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About Charles Shaw

Charles Shaw is an award-winning journalist, editor and filmmaker, and the author of the critically-acclaimed memoir Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics & Spirituality. He is currently working on a new film called I’m Still Here, a documentary on Trauma and Healing that will be released in 2015.

Articles by Charles Shaw

This week’s front page editor

Rosemary Bechler is a mainsite editor of openDemocracy

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Exile Nation: The Plastic People

The need for a despised underclass of darker-skinned cheap labor has underpinned American prosperity since slavery. A new film looks at the lives of the latest class of disposable “plastic people.” 

RELEASE US: a short film on police brutality

This militarization of the American (and European) police force has created what is being called an "epidemic of police brutality."

The Phoenix Project seeks trauma victims for doc series

A new documentary series that explores the pervasive effect of trauma in our culture has begun development and is seeking prospective participants.

'Secure Communities' still destroying immigrant families

A young activist gets his father released from detention but many more will be deported breaking up families with children born in the US.

"The Plastic People" explores mass-deportation

The recently released trailer for an upcoming documentary set in Tijuana, Mexico by openDemocracy editor Charles Shaw about the mass-deportation of immigrants. 

Drug Policy Alliance's Top Stories of 2012

Some of top stories of 2012 that capture the momentum gained in this extraordinary year of change, which promise to present an exit strategy to the disastrous war on drugs.

The Prison Policy Initiative

The Prison Policy Initiative was founded in 2001 by Peter Wagner. While they are most famous for their work documenting how mass incarceration skews American democracy, they're also demonstrating how mass incarceration impacts everyone, not just those directly involved in the criminal justice system, empowering new voices to help set criminal justice policy.

Fewer Americans behind bars?

For the third straight year, fewer Americans were under "correctional supervision"--a catch-all description that includes prisons, jails, probation, and parole--in 2011.  Do these slight changes in the numbers from year to year indicate major shifts in the American way of punishment?

New pot law in Washington is a buzz kill

Colorado & Washington State recently voted to legalize cannabis. Winston Ross of The Daily Beast takes a practical look at Washington’s new cannabis law.

Private prison company used in drug raids at public high school

A recent "drug sweep" in the central Arizona town of Casa Grande shows the hand of private corrections corporations reaching into the classroom, assisting local law enforcement agencies in drug raids at public schools.

A fresh approach to drugs: the final report of the UK Drug Policy Commission

In this report, UKDPC proposes a radical rethink of how we structure our response to drug problems. It provides an analysis of the evidence for how policies and interventions could be improved, with recommendations for policymakers and practitioners to address the new and established challenges associated with drug use.

"Land of the Free" - The best investigative reporting on U.S. prisons

The U.S. has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. Pro Publica has just compiled some of the best investigative journalism on U.S. prisons and the problems that plague them.

The Exile Nation Project - Interview with Mary Barr (Pt. II)

Part II of the Exile Nation Project's interview with former crack cocaine addict and prostitute Mary Barr, who now works as a lecturer at John Jay College of Law.

A quiet revolution: drug decriminalisation policies in practice across the globe

The main aim of the report was to look at the existing research on twenty countries to establish whether the adoption of a decriminalised policy led to significant increases in drug use - the simple answer is that it did not. 

How Chicago said yes to pot

The sudden passage of the law is the latest example of the absurdity surrounding marijuana policies and politics—an ongoing saga in which elected officials vow to crack down on a behavior that millions of Americans have engaged in, then giggle at their own jokes about getting stoned and getting the munchies. 


The Exile Nation Project - Mary Barr (Pt. 1)

Mary Barr is a former crack cocaine addict and prostitute who now works as a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and as an advocate for addicts and sex workers. During Mary's time on the streets, she was arrested 50 times in 5 years, beaten, stabbed, raped, and left for dead. All the while, she was battling a crippling addiction, which eventually resulted in the loss of her children to Child Protective Services. A chance encounter with a social worker at Riker's Island Prison opened the door to her recovery when she was told, simply, "you don't have to live like this anymore."

Oliver Stone on the Insanity of the War on Drugs

American film icon Oliver Stone expounds on the true nature of the American War on Drugs to Current TVs Gavin Newson.

The Exile Nation Project - Robert Manor

Robert Manor was the Prison & Jail Monitor for the John Howard Association. The John Howard Association is a Chicago-based not-for-profit working for prison reform within a complex social and political environment. In this comprehensive interview Robert talks plainly about the systemic problems of the American correctional system.

The Exile Nation Project - Allison T. Moore

Allison Moore was once labelled a "habitual offender" by the State of Pennsylvania for receiving seven convictions for theft, fraud and forgery. Having reformed her life, she now works as an author and motivational speaker for women in prison. Now further motivated by a son in prison on drug charges, Allison has become a powerful voice for change.

SPECIAL REPORT: The Costs of "Supermax" Long-Term Isolation

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is proposing to close the only Supermax prison in the Illinois Department of Corrections. This just-released report from the John Howard Association details why. Supermax imprisonment is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

The Exile Nation Project - Ronald "Shaka" Howard

Ronald "Shaka" Howard is a former crack cocaine addict who spent 25 years in the California Department of Corrections. During an altercation with another inmate, Shaka was shot by prison guards and lost his leg. Released after 25 years, Shaka is today trying to rebuild his life and treat the ongoing PTSD he suffers as a result of the shooting. His interview reflects a profound understanding of the penal system, and the wisdom of a man who has learned from his mistakes.

The Exile Nation Project - Dorothy Johnson-Speight

Dorothy Johnson-Speight is the Executive Director of Mother's in Charge, a Philadelphia-based charity made up of Mothers, Grandmothers, Aunts & Sisters who have all lost a loved one to violence. The organization was founded in 2003 after the murder of Dorothy's son, Kalik.  He was shot seven times over a parking spot on a Philadelphia street. In this interview, Dorothy delves into the full impact of violence, and "justice, on the African-American community.

The Exile Nation Project - "Forgiving her son's killer"

In this special preview clip from her upcoming interview, Dorothy Johnson-Speight speaks bravely and poignantly about the need to have compassion and forgiveness for her son's killer as a necessary requirement for spiritual growth and healing.

U.S. House to Vote on Amendment Blocking Funding for Obama’s Attack on Medical Marijuana

The U.S. House is expected to vote soon – possibly today – on a bipartisan amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill that would prohibit the Department of Justice from undermining state medical marijuana laws.

This is Maria. She will end the War on Drugs

Maria is a composite character based on many Mexican victims of the drug war - their words and actions - who together are organizing to end the war, including Javier Sicilia, Maria Herrera and Julian LeBaron. A short animated video by the NarcoNews Network.

The Exile Nation Project - Lynda Adams

Lynda Adams is the wife of Ken Adams (TENP #26), and like him, has battled an addiction to crack cocaine for over 30 years. She has spent her entire life surrounded by drugs and violence. Through a conversation with Director Charles Shaw, Lynda shares her powerful story with The Exile Nation Project.

The Exile Nation Project: Ken Adams

Ken Adams of Oakland, CA has spent the last 30 years battling an addiction to crack cocaine. He has served a total of 12 years for drug related offenses. He has also spent the last 20 years advocating for the homeless as the co-founder of the San Francisco homeless newspaper, "The Street Sheet," and as a spokesperson for Harmonic Humanity. When we caught up with Ken in the Summer of 2010, he had just completed 90 days clean and sober.

The Exile Nation Project - Robert Halstead

Robert Halstead (son of Janet Maddox Goree featured last week) is serving a 30 year sentence for armed robbery at a private prison in Graceville, FL, owned by the Correctional Corporation of America. Laws prohibit media access to Federal facilities, as well as in the California Department of Corrections and many other states, so this interview for The Exile Nation Project is the first conducted inside a prison facility.

oD Drug & Criminal Justice Front Line Report - March 28, 2012

This week negative critique of the War on Drugs and the Prison-Industrial Complex goes mainstream (and, dare we say, lurches rightward) with a scathing indictment by Fareed Zakaria in Time, a man is shot dead by police for smoking marijuana as authorities try to take his son away, Chicago under new mayor Rahm Emmanuel finds itself mired in a never ending "war" against the street trade, and a 15 year old in Mississippi faces life in prison for a miscarriage. Also, we begin a deeper look into the private prison industry with a number of reports as well as a Special Series from The Exile Nation Project. 

The Exile Nation Project - Janet Maddox Goree

‎"The man who murdered my grandchild got probation, and my son, who didn't hurt anyone, got 30 years. How can that be?"

In this special Exile Nation two-part report that examines the nature of "justice," Janet Maddox Goree, a Georgia, activist & lobbyist, reveals the pain and tragedy of having to lose a granddaughter to "Shaken-Baby Syndrome" and a son to drug addiction & incarceration.

The Exile Nation Project - Chris Bava

Chris Bava is a former heroin trafficker who served 8 years in Federal prison following a worldwide sting operation in the late 1980s. Chris also struggled with addiction before and after his stint in prison, which eventually motivated him to move to Tijuana, Mexico, to seek out ibogaine, a variation of the African plant medicine, Iboga, which has shown a remarkable ability to interrupt addiction.

oD Drug & Criminal Justice - Front Line Report: March 21, 2012

This week we take in the "Branson Follies" as The UK's most fun-loving Billionaire goes on the offensive with President Obama, challenging the US to seriously consider decriminalization of drugs. Meanwhile, more reports emerge showing the criminally disproportionate nature of the racial disparities in American criminal justice, including yet another case of police indifference to the murder of an unarmed Black youth. And in Mexico, despite calls by the cartels to curb violence during an upcoming Papal visit, 10 decapitated heads were recently discovered in Acapulco, more victims of Mexico's devastating drug war. ~ CS

Peace in Medicine: Inside California's Medical Cannabis Industry

Go inside the professional operations of Peace in Medicine, a licensed cannabis dispensary in Northern California that finds itself under seige from the Federal government. 

oD Drug & Criminal Justice Policy Forum: Front Line Report - March 15, 2012

It's hard to know these days which way the proverbial worm is turning when it comes to shifts in drug policy. Election years tend to do that. Despite an historical turn of events in Central America which saw Presidents of drug trafficking nations come together to call for world wide decriminalization of drugs, in an effort to end the violence and corruption of the drug trade, the US continues to demur, absurdly claiming that the "War on Drugs" has been a success. Even stranger is Canada's recent announcement that they plan to follow the US model of a "tough on crime" approach to drug policy, which threatens to swell their correctional system in the same ways as in the US. Still, good news abounds with recent studies showing that LSD can cure alcoholism, psychedelics can cure PTSD, and cannabis smoking is not nearly as harmful as the prohibition governments claim. ~ CS 

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