Looking out: The Afghan Project for the Needy

October 16, 1996

Looking out. By Brandon Astor Jones

The Afghan Project for the Needy

"I would like to open up a place where people who are hungry could come and get a shower, a change of clothes and a good hot meal." — The Reverend R. B. Cottonreader

It is not often that men in prison can help men, women and children on the outside who are hungry and homeless. Sometimes being hungry and homeless leads to prison. At the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, a group of men on death row are trying to help those in need.

The men of G-Unit (death row) are crocheting afghans (day-bed covers). Some of the designs and crafting are so intricate that they require more than 100 hours to complete. All of the men are volunteers who take pride in supporting The Afghan Project for the Needy (TAP).

We were viewing a news account of a homeless family, with three small children, living on the streets of Atlanta. In an effort to meet that family's need, at least in part, TAP was born. Several afghans were made from the yarns we purchased from the prison's "crochet program". However, we as state prisoners are not allowed to sell them. So we give them away to anyone who is willing to contribute an appropriate donation. The suggested donation is US$100 per afghan (plus $40 for postage costs if the donation comes from outside the United States) in advance.

All donations are pooled into a common fund. After replenishing the supplies, TAP sends out cheques to individuals like the Reverend Cottonreader. He then goes directly to the street and gathers those men, women and children together and he takes them all to a local eatery (it is all prearranged so that the regular cost per meal is greatly reduced). Serving those in need in the manner described does not attack their dignity. In fact, their self-esteem is nourished as well as their hunger.

The Reverend Cottonreader takes the time from his responsibilities at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to do this for all involved — he even finds the time to visit with, and minister to, some of TAP's volunteers at the prison. He also takes photographs so that we can see some of the good we are trying to do. Doing this kind of charity work inspires all of TAP's volunteers. Let me share with you what some have said about their involvement in the project.

"Being in a situation like this and having the opportunity to help someone who needs food is a very gratifying feeling to me. I thank God every day and night for the chance to give of myself, when I can." — Lawrence J. Jefferson.

"[TAP] ... is a blessing for those creating and giving — as well as those receiving. It's [my] pleasure to use my talents to help the poor and those in need. In the future I hope to be able to do more." — Melbert Ford.

"My reason for [volunteering to help TAP] is to help the homeless and needy. It's a joy to me, to be part of it." — Tommy Lee Waldrip.

"[TAP] ... is very exhilarating because it affords us the opportunity to help those society has rejected as undesirable. Also the project makes a bold statement that despite our circumstances we care about our fellow man, which is contrary to the negative press we endure on Death Row." — Marcus A. Wellons.

"[TAP] ... gives us a chance to do something good for people outside who really need help but are not getting it. I wish we could do more. I know what it feels like to be hungry and not have the money to buy something to eat. No-one wants to help you when you are in need." — Stanley Allen.

The Reverend Cottonreader wants to provide not only hot meals, clothing and showers for the needy, but job counselling that leads to gainful employment as well. We all need your help.

If you would like to help by getting an afghan and making the suggested donation to TAP, please send your cheque or money order — along with your colour preference (black, red, green or a specific combination of the three) and clearly printed address to: The Afghan Project for the Needy, 142 Wilmer Street, Glassboro, New Jersey 08028, USA.

[The writer is a prisoner on death row in the United States. He welcomes letters commenting on his columns. He can be written to at: Brandon Astor Jones, EF-122216, G2-51, Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, PO Box 3877, Jackson, GA 30233-7800, USA. Australians Against Executions is raising funds to pay for a lawyer for Brandon's resentencing trial. If you can help, please make cheques payable to the Brandon Astor Jones Defence Account and post to 10 Palara Place, Dee Why NSW 2099. Donations to the Brandon Astor Jones Defence Account may also be made at any Commonwealth Bank, account No. 2127 1003 7638.]