Welcome to the site of Building Bridges,
Prison Action Network's newsletter!
If you would like to receive a copy in your email in-box every month, please send a note.
During the month we post late breaking news and announcements here, so please check back now and then.
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Click here to sign our petition asking Gov. Cuomo to establish a Commission on Parole
Late breaking announcements (scroll down for July issue):
Edwin "Eddie" Ellis died on July 25th to the sorrow of a large community of activists, in prison and out, from NYC and around the world. He was a major force in the struggle to end mass incarceration.
A Homegoing Service for Eddie will be held on Thursday, July 31, 2014 at the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
132 W. 138th Street (Odell Clark Place)
between Adam Clayton Powell and Malcolm X Boulevards, also known as 7th and Lenox Avenues
New York, NY 10030
We invite you to join us in carrying forth Eddie’s mission in shifting the justice paradigm from one of criminal justice to Human Justice. To read more about the Academy, visit Eddie Ellis Academy for Human Justice.
Posted July 25 THE SILENT CONSTITUENCY (SPEAKS)
CALL-OUT: Tell your story about inhumane and degrading prison conditions for the documentary film The Silent Constiuency
The time has arrived to expose the inhumane and degrading prison conditions as told by former inmates in personal narratives. The goal is to inform and outrage the public in order for them to call for change and to pressure powerbrokers who see the film to make the changes. The film will also reveal political pressures that keep the truth about prison conditions hidden.
I am seeking compelling stories from men and women who have served time in a New York State prison and will contact me to share a synopsis of their experience. The focus of the film is life in prison and is not about excessive sentences or racial disparity in sentencing. The film’s strength will be its narrow focus on prison conditions.
The first step is to provide a proposal that describes the main characters in the film as well as the film’s mission. This is essential to procure funding and also to enlist a producer and filmmaker.
If this interests you, and you wish to be involved in this exciting project, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you do not have access to the Internet, please call me at: 518-766-4325.
Thank you to all who are reading this.
Posted July 25 Attica: Then and Now
The Correctional Association (CA) is gearing to mount a campaign with an intense focus on abuse and violence behind the walls. Our kick-off event will take place September 13 at the Brooklyn Museum and will be titled, Attica: Then and Now.
We are seeking people who have been incarcerated at Attica, or people who had their loved ones incarcerated at Attica to participate in two focus groups. The first one will take place July 31st. at the CA at 6PM and the second will take place August 28th. We are looking for the Voices of Attica
– a way for people who have been directly impacted by the negative consequences of incarceration to help guide the CA in this new campaign, but also more importantly, for those who have suffered at Attica to be able to finally tell their stories. In this way, people who have needlessly and silently suffered abuse can begin the process of telling their stories in the service of resistance that will lead to change and healing. Thanks everybody!
Edward-Yemíl Rosario (Eddie) Associate Director | Prison Visiting Project
The Correctional Association of New York, 2090 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., Suite 200
Cell: (917) 749-8925, Tel: (212) 254-5700 ext. 318
Posted July 22 The Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of NY
invites you to participate in a research study about women’s experiences in isolated confinement. We would like to interview women who have spent more than 7 days in a row in a New York State prison or jail to understand how solitary affects women’s minds and bodies.
Women’s stories are often left out of the conversation about solitary confinement in the United States, and we want to make sure that the unique experiences of women are included. Currently, there is a lot of exciting advocacy being done to fundamentally change the way solitary confinement is used in NYS. The interviews will be used to support the important work that is already happening and to make sure that women’s voices are part of efforts to educate the public.
The interview takes 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs and covers topics such as your experience while in solitary confinement, your interaction with your family and with correctional officers while inside, and your experiences since reentering the community.
The interview will be recorded and you will have an opportunity to have your story be a part of a radio documentary on women in solitary in New York. This is totally up to you, and you can opt out if you don’t want your story in the documentary.
If your schedule permits, the interview will be scheduled at the Correctional Association office in Harlem during a weekday, any time between 9 am – 7 pm. If not, we will find another time and quiet place to meet near you, such as a church, your home, or a calm café.
If you would like to participate, or are interested in learning more about the project, please Call Annie Brown at 404-660-6392 or email email@example.com.
The Women in Prison Project (WIPP) is part of the Correctional Association of NY (CA), an independent non-profit criminal justice policy advocacy organization that works to improve prison conditions and create a more fair and humane criminal justice system. To learn more about WIPP and the CA, or to get involved in our various advocacy efforts, please visit www.correctionalassociation.org or call (212) 254-5700.
Posted July 22 - The Education from the Inside Out Coalition (EIO)
Posted July 11: by Prison Action Network
in support of the Oliver Koppell Campaign
“Share Your Story” video campaign will describe barriers and triumphs in accessing higher education during and after incarceration. Please record a short video or audio submission about your or a loved one’s experience with this systemic issue. This is an opportunity for you to inform the general public about this systemic issue. Let your voice be heard! Learn more at: http://tinyurl.com/EIOshareyourstory.
OLIVER KOPPELL FOR STATE SENATOR
Will bring us closer to a solid Democratic Majority in the State Senate
which will bring all committees, including the Crime Victims Crime and Corrections Committee,
under Democratic leadership.
Senator Klein, by aligning himself with Republicans in the State Senate, has allowed the Republicans to control the New York State Senate agenda even though they do not represent a majority of New York voters. As a result of Klein's treachery, the Legislature failed to pass a minimum wage increase, the Women's Equality agenda, campaign finance reform, the DREAM Act, and key environmental protections. Nothing was done to reduce income inequality!
Public urging and support convinced him to run for the State Senate in New York against Senator Jeffrey Klein (SD 34), who betrayed the Democratic voters that elected him. He has launched the campaign and filed over 5,000 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot (needed only 1,000.) Now we must win the Primary on September 9th!
By July 15th, he must file his first campaign finance report. It is critically important that we show that he has the resources to win this campaign. He is committed to defeating Senator Jeffrey Klein. Please join us in supporting him!
He needs your help today. Can you contribute a minimum of $10 to the campaign in the next 24 hours?
Together, we can change the direction of New York State government. WE CANNOT FAIL!
Please click on the link below to make your contribution:
You can speak to Oliver or his campaign manager at
Posted July 11: by Prison Action Network
Zephyr Teachout also delivered enough signatures, which indicates to us that a lot of people are interested in hearing her debate the issues with Governor Cuomo. Here's what her campaign reports:
|We just delivered 45,000 signatures to get on the ballot like we said we would! Actually it was 46,000, more than enough to withstand any team of election lawyers Cuomo plans to send our way.|
For a scrappy campaign like ours this was a real challenge - but we're better off for having completed it.
Now the real fight begins: enlisting volunteers, living room meetings, canvassing and of course fundraising. Today is our first filing deadline, and we need every single donation we can.
Can you give $5 today to help us meet our goal?
This is a people-powered campaign, but it's also people-funded.
We need to be ready if Governor Cuomo challenges us in the court room because he doesn't want to face us in the voting booth! Help us make sure we have enough to defend against any attempts to get us to knock us off the ballot.
Building Bridges July 2014
We get mail asking us if there’s a way people in prison can send a letter of apology to the survivors of their crime. It’s one of DOCCS’s best kept secrets, but apparently there is a way. While offenders are prohibited from corresponding with the people they harmed, they can write an apology letter which is held until the survivor asks for it. The letters are stored in the DOCCS Apology Repository. Survivors are not made aware of letters that have been written, unless they ask. For more details, both survivors and offenders can write Janet Koupadh at DOCCS, 1220 Washington Avenue, Bldg.2, Albany, NY 12226, to ask about Directive 0500 and how to store their letter, or find out if there is one.
Stay well, stay strong, and keep the faith, The Editor
Building Bridges was created as our way to respond to your issues. We base our content on the questions we hear most frequently from our readers. If you have something to contribute, please keep it within 250 words and submit it before the 25th of the month. Please write from your own first-person experience, not just your opinions.
There are some other writing options:
Capital Region Prison Letter Writing Group
if you want a back and forth conversation, there is a group that offers that form of support. Capital Region Prison Letter Writing Group is committed to outreach through communication and letter-writing between our community and incarcerated folks. For more information, please write Stephanie Kaylor, Capital Region Prison Letter Writing Group, Albany Social Justice C,enter 33 Central Ave., Albany NY 12210.
American Prison Writing Archive is currently a work in progress; it will be the first archive dedicated to prison writing, and "will be a place where incarcerated people can bear witness to the conditions in which they live, to what is working and what is not inside American prisons, and where they can contribute to public debate about the American prison crisis," says Doran Larson, a professor of English at Hamilton College and founder of the Archive.
The American Prison Writing Archive site will also be open to contributions by correctional officers, prison staff, and prison administrators, thus creating a true meeting place and venue for comparative expression by and study of all of those who live and work inside American prisons. Anyone who lives, works, or volunteers inside American prisons can contribute work to the APWA. We seek authors who write with the authority that only first-person experience can bring.
For more information go to: http://www.dhinitiative.org/projects/apwa/ or: THE AMERICA PRISON WRITING ARCHIVE, C/O 198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY 13323-1218.
Spread the word: The last day for in-person registration in time to vote in the primary election, is August 15. Using postal mail, your application needs to be postmarked no later than August 15th and must be received by the board of elections by August 20th. You can also register at the August 7 Candidates’ Forum. (See Article 5 for more.)
Advocacy organizations often need a way to quickly get in touch with all our allies across the state when we have a late breaking notice to get out. The problem is no one group has the total list of grassroots activists, organized by location and focus. But a solution is in the works. The NYS Prisoner Justice Network is updating and improving/expanding their already excellent directory. Please go to Article 12 to find out how to be listed. Then when any of us needs to send out a quick notice, or elicit a quick response, there will be a place to do it. It’s important we all be listed!
1. Parole News - May 2014 release rates are down; Parole was denied to an unwell 84 year old gentleman because the Parole Board thinks he would commit another crime, the war against political prisoners continues.
2. Litigation - Supreme Court Judge Henry Zwack orders a new parole hearing on grounds that last one failed to make any analysis of the steps toward rehabilitation, or the applicant’s post-release plans, and why and how those factors were dismissed.
3. Bills - the Family Visitation Bill passes! But it still needs the governor’s signature to become law. Session’s over, what happens next; only seven criminal justice bills passed in both houses; an end-of-session look at the SAFE Parole Act.
4. Vote for Koppell and Teachout in the Sept. 9 primary election, urges Prison Action Network.
5. Candidates’ forum on criminal justice issues, moderated by Dean Meminger of NY1, is scheduled for August 7. It’s important we all be there. Another fill-the-room event! We’ve shown we can do it and this time its even more significant. Think votes.
6. Mass Incarceration and global aggression are policies, not failures, asserts the NYS Prisoner Justice Network (NYS PJN).
7. Success added to Success equals more success for Prisoners Are People Too in Buffalo.
8. Senator Schumer plans to exploit our misery by creating a museum at Sing Sing to bring in tourist dollars!
9. Corey Parks talks about growing up in an urban environment.
10. A 5-time recidivist’s story
11. Citizens Against Recidivism announces this year’s Awards Dinner. Save the date: November 15.
12. NYS PJN Directory calls for listings of prisoner’s organizations as well as from those in the community.
1. Parole News *
MAY 2014 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001
unofficial research from parole database
May 2014 Release Summaries
Rate of Release
May releases by Age
Rate of Release
May 2014 Initial Releases
# of Board
May 2014 Reappearance Releases
# of Board
Att Mrd 1
2nd (spec. consid.)
JO -Mrd 1
JO -Mrd 1
Walsh Med Cntr
MEDICAL (4 years before Minimum)
*There will be no statistics published in the August issue; our statistician is taking the month off. We’ll have June and July reports in the September issue.
Parole Board denies release to William L. Levea
On May 21, 2014, William L. Levea had a special consideration interview, 1.5 years before his scheduled parole interview. He was 84 years old and despite a heavily redacted transcript it was apparent that he was suffering from one or more physical or mental health issues. Throughout the questioning, via teleconferencing, he sounds befuddled and confused about a number of things including the details of the crime (he was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide). When the commissioner described his crime, in which he was accused of being extremely drunk and repeatedly rear-ending another vehicle, the driver of which ultimately died, he didn’t remember it. His last comment to the commissioners was “I’m sorry that it happened and I wish it could be changed, but it just can’t.”
Despite his age, his poor health, his earned eligibility certificate, and his apparent inability to remember his crime, the Parole Board did not feel that if he was released he “would live and remain at liberty without again violating the law.” Wouldn’t it have been much easier, much kinder (and less expensive), to have released him with the stipulation that he could never drive again?
NYS Parole Board’s War Against Political Prisoner Jalil Muntaqim
Jalil Muntaqim was recently denied parole for the 8th time by the Parole Board. Jalil first became eligible for parole in 2002, and has been denied parole from that time to the present. At this point there is no longer a need to discuss Jalil’s accomplishments and why he should be home. Instead, let’s talk about the forces that are working to influence the parole denials of Jalil Muntaqim.
Law Enforcement officials across the country, spearheaded by The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), have led a nationwide media campaign against Jalil and Herman Bell, his co-defendant. The PBA has labeled them as violent sixties radicals who murdered two NYC police officers in cold blood. Police unions in San Francisco, Chicago, New Jersey and Florida have all mobilized their ranks and have publicly petitioned the New York State Parole Board to deny parole for both Jalil and Herman.
Instead of listening to the interests of the community who are calling for parole for Jalil, the opinion of the police is given a platform at Jalil’s and other political prisoners’ parole hearings. They get the say so on this because they are the police.
Incarceration should not be used as a political tool! If a person is safe to walk our streets without violating anyone’s safety, then they should be free, regardless of their political views. These men were not given the death sentence, nor life without parole.
If the risk is low, let them go! Thousands of New Yorkers call upon the BOP to free Jalil Muntaqim and all political prisoners.
Judge Orders New Hearing on Parole Application
Robert Stokes filed an Article 78 after losing his administrative appeal of his fourth parole denial. He complained the decision was irrational, given his record of accomplishments and and that he had committed no infractions in the intervening years. On June 9, 2014, Rensselaer County Supreme Court Justice Henry Zwack, sitting in Albany County, agreed with Stokes and ruled that the 2011 amendments to 259-i made it clear that the nature of the crime is not enough to base a denial on, and that to do so is irrational and therefore nullifies the decision. Zwack wrote "Although the determination parrots the applicable statutory language, the board does not even attempt to explain the disconnect between its conclusion and petitioner's rehabilitation efforts and his low risk scores."
[As precedent, Zwack cited (Wallman v. Travis, 18 AD3d 304 [1st Dept 2005] Matter of King v. NYS Division of Parole, 190 AD2d 423 [1st Dept 2003].) and (Matter of McBride v. Evans, 42 Misc 3d 1230 (A) [Sup Ct, Dutchess County 2014]).]
Assistant Attorney General Colleen Galligan argued for the parole board.
The Family Visitation Bill:
Thanks to Senator Montgomery and Assemblymember Gabriela Rosa, the Correctional Association, OsborneAssociation, Fortune Society, other supportive organizations and the countless families who told their stories, there may soon be some way to know what the visiting rules are before embarking on a prison visit,. All of us who have ever visited have worried we would be denied the visit because of some rule that the guards will decide prohibits our visit.
The FamilyVisitation Bill (S.1413/A.4606) requires DOCCS to establish and maintain a public website and a toll-free telephone line to provide up-to-date information regarding specific visitation rules and regulations for each correctional facility in the state.
The Family Visitation Bill will now be sent to the Governor for consideration before becoming law. If you are particularly concerned about that bill, you might want to call or write him: (518) 474-8390; The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York State, NYS State Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12224.
What happens next:
The Legislative Session is in recess. Until it resumes on the first Wednesday of January 2015 the bills which were passed in the last session will be delivered in batches to the governor for signing. The governor will have 10 days from the date of delivery - excluding Sundays and the day of delivery - to sign the bill or veto it. If he does nothing, at the end of the 10 days the bill automatically becomes a law. It is likely that most of these bills will become laws.
The sessions are 2-years long. This is the second year of the current session. Bills which did not pass this session, will need to be reintroduced in January. They will probably be introduced by the same sponsor, and may even have added sponsors. Most will get a new number.
The seven bills that passed before the recess:
Provides for notice by commissioner of corrections and community supervision of availability of medical, educational and other services, including alcohol and substance abuse treatment, to prisoners upon their release from state prison.
Requires DOCCS to establish and maintain on its public website specific visitation rules, regulations, policies and procedures for each correctional facility and also provide access to them by phone.
A.6074-A / S.6231-A
Gunther / Maziarz
This bill changes the sex offender registry so that all of a sex offender's crimes of conviction that require him or her to register as an offender appear on the registry.
A.9166 / S.4343
Adds a licensed health care professional to the organization of the Citizen's Policy and Complaint Review Council
Allows Jefferson County Correctional Facility to hold persons who are under arrest and awaiting their arraignment.
A.9642 / S.6954
O’Donnell / Gallivan
Extends the expiration date to September 1, 2017 to continue to authorize local correctional facilities to enter into contracts for the purpose of boarding certain inmates from other states' local correctional facilities.
Provides mental health discharge planning for inmates who will be
released on community supervision and authorizes regional community supervision directors to initiate involuntary commitment proceedings, if called for under the mental hygiene law.
Let’s look at the SAFE Parole Act
We start with the provision that provides the parole applicant an opportunity to see all the documents the parole board sees: The reason for this provision is the many examples of missing documents, false information, documents from someone else’s file, and opinions that are not validated, that currently can result in a negative outcome. Access to all the documents allows the applicant to correct any errors or, at the very least, be prepared to explain them to the parole commissioners. The bill stipulates at least one month prior to the hearing. Any closer to the hearing would not leave time for making a correction, and more than one month would provide time for new - and possibly flawed - documents to be added after the applicant’s review.
If space permits we will discuss a new aspect of the bill each month. You are welcome to share your thoughts (please limit them to 250 words and submit by the 25th of the month) about the next provision we will cover, which allows the victim, or the victim’s representative, to see the Inmate Status Report, the applicant’s parole release plan and (only with the applicant’s permission) a psychiatric evaluation if there is one.
Status of the SAFE Parole Act
We ended this legislative session without the SAFE Parole Act, Bill S.1128/A.4108, being presented for a vote in either Committee. Hopefully by next session you will have persuaded your representatives to support it and we can put pressure on the Committees to introduce it. But first we want to feel confident that it has enough support to be passed when it is voted on. We must work hard to gain a solid Democratic majority in the Senate, because there is no evidence that the Republican majority will ever vote for a bill that would enhance our well being.
Which leads to the next article...:
4. Voting in the Sept. 9 Primary
What do Oliver Koppell and Zephyr Teachout have in common?
They have Prison Action Network’s support in common. We are throwing our resources into their campaigns. We have no funds to contribute, but we have people: YOU, dear reader, are a big part of our resources, so please consider this:
We have often suggested that if we want to see the SAFE Parole Act get passed we should support any Democrat who is running against an incumbent who hasn’t signed the SAFE Parole Act. We are working with the Oliver Koppell Campaign because he is planning to unseat Senate Republicrat [aka a Democrat who acts like a Republican] Jeffry Klein in the primary. Hopefully if you live in his district you have been helping us, by signing a petition for him or visiting his campaign office at 5911 Riverdale Avenue. The primary is on September 9. Oliver has the support of the Working Families Party, and hopes for your vote in the Democratic primary. Please vote. The primaries often go unnoticed; the percentage of voters who show up at the polls on Primary Day is very small. That means that if you show up, the odds are better that we will win.
We are also working to help Zephyr Teachout get on the Democratic ballot against Governor Cuomo. She will add a lot to the campaign debate. Here is some information about both of the candidates:
Zephyr Teachout is gathering signatures to get on the Democratic primary ballot in opposition to Gov. Cuomo. Ms. Teachout is a professor of constitutional law at Fordham University, and considered an expert on campaign finance and the power of big banks. She is described by a friend as being more than a populist: “She knows that people are experts in their own work, lives, and struggles, and that she can learn from all of them, bankers and yard workers and mechanics and health care aides. She thinks the idea that people should govern themselves, not take orders from their betters or their richers, is the most radical and important to arise in human history. Zephyr understands that being a democrat means [looking at] economic power, the power of big banks and big media and big donors, because economic power turns into political power.
For her, being a democrat means being a progressive because equal democratic citizens need good public schools, health care, and jobs that give them dignity and a chance to rest, learn, and engage in civic life. They need a country where they and their children are full members of the society, real equals, not prison fodder, presumptive dropouts, or someone else's help.”
Although she’s not likely to win, it would give her a platform to call attention to the ideals she believes in and believes have been ignored by Cuomo. “She would actually challenge Cuomo intellectually about the policies around progressive ideals because she probably knows the policies better than he does,” said Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum and a colleague of Teachout's at the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes transparency in government. “She has the ability to articulate them and challenge him to explain why he hasn't fought for them stronger as governor. She's no shrinking flower.”
The Working Families Party was considering her as the alternative to Governor Cuomo if they couldn’t craft a deal with him that was acceptable to their members. As readers may know, the Governor did agree to some major conditions. It depends on if you believe he will keep his word whether you are impressed with his promises.
After Cuomo made the deal and was announced as the victor, Teachout said, “I plan to be a watchdog on that deal and hold him accountable,” “I hope to be around not just this year for the deal, but for the future, because we've had a problem with promises before from Cuomo. I hope this promise sticks. I want it to stick.” But...“I'd love to run against Cuomo,” Teachout continued. “If I were free to really talk about, tell the truth about Cuomo's record in a Democratic primary, I think some pretty exciting things could happen.”
Teachout is best known for her efforts to limit the influence of money on politics. Her arguments were cited in the Citizens United case by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. She is one of the leading legal experts on corruption.
After graduating law school at Duke, Teachout founded a criminal defense non-profit in Durham, NC, where she helped lead the fight against the death penalty. It was during these years Zephyr came to understand that lawmaking is not a science but rather a moral and political art.
Oliver Koppell has served as a NY State Assemblyman, State Attorney General, and NY City Council Member, and consistently fought to improve the lives of everyday citizens. He has sponsored 290 bills, all of which passed -- how many legislators at any level can make that claim? All were laws that make New York cleaner, safer, and more prosperous.
He is running primarily to unseat Sen. Klein, most importantly because Klein’s grave betrayal of the Democrats who elected him resulted in a failure to pass key Democratic bills that Koppell supports. The Independent Democrat Committee (IDC) renegades, who take credit for conquering dysfunction in Albany, actually failed to achieve campaign finance reform, failed to increase the minimum wage, failed to pass the Women’s Equality Act, and failed to pass the DREAM Act.
Koppell believes the June 2014 deal Jeff Klein and the IDC made to re-partner with Democrats is hollow and merely a ploy to avoid primary challenges. They have said they will not return to the fold until after November—and they have said they will not disband the IDC to re-join the Democratic conference. This means that resuming a relationship with Republicans is still on the table.
Oliver will not deviate from serving Democratic interests. He accepted a request to run to win back this Senate seat for a true, progressive Democratic agenda for the hard-working families of our State, and he is not retreating from that promise.
Please consider joining or donating to his campaign [http://www.oliverkoppell.com] to help make this goal a reality, and mention you’re a member of Prison Action Network. Make sure everyone you know is registered and votes on September 9. The last day for in-person registration in time to vote in the primary election, is August 15. Using postal mail, your application needs to be postmarked no later than August 15th and must be received by the board of elections by August 20th. You can also register at the August 7 Candidates’ Forum. [see next article]
5. The Statewide Parole Reform Campaign—Ending Parole Abuses-Reuniting Families
Excitement is building around the candidates’ forum on criminal justice issues scheduled for August in Manhattan!
Candidates who’ve agreed to participate include those running for governor and lieutenant governor, as well as those vying for seats in NYS Senate and Assembly districts in the NYC metropolitan area. They will take to the stage at 7 pm on Thursday, August 7, in the auditorium of the respected New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th Street in Manhattan. The event is being co-sponsored by the Society and Communities for Criminal Justice Awareness, which represents a range of criminal justice organizations and concerns.
The moderator will be Dean Meminger, the criminal justice reporter at NY1, a major television station for political news.
There is no charge to attend the forum, but advance registration is required. Please CLICK HERE to reserve a place and submit criminal justice questions to the candidates. A committee will review all questions and compile them in such a way that they reflect the range of important issues and concerns you have. Mr. Meminger will pose the questions to the candidates at the forum.
Tabling will be available for the display of informational literature, and voter registration forms will be distributed, collected and eventually mailed in an effort to facilitate voting for those not already registered.
Please plan to attend. Not only will you have the opportunity to hear where political candidates stand on parole and other important justice concerns, your attendance will signal to candidates that our issues matter—and demand their support. There is too much at stake for you not to be there.
On other fronts, please continue to ask everyone you know to sign our Change.org petition. By doing so you will be telling Governor Cuomo to overhaul the parole system and send community-ready people home. We’re up to 1,988 signatures. Help us reach 10,000! To gain access to the petition go to www.parolereformnow.org, scroll down and click on the word HERE in red letters. That will take you to our petition “Governor Cuomo: Establish a Commission on Parole in New York State.” Every signature matters!
To contact the Statewide Parole Reform Campaign: Parole Reform Campaign, c/o Think Outside the Cell, 511 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 525, New York, NY 10011 firstname.lastname@example.org 877-267-2303.
6. Mass Incarceration and global aggression are policies, not failures.
by the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
Lately everyone from the New York Times, to the Wall Street Journal, to Attorney General Holder is proclaiming that the War on Drugs and its twin, Mass Incarceration, have failed. Good! At least they have heard our outrage about the damage these policies are causing, although the minor changes they are proposing do not begin to address the fundamental wrongness of the punishment model.
Along the same lines, some say that the so-called “experiment in democracy” in Iraq has failed. Your NYS Prisoner Justice columnist is going to argue that the U.S. domestic policy of mass incarceration and the U.S. global policy of armed intervention have not “failed” – although they both have horrifying consequences for those on the receiving end. They are achieving what they were designed to achieve: chaos, destruction, and the subjugation of millions to serve the interests of the 1%.
Not one single U.S. war of intervention in the past 50 years has resulted in a stable, prosperous democracy. Every single one has made life immeasurably worse in the target country. More than a dozen U.S./NATO military interventions, at the cost of several million lives, have brought not only the immediate suffering of war-related violence, but long-term economic, social, and political chaos: El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Bosnia, Kosovo (anyone remember Kosovo?), Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine (some of these interventions are by proxy). Each bloody, violent U.S. intervention was justified in the name of some greater good – democracy, freedom, the will of the people, the evil of the dictator, international “law.” The results of every intervention – death, suffering, instability, dislocation, abject poverty – have been so uniform and so predictable that one would have to live in a bubble (which many Americans do) not to conclude that the results were the deliberate aim of the policies that created them.
Here are words spoken in 2012 by people from the Iraqi city of Fallujah, wiped out by a U.S. attack in 2004: “You have destroyed everything. You have destroyed our country. You have destroyed what is inside of us. You have destroyed our ancient civilization. You have taken our smiles from us. You have taken our dreams!” And another: “In Fallujah 30% of the babies are born deformed. Why did you do this? What did we do to you that you would do this to us?”
The agony of Fallujah is repeated, unseen by most Americans, in every city and country where the U.S. has imposed its will by violence in the name of some higher good. Why? Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, when asked whether the deaths of one million Iraqi children in the first Iraq war were worth it, said, “Yes, it was worth it.” What was worth it? Who gained?
The pain of our communities at home – predominantly communities of color – on the receiving end of mass incarceration, is eerily like Fallujah: urban (and rural) blight, joblessness, police brutality, poverty, violence. In the 40 years since the onset of the so-called “war on drugs” and “war on crime,” the U.S. prison population quadrupled, reaching its current 2.2 million and becoming by far the largest in the world. Several tens of millions have been imprisoned, been under supervision, been the families and communities of the incarcerated, faced the collateral consequences of post-prison discrimination in jobs, housing, education, and civil rights. Like the destruction of Fallujah, the suffering of each affected person, and the cumulative suffering of millions, are invisible to, and beyond the comprehension of, those who have not experienced them directly. Racism is the key to making the targets of cruel policies invisible to those with racial and class advantage.
Here are some words from the victims of the criminal injustice wars: “I have been in prison for 29 years. My parole hearing lasted 4 minutes.” “I just want to see my son free before I die.” “More of us leave here in body bags than walk out the gate.” “I was forced to strip out of my clothes. As I stood in the middle of the shower room naked, I felt like a slave on an auction block.” From a 17-year-old in solitary confinement: “In the 7 1/2 months since I’ve been here, I’ve only seen sunlight seven times, and those were my court dates.”
Results? Are our communities safer, more stable, better off? The level of drug use in the U.S. is roughly the same as it was in 1970. Crime rates have gone up and down, with no demonstrable relationship to incarceration. (Incarceration rates go up when new crimes are created by new laws and when funding for law enforcement escalates.) The majority of women in the U.S. will experience some form of sexual, domestic, or other abusive violence in our lifetimes, helped not at all by the criminal justice system. The prevalence of mental health disorders in the U.S. is reported by the World Health Organization to be the highest in the world, with over half of the U.S. prison population reportedly suffering from some form of mental illness. Poverty, economic insecurity, education system failure, and homelessness plague the communities with the highest incarceration rates. Are policymakers trying to make life better and being so incredibly stupid that they are getting the opposite results? For forty years? Or did someone, somewhere, intend it this way? Who, and why?
While the well-being of humans and the earth declined, these policies worked for some. Incarceration and war have served to repress dissent and resistance enough to consolidate wealth and power for a handful of people and corporations as never before in the history of the world.
Today the world’s richest 1% own nearly half the world’s wealth, and just 85 people hold as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion. Not surprisingly, the concentration of wealth also results in an undemocratic distribution of political power (think corporate control of elections); and those who gain power undemocratically will always enact policies which favor even more unequal accumulation of wealth. This process has escalated, not coincidentally, in the same years that have seen the escalation of war and incarceration.
The obscene riches of a few have been stolen over the course of generations from the land, labor, and resources of everyone else. The violence of war and incarceration are the means to enforce the stealing of the world’s wealth and power. They are intended to keep discontented groups – especially the most targeted and disadvantaged communities -- too impoverished, disorganized, and disunited to mount a successful challenge to the greedy rulers. They are carried out on purpose, not by accident, and we can only challenge them successfully if we understand their purposeful and systemic nature. That way we will not be blindsided by the pretended innocence of the “liberal” elites who bemoan the “failures” and want to cure them with more of the same, slightly tweaked.
These policies have had a devastating impact on our world, but they have not yet “succeeded” in crushing resistance. Instead, our anti-incarceration movement takes its place beside thousands of other social and political justice movements in the U.S. and the world demanding an end to racism, incarceration, and war. Our goals: to replace these injustices with real global equality, genuine grass-roots democracy, dignity for all, ecological sustainability, and human wellness.
7. Success + Success = More Success for Prisoners Are People Too
by Karima Amin
It’s been said that June is a month chock full o’ celebrations…weddings, graduations, proms, Juneteenth, Black Music Month, summer solstice…and the list goes on. June 1 is when I celebrate my years on the planet and the month when we acknowledge another year’s work for Prisoners Are People Too, which was founded in June, 9 years ago.
Since June of 2013, much has been accomplished and we’ve had some disappointments too, but our successes far outweigh those people and things that would seek to divert our mission.
Our Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders is gaining strength with Sara Jablonski encouraging members to write to reformed offenders, giving them the strength and encouraging words that they need to hear from community. Our Program Director, BaBa Eng, just celebrated one successful and productive year of “freedom” after 36 years of incarceration. The Circle also encouraged Shawnon Mu’haimin Bolden (free since January 2014) and James Justice McMoore who will walk through prison gates in July.
As the “Open Buffalo” initiative gains a presence in the city, Restorative Justice is being seen more and more as a major part of making Buffalo a better place. Prisoners Are People Too is at the forefront of the drive to institute restorative practices in our courts, jails and schools, with Citizen Action, Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, and the Erie County Restorative Justice Task Force. More collaboration can be seen as VOICE-Buffalo helps us to organize for the restoration of the conditional release program, which worked successfully in Buffalo (1992-2005), giving formerly incarcerated people an opportunity to jump-start new and improved lives in the reentry process. Also, in working with the Erie County Restorative Justice Task Force, we are strengthening our position as restorative justice practitioners through a training process that is comprehensive and holistic. We have laid a foundation for bringing restorative justice to the Erie County Correctional Facility and the Erie County Holding Center.
Our collaborative work continued this year on April 16 with PRP2 members participating in the Milk Not Jails statewide action for parole reform. We stood in front of the Buffalo Parole office then marched to Sen. Grisanti’s local office. More collaboration occurred when 16 of us went to Albany to attend the New York State Prisoner Justice Network’s Day of Action Against Mass Incarceration. We showed up, joining about 500 others, with our signs and our voices, calling for parole reform, jobs not jails, an end to
solitary confinement, better care and concern for aging prisoners, and more compassion and justice for our children, caught up in the criminal injustice system. A recent collaboration led us to work with Buffalo’s Teens in Progress, as we participated in a national week of action against incarcerating youth.
We thank everyone who has worked with us this year and who believes, as we do, that prisoners are people too. Please contact Karima Amin, email@example.com or BaBa Eng, firstname.lastname@example.org at 716-834-8438 for the time and date of our next monthly meeting at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo or for more information.
8. Sing Sing Prison Museum planned by New York’s senior U.S. Senator
Sen.Chuck Schumer has come up with a new twist for making money off our underserved and disadvantaged communities. He wants to build a museum at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, which he says will be a major driver of tourism for the Hudson Valley, ...”a tourist destination that could attracts hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of tourists each year,” says Schumer. One more way for the rich to make money by locking up other humans in cages smaller than those in the average zoo.
We should glorify this?
Democratic Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and State Senator David Carlucci, whose districts include Sing Sing, have been pushing the idea for a while. Here’s Carlucci, an Independent Democrat (like Klein): “It is out of the box, an idea of working with a fully functioning prison, ... I think it really adds to the flavor of this historical site.”
“Who wouldn’t want to visit Sing Sing prison?,” Schumer says. Really. He said that. Well, many of our readers do visit, but want to? If our loved ones weren’t there? Will those museum visitors get an authentic experience, complete with removing their underwire bras under the leering eyes of guards, triggering the metal scanner with their belts, shoes, rings and hair pins, failing an ion scan test because they handled tainted money sometime on the trip there? Or being denied if the neckline of their dress is V-shaped rather than a curve? Will they be turned away after hours of travel because the visiting room is full? Indeed, who wouldn’t want that experience??? You don’t need me to tell you!
But there’s all that money to be made. “[T]he potential to really bring literally hundreds of millions of tourist dollars, eventually, to the whole Hudson Valley area.”, muses Schumer. They’re hoping the roughly $25 million project is funded soon so the money can start rolling in. Can we think of something better to do with $25 million? Where to begin...? How about starting with funding education?
9. Corey Parks talks about the effects of growing up in an urban community
When I reflect on my community there are many things I remember. Like when I used to travel from one side of Harlem to the next; it was an adventure for a young kid such as myself. Between east Harlem and west Harlem were totally different dynamics when it came to people. West Harlem had mostly African Americans, while East Harlem had people of Spanish decent. Both areas had heavy concentrations of drugs and violence.
I remember living on 138th St. in west Harlem. The building I lived in had coke dealers; the building next to us had marijuana dealers. So drug trafficking was a familiar component of my community. As a young child I saw people racing to get their next fix. It really didn’t bother me externally, but internally it presented many problems for me. My mother was addicted to crack cocaine. So I watched her addiction, struggles, and failures. It tore me apart and took me through many cycles of insecurities, anger, and depression. This same process was also happening in a lot of my friends’ house-holds. I remember when I would visit them, people in their families would be behaving the same way my mother did when she was getting high.
Drugs affected my community in many ways. It kept people from functioning in the mainstream of life. It tore families apart. It increased the probability of incarceration. It made the addicts neglect other goals and aspirations. It pushed people towards their worst; socially, academically and spiritually. And out of this lifestyle came another major issue. Violence.
Violence became something else I grew accustomed to. In my community the drug trade sparked many forms of violence and in witnessing it I started to see it as a way out of my own hurt. The problem is when it’s praised, the community suffers. It’s like a virus in a community. Violence became addictive just like any other drug of choice. Personally the urban community has been a trial for me. A trial of survival, circumstance, and difficulty. Still, I often wonder where I would be without it. Who would I be if I hadn’t embarked on those journeys of conflict? The deeply rooted struggles of my past continue to bring insight and guidance to my future.
10. On Recidivism, by someone who knows a lot about it
People ask why the recidivism rate is so high. Some say it’s because individuals “choose to continue to live a lifestyle of lawlessness”. For many ex-offenders, like myself, there are different reasons. I am a multiple felony offender with 5 sustained parole violations, all resulting in returns to prison. For me to make the transition from prison to the outside; it’s like jumping into ice cold water. There’s no way to prepare for the shock of that. When I survived it, I soon learned that it was only the beginning of many obstacles, which I have failed to overcome each time.
Let me briefly describe the enormous difference between the lifestyle and values of a prisoner, compared to that of a civilian. Prison is a hostile, violent and frightening place, even for those considered to be hardened criminals. They are tension filled environments where the takers rule, kindness is taken for weakness, and there is little to no room for mistakes. So if and when trouble comes, and it likely will, one doesn’t ask for help. Your options are to either stand up and fight to protect yourself, which adds a tier 3 ticket to your institutional record, give in and be abused, or be forced to give in.
I have lost just about everything that was important to me: my freedom, the opportunity to raise my children, and also to some degree, my dignity and feelings of self-worth. Every time I am made to strip naked and expose myself to a corrections office who is younger than my first born child I am reminded of this. I am also reminded that I selfishly and willingly sacrificed those things by the choices I made, and that those choices have put me into this situation. I am convinced that it will be only with the help of others that I can change this. I do not want to live a life of lawlessness! ~ Jeffry Bliss
11. A note from Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc
Save the date: November 15, 2014
Keynote address to be delivered by Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Citizen Against Recidivism will be celebrating our seventh annual awards program, honoring successful reintegration. This year our event will be hosted at the historic and prestigious Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center located at 3940 Broadway, NYC, 10032. Reception begins at 5:30pm. Program starts at 7:00 pm sharp. A variety of food and beverages to be served.
12. The New York State Prisoner Justice Network Directory update
The new edition of the directory will include prisoners' organizations. Since the network focuses on policy change, we would particularly like to list think tanks and lifer/long termer organizations. If you would like your prison-based organization listed, please send the following information: Name of Organization, Name of Contact Person, Contact Address, and a description in 100 words or less of the organization's purpose and mission. Send to: NYS Prisoner Justice Network, 33 Central Avenue, Albany NY 12210.
For non-prisoner organizations: if your organization focuses on policy change in the New York State criminal justice system, and you would like to be listed in the directory, please send a request for a directory listing application to email@example.com.
Information on how to receive a copy will be published in Building Bridges as soon as the updated directory is ready.
Building Bridges is Prison Action Network’s way to communicate with our members.
Please contact us if you’d like to join.