Episode 48 with Glenn Robinson "Weez," J.R. Furst and Cate White
February 6th, 2019
Writing to Freedom:
The Story of "Beyond this Prison"
This is a true story of Glenn Robinson (Weez), a man who had a 40 year prison sentence, for a crime he committed at 18, J.R. Furst his penpal, a poet and provocatuer, and Cate White, the artist who brought life to their letters. This is the story of how friendship, wisdom, and creativity became the lifeboat for one man’s literal freedom from prison and the mental unshakling of hundreds others.
Don't miss artist, Cate White's upcoming show! Opening February 23rd at the Guerrero Gallery in SF - click here for details.
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from l to r: Glenn "Weez", Cate, J.R.
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Beyond This Prison is an organization that uses the literal and metaphorical framework of incarceration to explore truths about ourselves and others, and to build stronger communities.
All of their programs and offerings have evolved from a hand-written letter correspondence between Glenn Robinson and J.R. Furst–-two men looking for connection. At the time they met, Glenn was serving a forty year prison sentence in Angie, Louisiana while J.R. was living a civilian life in Berkeley, California.
In 2012, J.R. Furst began writing to Glenn Robinson (Weez) through a website that matched prisoners with potential penpals (writeaprisoner.com). Then he began to take parts of Glenn's inspiring letters and turned them into a blog called Beyond this Prison. After the blog was established, BTP launched their Youth Programs--connecting at-risk individuals with their own incarcerated pen-pals. BTP then created an innovative curriculum--based off of Glenn's words--to help individuals and communities redesign their internal & external systems, so that they can live in a world that supports people to have healthy, free, and inspired lives.
Glenn grew up in a challenging environment, and he committed armed robbery (where no one was hurt) when he was 18. Some people make mistakes and get a slap on the wrist, and some people get a 40 year bid. Glenn received a 40 year sentence. Through his work with J.R. and BTP his greatest sense of freedom came from sharing his wisdom, insight, hope and love through J.R.
Enter Cate White, their resident artist, creating images to go with Glenn's words. In a game-changing moment, J.R. and Cate went to Louisiana to visit Glenn in prison. In the couple hours they spent with Glenn, Cate became charged with the conviction that allowing this 34 year old man to spend the next 24 years in prison would be a true abomination. Cate and J.R. immediately began trying to find Glenn some legal help.
Through a lot of searching and persistence, they eventually found
a passionate young lawyer who would take his case. For less than $2,500 and less than a year later, they were able to get his sentence reduced and he was set free to live his vision to be a valuable member of community: working with youth to support them to make life choices keeping them out of prison as well as inspiring anyone and everyone to experience mental "unshakling" and ultimate freedom.
Glenn Robinson (Weez) is a speaker, poet and workshop facilitator who is passionate about working with the youth. He grew up in the 9th Ward of New Orleans in a housing project that is literally settled on top of a landfill. Typical of many African American kids in this area, Glenn’s father was MIA, and his mother was addicted to drugs. By the age of 13, Glenn was the sole financial provider for himself and his siblings. Feeling the hopelessness and futility of working jobs that paid him $6/hr—the only legal jobs that a young black man in that area could get—Glenn turned to ‘easier money’, in order to feed the hungry mouths at home and pay the bills. When Glenn was 18, he was charged with armed robbery (no one was hurt!) and received a 40 year prison sentence for his crime.
In 2012, while in prison, he became penpal to J.R. Furst and later friends with Cate White, the artist who would create images to go with Glenn’s letters. Wanting to have a bigger effect on society, these letters became a part of an organization called Beyond this Prison, formed by J.R. and Glenn which worked with youth using art and Glenn’s writings. Through their miraculous friendship and the now extended BTP community, a lawyer was obtained on Glenn’s behalf, his sentence reduced, and Glenn was released from prison within a year of retaining the new lawyer. That was in 2016.
He now lives in Oakland, CA where he has worked with Youth Spirit Artworks and is passionate about making a difference in the community.
"My hope is that by creating small community pockets where we work together, pay attention to each other, and actually LISTEN to one another, that we can start chipping away the corrosion and decay of culture." - Glenn Robinson (Weez)
J.R. Furst is an entrepreneur, a poet, and an community-builder. He’s eschewed a traditional path in favor of learning from life itself, and from those he admires. Always in search of honest expression and being, he’s a truth-seeker and freedom-seeker. His winding path has lead him to be a popular Sports Poet on KNBR, a co-founder of Beyond This Prison, and a Program Director at Youth Spirit Artworks. Along the way, he’s been awarded the “Consciousness in Action Award” from Institute of Noetic Sciences. He’s also a proud member of the Institute for Evolutionary Leadership.
Originally from the back woods of northern California, Cate White received a BA from Dominican University in 1994, after which she returned to some different back-woods for the duration of her 20s. She began painting at age 30 in 2002 and earned her MFA from John F. Kennedy University’s Arts and Consciousness program in Berkeley, CA in 2010.
In the last 5 years Cate has exhibited work in New York, Denmark, Los Angeles, Atlanta and the Bay Area, with solo shows in San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward and Roswell, New Mexico. She was the recipient of Oakland’s ProArts 2x2 Solos award in 2013 and the 2014-2015 Tournesol Award from Headlands Center for the Arts, a year-long residency in Roswell, New Mexico, and is currently a A+P+I Artist-in-Residence at Mills College. She has lived and worked in Oakland, CA for the past 11 years. For more on her work, visit catewhite.com
Check out Cate White's upcoming show at Guerrero Gallery in SF>>