The following essay comes from the Paul Cortez defense fund. The views expressed in it reflect a general concern with wrongful conviction in our justice system as well as the group’s belief in the innocence of Paul Cortez.

Media bias is pervasive in our daily lives. The First Amendment assures freedom of the press and allows all opinions to be expressed. Historically, various perspectives were viewed as thought provoking and a source of stimulation for ideas or actions. However, a new type of journalistic attitude has taken hold of much of the media. Ideas become fact, and these “facts” are manipulated to produce a more scandalous version of the truth and spun into sensationalized stories to boost sales. There are series topics and issues being manipulated by this tabloid media with little concern for accountability or consequence for the “public lynchings” they orchestrate.

One consequence can be the undermining and ultimate loss of a citizen’s civil rights. American law states a citizen is to be innocent till proven guilty in a fair court of law. However, you can be tried and convicted by the media with no chance to prove otherwise unless you have incredible resources. There was such a situation in New York that a group of concerned citizens became aware of and couldn’t ignore. We felt this was an attack on all citizens. The media took a story and sold their product ,the truth be damned, and helped to wrongfully convict a very talented young man named Paul Vincent Cortez.

Paul grew up in a tough neighborhood in Bronx New York but focused intensely on academic, athletic and theatre interests in hopes of fulfilling a dream to create a better life for himself and his family. He earned academic scholarships to the prestigious Buckley School, Poly Prep Country Day School, and Boston University. During his school years, he accumulated an impressive resume of achievements. After becoming the first family member to graduate from college, he was an aspiring Broadway actor and lead singer in a popular New York City band and supported himself by working as a trainer at Equinox Gym in Manhattan.

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Read What You Want, When You Want

Samantha Giffin is finishing up her Master’s degree in Professional Writing at UMass Dartmouth. Her professional interests include screenwriting, Gothic literature and teaching. In the next year she hopes to enter PhD program in Creative Writing.

I recently had the opportunity to watch a portion of a Frontline interview with Marc Prensky, a man with an English Literature degree. In this five minute video, Prensky argues that the reading of books is no longer inherently necessary. He puts down the classic written word (i.e. novels) in favor of video, blogs, and songs. But at the very end of the interview he says, “You have to discover [how to read books for pure enjoyment] for yourself, and you [can’t be] taught to do this.”

On the one hand, I can understand how Prensky might think that listening to an audio book or watching a film can take the place of the written word, in fact there might even be times that I would promote that idea myself. However, I also agree with his idea that a person has to learn how to enjoy reading, and by that I mean actually sitting down with a book and flipping through the pages.

My concern with substituting video for books is the fear that removing books from classrooms would give books in general a negative stigma. Already we see children who look at books as evil things, who wonder why someone would spend time reading if they don’t have to. In my eyes, if we were to stop using them in classrooms, it would only exaggerate that idea. And if children see them as unnecessary things, as black sheep, when will they ever get the chance to discover the enjoyment of reading?

I discovered my love of reading as a child. I remember going to my Nana and Papa’s house in Connecticut, running into the den, crawling up Papa’s recliner, pulling down Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, and a collection of Fairy Tales, and pouring through them over and over again. It didn’t matter to me that I read the same stories every time I was there. What mattered was that I enjoyed them, and the enjoyment has stayed with me to this day.

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Stories Connect is CLTL in the UK

I heard about Changing Lives Through Literature In 1999 as Writer in Residence at HMP Channings Wood, a medium security prison for adult men in Devon, England. I was immediately intrigued – why couldn’t the programme work as well in UK prisons?  Thus Stories Connect (formerly known as ‘Connections’) was born.

From 2000 until 2007, Stories Connect ran under the auspices of the Writers in Prison Network at ten prisons and units across England and Wales, always with the same exciting results.  Participants talked of it being a turning point, and of it giving them a sense of belonging to the group and the wider society.  They discovered they had views people were interested in.  They enjoyed hearing other people’s views, even when they didn’t agree with them.  Most of all they discovered the world of literature and how Steinbeck, Dickens and even Shakespeare spoke to them.

“In the past when I read books I used to just put the book down without a second thought about it; now I look for a deeper meaning other than the initial story and I try to put myself in that position just to see if I would act in the same way.”

Young male offender at HMYOI Feltham


When I finished the residency in 2004 I still trained other prison staff to run the programme but I was missing being involved in a group myself.  So I set up a programme for offenders in the community in Exeter, Devon.

I persuaded Devon & Cornwall Probation to become partners, and approached the head of English at Exeter University about being involved.  Finally the Probation Service suggested we include ENDAS – Exeter & North Devon Addiction Services Criminal Justice team as partners as well.

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation has been a stalwart supporter and funder of Stories Connect over the years.  They agreed to provide three-year funding for the new programme, and in May 2007 we started with our first mixed sex group of addicts and offenders on probation.

In prison you literally have a captive audience. Outside we had no way of persuading participants to attend other than the magic of literature.  Without exception these participants were leading chaotic lives.  Some had families to care for; others had some distance to travel.  Would we be able to hold their interest?

Now, three years later, we still have two of our participants from that original group who attend regularly as mentors and help us to put the programme together at the start of each group.  Six more keep in constant touch and attend when they can.

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What are “Kids These Days” Fighting for?

During my junior year, highly regarded American novelist Robert Stone came to speak at Assumption College in Worcester, MA.

Demonstrating that the pen is truly mightier than the sword, Stone writes not only to entertain, but also to alert, educate, and motivate others, as I plan to do as a journalist. Known for using literature to spark political activism, Stone has written numerous pieces on the Vietnam War, including “Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties,” from which he read several passages.

In this memoir, Stone reflects on his time as a soldier and correspondent in Vietnam, an experience that inspired him to write for a better world.

After Stone had shared some of his work with us, an older man stood up and asked, “Why aren’t kids these days involved like you and I were? Why don’t they do something or try to make a difference in this world?”

Before giving his input on how the draft and the socialists of the 1960s made a large difference, Stone scanned the audience, looking for a brave, young soul who may have some proof of the contrary.

Well, here goes nothing.

“Kids these days,” or Generation Y, are the 76 million Americans born roughly between 1980 and 1994.  Also known as Echo Boomers, Generation Y is expected to live up to the working of the Baby Boomers. It has been declared the next big generation, an exceptionally powerful group that can, and will transform every life stage it enters, just as our parents’ generation did.

Like the Baby Boomers, we’re facing an unpopular, foreign, and seemingly endless war in addition to countless other issues. But compared to the activists who spent the 60’s and 70’s fighting for civil rights, women’s equality, and an end to the Vietnam War, Generation Y seems anything but radical. With this, we have been labeled apathetic and self-absorbed.

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