Panel Talks: “Prison Politics” about Maximum Secutiry

Panel Talks: “Prison Politics: Conversations on the State of Prisoners’ Rights in Colombia and the US Today”

As a part of the presentation of Maximum Security, ID Studio hosted two panel talks around the human rights issues of prison conditions and prison reform in Colombia and the US. Organized and moderated by the play’s translator, Lucia della Paolera, the panel talks preceded two performances of the play: the opening night, May 28 and June 11, and sought to contextualize and engage the audience in some of the issues Maximum Security brings up.

Led by two varied groups of lawyers, human rights advocates, professors, community organizers, and journalists, conversation during the talks ranged from the history and current state of peace talks between the FARC and Colombian government, to comparisons of prisoners rights in the US and in Colombia. We discussed the recent spread of the US-led system of mass incarceration, as well as the specific obstacles different groups (women, indigenous populations, “common criminals” and political prisoners) face in prison, and some panelists proposed radical ideas and projects already underway for reforming our criminal justice system, with initiatives in prison education and health. From discussions of hunger strikes and other tactics used by specific prisoners trying to fight back against rampant solitary confinement and torture programs to broader talks about the philosophy, politics, and ethics of prison culture, the panel talks sought to form an open, productive dialogue about one of the most pressing human rights issues facing the world today. The panels ended with an audience Q & A session, before the actors took the stage for Maximum Security.

May 28 Panelists:

Mark Burton is a lawyer for Colombian revolutionary Ricardo Palmera, aka Simon Trinidad, currently held in solitary confinement in the US. Burton is a board member of Alliance for Global Justice, (AFGJ) an organization that reports on and advocates broadly for human rights issues globally, with a strong emphasis on Latin America. AFJG has been a leader in reporting on the conditions in and history of Colombian prisons, and a strong voice advocating for their transformation. A lawyer in private practice where he specializes in criminal defense and civil rights, Burton graduated from Colorado College with a degree in romance languages and graduated from the University of Denver School of Law with a juris doctor. Mark has been involved in social justice movements which began with his work in the British Trade Union movement where he was a rank and file organizer for low paid hospital workers where he helped organize wage and conditions campaigns. More recently, Mark has been involved in immigrant rights, social justice, and anti-war movements. As an active member of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) International Committee, Mark has organized a joint AFGJ/NLG delegation to Colombia. In his law practice Mark specializes in indigent defense, freeing the wrongfully convicted, and the human and civil rights of people in the face of government repression.
Alliance for Global Justice:
“The Peace Process in Colombia: How the United States Can Help”

Professor Brett Dignam is a Clinical Professor at Columbia Law School. She teaches a prison clinic and seminars on issues including prison, race and the criminal justice system. Professor Dignam has supervised students in a broad range of civil litigation matters arising in state and federal prisons. The clinic focuses its representation on challenging the conditions of confinement, including medical issues. Ms. Dignam successfully tried a federal habeas case with 8 recent Columbia Law School graduates. That victory led to the release of a man who had been in prison for 18 years while consistently maintaining his innocence. She received her J.D. from the University of Southern California, an M.A. in theater from the University of California at Los Angeles and a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College.

“Judge Orders Freedom or Retrial for Connecticut Man Jailed Since ‘95” – NY Times

Pending Columbia University resolution proposing divestment of investments in private prison companies:

Max Kenner is the founder and Executive Director of the Bard Prison Initiative. He conceived of and created the Bard Prison Initiative as a student volunteer organization when he was an undergraduate at Bard College in 1999. After gaining the support of the College and cooperation of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, he has overseen the growth of the program into a credit-bearing and, subsequently, degree-granting program in 2001. Kenner has led the expansion of BPI from a pilot program with 15 students to a nationally recognized education initiative enrolling nearly 300 students within six campuses in correctional facilities throughout New York State. Kenner has become a leading advocate for the national restoration of college-in-prison and frequently speaks publicly in a wide variety of forums about the BPI model in education and criminal justice policy. He is a co-founder of the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, which is supporting other colleges and universities in establishing and maintaining ambitious college-in-prison projects. He also serves as Vice President for Institutional Initiatives and Advisor to the President on Public Policy & College Affairs at Bard College. Kenner was a 2013-’14 fellow-in-residence at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University. In July 2014 Kenner was appointed to serve on Governor Cuomo’s New York State Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration, Re-Entry Subcommittee. In October 2014 Kenner received the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Education.

BPI’s website:
Video page:
60 Minutes report:
PBS News Hour:

Mario A. Murillo has worked in commercial, public, community, and university radio for 30 years. He is a longtime host and producer on WBAI 99.5 FM Pacifica Radio, where he has served as Interim Program Director, Director of Public Affairs Programming, and anchored its long-running morning show Wake Up Call for many years. Mario is Professor in the Radio, Television, Film department at Hofstra University. Mario has written and reported extensively about Colombia for a variety of publications and media outlets, and in 2008-2009, he spent six months there as a Fulbright Scholar, where he worked in the Communication Department of the Universidad Pontifícia La Javeriana in Bogotá. His research, carried out in close collaboration with the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, has focused on the strategic uses of communication of the indigenous movement in Colombia, the subject of his forthcoming manuscript. He is the author of Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest and Destabilization (Seven Stories, 2004), and Islands of Resistance: Puerto Rico, Vieques and U.S. Policy (Seven Stories, 2001).

WBAI Radio:
Books available at:

June 11 Panelists:

Paula Avila-Guillen currently serves as an Advocacy Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Paula focuses primarily on seeking increased recognition and advancing reproductive rights across Latin America and the Caribbean. Most recently, Paula worked as a Human Rights Consultant for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where she conducted research and drafted reports on the right to health of LGTBI individuals in the Americas region. Prior to that, Paula was an Institute Associate at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center, where she managed, designed, and developed litigation and advocacy strategies on international human rights issues. In this role, Paula researched, drafted, and published multiple memos and articles relating to the right to health of individuals under the custody of the state, specifically, the duties of the states with regards to women and individuals with mental disabilities in detention. Originally from Colombia, Paula received her law degree at Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, where she also conducted significant research on the human rights of people in detention. Additionally, Paula has an LL.M with a concentration in Human Rights Law at the Washington College of Law at American University. She was also admitted to the New York State Bar in 2012.

Center for Reproductive Rights:

Gabriel Chaves was born in Colombia and has lived in New York since 2002, after finishing his undergraduate studies at the Universidad de los Andes. He has been part of the Movement for Peace in Colombia for five years. The Movement for Peace in Colombia (MPC) is a non-profit organization based in New York that supports the search for a negotiated solution to the armed conflict in Colombia and promotes the defense of Human Rights. In addition to his participation in the MPC, Gabriel is also a member of the International Socialist Organization and collaborates with the New York Branch of Polo Democratico Alternativo, a Colombian Political Party. Gabriel holds a Ph.D. in Physics from New York University.

Movement for Peace in Colombia:

Germán Jaramillo was born in Manizales, Colombia, in 1952. He co-founded one of the most important repertory theater companies in Colombia, the Teatro Libre, and its School of Acting, where he worked as resident actor, director and producer for almost 30 years in close to forty productions. Several of his roles earned him recognition as best theater actor of the year in Colombia. In 2000 he starred in the internationally acclaimed film “La Virgen de los Sicarios” (“Our Lady of the Assassins”), directed by Barbet Schroeder and was awarded the Gold Medal in the Venice Film Festival (2000), where he was nominated for Best Actor. In August 2001 he came to New York and founded ID Studio Theater, where as Artistic Director he directed and produced 15 plays over the course of fourteen years, several of them jointly with the Theater for the New City in New York. In the fall of 2013 he was invited to play the lead in Mario Diament’s “Cita a Ciegas” (“Blind Date”), at the REPERTORIO ESPAÑOL in New York. Subsequently, the REPERTORIO ESPAÑOL asked him to perform the part of Fidel Castro in “Hierba mala nunca muere,” which is currently running. The New York Times praised him for giving “a bravura performance in the role” (New York Times, March 19 2015).

New York Times “Germán Jaramillo of ‘Hierba Mala Nunca Muere’”

Samuel Miller is a human rights lawyer who currently represents a class of prisoners challenging long-term solitary confinement in California as constituting torture in violation of the U.S. Constitution and international standards. This is the latest of many prisoners’ rights cases Sam has handled, including challenges to the segregation of prisoners identified as HIV-positive, the mistreatment of prisoners with mental illness, and degrading conditions of confinement. In mid-career, Sam was a law clerk to Judge Thelton Henderson in San Francisco when the court placed the California prison medical system into federal receivership. Sam also has been a Research Scholar focusing on institutional reform litigation at Columbia Law School, and was formerly the legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Article on the Ashker vs. Brown prisoners’ rights lawsuit:

New York Magazine “The Plot from Solitary” February 26, 2014

Jed B. Tucker is Director of Reentry at the Bard Prison Initiative. He served previously as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Bard College and as an Adjunct Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, as well as the Fellow for Teaching and Research at BPI. Tucker has conducted research, written, and lectured about college-in-prison and its effects, and he has been a member of the BPI faculty since 2003. He holds a Ph.D. in Applied Anthropology from Teachers College, Columbia University, an M.A. in Anthropology from Columbia University, and a B.A. from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

BPI’s website:
Video page:
60 Minutes report:
PBS News Hour: