Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

Translate this page:

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

MAY 2016


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 with the reason for your interest.

During the month we post late breaking news and announcements here, so please check back now and then.  Scroll down now to go directly to the May newsletter.




To enlarge the text size, try clicking your cursor anywhere in the text, and then press the command key with the + key



Posted 5/13 by Prison Action Network


 May 17, 5:30 pm performance of a powerful play called Mariposa & the Saint in the Albany Legislative Office Building (LOB) Hearing Room CMariposa & the Saint: From Solitary Confinement, A Play Through Letters is a play written by Julia Steele Allen and Sara (Mariposa) Fonseca over the two and a half years Mariposa spent in isolated confinement in a California women's prison. All of the text is taken directly from her letters. Mariposa was featured in a recent New Yorker article: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-play-that-confronts-the-horror-of-solitary-confinement. You can also watch a short video about the play online here:https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/02/16/watch-a-video-from-mariposa-and-the-saint-a-new-play-about-solitary-confinement#.iG4E8CxUq. The May 17 performance in the LOB is being presented by the Women of Color Sub-Committee of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, & Asian Legislative Caucus, along with Assemblyman Aubry and Senator Perkins, and the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC). There will be a reception with refreshments at 5 pm, the 45-minute performance will start at 5:30 pm, followed by a short discussion afterward. Please find attached a flyer for the performance.  The play is free and open to the public, as well as for legislators and their staff. We would love for you to attend! And for you to help spread the word! It is really moving theatrical performance and a great opportunity for anyone to see this great play for FREE!




Building Bridges May 2016

Dear Reader, 

Bernie Sanders won NY’s April 19th presidential primary in almost every part of New York State except in a concentrated area of metropolitan NYC and some of Upstate NY’s bigger cities, where his opponent got enough votes to win NY State’s nomination.  What happened?  

Well, one of the things that happened was that more than 125,000 eligible Democratic voters weren’t able to vote, notably in certain areas of Brooklyn, in the district where Bernie Sanders was born.  I don’t know if that’s a coincidence or not, but it’s shameful in any case.  NYS seems to be gaining in the race to be the worst state when it comes to voter suppression.  Voter fraud (on the part of the Boards of Election, not the voters) does not inspire people to go through much trouble just to have their vote not counted, so over time it erodes our democracy.

I can’t stop thinking of all the men and women in prison and on parole, who are fighting to regain their right to vote, observing their families and friends on the outside who have the right, but aren’t allowed to exercise it.  This is how democracy is lost to oligarchies.  It matters.  Only white men could vote until 1870 when the 15th amendment said the vote cannot be denied based on race (but that was only for men).  Fifty years later women finally won the right to vote.  Let us not belittle their battles by allowing the vote to get taken away from us! 

Were you one of the people who were not able to vote? Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is opening an investigation in NYC and other areas of the State where voting irregularities were most seen.  Here’s what he said:  “Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and if any New Yorker was illegally prevented from voting, I will do everything in my power to make their vote count and ensure that it never happens again."  

Call his Helpline right now: 1-800-771-7755 to insist he demand that the BOE put a hold on Thursday's (Apr 5) certification of the NYC vote until this mess is straightened out.

Only death or moving out of the state should prevent a person from voting in a primary.  The United State’s constitution makes it possible to deny people in prison the right to vote.  That’s bad enough; don’t let the politicians take the vote away from the rest of us too.
Back to the Bernie Sanders campaign.  We can have this political revolution if we really want it.  My end-game fantasy is that if all else fails we all write-in our votes. If we can figure out how to make virtual reality movies out of our cell phones (see article 10), we should be able to figure out how to win a peaceful revolution.  So let’s continue to support the candidate who promises equal access to healthcare, housing, education, jobs and protection of our civil rights.  Mr. Sanders has a history of winning impossible political fights.  So far this one has beat all expectations.  Why would we give up now?  (You do understand that it’s people like you and me who are winning this?  He couldn’t do it without us...)
With you into a better future,  The Editor

Table of Contents

1.  Parole News - March 2016  10 initials!!!

2.  Forever 1978; being stuck in time, by David Coleman

3.  The SAFE Parole Act

4.  NetWORKS: Son of Sam II - interviews

5.  Where are Prison Programs disappearing to?

6.  Cuomo promises; can he deliver?

7.  April’s legislation plus Sen Mongomery’s 10 bills

8.  John Walker’s struggles continue

9.  NYC’s Voters denied the vote

10. 6X9; Virtual reality in a segregation cell

11. Fortune Society takes on housing discrimination

12. Corey Parks is back


1.  Parole News - March 2016 Release Rates

PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001          unofficial research from parole database
March 2016 - Interview Summaries

Total
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year-to-Date Release Rate
Initials 
30
10
20
33%
28%
Reappearances
90
*13
**77
14%
27%
Total 
120
23
97
19%
27%
13 Special Consideration: 5 released, 8 denied.   *One  person deported.  **One parole violator denied.

March 2016 - Initial Releases

Facility
Age @ hearing
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Charge
# of Board
Coxsackie
89
65
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Sing Sing
39
19
22-Life
Mrd 2
1
Sing Sing
43
24
20-Life
Mrd 2
1
Sing Sing
46
29
20- Life
 Mrd 2
1
Taconic
45
21
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Ulster
46
29
18-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
42
19
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
54
31
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
43
24
20-Life
Mrd 2
1
Wyoming
39
22
18-Life
Mrd 2
1


March 2016 - Reappearance Releases
Facility
Age
Age at CMT
Sentence
Charge
# of Board
Bare hill
46
24
15-Life
Mrd 2
6
Bare hill
37
19
15-Life
 Mrd 2
4
Bare hill              *
39
18
9-Life
JO Mrd1
8
Fishkill                *
65
38
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Fishkill                *
62
28
25-Life
Mrd 2
6
Fishkill
51
21
26-Life
Mrd 2
4
Great Meadow
56
24
25-Life
Mrd 2
5
Otisville
48
26
15-Life
Att Mrd1
5
Taconic-female
47
27
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Ulster
38
17
20-Life
Mrd 2
2
Washington          *
48
21
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Woodbourne
58
22
25-Life
Mrd 2
7
Woodbourne        *   deported
46
20
21-Life
Mrd 2
4
* Spec. Cond. (usually de novo)

March 2016 - Over 60 Age Summary
Age Range
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied 
March Release Rate
Year-to-Date Release Rate
60-69
19
2
17
11%
21%
70-79
3
0
3
0%
15%
80+
2
1
1
50%
33%
Total
24
3
21
12%
21%


March 2016 - Ages at Commitment

Age Range
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied 
March Release Rate
Year-To-Date Release Rate
16-20
27
6
21
22%
27%
21-25
41
9
32
22%
37%
25+
52
8
44
15%
20%
Total
120
23
97
19%
27%



2.  Forever 1978: The Worst Thing I Have Ever Done

By David Coleman
On September 16, 2003 a time capsule of my life was opened.  Unlike most time capsules which, after being opened and examined, have new updated items placed in them and then are resealed and returned to their resting places for a future generation to discover and examine, when my time capsule was opened on that day in 2003 it opened to November 10, 1978 and no new information had been added, nor was it resealed afterward.  It has perpetually been left open, and history will always view me from November 1978.

On November 10, 1978, at the age of 17 and while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs I committed the most horrendous crime I can imagine.  I brutally and viciously murdered someone who considered me a friend.  I will forever feel deep sorrow and remorse for my actions.  And, just in case I could forget, my time capsule is always opened to remind me.
Nobody wants to be remembered for the worst thing they have ever done.  On those occasions when we are confronted with some past misdeed or wrong, we are quick to proclaim our growth and transformation.  We seek understanding and forgiveness.  We emphasize how “we are not that person” anymore; how we have changed.  Nobody wants to continuously relive their “worst” act.  Unfortunately, not many of us are as understanding and forgiving of others’ ‘worst’  mistake.

After serving 25 years, I was given the opportunity for release, at which time my time capsule was opened.  When it was opened, I was immediately transported back to November 10, 19 78, and I’ve been stuck there ever since.

Although there was 25 years (now 37) of information available to help update my time capsule, the Parole Board failed to add any of this information to the capsule, all of it was deemed irrelevant.  The years I spent transforming and educating myself had no standing.  The thousand of hours spent examining my life, through tears and anguish, meant nothing.  The 13 commendations I received for actions “above and beyond” the normal duties, including protecting a female employee from being attacked by another inmate, were ignored.  All those years spent growing into a responsible, caring human being didn’t amount to anything.  My time capsule will always be opened to November 1978.

On that day in 2003, I was excited.  I had waited 25 years to tell of my transformation, of whom I had become despite my past.  I was eager to share the news with the examiners of my capsule, but it was not to be.  I found myself back in the Courtroom again, defending the actions of a 17 year old drug addicted teenager from a violent and dysfunctional family life.  I was not expounding on the achievements I had made over the years, in fact those things were looked upon with disdain, and repudiated at every turn.  My marriage to a beautiful, loving, forgiving woman was questioned and scrutinized, as if there was something obscene about my wife loving me.  All that mattered when the time capsule was opened was what had happened on November 10, 1978, everything else was irrelevant.

My excitement turned to dread, and the dread turned to depression, a depression I have been fighting ever since.  You would think that today, in 2016, with all the changes in the statutes governing the Parole Board, and with numerous appearances and examinations, some new information could be added to my time capsule.  Unfortunately, my time capsule remains open, stuck in time, and I will forever be in 1978.



3.  The Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act

It’s time to upgrade your copy of the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act Bill S.2940 / A.1728, and all associated materials.  It has a new signer: Assembly member Jo Anne Simon.  You can find more information about her at:  http://nyassembly.gov/mem/Jo-Anne-Simon/.  Make sure you’ve removed a past signer, Assemblymember Barbara Clark, who passed away last February.   

The complete list now includes 31 names:  
Senate: S. 1728 PARKER, Comrie, Espaillat, Hassell-Thompson, Kennedy, Montgomery, Perkins, Rivera, Sanders, Serrano   

Assembly: A. 2930 AUBRY, Arroyo, Barrett, Barron, Brennan, Crespo, Fahy, Farrell, Gottfried, Hevesi, McDonald, Montesano, Mosley, O’Donnell, Ortiz, Perry, Rodriguez, Sepulveda, Simon, Skartados, Thiele.

When you ask your legislator to sign the bill, we recommend telling them how you suffer without your incarcerated loved one.  Explain how badly you want your loved one home and why you think he or she is ready to be with the rest of the family.  And then if the legislator is not eager to sign, ask for a reason why he or she thinks your family should continue to suffer.  Let us know what they say.




4.  NetWORKS, the monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
Son of Sam II
In the last issue of Building Bridges, we wrote about the difficulty of determining whether a person who has served their sentence for a serious crime is currently a danger to their community. We used the example of “Son of Sam,” whose real name is David Berkowitz, incarcerated in New York State for a series of murders in the 1970s. Although he is repentant, religious, and has a good prison record, some people argue that he should never get out. 
There is no sure way to predict who will commit a crime. But the current practice of the New York State Parole Board, which often denies parole based only on the nature of the crime for which the parole applicant has already served their sentence, is worse than useless. This method has been proven to have no predictive value and keeps thousands of community-ready people behind bars, often for decades. It does nothing to evaluate who is an actual threat to public safety based on current and forward-looking factors.
Thinking about and discussing the issues of current dangerousness, punishment, recidivism, and rehabilitation will help us advocates argue for major changes in the way parole decisions are made. The NYS Prisoner Justice Network supports the SAFE Parole Act, which provides a more sound basis for determining people’s readiness to return to their communities. How do we convince the public and legislators? Your Reporter (YR) asked for help from some reliable sources to explore these questions more fully. Here are some responses:
DG, NYS Lifer: No other arena of public life is held to the impossible standard of zero risk: not medical treatments, not automobile safety, not school sports. The basic approach is always to weigh the risks against the benefits, and then develop policies that minimize the former and maximize the latter. We don’t want anyone to be harmed. Intelligent policies can reduce the risk of releasing people on parole to a bare minimum, while the costs of the current approach are huge. Mass incarceration leads to fractured communities, children growing up without parents and/or mentors, and an intensification of poverty – all of which are major crime-generative factors. The greatest public safety requires moving past the current punitive approach to instead developing ways to have more people in a position to make positive contributions to their families and communities.
YR’s cousin LL (40-something white middle-class mom with disability): If a person killed someone I love, I would want them never to get out of prison.
YR:  Even if they were very sorry, had been in prison most of their life, were a changed person, and were clearly not going to commit any more crimes?
LL: It wouldn’t matter. My loved one could never come back, so they should never come back. 
YR: I can understand those feelings. A lot of crime victims (not all) feel that way. But they are not good public policy. Policies based on emotions rather than evidence do not protect society from harm. Crime victims’ desire for revenge can be manipulated by forces, such as police and tabloids, who are motivated not by public safety concerns but by a “tough on crime” ideology. These forces often promote the voices of victims who want more punishment and silence the voices of victims who want forgiving. Public policy should be made for the benefit of everyone, not only crime victims.
JR, psychologist who treats sex offenders: Some sex offenders should never get out, but they are a very very small number. This becomes even less if the formerly incarcerated person receives treatment, especially in a peer support group. 
YR: But how can you tell which people are likely to re-offend?
JR: Getting caught is the most important deterrent. Actuarial [statistical] factors are the best predictors. Multiple convictions for repeated past offenses are predictive of recidivism, while a single offense is not. The Canadian system of risk evaluation and treatment has been highly successful; some private-corporation assessment systems used in the U.S. are not – so it is very possible to have tools that are better predictors, especially when combined with proven programs.
The Marshall Project: [In March] the U.S. Sentencing Commission released the results of a major study of all 25,431 federal offenders released in 2005. For the most part it reaffirms the conventional wisdom of criminologists: older offenders and those with more education are less likely to return to a life of crime.
JM, NYS Lifer: It is my understanding that Son of Sam is now a Christian, and has rehabilitated from not only his crime but the psychological condition that led to his imprisonment. Therefore, if the Christian community were to decide to accept him into their fold, and become responsible for him, shouldn’t he be given the opportunity to be granted release? 
MF, parole justice activist, formerly incarcerated, denied parole multiple times before being released: It’s not our job to spell out exactly how the parole board should evaluate people for public safety; we just have to insist that they only use evidence-based and not gut-based factors.
SD, currently serving his 36th year of a 25 to life sentence for the murder of a police officer: I am a 58 year old man now who is very much sound of mind, I am not that 21 year old kid who was not sound of mind over 36 years ago. 
DJ, formerly incarcerated, working in re-entry program: The most important factor in successful re-entry is for the person to feel integrated into society – a job, a transitional program, ID, food stamps – so they don’t go to their mother, their family empty-handed. If this transition is started in prison before they go to the parole board, the board has a way to evaluate the person’s ability and willingness to re-enter. Giving people the opportunity to get their ID before they get out would be a big head start. Give them a chance to connect with social services. Then the board has something to evaluate that’s relevant to how the person is going to do when they get out.
As some of the horrible suffering and injustice of mass incarceration is finally being brought to light, it becomes increasingly possible to publicly confront old attitudes and rationales for mass incarceration. Let’s make sure that light of reason and justice shines on parole practices -- and keep the discussion flowing!


5.  Why are prison programs vanishing?
It’s a fact that program availability is vital to parole release.  That’s one of the reasons the SAFE Parole Act mandates DOCCS to provide the programs the parole board requires of applicants before they can be released.  
We’re warned that DOCCS will ignore that requirement, claiming a need to cut costs.  We suspect they use that excuse to get rid of things they may in fact be able to afford, but don’t want to bother with.  It seems like the Clinton escape has tightened the screws on everyone.  The logic, we imagine, is that programs bring in people from the outside, and people from the outside bring naïveté, which can be manipulated by inmates to help them escape.  All this seemingly because an “outsider” teaching a skill (was it sewing??) took all the heat for the Clinton escape, when it is obvious that she could not have been the major enabler.  We observe that more often these outsiders bring in things that promote hope, support rehabilitation and provide education, all of which contribute to reducing recidivism.



6.  Promises, promises, promises....
The governor issued a list of criminal justice proposals, some of which are highlighted here.  It shows that he knows what is needed, that much is clear.  It’s appreciated.  We only hope he can make them happen:
Proposal: Work Release and Parole Board Reforms In 2015
Governor Cuomo will revive New York’s use of the Work Release program to save the state money and help incarcerated individuals get back on their feet, while preserving public safety.
To expand the Parole Board’s rate of discretionary release, the Governor will call on the Parole Board to explore actions that will result in greater use, including training incarcerated individuals and their advocates about how to prepare strong Parole Board presentations, opening Parole Board interviews to the public, and requiring the Parole Board to articulate on the record for each case how it weighed evidence of rehabilitation and current risk in making its decision about release. The Governor will also explore statutory changes to institute a rebuttable presumption of release for people at low risk of reoffending.
Proposal: Expand Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) 
 ATI programs have been proven to reduce recidivism, but have been traditionally limited to participants with alcohol and substance abuse issues.  Governor Cuomo says NYS will invest an additional $1 million to expand the use of ATI programs upstate and will target the program to a broader group of individuals who are at high risk of otherwise going to prison. 
Proposal: Reduce Criminal Behavior through Education. College-Level Courses with Private Funding
The Governor will partner with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., SUNY and CUNY to invest $7.5 million to expand college in prison programming in state prisons. and provide approximately 1,000 individuals with the opportunity to receive college-level instruction and earn an Associate’s degree, Bachelor’s degree, or industry recognized certificate. Classes will begin in the fall of 2016. 
 Specialized Education for People with Learning Disabilities: To help more learning  disabled incarcerated individuals achieve a high school degree or equivalent, the Governor proposes investing $2.5 to pay for trained staff who will test individuals for learning disabilities and provide small group and individualized instruction. 
 Modernized Prison-Based Vocational Training: the state will invest $430,000 to update existing printing workshops in prisons to a digital platform and train individuals in computer coding and will be safely done in prisons in a manner that does not utilize the Internet. Will also ensure that the skills taught in DOCCS vocational labs meet the requirements for pre-apprenticeship training.
Proposal: Provide Transitional Support upon Release 
Invest $1 million to expand the County Re-Entry Task Forces to provide enhanced case coordination:
• Transitional Housing: Include formerly incarcerated as a target population for housing assistance.  
• Connections to Employment:  The state will provide over $5.8 million to support connections to employment, including more than $3 million for employment services programs for high-risk parolees in both New York City and upstate urban areas
• Provide Seamless Provision of Medical and Mental Health Services from Prison to the Community: The state will use Medicaid interventions to serve those released from prison to the community with addiction, mental health needs and chronic medical conditions, to ensure continuity of care.
Proposal:  Increase Opportunities for Families to Stay Close During Incarceration
Governor Cuomo will invest $300,000 to expand a successful video visitation program between incarcerated parents and their children. The state will also explore the use of secure e-mail communication tools for use by incarcerated individuals and their families. 
Proposal: Deploy New Technologies to Improve Safety in Prisons. 
These include fixed cameras, thermal imaging, and heartbeat monitors that increase an officer’s situational awareness and can better detect the presence of an inmate. DOCCS 196 will also launch a body camera pilot program to improve corrections officers’ visual coverage of prisoner movement and ensure accountability of behavior. These tools will provide better information to correctional professionals and decrease the likelihood of violent incidents among incarcerated individuals. 


7.  Legislation Report, passed in April by the Assembly, and Senator Montgomery’s 10 bills

On April 12, 6 bills were passed out of the Assembly’s Correction Committee, chaired by Daniel O’Donnell

Bill # and Action
Sponsor/s
Purpose
A.2290/ no same as
3rd reading
O’Donnell
Amends 259-i 2(c)(A)(vii) which criteria to be considered reads in part: the seriousness of the offense with due deference to the type of sentence, length of sentence and recommendations of the sentencing court, and due consideration to the recommendations of the district attorney, the attorney for the inmate, the pre-sentence probation report as well as consideration of any mitigating and aggravating factors, and activities following arrest prior to confinement; and (viii) prior criminal record, including the nature and pattern of offenses, adjustment to any previous probation or parole supervision and institutional confinement. (Send SASE for a copy of the whole bill)
A.2470/ no same as
Referred to Codes
O’Donnell
New York state program for older prisoners act authorizing geriatric parole for certain prisoners over 60 years of age.
A.2495/ no same as
Reported to codes
O’Donnell
Expands prison work release program eligibility and participation. 
A.2513/ S.2192
3rd reading
Mosley/Hassell-Thompson
Ensures that persons illegally discriminated against by a public employer due to a prior criminal conviction unrelated to the employment sought is able to seek redress with the Division of Human Rights.
A.6945 no same as
Referred to Codes
Walker
Requires the DA to provide the Parole Board with the statements filed by crime victims or their families. This legislation would ensure that the voices of crime victims are heard and are part of the board's considerations whether an inmate is to be paroled.
A.9406/S.6892
3rd reading
Blake/Rivera
Mandates that medical authorization forms to disclose private medical information for people in the custody of the department of corrections and community supervision to any next of kin or other representative shall remain in force until inmate is transferred, dies or revokes such authorization in writing. 
A.9696/S.7224
Referred to Codes
Dendekker/Murphy
Requires all current or prior crime victim's statements shall be provided to the parole board for their consideration at each board appearance so that victims do not feel they need to submit a new statement every time an offender is up for parole release. Victim impact statements have no expiration date.
Ensures that transcripts of parole board interviews are promptly provided to any victim who has requested such a transcript.


Senator Velmanette Montgomery introduced these 10 bills this session 

Bill # and Action
Assembly Sponsor
Purpose
S.968 / no same as
___
To change the composition of the NYS Board of Parole to reflect the
prison population that it serves and to ensure professional diversity
among its members.
S.969/A.3363
A.M. Peoples-Stokes
The Fair Access to Education Act removes needless barriers to higher eduction faced by people with past criminal justice involvement.  Named for Vivian Nixon.
S.975/A.2870
A.M. Aubrey
Repeals ban on incarcerated persons receiving student financial aid awards.
S.976/A.9250
A.M. Richardson
Limits the amount of time that an inmate may spend in a
SHU to 90 days, except for an inmate whose behavior exposes a pattern of extreme violence or danger to himself or others.  It ensures that inmates suffering from a mental illness shall not be
unnecessarily confined in a SHU whether such mental illness preceded such confinement or developed during the course of such confinement.
S.978/A9795
A.M.  Walker
Distributes the appointing authority of the NYS Board of Parole among the Governor, Senate and Assembly. The Parole Board shall consist of 19 members, nine appointed by the governor, 3 by the Temporary President of the Senate, 3 by the Speaker of the Assembly, 2 by minority leader of the Senate and 2 by Minority leader of the Assembly.
S.981-a/no same as
___
Directs the superintendent of state police to develop and institute child-sensitive arrest policies and procedures for instances where police are arresting an individual who is a parent, guardian or other person legally charged with the care or custody of a child.
S.1013/A553
A.M. O’Donnell
Enables people in a state correctional facility to be informed of their right to modify an existing child support order, and with approval of the court, individuals released from prison may be granted up to 180 days before they begin to fulfill their child support obligations.
S.1016-a/ A238-a
A.M.  Roczic
Requires DOCCS to place persons in correctional facilities located in closest proximity to the primary place of residence of such person's minor child or children whenever practicable.
S.1017/ A.4256
A.M.  Gottfried
Directs DOCCS to implement procedures for preventing the spread of Hepatitis C, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV through education, counseling and other prevention efforts.
S.6806/ A.1984
 A.M. O’Donnell
Directs the Board of Parole to publish its appeal decisions on a public website and create an annual index of such decisions.




8.  The Struggle Continues
By Karima Amin
I received some good news last week. I was elated to learn that John Walker is no longer on lifetime parole. At first, I was in total shock. John’s life had been totally relegated, for nearly two decades, by a system that basically ignores the humanity of formerly incarcerated people. I called John immediately to confirm what I had heard and he verified for me that his life on lifetime parole was over.  I have spent a week, remembering the many times that John was a guest speaker at our PRP2 meetings. I recalled numerous occasions where I had heard him speak at rallies, forums, speak-outs, teach-ins, panel discussions, and conferences over the years at schools, colleges, churches and other public spaces.  His call for justice was always strong, clear, humble, and correct. The need to overturn Indictment #41-413 has been a rallying cry that many have heard and, unfortunately, many have ignored, failing to recognize the fact that injustice for one is injustice for all.
John Walker was our guest speaker at the April 25th Prisoners Are People Too meeting. He spoke about being wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to 17 years when he was 16 years old in 1977 and about what happened to his co-defendants. He described his 22 years behind bars in three New York State prisons.  John was released on lifetime parole in 1998 and for 18 years he has been in a fight to reverse his conviction and clear his name.  A sitting judge, the Honorable James A. McLeod (who was a lawyer in 1977) has publicly stated that there is evidence to prove that John Walker and his friends could not have committed murder on a night in early January of 1976. 
 For 40 years, John Walker has been punished for a crime he did not commit. His struggle continues.
Judge McLeod was invited to this meeting so we could get his perspective and the reasons for it. We also invited Judge Timothy J. Drury who was the District Attorney at the time of John Walker’s trial to explain why the Court has been so unwilling to consider exoneration for John Walker.

PRP2! meets on the 4th Monday of the month at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, in Buffalo, from 7:00 – 9:00pm. For more information: Karima Amin, karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org, 716-834-8438; BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com, 716-491-5319.
  


9.  More about NYC’s Board of Elections
 Furious voters who didn’t get to cast ballots in last month’s primary elections erupted in shouts and epithets Tuesday 5/3 at a Board of Election hearing in Manhattan.  The BOE’s commissioner meeting was its first since the primary day debacle that led to many voters being turned away, and included over a dozen members of the public complaining about the problems.
 The BOE is expected to certify the April 19 primary results Thursday.  Once the votes are certified nothing can be done about it.  Both the state attorney general and the city controller launched investigations into allegations of voter purging from the rolls — especially in Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders’ home borough of Brooklyn. Investigators said some 126,000 Brooklyn voters were removed from voter lists between November and April, or marked “inactive.”
Yvonne Gougelet, a long time voting rights advocate from Long Island City, said she’s never experienced disenfranchisement of this magnitude. "I'm not just someone who's like, 'Oh, Bernie didn't win. I'm mad.' This is unconstitutional on a massive, grand scale,” she said. "Nothing like this has ever happened in our country,” she added.
The Board of Elections initially dismissed the hundreds of complaints that poured in as groundless. But it has since suspended its chief clerk in Brooklyn without pay. The clerk may not have followed proper procedures while updating voter registration lists, the agency said.  
The BOE’s commissioner meeting was its first since the primary day debacle that led to many voters being turned away, and included over a dozen members of the public complaining about the problems.  Other problems included broken machines, not enough workers and long lines.  Manhattan poll worker Jay Wishner told the board that at his lower Manhattan site, the coordinator was so clueless she didn’t know how to let voters cast ballots by hand after the machines broke, a simple procedure.  Instead, she had a “meltdown.” “She became panicked, hysterical, crying, had no idea that there was an alternative ballot procedure,” he said.
The board voted to uphold the unpaid suspension of Brooklyn Chief Clerk Diane Haslett-Rudiano, who was blamed for many of the problems on Election Day.  Some 37,214 people last week had to vote by affidavit in Brooklyn, where a misguided attempt to clean the voting rolls inadvertently knocked many people off the books. That’s 7,000 more than the next closest borough of Manhattan, which had 30,161 people who voted by affidavit.  Queens had 26,131, the Bronx had 22,984 affidavit votes, and Staten Island had 4,566.  It’s unclear how many of those affidavit ballots — which are done when the voter’s name isn’t on the books — were for voters who had been mistakenly removed.  
Mayor DiBlasio offered $4M to the BOE if it signs an agreement to make serious reforms to its operations, and City Controller Scott Stringer said Sunday, “We’ve got to take a sledgehammer to this. We have to recognize the cornerstone of our democracy is voting. We have to stop pretending this is a democracy, when such few people end up going to the polls,” said Stringer, whose office will audit the agency.

10.  It’s called 6x9.

The Guardian has launched  6x9 - an virtual experience of solitary confinement which places viewers in an interactive, virtual segregation cell.  Two people whom readers may know from these pages or from prison are among the narrators:  Victor Pate and Five Omar Mualimm-ak. 
If you have access to a computer, you’ll get a sense of it by visiting www.theguardian.com/solitary-vr.   It seems you need to install an app you can download from the Guardian to your smart phone, which you then mount on a special piece of cardboard, also available from the Guardian, plug in a headset, to find yourself in an interactive, virtual segregation cell. When ‘inside’ the cell the viewer can interact with objects, learning what they can, and more importantly, what they can’t do in solitary confinement. Throughout 6x9 the viewer will hear audio from interviews with people who were in solitary confinement.  Throughout the experience they talk to viewers about what they can expect during the film.

There is trailer that can be viewed at YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwbJLlbeAS0  and 
The 360 video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odcsxUbVyZA
More information on how to visit the Guardian’s virtual reality experience can be found here: www.theguardian.com/solitary-vr    If none of those ways provide you with an option, it can also be experienced at the Human Rights Watch film festival, New York, from 10 to 19 June.



11.  Fortune Society takes on housing discrimination
A leading provider of social services for recently released prisoners is challenging a New York City landlord that, it says, has a policy of not renting to people with criminal records.
The Fortune Society filed a lawsuit - against the owners and manager of the Sand Castle, a rental complex in Far Rockaway, Queens, with more than 900 apartments - in federal court contending that such bans were illegal because they disproportionately affect black and Latino men, and that such disparate impact was in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and New York State law.
John P. Relman, a lawyer representing the Fortune Society and a specialist in housing discrimination cases, said on Thursday that fighting the automatic exclusions on civil rights grounds was unusual but on point because “folks coming out of prison are being denied basic rights.”  “You’re creating a racial caste system and driving this population back to prison,” he added.


12.  Corey Parks is back!
My Name is Corey J. Parks and I am a Motivational Speaker, Writer, and Reentry Life Coach.  However before the titles, I was in the very same place you are or were, a NYS prison.  I remember the police brutality, prison wars and eight hour visits with loved ones. Even now, in society, those thoughts are still in my mind.

Reentry is important to all of us.  But we have to keep in mind that just as fast as we leave prison, we can certainly be returned.  I know first hand, my brothers, for I too am guilty of recidivism.  For this reason among others, myself and other organizations in other cities are launching a Reentry Month on June 4th to raise awareness and serve as a platform to assist those reentering society.  Join us through prayer and support. You can write your comments and thoughts to Success Is A Journey Inc.  P.O. Box 263,  Fordham Station Bronx, New York 10458.    

Thank You,  Sincerely- Corey J. Parks


Read now!