On the Ground with the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign

Published

One Tuesday every other month Yvonne Newkirk rises at 3:30 A.M. to catch a 5 A.M. Philadelphia bus that takes her three-and-a-half hours northwest to a medium/maximum security prison in Muncy, Pennsylvania, where she visits her daughter, imprisoned for life without parole.

When Newkirk arrived for her mid-September visit, she discovered that the food vending machines, which she and other families rely on for sustenance during the 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM visiting hours, were empty. No other accommodations were made for food, and prison authorities told the families that may be the case for the next three months.

“They said it was a health issue, because of drugs entering the prisons statewide, something unsanitary in the machines,” Newkirk said. “But then a guard ate a Kit-Kat bar in front of us. It was a punishment.”

Newkirk was addressing a “Poor People’s Hearing in Harrisburg,” on November 1, part of the Pennsylvania’s ongoing efforts related to the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival. The national grassroots campaign led by poor people in 40 states aims to change a distorted narrative that villainizes and criminalizes low-income people in the United States.

“The ‘No Food Policy’ is really hard on diabetics, the elderly, children, and those on medications,” said Newkirk. “Quite a few inmates are advising family members not to visit.”

The goal of the Poor People’s Hearings is to provide a platform for people afflicted with poverty to tell their own stories about the burdens that come with being poor.

In 2013 Jennina Gorman lost her five children after fleeing domestic violence. What was supposed to be a few weeks of foster care to allow her to deal with a roach infestation has turned into five years of spinning her wheels in an absurd bureaucratic rabbit hole. Adding insult to injury, her wages are garnished to pay for the foster care of her children, and though she says she has toed all their lines, she’s about to lose two of her children to adoption.

“The Court has refused to acknowledge my children’s Native heritage and the protections granted to us by The Indian Child Welfare Act,” said Gorman. “My children have a right to live with their family. I will never stop fighting for my children, I will never stop fighting for my family.”

Read the Dispatch at The Progressive