Hello everyone, and a big welcome to our new readers!
The November edition of Building Bridges is going out to the many people who learned of us for the first time at Family Empowerment Day 2, as well as to our regular subscribers. This issue of Building Bridges will be an exception to the usual format (see archives) because it’s devoted solely to a report of the day we will be remembering for years to come.
Yes! Family Empowerment Day 2 was a fabulous success! Those who’ve contacted us all agree that it was an exciting, inspiring, and informative event. The space was alive with energy. Hope was reborn in the hearts of many people who thought it had died. Lots of us left feeling that we had just been part of something transformative. It was the energy and the commitment of those who attended, and those could not but supported us, that made the day what it was, and we cannot replicate that with words on a page, but we will share our impressions and our statistics with you, and promise you that this was not a one day thing. We started something, and the people who were there will not let it die. People are calling and writing asking what’s next. In these pages you will find actions you can take: getting more signatures on the parole petition, getting your friends to sign and mail the letter to Eliot Spitzer, letting your incarcerated loved ones know about the class action suit and what they can do to help, and VOTING on November 7th.
What are you doing, or planning to do, that you need help with? Write, call or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know and spread the word.
A huge ‘thank you’ to all of you who had any involvement in the success of the day! It was not the result of one, or even a few, people’s efforts, but it was the piece that each person contributed which together with everyone else’s created a day we won’t soon forget.
As the Otisville Lifers wrote in the closing paragraph of the written program: “In making personal preparations and sacrifices for Family Empowerment Day 2, you should all realize that you have individually and collectively adopted the concepts of Family and Community, and earned your position within the Coalition. We look forward to your continued support, every year, with Family Empowerment Day events. Together we can make anything happen! Thank You All.”
1. Comments on FED2
2. Report on attendance, signatures, finances, film and audio CDs, etc.
3. Robert Isseks, Esq., requests information to support class action suit.
4. Judge orders parole release
5. Ride Board - look here for ride sharing to prisons
6. Letter to Eliot Spitzer
7. Parole Petition for signing
CORRECTION: The statistics we sent last month on Parole Releases [27 paroled at Otisville, 9 with violent offenses, 4 from the Lifer’s Group.] were inaccurate. The correct figures are: out of 20 parole hearings at Otisville, 9 men were granted parole; 6 of those had been convicted of violent felonies, and 4 of those were Lifers. This is far less paroled than the number reported, but still it was a big increase; in the past it was usual for 2 to be released, often both were deportations, occasionally one was back to community. We would like to publish the results at other facilities if they are known to any of our readers (send to:email@example.com).
1. COMMENTS ON FAMILY EMPOWERMENT DAY 2:
I do feel hopeful after yesterday's event.....I am proud to have been a part of it all and hope I made all of you proud...my heartfelt thanks for letting me represent the families of all those incarcerated in NYS, especially the moms that were there....Peace......Deb Bozydaj
I thought it was great! All that work was definitely worth it. Great people. Too much food :) . What was the turnout in numbers do you know? Thanks so much!! I felt empowered! Donna Conlan
Burgeoning empowerment can be intense. That intensity is what I felt at the Family Empowerment Day 2 as speaker after speaker shared the story of his or her commitment to justice and freedom for families sentenced with their loved ones behind bars. Perhaps the most concrete of these expressions came from Attorney Robert Isseks who has filed a lawsuit against wrongful parole practices in New York, offering hope to those who have served their minimum sentences or more and who have repeatedly been denied parole. However, the most compelling tales came from those who have run the heinous gauntlet of parole and returned to tell us about it and how to fight back. What an inspiring day! Power to the people! Karen Lewis
It was a great and uplifting meeting which I was very surprised since I've been to other types of meetings which were depressing. All the best, SPJ
Tonight [10/23] is our October meeting for "Prisoners Are People Too!." Those of us who made the trip to NYC can hardly wait to tell everyone how wonderfully inspiring FED 2 was. We are feeling BIGGER, BETTER, STRONGER! Haba na haba hajazi kibaba. Little by little the work IS done. -ka
and on a different note:
LOST AT FAMILY EMPOWERMENT DAY 2: PETITIONS FOR THE PAROLE RELEASES OF JOE RUDD AND DALTON DIAZ were on the table, and when last seen contained many signatures. Both were missing when the program ended. The clipboards remained, but they were empty. Did anyone find the petitions? Take them home by mistake? Notice anyone taking them? If so, please contact us by calling PAN at 518 253 7533. This is a terrible loss - it could cost someone their freedom!
Time is critical for Dalton Diaz. His parole hearing is in December. If you would be willing to write a support letter, please get in touch with Katherine Diaz at 347 564 1078 or by sendin an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information. She and Dalton were counting on those signatures to make a difference in the outcome of his parole hearing.
2. REPORT ON FAMILY EMPOWERMENT DAY 2
ATTENDANCE: 151 people registered, but obviously there were people who didn’t fill out the registration form, because of the 80 signatures collected on the Parole Petition, 23 were not on the list of those registered. So we know that not everyone signed in, despite our best efforts to record everyone. [Or perhaps some of the registrations and petitions are also among the missing?] So we know that at least 174 people attended, and we would estimate that total attendance was closer to 200. If you learn of anyone who was there but does not receive this newsletter, please have them send us their contact information.
Most of the people who attended were related to someone in prison. 63 people put that down in response to the question on the registration form asking how they had heard about the event. Not everyone answered that question, but of those who did, 17 said they heard about it from PAN, 12 from a friend [who may have been incarcerated - there is no way to know], 11 from Willie Thomas(!), 9 from advocacy organizations, 2 from Mark Chapman, 2 from Karima Amin, 3 from Fancy Broccoli, 3 from WBAI, only 2 from the Operation Prison Gap buses [where 3000 flyers were distributed], but 2 others found the flyer on the street, 1 from the newspaper [didn’t say which one], 1 from Melis Birder the filmmaker, 2 from Lucille Banta, 1 from the NY Law Journal.
LETTER TO ELIOT SPITZER: 137 people signed a letter to Eliot Spitzer telling him that if he gets elected, on Day 1 when he has promised to start making changes we want him to address our parole issues. The letters were mailed later that day. A copy is included and if you weren’t there to sign it, we invite you to do so now, and mail it to him immediately at the address given on the letter. Please put your return address on the envelope as well, as the more evidence of your personal interest the more impact the letter will have. In fact, the most impact comes from writing your own letter, so do your best, but do something. The Justice Committee of the Albany Unitarian church has added 9 signed letters to that number, and there is still one Sunday left before election day. Actually, if he is elected his term does not begin right away, so we can continue to send letters, but with his executive office address instead of his campaign office. Albany :Office of the Attorney General, The Capitol, Albany, NY 12224-0341, New York City: Office of the Attorney General,120 Broadway, New York City, NY 10271.
PETITION to the leaders of the State Senate and the State Assembly: As stated above, 80 people signed the petition. But we can do better than that! Each of us should be able to get at least 5 more signatures. That would add up to 1000 signatures, not an amount easily ignored by the recipients. A copy is also included for you to copy and continue gathering signatures. Send the original to either Joseph Bruno or Sheldon Silver, and a copy to the other. Before doing so, please count the number of signatures, and let Building Bridges know (email@example.com), so we can let everyone else know how many signatures have been gathered in total. Their addresses:
Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the Assembly
NY NY 10007
Joseph L. Bruno, Senate Majority Leader
Room 909, Legislative Office Bldg
Albany NY 12247
REMEMBER TO VOTE on November 7th! The men and women in prison can’t vote for themselves. It is bad enough that the neighborhoods in which most of them lived have lost representation in the State legislature due to prisoners being counted in the county where they are incarcerated. Your vote is that much more vital. We must send a message to our representatives that we vote and we watch how they vote!
The Better Ballots:2006 New York Voter Education Guide initiative has created a nonpartisan guide for New York voters addressing important issues such as voting rights for people with felony convictions, the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and Election Day voter registration.
At www.betterballotsny.org you can read the noteworthy responses of candidates for Governor, Attorney General and other statewide and legislative offices. Voters and activists can access useful Election Day information, learn about candidates' stances, and generate a Voter guide tailored to the races that are important in their communities.
Please help us build momentum and put this valuable information in the hands of the largest number of voters possible. We hope you'll join us in spreading the word about the Better Ballots 2006 New York Voter Education Guide.
Maggie Williams, Project Director , The Voter Enfranchisement Project , The Bronx Defenders ,
860 Courtlandt Avenue , Bronx, NY 10451
(718) 838-7878 voice , firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bronxdefenders.org
FILM AND AUDIO RECORDINGS of Family Empowerment Day will be available. Melis Birder, who shot video footage, will have it available, at cost, in several weeks. It will be rough unedited coverage as she is also working on her film “The Visitors” and must focus her time on that project. The audio - all the speeches - were recorded also. If you want a copy of a particular speech, let me know (email@example.com). We will offer the files to WBAI and Fancy Broccoli, also. You can count on hearing it on Voices from the Prison Action Network, available on the internet as a live broadcast from www.wrpi.org on Wednesday mornings at 6 am.
FINANCIAL REPORT: Thanks to all the people who contributed food and supplies and labor it looks like we have money left over, which can be used as the starter money for the next Family Empowerment Day. About half of the money came from Inside, and the other half from Coalition organizations and concerned citizens. In other words, this was a grass roots effort on the part of people on both sides of the wall, working to make life better for all of us. It shows that we are serious about creating change; that we are willing to sacrifice to create a more just society.
CONTACT INFORMATION FOR THE SPEAKERS:
Mark Chapman, - 718 817 3747, CHAPMAN@FORDHAM.EDU
Deb Bozydaj - firstname.lastname@example.org
Willie Thomas - email@example.com
Robert Isseks - 845-344-4322, 6 North St, Middletown, NY 10940
Rima Vesely-Flad - 212 426 9881, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheryl L. Kates - 585 820-3818, PO BOX 711, Honeoye, NY 14471,
Karima Amin - 716 834 8438, email@example.com
3. LEAD ATTORNEYS IN CLASS ACTION PAROLE SUIT REQUEST INFORMATION:
Robert Isseks asks persons convicted of an A1 violent felony with life on the end to send their inmate status report and the decision from the parole board if they were denied for "nature of the crime", or the equivalent. The information may be sent to Robert Isseks, Esq. at 6 North Street, Middletown, NY 10940. The law team will use the information to support their case. They want people to know that if they are in that category they will automatically be covered by the class action suit, they do not have to apply.
4. JUDGE GOES BEYOND ORDERING NEW PAROLE HEARING FOR INMATE
By John Caher, New York Law Journal, October 6, 2006
ALBANY - In a rare display of judicial power over the state parole board, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Marcy S. Friedman has told the Division of Parole to release a convicted killer unless it can come up with a valid reason - other than the crimes he committed nearly 40 years ago -for keeping him behind bars. William R. Phillips, a 76-year-old, half blind, diabetic cancer victim and stroke survivor who the parole board has described as a "model prisoner" posing no threat to society, has been denied parole four times. ....."[W]here the Parole Board abdicates its responsibility to follow the statute, as here, the court may properly intervene," Justice Friedman wrote. [The entire article is posted on this site, as well as the decision.]
5. RIDE BOARD
To Bedford Hills from Albany - Qasim - 518 334 2607, firstname.lastname@example.org
To Gt. Meadow from Albany - Qasim - 518 334 2607, email@example.com
To Malone (Franklin C.F.) from NYC - Safiya Bandele 646 331 1820, firstname.lastname@example.org
To Otisville from Albany - 10/4, lv’g 7am - Judith - 518 482 2029
To Adirondack from Albany - Tanya and son Anthony - 505 455 6023, email@example.com
6. A COPY OF THE LETTER TO ELIOT SPITZER. We urge you to copy and sign this letter [if you have not already], or write your own, and send it to the address given.
Mr. Eliot Spitzer
330 Madison Avenue, 19th Floor
NY NY 10017
October 29, 2006
Dear Mr. Spitzer,
As a voter who is passionately hoping for changes in the Criminal Justice system and the NYS prison system, I wish to convey our wish for Day 1 when, if elected, you promise to start making important changes.
I urgently request that on Day 1 you impanel a select commission to review and make recommendations to the governor's office concerning the current inequities and abuses in the parole processes, which result in eligible prisoners remaining incarcerated after satisfying their court imposed minimums and the criteria of Executive law Section 259-i (2) (e).
Mr. Spitzer, I have seen the current administration make it an unofficial policy to withhold parole despite the satisfactory custodial adjustment and recognizable rehabilitation of many prisoners. This has resulted in a continuing escalation in costs to the public, and deprivation to their communities of productive citizens. Additionally, this policy has removed the concept of rehabilitation and restorative justice which I would like to see reinstated as key elements of our State's penological goals.
I request that you:
#1 submit the necessary legislation to amend Executive Law Section 259 et.seq, to prevent continued inequities and abuses by the Parole Commissioners.
#2 Moreover, until such time as the above is implemented, I request that as governor you direct the Parole Commissioners to follow Executive Law 259 as it is written, including its legislative intent.
#3 Finally, I request that you advise the Parole Commissioners that failure to follow the law, as evidenced by the repeated findings of the Judiciary, is grounds for removal as outlined in the statute.
City, Zip ___________________________________
7. PETITION FOR LEGISLATIVE MANDATE
TO: Joseph L. Bruno, Senate Majority Leader
Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the Assembly
As taxpayers and citizens we call upon our State Legislature to mandate that the New York State Parole Board must act in accordance with the law enacted by the legislature in 1977 [Executive Law, section 259-i, subdivision (2)c], which specifies that three criteria must be considered along with others: 1. the inmate's institutional record, 2. participation in a temporary release program, 3.and release plans.
Whereas: We have seen too many decisions which did not address these criteria, but were based solely on the nature of the offense, effectively re-sentencing the convicted person in opposition to the sentencing judge’s opinion.
Whereas: We know that the earlier community ready people are released the greater their chance to lead productive lives on the outside.
Therefore: We the people require that parole release decisions give serious consideration to the inmate’s readiness to return to society, based on his/her record while incarcerated, the support s/he has in the community, and the appropriateness of his/her release plans. We are supported in our demand by PL 1.05 where it states the intent of the Penal Law is, among others: “To insure the public safety by ... the rehabilitation of those convicted, the promotion of their successful and productive reentry and reintegration into society”.
Therefore: We the People urge the State Legislature to direct the parole board to: 1. produce parole decisions that are informative and detailed, not conclusory, peremptory or consisting primarily of a description of the offense committed; and 2. issue decisions containing an explanation of why each factor does or does not support each release criteria, on a case by case basis.
By our signature below, we charge the Legislature with our true safety by overseeing the Parole Board’s performance in identifying those least likely to recidivate, who will be an asset to the community, as opposed to a risk. Our safety does not rest primarily on the release of those with lesser crimes, but more directly on the release of those who, based on length of imprisonment, education skills obtained, family and community support, will remain at liberty without committing further crimes.
Name, Street Address, City, State, Zip*
If everyone who receives this would get five signatures we would be sending a message that thousands of people were willing to put their name on the line for justice! [...report back to us - firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can let everyone know the success of our efforts].
NOTE: If you want a monthly copy of this newsletter sent to your street address we need to ask you for a donation of $12, because that’s how much it costs us. Anyone wishing to contribute for those who can’t [for instance, people in prison] is welcome to do so. Checks or money orders can be made out to Prison Action Network and sent to PAN, H-M IMC, PO Box 35, Troy NY 12181.