January 2008 Edition
By the time you read this, the holidays will have passed. A new year has begun, and we wonder what the future will bring. We get a hint from some of reports we’ve received: “Senator Nozzolio to Hold Senate Hearing to Examine the Increase in Parole Release Rates for Violent Felons”[#8] and Tony Papa’s “Call for Clemency for Rockefeller Drug Law Prisoners”[#2] which was answered by NO clemencies and one pardon, do not bode well. On a better note, we read about “Birth Certificate Legislation Passed in NYC Council”[#1], and Judge Brieant’s denial of the State’s motion to dismiss the Graziano, et.al. vs Pataki case on mootness grounds and granting of the plaintiffs’ cross motion for class certification.[#7] which give us hope. (Please consider joining PAN’s Action Project in response to that news[#7])
To help more people receive Building Bridges in 2008, Prison Action Network has applied for funding to supplement the cost of subscriptions for people who can’t afford the $12 membership donation necessary to include a year’s subscription, and also to help pay travel expenses to visit prisons. We rarely apply for funding because it’s so time consuming and because we are so unorthodox that we don’t fit into most funders’ criteria. For instance, we’re not incorporated; originally because we couldn’t afford the filing fees, but after operating in a sea of organizations who couldn’t do certain things because of the limitations of their non-profit status, we made a decision to remain as we are. We invite you to write the Ethelwyn Doolittle Committee at Community Church of New York, 40 East 35th Street, NY NY 10016 in support of our funding request. (I don’t know if that will annoy them or impress them, but I think it would give them a good sense of who we represent.)
We hear about so much injustice from our readers that although we know there has been a dramatic shift in our relationships with DOCS and Parole, we also know there is still a lot of suffering being endured by people at the hands of those two bureaucracies. We will not stop our efforts until full justice for all is achieved. This is our 2008 New Year’s promise to you!
Please share your copy of Building Bridges. To recycle your issue, please contact PAN for the name and address of someone who wants a copy but can’t afford to make a donation.
1. Birth Certificate Legislation Passes NYC Council - bill grants free birth certificates to all residents coming home from City jails (after serving 90 days) or New York State prisons.
2. Call for Clemency for Rockefeller Drug Law Prisoners - Anthony Papa recommend[s] “that Gov. Spitzer go on a personal rescue mission and grant executive clemency to the large number of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoners who have fully rehabilitated themselves.”
3. Family Empowerment Day 3 Reports - The Albany FED3 event succeeded on some levels and failed in others. 156 of the 250 NYC participants said they had a loved one in prison, and 121 identified the facility. 27 NYS prisons were mentioned.
4. In Memory Of St. Clair Bourne - Among his other great accomplishments as a filmmaker, St. Clair was the executive director of Melis Birder’s “The Visitors” before his untimely death.
5. Mandatory Sentencing - “It undermined confidence in the fairness of the justice system by singling out poor and minority offenders while largely exempting the white and wealthy.”, says this NY Times editorial.
6. NYS Coalition for Rehabilitation and Reentry (NYS CoRR) - a project of C.U.R.E.-NY which offers a five-area platform (with twelve planks) for increased restorative practice in our NYS criminal justice system.
7. Other Criminal Justice Publications - C.U.R.E.-NY and CPR.
8. Parole News - Judge Brieant ruled on the motions in Graziano, et.al. vs. Pataki; Actions: you might contact the judge, the lawyers, and the Daily News; History; What’s Next; and “Illusions of Justice”, a different view; Public Hearing to Examine the Increase in Parole Release Rates; Statistics; Support for Antonio Calderon and Zayd Rashid; Release Statistics from Wyoming C.F..
9. Prison Radio - No schedules received, you’ll have to check on line.
10. Sentencing Commission Hearing Transcripts Available - posted at the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services website.
11. Smoking - “We are given frivolous tickets when nothing is done about enforcing the no-smoking laws. Why?”
12. Sonny Rudert’s Field Report - “So much of life involves trading one set of headaches for another. This is, after all, the wilderness and not the promised land.”
13. Support Meetings - It’s not easy having a loved one in prison. Join the community of family members and know you’re not alone....
14. Transportation to Prisons - Why do van services go out of business, why do people cancel their free rides, and why is there so little interest in the Ride Board?
15. What’s Happening Around New York State - Tuesday, January 15, 2008, 1:00pm Hearing Room A, Legislative Office Building, Albany. You need to be there.
1. Birth Certificate Legislation Passes NYC Council
ICARE sent this report:: Today, Tuesday, December 11, 2007, Intro. No. 574, a bill granting free birth certificates to all residents coming home from City jails (after serving 90 days) or New York State prisons, was passed by the full Council of the City of New York (39-6 vote). The Bloomberg Administration stated their support and the mayor is expected to sign it into law within 30 days.
The intention and effect will be to rescind one more barrier to people successfully reentering their communities and attempting to rebuild their lives after incarceration. It is exactly the kind of gesture of hope that ICARE was founded to advocate for. Birth certificates are needed for many aspects of making a new life - from employment to housing to official ID’s, applications to educational institutions, healthcare, other benefits and social services.
2. Call for Clemency for RDL Prisoners
In his article "Rescue Mission for Governor Spitzer", posted December 18, 2007 at Huffingtonpost.com, Anthony Papa gave Governor Spitzer some good advice:
“With the coming holiday season in mind, I recommend that Gov. Spitzer go on a personal rescue mission and grant executive clemency to the large number of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoners who have fully rehabilitated themselves and already served enormous amounts of time behind bars under the draconian provisions of mandatory-minimum sentencing.”
A few days later, after Spitzer had failed to take his advice, The New York Times printed this letter:
A Lone Pardon This Year, By Anthony Papa, published December 29, 2007
To the Editor: Re “Spitzer Pardons Ex-Convict to Spare Him Deportation” (news article, Dec. 22):
Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s attempt to show compassion this holiday season fell way off the mark. Mr. Spitzer’s single pardon to an individual set free 10 years ago, coupled with the fact that he did not grant one clemency, was nothing more than a safe political move.
There are many nonviolent Rockefeller drug law offenders who have already served lengthy sentences but are stuck in prison because of a continuing political quagmire. Traditionally, these offenders have been granted clemency at Christmastime. Former Gov. George Pataki, who was known for his toughness on crime, granted clemencies to 28 of them, including me. To give none of those offenders who applied for clemency a chance to be united with their families is a crying shame. [For a copy of either of Papa’s articles in its entirety, send your specific request to firstname.lastname@example.org]
3. Family Empowerment Day 3 Reports
The Albany FED3 event succeeded on some levels and failed in others. The success was in the enthusiasm of those who attended and in the valuable feedback Melis Birder got after showing the rough cut of her documentary “The Visitors” about people who travel all night on buses to upstate prisons for a 5 hour visit with their loved ones. Keynote Speakers Rev. Peter Young and DA David Soares were inspiring and blew us away with how much they thought alike and how much they both agreed with the rest of us on problems and solutions.
Our disappointment was in the size of attendance, and the fact that there were only 3 people among the 30 who attended who were family members. The rest were advocates or curious people. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s FAMILY Empowerment Day! We didn’t design it to be a networking session for advocates, but that’s what it excelled at. The service providers, many of whom, shockingly, did not know each other, had a great time talking to each other and presumably planning ways to work together.
It took awhile but on December 5 all the data from FED3/NYC was finally organized! As reported in November's edition of Building Bridges, over 250 people attended. Of those, 218 were helpful in providing more information than just their name so here's what we learned from them:
156 said they had a loved one in prison. 121 identified the facility. Some people said they had loved ones all over the state, so we can't include them in the account that follows. 27 NYS prisons were mentioned. (3 others were out of state). Here they are, with the number of people who named them: Arthur Kill (4), Attica (5), Auburn (5) Clinton (5), Collins (1), Coxsackie (3), Eastern (3), Elmira (1), Fishkill (13), Franklin (3), Gouverneur (1), Green Haven (5), Gt Meadow (3), Hudson (2), Kirby Psych (2), Mid-Orange (5), Ogdensburg (1), Oneida (1), Orleans (1), Otisville (22), pretrial (1), Rikers (2), Riverhead (1), Shawangunk (1), Sullivan (7), Taconic (1), Upstate (1).
These figures raise some questions: do some prisons need to be more active in persuading their representatives to attend? Some worked hard with little return - maybe they need to spend the coming months planning how to improve the return on their investment of time and money. Some family members found out about it on the street, not from their incarcerated loved one. Why was that?
Our goal for next year is 500 people. That means doubling our efforts at the very least. Are you willing to work toward that? This is your event. We won’t be able to do it without your support, so let us know if you have the energy for it.
4. In Memory Of St. Clair Bourne
Born February 16, 1943, St. Clair Bourne had a tremendous influence on the film industry. In his career St. Clair directed and/or produced more than 40 films, and was at the time of his death the Executive Producer of Director Melis Birder's documentary "The Visitors". St. Clair founded Chamba Media in 1971, after leaving Black Journal where he had been a producer. Notable films included: "In Motion: Amiri Baraka", "The Black and the Green", "Making 'Do the Right Thing'", "John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk", and "Half Past Autumn, The Life and Works of Gordon Parks". St. Clair died on Saturday, December 15, 2007. He will be missed by many in the Liberation movement and the film industry.
5. Mandatory Sentencing
The New York Times Editorial, December 20, 2007
An Idea Whose Time Should Be Past
The mandatory sentencing craze that began in the 1970s was a public-policy disaster. It drove up inmate populations and corrections costs and forced the states to choose between building prisons and building schools or funding medical care for the indigent. It filled the prisons to bursting with nonviolent drug offenders who would have been more cheaply and more appropriately dealt with through treatment. It tied the hands of judges and ruined countless young lives by mandating lengthy prison terms in cases where leniency was warranted. It undermined confidence in the fairness of the justice system by singling out poor and minority offenders while largely exempting the white and wealthy.
The Supreme Court recognized the flaws in this system last week when it ruled that federal judges were justified in handing out lower sentences for drug offenders than were laid out in federal sentencing guidelines. The United States Sentencing Commission, the independent body that sets those guidelines, has called for easing drug-crime sentences for some categories of offenders and for doing so retroactively. In addition, bills pending in Congress would rewrite federal drug statutes, making treatment more readily available and sentences fairer and more sensible.
Nowhere is repeal of mandatory-sentencing policies more urgently needed than in New York, which sparked an unfortunate national trend when it passed its draconian Rockefeller drug laws in the 1970s. Local prosecutors tend to love this law because it allows them to bypass judges and decide unilaterally who goes to jail and for how long.
But the general public is increasingly skeptical of a system that railroads young, first-time offenders straight to prison with no hope of treatment or reprieve. In an often-cited 2002 poll by The New York Times, for example, 79 percent of respondents favored changing the law to give judges control over sentencing. And 83 percent said that judges should be allowed to send low-level drug offenders to treatment instead of prison.
The State Legislature has tinkered at the margins of these horrific laws, but stopped short of restoring judicial discretions. The time is clearly right for that crucial next step. The Legislature needs to gear up for the change, and Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who has thus far tiptoed around the subject, needs to set the stage when he delivers his State of the State message early next month. [Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company]
6. NYS Coalition for Rehabilitation and Reentry (NYS CoRR)
NYS CoRR is a project of C.U.R.E.-NY which offers a five-area platform (with twelve planks) for increased restorative practice in our NYS criminal justice system.
A. EQUAL JUSTICE FOR ALL;
• 1. Expanded Pre-Trial Services
• 2. Fair Representation
a) Independent Public Defense Commission
b) Fair Legislative Representation
• 3. Job Oriented Education
C. HEALTH and TRANSFORMATION
• 4. Repeal NYS drug laws
• 5. Treatment / Transformative Programs
• 6. Improved prison health services
D. REHABILITATION INCENTIVES
7. Merit time
E. TRANSITIONAL SERVICES;·
8. Work release for most incarcerated persons
9. Fair parole policies and practice
10. Transitional reentry-support
11. Family support
12. The LifeLine program, using formerly incarcerated lifers to aid those incarcerated
The ultimate objectives of this strategy are fourfold: 1. more productive and satisfying lives, 2. less future crime, 3. less future taxpayer expense, and 4. a more productive society.
Details and Sample letters (or emails) in support of each plank are available http://www.bestweb.net/~cureny/Co_platform.htm
7. Other Criminal Justice Publications
CURE-NY’s Fall 2007 issue is available online at www.bestweb.net/~cureny, or by mail when you become a member. Send an email to email@example.com. Include your name, mailing address or email address if you wish to join or just receive the newsletter. Basic membership is $10, newsletter only is $5, and membership for incarcerated persons is $2.
The Deuce Club
CPR’s newsletter, The Deuce Club, mailed out a bulletin packed with information. It’s available online at www.parolecpr.org, or by mail when you become a member. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to PO Box 1379, New York, New York 10013. Include your name, mailing address or email address if you wish to join, membership is $10 per year for families and $2 for people in prison.
Graziano, et.al. vs. Pataki update:
When Gov. Spitzer withdrew the agreement that had been made between the Attorney General (the State’s lawyer) and the plaintiffs, the case was then returned to the Court. On 12/6/07 we received news that Judge Brieant had ruled on the motions in Graziano v. Pataki. In brief, Judge Brieant denied the defendants' motion to dismiss on mootness grounds and granted plaintiffs' cross-motion for class certification. [If you would like a copy of the decision, please send specific request to PAN with SASE]
ACTION: Write letters of appreciation to Judge Charles Brieant, United States Federal District Court, 300 Quarropas Street, White Plains, New York 10601-4150, and to the lead attorney, Robert Isseks, 6 North St., Middletown NY 10940. Also to the NY Daily News, who seem to have an interest in this lawsuit: The NY Daily News: email@example.com or 450 W. 33 Street, New York, NY 10001. Please include your full name, address and phone number.
An Overview: When the plaintiffs filed the complaint originally, they had the choice to file in any federal district court in New York (Northern, Western, Eastern, or Southern) because plaintiffs live in all districts of New York and plaintiffs are given the first choice for venue of the case. They chose to file in the Southern District and Judge Brieant, who sits in the Southern District, was randomly assigned to preside. (This, in the opinion of your editor, was an incredibly lucky break because he appears to be a very fair judge.)
Judge Brieant asked the parties to see if they could negotiate a settlement and they did. It was in the process of being written when Gov. Spitzer withdrew the agreement and said he would litigate.
The case remains in Judge Brieant’s courtroom and he makes all rulings (except under certain circumstances not relevant here) through trial, including issuing a judgment after hearing all of the evidence in the trial. There is some reason for hope that he will hand down a ruling in 2008. The case went back to Judge Brieant's court in White Plains on December 20 (the judge decides when the parties must appear next in court). This court appearance probably only involved scheduling the case for trial.
The class will be notified about the case and class members will be given the opportunity to opt out of the class (which is only done where the individual believes he/she could get a more favorable ruling than the one reached by the attorneys).
A Different Perspective:
“Illusions of Justice”
I am a longterm prisoner who was saddened and somewhat perplexed upon hearing the broad raves from prisoners and their supporters when the news spread about the proposed settlement in the Graziano class action lawsuit. Thereafter, I experienced a sigh of relief when Gov Spitzer announced that he would not accept the settlement as offered.
My sadness was compounded by the fact that I neither heard nor read of any contrary views to the proposed settlement. From our side just glee. I recalled the morbid reasoning expressed by prisoners in the mid-1990's as it became imminent that Pataki would assume the Governor's office. The sentiments were, "even though he'll reenact the death penalty, at least we'll get a good time bill." Some prisoners were willing and expecting the great tradeoff: Death for good time! We all know what happened with that.
As I read about the proposed settlement the similarities were witnessed in the limited application of the proposal That is, those who would reap the supposed "benefit" would be those who appeared before a parole panel prior to April 16, 2007. And as for those who appeared April 17 and thereafter -- well, they got their just due.
The reasoning behind this being that once the new Parole Commissioner, George Alexander, issued his edict to the other board members, everything would be hunky-dory. But whence came the notion that Alexander could, by the stroke of a pen, correct the wrongs of more than a decade of entrenched planning by Gov Pataki and his minions? Nothing could be more wrong. The abuses continue and are chronicled regularly.
Perhaps I was misled into believing that prisoners and their supporters were acutely aware of the continued arbitrariness of parole decisions long after the April 16th memorandum. And I suppose it is not yet well-known, even today, that the Board has systematically instituted measures to "moot" prisoners' legitimate claims and challenges by refusing to respond to administrative appeals and employing delaying tactics with court challenges until it is time for the prisoner to reappear before the board. Ask around.
Another important consideration for those prisoners who think they missed a windfall with Spitzer's refusal to settle is the likely nature of the hearings they would have received. Former Parole Commissioner Vernon Manley admitted that the system itself constrained him from conducting fair hearings. Many long-termers are familiar with the 5-minute cursory parole hearings that the board is apt to offer, with clearly predetermined results. With 1000 or more new hearings being provided and practically all the beneficiaries requesting the four Spitzer appointees, can you expect anything fairer than what the Pataki crew would offer? Do the math.
What prisoners and their supporters need to realize is that we are engaged in more than a legal battle; we are engaged in a colossal war against injustice and immorality. Therefore, capitulation should never be in our equation. When the spirit and resolve of the people is weak or tepid, it is the policymakers' unscrupulous views and programs that will always prevail We deserve and should demand more. Our attitude should be that even if we lose or draw the battle, the war will go on.
As I see it, this attitude in no way diminishes a prisoner's true feelings of repentance for the harm his or her crimes inflicted upon the community. If a prisoner has done all that could be expected to re-create self and becomes an asset to the community, then he or she should reap the full benefits of parole law. This attitude does, however, empower a prisoner to broaden his reflections from the personal to a systemic level.
Considering all the suffering that has been inflicted--by both the prisoners and the unscrupulous policy makers, any settlement agreement should include justice--even if only a small measure. We should not grapple at an illusion. ---Mujahid Farid
New York State Senator Michael F. Nozzolio will be convening the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee to conduct a legislative oversight hearing to examine the increase in parole release rates for violent felons in the New York correctional system on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 1:00pm, Hearing Room A, Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY
Denise O’Donnell, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice Services; George Alexander, Chairman of the New York State Parole Board; and Brian Fischer, Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services, are expected to testify before the Committee to address the increased release rates.
“It has been widely reported that the Board of Parole is releasing a substantially higher number of violent felons from custody this year. As Chairman of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee, I will be conducting a legislative oversight hearing in January to review the matter and to take testimony from the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Chairman of the New York State Parole Board, and the Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services,” said Senator Nozzolio.
[Building Bridges suggests that we all be there to witness this event. There will be no public comment period, but we can make calls and write letters afterwards.]
Parole Support: We haven’t received an update on the Otisville Broadband Support candidates, which are men judged by their peers to be community ready. The selected candidates are representing all the others, so that their success at reentry will advance the chances of the men left behind, and their failure will harm them. Everyone involved has a vested interest in their success. We hesitate to present people without that kind of backing, for unless we know them as well as their peers we have no way of judging whether they are indeed community ready. However, we are publishing Antonio Calderon’s appeal for support this month because we know of him through a mutually beloved and respected friend.
Antonio Calderon (78A3717) writes on his own behalf: as a young adult in the East New York section of Bklyn informally known as ‘Gunsmoke”, I fell in with the wrong crowd and had early encounters with the law. Now 63 years old, I have been in prison for 29 years for my role in a codefendant’s shooting of a man at a party in 1977. I got 20 years to life; my codefendant who fired the deadly shot, got 25 to life yet was released after his first parole appearance in 2002. I will see my 6th board in January 2008. I have made great strides to improve myself and become a productive member of society. My release plans are to live initially at Dismas House. The program there will assist me in obtaining employment and addressing any treatment requirements directed by parole. I plan to reside in this program for as long as necessary and then move back to my parents’ home in Queens, NY. I would like to work as a bilingual peer counselor, and be there for my family. Antonio is incarcerated at Otisville C.F. Letters of support for him may be sent to Mr. George Alexander, Chairman of the NYS Division of Parole, 97 Central Ave., Albany NY 12206, with a copy to Mr. Calderon at Otisville C.F.
Zayd Rashid (DIN 83A4615) is also scheduled to see the board in January. Zayd graduated from the New York Theological Seminary master’s program magna cum laude. In 24 years of incarceration he was only cited once for disciplinary reasons and the charges were overturned. He has become one of NY’s most successful jailhouse lawyers, and many readers have probably received the benefit of his legal skills. He and Sonny Rudert, while at Otisville C.F., originated the idea for Family Empowerment Day. His family is eagerly awaiting his return, in particular his 8 year old daughter Nisa, with whom he has maintained a close relationship. Support letters can be sent to George Alexander (see address above) with a copy to Mr. Rashid at Fishkill C.F.
Released: we haven’t received any current reports this month, but we are in great need of the names of the Parole Board members who were at Collins in November. Please send it ASAP if you have that information. We received an impressive report distributed by Wyoming Correctional Facility. Called PAROLE BOARD STATISTICS 2007, it lists by month the numbers denied and granted (and the %’s) for Merit Time releases, Initial Releases, Reappearance Releases, and the total denials and releases. The year-to-date totals are then compared with the last two years. It also lists the commissioners at each hearing for the year. For example, in the last month
listed, November 2007, 4 people were denied merit time. 0 were released. On their initial appearances 13 were denied, 4 were granted, on reappearances 2 denied, 3 granted; for an overall total of 26 appearances, 19 denials, and 7 parole releases. I have no idea how many people are held at Wyoming - the DOCS webpage does not have those numbers that I can discover. The November board consisted of Gerald Greenan and Sally Thompson. Through August there were 3 on each board, since then only 2.
[We get our reports from you; send word to Building Bridges, c/o PAN at address below and we’ll publish.]
9. Prison Radio
Al Lewis Lives, hosted by Karen Lewis, broadcasts on Saturdays from noon to 1:30 pm on WBAI, 99.5 FM, NYC.
The Fancy Broccoli Show: Fancy Broccoli airs on WVKR, 91.3FM, Poughkeepsie NY on Sundays from 3 - 6 pm, Eastern Time, and streams online - go to WVKR.org and click on (or near) the word 'LISTEN'.
Democracy Now!, with Amy Goodman airs around the country, check www.democracynow.org to find the station nearest you or to read the transcripts. While not solely devoted to prison issues, she provides in-depth coverage of some of the most serious prison and criminal justice issues.
Justice Pages Audio at http://www.justicepages.org/
On The Count: The Prison and Criminal Justice Report, WBAI Radio, 99.5 FM in New York City (www.wbai.org), broadcasting every Saturday morning 10:30 am until noon. It is the only regularly broadcast program in America whose host and entire production staff is composed of people who were formerly incarcerated.
Thousand Kites: http://thousandkites.pbwiki.com/ Listen to the newly launched Thousand Kites Radio Station, a twenty-four hour online webcast dedicated to the Thousand Kites project, a national dialogue project addressing the prison system and human rights in the United States through theater, video, web, community radio, and grassroots strategies.
Voices from the Prison Action Network: If you’d like to be interviewed by telephone (or in person) please call me to set up something for the future. 518 253 7533. Archives available at http://radio4all.net and http://hmimc.swapspace.com.
10. Sentencing Commission Hearing Transcripts Available
For those of you who wished you could attend the Sentencing Commission hearings but couldn't, or even if you did and would like to read the testimony to refresh your memory, the transcripts are now posted at the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services website. They’re hundreds of pages long, so I doubt they are available any other way. We are checking to see if there is any way people without access to computers can read them.
I'm perplexed by one of the biggest health issues of the 21st century and that it's being ignored by many NY prisons. We are given frivolous tickets when nothing is done about enforcing the no smoking laws. Why?
I grieved this issue and took it all the way to Albany and all they did was give me the politically correct answer, "COs make rounds every hour on the hour" (which is a fallacy at my prison). Officers look the other way when they pass the prisoners’ bathroom, but there are ashes and butts in there. Where do they suppose they come from? We have to compete with the smokers for bathroom stall time. If they don't want to enforce the state law against smoking, then why not just stop selling tobacco products? Could it be about the money? - Non Smoker
2. Sonny Rudert’s Field Report
More and more lifers and long-termers are starting to return home after decades in prison. This is, no doubt, due in large part to the increased pressure on parole boards to follow parole statute and abandon the unfair policies of the Pataki era. This pressure comes from within and without. Even as Graziano v. Pataki proceeds ever forward in the federal courts, George Alexander, the new Chairman of the Division of Parole, has made it clear to his parole commissioners that in their hearing decisions he expects them to stop trumping all other criteria with that former Pataki wild card, "the seriousness of the offense."
I believe we can therefore expect more fair parole hearings in the future. This of course means even more people will be returning from prison. Subsequently, the term "re-entry" has now become the hot button issue of the day. It has become a buzzword. But if we want it to be more than that, let's keep in mind that for re-entry to occur three basic things must happen. In fact, re-entry is these three things: parole (the person must be released); housing (they must have an adequate roof over their head); and, jobs--one needs a steady source of income in order to survive in this society. Those of us on the provider side of this equation must think of ways to trim the fat while helping to make decent jobs and affordable housing available to formerly incarcerated persons (money spent on bureaucracies purporting to make these things happen can, I believe, be better allocated by individuals and small groups of friends simply making them happen).
This all brings to mind my own, ever present Big Picture which I will leave you with: So much of life involves trading one set of headaches for another. This is, after all, the wilderness and not the promised land. So, for many of us, our last big headache was worrying about the prospect of continually being judged for our worst acts of many years ago. Today, those of us on the outside worry about what everyone else worries about: rent, mortgages, credit card debt, etc. Yes, they are still headaches--but I don't have to tell you which are the "better" of the two! The art of life, I have learned, lies in discovering and opening your heart to true joy and beauty in those precious (and few) moments in between the headaches. My joy and beauty has a name: Nanette Ramos. And I am proud to announce that on Saturday, December 15th, we became engaged to marry. Please wish us well as we also continue to wish you all the best. May 2008 hold forth new promise and hope for us all. Somehow, I know it will. Peace.
13. Support Meetings
Albany: PFNY meeting at 7:00 pm every Monday at the Women’s Bldg, 79 Central Avenue. Please call ahead: Alison 518 453 6659
ROOTS: Re-entry Monthly Orientation Sessions (on the last Thursdays) - for parolees being released from NYC correctional facilities and returning to Albany - these offer support, hope and proven suggestions from ROOTS (Re-entry Opportunities and Orientations Towards Success) members (ex-offenders and supporters).
ROOTS Bi-Weekly "Re-entry Peer Support Groups" every other Sat from 11am-1pm. Dec. 8 and 22. Both meetings at Trinity Institute, 15 Trinity Place, Albany; For info: ROOTS: 518 434 1026; Corey Ellis 518 4499-5155m x131
Buffalo: Groups for men and women meet separately on Thursdays, from 5:30-6:30pm at GROUP Ministries, Inc., 1333 Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo. These programs are FREE and confidential. For more information, call 716-539-1844.
North Babylon LI: Prison Families Anonymous meets on the 2nd and 4th Wed of each month at 7:30 pm at the Babylon Town Hall Annex. You are welcome if you have a family member in prison. For more info you may call Barbara: Ph: 631-630-9118, Cell: 631-943-0441
Poughkeepsie: PFNY Support Group Room 306 of the Main Building of Family Partnership at 29 North Hamilton St. Poughkeepsie, NY. Meetings will be held on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month at 7pm. The Citizens for Restorative Justice meet the first Monday of the month, 6:30 to 8:00PM. The location changes so call ahead of time, 845-464-4736.
Schenectady: PFNY Meeting in flux. Call Jeanette for info: 518 374 0627.
14. Transportation to Prisons
Let’s talk about transportation. It’s a common perception that getting to prison to visit their loved one is a huge problem for many people. Yet one transportation company after another has gone out of business because they couldn’t fill their vans or cars and thus lost money on the venture. Even with volunteer drivers the cost of gas, insurance, and maintenance often outstrips the amount of income received. Understandably some people cannot even afford the rates of these small companies, even though they are less than large public transportation companies. So the Albany Justice Committee got volunteers to drive people to certain prisons for no charge at all. People have called up very excited to get a free ride, and then failed to be there
when the driver came to pick them up. Once a passenger failed to return to the car waiting for her after her visit. This is demoralizing and can cost us drivers. We started a ride board, but I’ve learned that some people are afraid to use it for fear the other person may be smuggling contraband into the facility and they will somehow get in trouble for it, by association. There is no way to screen people against smuggling contraband. Some otherwise good people do it, out of a very misplaced, in my opinion, loyalty to their loved one. No one is going to admit it. As always, poor decisions affect people way beyond the few directly affected. Many deserving people have no way to get to see their loved ones because others have ruined their chances. Please let us know what you think can be done about this situation, or if you agree or not with these theories. Meanwhile we will keep on offering rides.
From the Capital District:
The NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow CFs on Sat, Jan 5 ($30 adults, $20 children), Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson CFs on Sun, Jan 13 ($15 adults and $10 children), from Oakwood Ave Presbyt. Church parking lot, Troy at 7 AM, and Albany Greyhound bus station at 7:15. Trip to Utica (Midstate, Marcy, Mohawk, Oneida CFs) on Sat, Jan 19 leaving Troy at 5 AM and Albany bus Station at 5:15. Sullivan (Ulster, Eastern, Woodbourne, Sullivan CFs) on Sat Jan 26 leaving at 6 AM ($40 adults, $25 children). Reservations: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.T
Door to door, free rides are offered from Albany to prisons within 150 miles by volunteers of FUUSA’s Justice Committee on weekdays only. Please contact us at 518 253-7533 if you need a ride.
CarPooling: Please call 518 253 7533 if you would be willing to take a passenger or if you want a ride.
Statewide: DOCS Free Bus - to find out how to sign up, from NYC area: Deacon Mason on Tues &
Fri, 212 961 4026 and from Albany: on Wed & Thurs, 518 485 9212; from Buffalo area: Rev. Roberson 716 532 0177, x4805; from Syracuse: Sister Patricia: 315 428 4258
15. What’s Happening Around New York State
Albany: Senator Nozzolio to hold senate hearing to examine the increase in parole release rates for violent felons, Tuesday, January 15, 2008, 1:00pm Hearing Room A, Legislative Office Building. You need to be there.
Buffalo: Prisoners Are People Too! will be meeting on January 28. PRP2! programs are sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of Baba Eng. Call Karima for details: call 716-834-8438
Maintain hope, for despair is deadly.
While we may not win the battle for justice this year,
we can continue to add our weight to the moral side of the soale.