Article about the Human Rights Coalition in PA

A story in the Pittsburg City Paper about the Human Rights group Human Rights Coalition-FedUp


Pen Pals
By Chris Young

(Photo:) By the letter: Nikki Donnelly and Brett Grote review mail written by state prison inmates alleging harsh conditions.

Seated around a large conference table on a Wednesday night inside Garfield’s Thomas Merton Center, a half-dozen members of Human Rights Coalition — FedUp! sift through dozens of handwritten letters. All were mailed from behind the walls of state prisons, and few contain happy tidings.

Among the volunteers gathered on Sept. 1, in fact, is Shirley Marshall, whose grandson, Hayden, has been writing from solitary confinement inside State Correctional Institute Huntingdon. “Has he been writing here again?” she asks.

Bret Grote, FedUp!’s lead organizer, tells Marshall that a letter from Hayden arrived a week ago.
“There’s been no new acts of brutality,” Grote says. “Just the daily grind of life in ‘The Hole,’ which isn’t good. But it could be worse.”

FedUp! may not be a household name in Pittsburgh, but inside prisons across Pennsylvania, its reputation is growing cell by cell. The all-volunteer advocacy group is trying to document human-rights abuses within state correctional institutions, as well as to overturn wrongful convictions.

In doing that work, the organization relies heavily on accounts made by the prisoners themselves — which is where the letters come in.

FedUp! has earned praise from prisoners and their relatives, even as prison officials and more established human-rights groups caution that prisoners, and their loved ones on the outside, can’t necessarily be trusted.

“This is creating a paper trail,” says Grote of the letters, “and exposing the systemic corruption that infests the whole [prison] system.”

Founded in 2005, FedUp! may be the state Department of Corrections’ most vocal critic. The organization argues that systematic abuse plagues the state’s prison system. And Grote’s volunteers are collecting prisoner horror stories in an effort to prove it.

Read more here.