Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

September 2016

Welcome to the site of Building Bridges, Prison Action Network's newsletter 

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Building Bridges September 2016

This issue is dedicated to the Memory of John MacKenzie.  John wrote a poem addressed “To whomever I encountered throughout my life”:


When yesterday’s flickering
Stars fade into tomorrows
Light..

When a lifetime of memories
    Flash before your eyes...

As the golden years are
         Upon you;
       Remember me...

For I have spent a lifetime
     Remembering you.

 If you want to know more about John's life before and while incarcerated we recommend visiting http://freejohnmackenzie.blogspot.com

In Memory of John MacKenzie:
By now most of you have received the very sad news of the death of John MacKenzie sometime in the night hours between August 3 and August 4.  

Three days previously he wrote five letters in which he shared his last thoughts and probably trusted that we would use them to bring attention to the torture people in prison endure every day of their lives.  He said in his letter that he didn’t think he could endure it any longer.  He talked about sleep deprivation, about the level of inhumanity, deprivation and cruelty he experienced in prison, surrounded by people who had become desensitized to things no one should get used to: “Prison Horror Fatigue”.  He had just been denied parole for the 10th time.  That killed his hope of being released before he was too old to do much good on the outside, and he didn’t think he could go on living in such a cruel environment with the uncertainty of when his incarceration would end. 

(The cruelty didn’t stop when he died.  When his daughter went to get their father’s belongings, the only things they gave her were “sour smelling clothes, food, teeth, and shoes,and a bed sheet. They threw out all the pictures, cards and letters we had sent him.”)

In the thoughtful way Mr. MacKenzie wrote slightly different letters to his two daughters and three close friends, mailed them and then timed his suicide so we would immediately know why he took his life, John showed consideration for others to the very end.  He also thought very carefully about how to orchestrate his death so that it would catch maximum attention from the public.  He knew he could count on each of us to use his last thoughts to bring more attention to the plight he shared with scores of aging people in prison who like him were running out of time to join family, friends and community in a meaningful way.  He may have decided his death would hasten the day the Parole Board began to provide safe and fair evaluations instead of punitive and cruel decisions, more effectively than a future of two year hits and lengthy legal battles would. 

We are dedicating this edition of Building Bridges to John’s memory.  He was a wonderful man, sensitive poet, loved his children beyond words, and cried when he talked about his victims...  Shawn Chappelle, whose poem appears later in these pages ( #7, P. 8 ), said in a note accompanying his poem, “We talk about John in here and the common theme is his unwavering support and his willingness to sacrifice his time and resources to aid anyone in need....”  

John is not the only torture victim of this system.  He got his notoriety from a series of victories he had in the courts, but he was fighting not only for his own freedom but for others who were in the same situation.  Much of his pain came from watching his neighbors be abused and tortured.  

His most recent victories had been a contempt of court order from Duchess County Supreme Court Judge Rosa against the Parole Board. The Attorney General, representing the Board (isn’t it about time he represented the People of NYS?), had filed a notice of appeal to go to the higher court (Appellate Division, 2nd Department) but hadn't actually filed the appeal brief yet. The contempt order was stayed pending that appeal (so it wasn't actually in effect, says his lawyer).  Also the AG had filed a motion to try to get Judge Rosa to change her mind. She decided to affirm her prior decision. That decision crossed in the mail with John’s lawyer’s letter to the Judge telling her of John's death.  The advocacy world, including parole applicants, had been waiting anxiously for decisions on John MacKenzies’ parole hearing and the Judge’s decision.
 
In mourning, Your Editor 

P.S.  http://freejohnmackenzie.blogspot.com  is a website which focuses solely on the nature of John MacKenzie.  It's the place to go if you want to know more about John's life before and while incarcerated.

Friends, family, advocates and other concerned people are invited to attend a Memorial Service for John MacKenzie on September 15 in NYC.  Please see the details (#5, pg.8) .

Contents:

1.  In memory of John MacKenzie

2. Parole News- July statistics and a poem by John Mackenzie

3. Legislative report on 10 bills that passed both houses of the NYS legislature, and a new parole board reform bill introduced by Aubry and O'Donnell

4. NetWORKS comments on the implications of John MacKenzie's suicide.

5. Invitation to a Memorial Service for John MacKenzie on Sept 15 at the National Black Theatre.

6. You are invited to launching of  "The Alliance of Families for Justice"  following the Memorial Service.

7. "John! Your Sacrifice Was Not In Vain", says Shawn Chappelle in his poem by that name.

8.  Calling all writers:  two opportunities to share your stories or essays about criminal justice.

9. Illusions of Happiness, one of John MacKenzie's last poems.

10.  How to help pay for John MacKenzie's funeral.



”Victims overwhelmingly prefer criminal justice approaches that prioritize rehabilitation over punishment and strongly prefer investments in crime prevention and treatment to more spending on prisons and jails.”  
(this and other similar quotes throughout these pages are from a report released by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, available at https://www.allianceforsafetyandjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/documents/Crime%20Survivors%20Speak%20Report.pdf



2.  Parole News - July 2016 Release Rates, Poem by John MacKenzie
PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001   
unofficial research from parole database

John MacKenzie became a parole statistic in July.  The day after his death, the Parole Board finally posted their opinion. Denied. A reason: "you have demonstrated a willingness to place your own self interests above those of society.”  (Some would say they got it backward; it was the parole board who did that!)

July 2016 - Interview Summaries
Type
Total 
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rates
Initials 
10
3
7
30%
33%
Reappearances
50
22
28
44%
31%
Total 
60
25
35
42%
31%
One De Novo released, one held;  one Rescission released


July 2016 - Initial Releases
Facility
Age at hearing
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Fishkill
55
23
33-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
57
33
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
68
45
25-Life
Mrd 2
1


July 2016 - Reappearance Releases     (Seven were granted after 9 hearings)
Facility
Age @ hearing
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Brd
Type
Clinton
55
27
25-Life
Mrd
3

Eastern
63
39
25-Life
Mrd
2

Fishkill
72
42
25-Life
Mrd
4
medical
Fishkill
39
24
15-Life
Mrd
2

Fishkill
55
25
30-Life
Mrd
2

Fishkill
54
25
20-Life
Mrd
6

Fishkill
48
26
15-Life
Att Mrd1
7

Franklin
34
19
15-Life
Mrd
2

Midstate
59
25
18-Life
Mrd
10
De novo
Mohawk
58
18
15-Life
Mrd
14

Orleans
62
32
20-Life
Mrd
7

Riverview
47
22
18-Life
Mrd
5

Sullivan
63
20
20-Life
Mrd
13

Ulster
63
26
15-Life
Mrd
14

Woodbourne  *
57
20
22-Life
Mrd
9

Woodbourne
50
21
25-Life
Mrd
3
Deport
Woodbourne
35
19
15-Life
Mrd
2

Woodbourne   **
57
23
20-Life
Mrd
10

Woodbourne
50
24
20-Life
Mrd
6

Wyoming
59
33
28-Life
Mrd
14

Wyoming
67
48
15-Life
Mrd
4

Wyoming
64
27
25-Life
Pre 74 Mrd
8
Recission
*Dempsy Hawkins is released!  **So is John Duffy... 


July 2016 - Over 60 Age Summary
Age Range
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied 
July Release Rate 
Year to Date Release Rate
60-69
16
7
9
44%
27%
70-79
5
1
  4 *
20%
30%
80+
1

1
0%
50%
Total
22
8
14
36%
28%
one age unknown    


July 2016 - Summary of ALL Parole Releases - unofficial research from Parole database
Type of Release
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date  Release Rate
Initials
313
80
233
26%
23%
Reappearances
259
91
168
35%
30%
Total
572
171
401
30%
26%
Includes Merit Time Cases


By a margin of 2 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in community supervision, such as probation and parole, over more investments in prisons and jails


Death’s Trilogy 
Revised...

Slow Death
Sentenced to life, condemned for an eternity to...
Linger, alone, abandoned in the lake of hopelessness.
Ostracized by pandering hypocrites and sycophants...
Waiting for a dysfunctional tribunal to meet again.

Denied parole every two years, then returned to the...
Emasculated collection of forgotten souls.
Alas, to lie dormant in suspended animation in...
The dungeon of obscurity, until resurrected for the..
Habitual evil pleasure of the immoral majority

Reaper’s Debt
  
Ever near my constant companion...
There, looming in the dark of night,
Even in the light of day, 
Roams the invisible shadow...
Negotiating eternal refuge.
After forty years of torture, 
Lost, abandoned and forgotten...

Eventually hopelessness prevails,
Now time’s toll awaits its..
Debt to the reaper.

No Escape
Solid, cold , unyeilding earth
Locks me away...Never
To breath the warm winds
Of summer again.
Confined beneath...,beneath,
Closed in by concrete and steel,
Even in death...
I am a prisoner.
                          By John Mackenzie



3.  Legislative report
These bills passed in both houses since we reported on them in the July/August issue, where you can find more detailed descriptions.  A.9696 was signed by the governor.  Another one (A.10200) was delivered to the Governor to sign on August 30.  The Governor has ten days to sign or veto a bill once it’s been sent to him.  After that it automatically becomes law.   The bills that are not delivered or are vetoed may be reintroduced in the next session and get new numbers for the coming two year cycle.

Bill # and Action
Sponsor/s
Purpose
A1819a / S1608a
Gunther/Bonacic
 Defines "residence" for clarification in the Sex Offender Registry 
A1984/S6806
O’Donnell/Montgomery
Requires parole appeal decisions to be published.
A5548/S992
Sepulveda/Rivera
Provides a translator for inmates appearing before the Parole Board.
A7500A/S5427A 
Joyner/Rivera
Provides next of kin with an original preliminary death certificate
A9239/S7252
Englebright/Ortt
Requires notice of sex offender’s new or other address in 48 hours
A9406/S6892
Blake/ Rivera
Makes medical information available to families.
A9696/S7224
SIGNED BY CUOMO
DenDekker/Murphy
Victim’s statements shall be filed and provided at each board interview so that victims do not feel they need to submit new ones.
A10190/S7862
O’Donnell/Gallivan
Only properly trained personnel shall carry out the job duties assigned to parole officers. 
A.10200/ S.7853
DELIVERED TO CUOMO
Rozic/Gallivan
Provides free death certificates to State prisons and jails, as well as NYC DOC, for administrative purposes.
A.10706/ S.8114  
Fahy/DeFrancisco
Reimburses full amount of expenditures for indigent legal services. 


On May 2, Assembly members Aubry and O’Donnell introduced Bill A.9690 
The sponsors’ memo: 
“It was the stated intention of the Legislature that the Board should use objective risk and needs principles in determining whether an inmate is rehabilitated and safe to release. In spite of this clear mandate, the Board decided the change in the law had no effect on their decision-making practices and declined to write new rules. 

When, after almost three years of pressure from advocacy groups and several law suits, the Board finally decided to promulgate formal rules pertaining to the use of risk and needs assessments, it added the assessments as an eleventh factor for consideration in parole release rather than an underlying principle to be incorporated throughout the decision-making process as required by the change in law. The rules were insufficient to satisfy the legislative intent or the letter of the law, and reflected a deep unwillingness on the Board's part to change the way it operates.

In order to make it clear to the Board that the Legislature wants an objective assessment of risk to underlie all parole decisions, and to specify that they must consider the case plans and validated risk assessment instruments administered by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, this bill provides that risk and needs principles"shall" be used by the Board as the basis for their determination as to whether or not an inmate can safely be released.  It also provides that the Board may override such risk assessment but must explain its reasons for doing so. The bill further specifies that the Board must promulgate rules and regulations reflecting this change in the law.

Additionally, the bill adds a new subdivision to Executive Law § 259-e to provide a process permitting inmates to correct verifiable factual mistakes or errors in their risk and needs assessments or other non-confidential documents given the Board prior to their appearances.



4.  NetWORKS, the monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network  

Parole Justice after John MacKenzie
John MacKenzie’s suicide at Fishkill Correctional Facility on August 4th came as a shock to the entire parole justice community in New York State. For those who knew him, his death was a severe personal loss; and for those who were following his parole appeal case, it was further proof that unreasonably long years of incarceration, brutal prison conditions, and endless cruel and unjustified parole denials can and do add up to unbearable torture. 
Many in our movement were watching Mr. MacKenzie’s current litigation. He had petitioned for, and received, a court order from Judge Maria Rosa in Dutchess County Court finding the Parole Board in contempt for violating the court’s previous order to hold a new hearing that did not repeat the errors of the previous hearing: denial without considering all the required statutory factors and without a full explanation of the reasons for the denial. The court also ordered that none of the Parole Board members who sat on Mr. MacKenzie’s previous panel could sit on the new one and that the Board would be fined if it did not comply within the stated time. The Board appealed this decision, and apparently assumed that until its appeal was resolved it did not have to comply with the court’s conditions. Based on this questionable assumption, the Board held a scheduled hearing for Mr. MacKenzie in which they repeated all of the errors for which the court had held them in contempt, and which included a member whom the court had explicitly disqualified from sitting on Mr. MacKenzie’s new panel. 
This hearing, dragging him once again through a crime for which he has demonstrated deep remorse throughout 40-plus years, contemptuously dismissing four decades of accomplishments and efforts, and finally denying him for the 10th time, was the last straw for John MacKenzie. The cruelty of the hearing and the horrible conditions at Fishkill, which he called Fishkill Auschwitz, were mentioned in letters to family and close friends written the day before he was found hanging in his cell.
The anguish of John MacKenzie will be bitterly familiar to those readers and families who have endured repeated parole denials. The focus on the crime committed decades ago, dragging in details which exist only by rumor; the stock phrases, “Your release at this time would not be compatible with the welfare of society and would so deprecate the seriousness of your crime as to undermine respect for the law;” and the hostility and dismissiveness toward decades of hard-won rehabilitation are repeated over and over again in thousands of parole hearings every year. 
Changes in the law governing parole board procedures, according to legislators who amended it in 2011, were intended to require the board to rely on risk and needs assessments, which are more predictive of readiness to reenter than a focus on the distant past. But the parole board continued, in many cases, to consider only the applicant’s original crime – just as if there was no change in the law at all.
The parole board is politically appointed, composed predominantly of prosecutors and law enforcement, and responsive to police and tabloid pressure for revenge rather than law, justice, or community safety. Nevertheless, the courts have granted little relief from its denials. Only recently have some lower courts begun to hold the parole board to some standards. We believe public pressure from our movements for justice can take some credit for the change. But often lower court decisions favorable to the parole applicant have been overturned by appeals courts, asserting that the parole board has basically unlimited discretion. Why even bother to have laws?
Our movements for parole justice have followed multiple strategies to demand fairness, accountability, and a path to rehabilitation in parole decisions. We have pursued legislation, litigation, education, and mobilization. We have built widespread support for the SAFE (Safe and Fair Evaluations) Parole act, written by advocates and formerly incarcerated people, which would require the parole board to evaluate the applicant based on current factors and to provide a specific path to rehabilitation.  Despite over 100 organizational endorsers, hundreds of petition signatures, and sponsors in both houses of the New York State Legislature, SAFE has remained stalled in committee.
Four days after John MacKenzie’s death, activists held simultaneous, coordinated protest rallies in Albany and New York City – a first for our parole justice movement.  John’s last letters and poetry, describing his despair and the conditions that led to it, were read. People who knew John MacKenzie as well as many who had never been aware of parole injustice expressed grief and rage. New organizations and advocates joined the rallies and pledged themselves to continue the fight for justice, not only for John MacKenzie but for the thousands of women and men unjustly kept behind bars by a lawless parole board. In rally speeches, media interviews, and press articles, activists described the outrageously unfair decisions of the parole board and the need to force the board to be accountable to public well-being instead of police pressure and private vengeance. 
John MacKenzie’s closest friends and family members are certain that he would want his death to be a rallying point for renewed efforts for parole reform. His tragic suicide has already captured the attention of the public and the media and created opportunities for a more widespread, more urgent, and more coordinated movement for parole justice.  Turning those opportunities into fair parole policies and practices is the most fitting way to commemorate the life and death of John MacKenzie. 


5.  Memorial Service for John MacKenzie  - Thursday September 15th from 3:30-5:30 pm 
The National Black Theatre in Harlem, 2031 Fifth Ave, between 125th - 126th.  #2,3,4,5,6 subway stops at 125th.

In order to make it convenient for people who will be attending the Launching of the Alliance of Families for Justice (see below), the Memorial Service will be at the same address, in a different room, from 3:30 to 5:30pm. 

We hope to see you at both events.
John’s daughter Danielle will be there, and Denise, who lives in Florida, won’t make it but she sent this message:“I’m so thankful that so many others feel as I do about my Father. It means the world to me to see all the people he has touched.  I hope and pray something changes soon because of his persistence.  Danielle and I will continue to be his voice and make a difference.  Please let everyone there know how much I appreciate their love and caring”.

Family, friends, advocates, and people who knew Mr. MacKenzie only through his legal battles with the parole board, are cordially invited to join others at this time of remembrance and grieving, as well as celebrating, his life.  
For more information please contact us at prisonactionnetwork@gmail.com or 518 253 7533



6.  The Alliance of Families for Justice   -   Launching Celebration

Dear friends,

We are excited about The Alliance of Families for Justice and we want you to join us for the celebration of our launch  on Thursday, September 15th from 6-8 pm

The mission of the Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ) is to support families of incarcerated people and people with criminal records, empower them as advocates and enable them to marshal their voting power to achieve systemic change.

The Alliance of Families for Justice seeks to end mass incarceration and mass criminalization by
1) empowering families of incarcerated people and people with criminal records; 2) helping them meet the challenges of incarceration or of having an incarcerated loved one through referrals and other services; 3) embracing and training them and their loved ones to be leaders; and 4) mobilizing their collective voting power in these efforts. 

Come join us for a great evening and learn how you can get involved. See you on the 15th!

The Alliance of Families for JusticeLaunching Celebration: 
Thursday September 15th from 6-8 pm at the National Black Theatre in Harlem, 
2031 Fifth Ave, between 125th - 126th.  #2,3,4,5,6 subway stops at 125th.

Admission is free.  Food, beverages and dessert will be served.  Donations are encouraged.

For further information call 347 973 0580 between 9 and 5 Monday - Friday.

“Survivors of violent crime — including victims of the most serious crimes such as rape or murder of a family member — widely support reducing incarceration to invest in prevention and rehabilitation and strongly believe that prison does more harm than good.”




7.

John! Your Sacrifice Was Not In Vain

A true “OG”: he was the “Original Gentleman”
John grew gracefully but never grew old.
Even at 70 years old he still didn’t fold.

When you project being strong, you’re considered wrong!
The consequences can lead to a life that is gone --- but not forgotten

John taught me about the value of an education, about unity and strength;
And that some of us had to die for it to be relevant.
In the System’s eyes that made him sinister,
But to his people, that made him a minister.

Killing oneself is seen as a coward’s way out, 
NOT JOHN!  If courage is a fountain, in John’s heart is the spout!
John sacrificed his life to make a profound declaration:
“If I must die, it won’t be submerged in this culture of silent suffering!”
He gave dignity its wings!

Dear John, your death does not extinguish your light 
But merely dims your lamp because the dawn has arrived...
We carry you in the bosom of our souls;

We evoke your name through laughter and stories;
We continue to march forward in memory of what you stood for because a spirit cannot die 
when it’s kept alive through the energy of those who refuse to lie down

John if you could but see how your precious daughters 
have carried the torch that you lit and how they represent you, you will be proud.

Through them, through us, through the righteous souls striving to make this world a better place, you still breathe!

Where I am, you are!  

by Shawn Chappelle




8.  Calling all writers

The Marshall Project is a news organization committed to shedding light on prisons and the criminal justice system. One of the things we do is publish first-person writing from inside jails and prisons, written by incarcerated people themselves.  

We believe that writers who are actually incarcerated are some of the best people to write about what’s going on inside. Our hope is to create a platform for these writers, and in the process to challenge the public’s assumptions about prison life.



What we are looking for:   Nonfiction writing that tells a very specific, surprising story about life inside prison.  Just telling it like a story, something that happened inside and recounting it like a tale you're telling your friend... Here’s an example:

“On Christmas Eve, 2004, everyone in the W.F. Ramsey Unit, 3 Wing, in Rosharon, Texas, was in a foul mood.
A church group of kindly citizens had come in the night before, sharing cheerful jokes, Gospel, a lot of singing. Gave us each a bag containing soap, shampoo, toothpaste, cookies, pamphlets.  I was thankful for their concern, but the main message I kept feeling was, ‘You ain’t home.’  I took refuge from the gloom by flicking on the Friday evening news. The anchors had abandoned their Christmas coverage of shopping malls to talk about the weather, which was cold, wet, and getting colder.  Down the run, an argument was growing loud. It was the usual debate over one another’s manhood. Unrest is common during the holidays — whoever said prisoners squabble most in summer is wrong; we fight more during Christmas.”

What we are NOT looking for:  Theoretical essays, essays about your life before prison, fiction, poetry.    

600-1400 words. We will type if you have to write by hand.   

MAIL TO: The Marshall Project, 156 West 56th Street, Suite 701,  New York, NY 10019
Please include your full name and how to contact you.           THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUBMISSIONS!



Invitation to submit short essays”Towards A History of Criminal Justice in New York”
August 4, 2016 to October 1, 2016

The Gotham Center invites professional scholars, graduate students and independent experts to submit short essays (1,500 to 2,500 words) about crime, policing, law enforcement and imprisonment in New York City history. 
With reform in these areas now at the forefront of political discourse and academic research, the Gotham Center seeks to offer an historical perspective, exploring the major developments in criminal justice within our own city and state -- which have the nation’s largest urban police force and some of the world’s biggest correctional facilities. 
How does New York compare and differ with other places? How have local economic, social, and political conditions shaped policies and practice? What lessons can be drawn from the past about the limits, and reach, of local reform? What has changed, and what seems to remain the same, over the long-term? 
Scholars are welcome to submit excerpts from recent or forthcoming publications, conference papers, or unpublished work. Accepted submissions will be reviewed, edited, and published in a roundtable format on the Gotham Center Blog with comments to follow.  If interested, please send an abstract of no more than 100 words to the roundtable coordinator, Gotham Center Blog Associate Editor Tim Keogh at tkeogh@qcc.cuny.edu by October 1, 2016. 
Incarcerated experts are more than welcome to send academic papers along - we prefer academic analysis, but if you have personal stories mixed with some broader analysis, that is welcome as well.  Here is the mailing address for any abstracts:

Contact Info: Peter-Christian Aigner, Deputy Director, The Gotham Center for New York City History
The Graduate Center, City University of New York,  365 Fifth Avenue, Room 6103   New York, NY 10016-4309 



Six in 10 victims prefer shorter prison sentences and more spending on prevention and rehabilitation to prison sentences that keep people in prison for as long as possible.”


By a margin of 15 to 1, victims prefer more investment in schools and education to more investments in prisons and jails.



9.  

Illusions of Happiness


When the hourly din of our keepers’ keys
fades into the halls of darkness,
I unlock from the deepest recesses of my heart,
yesterday’s palette of hues that
colored the tapestry of our lives...

Surreal, the painted images of those warm light crystal waves
of happiness that shatter and turn cold as they 
meet the dark shores of reality...and
the illusions of joy turn to vapor as they 
ascend into the heavens.

Visceral moments, soft as petals on a rose or
as sharp as thorns on its stem...
Softness or sharpness depending on how we
remember them... yet,
Of all these memories, I have no regret, but
sometimes remembering,
I’d much rather forget.

By John MacKenszie







Help pay for the funeral and memorial services:

John's funeral cost $2600, and the memorial service another $500, which his family cannot afford.  His friend Jim has created the John MacKenzie Funeral Fund, and contributions can be made at http://tinyurl.com/gmbh86r.  Thank you!












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