Monday, April 30, 2007

May 2007

Dear Reader,

Despite the appearance of setbacks, such as Spitzer’s Executive Order 9 which decreased eligibility for Work Release, in preparing this newsletter it became clear to us that a lot of positive change is in the air. For one thing, 566 people have signed the petition for expanding Work Release, and Assemblymember Adam Bradley suggests ways to achieve our goal (#15). We also learned of other opportunities which if we get behind them with all of our energy, can become realities. A new Education Bill (#1) would restore TAP grant eligibility to incarcerated students! Hopefully our friendly lawyer, who critiqued the Merit Bill (#4), will read over this new Education Bill to make sure we haven’t missed something, but it appears to be the answer to a long held dream on both sides of the wall of bringing higher education back into NYS prisons. Talk to your legislators, write them, call them, visit them. Arm yourself with information. Send us statistics and cost analyses so we can share them with other readers. Let the politicians know they have solid support from the people. Lastly, from the reports we’ve received from 2 prisons (#5), there appears to have been a shift in the parole boards’ attitudes as well. We need to let them know we are watching and we appreciate these changes! The people who represent us in the State Legislature need to hear from us, and be convinced that they will gain votes, not lose them, by representing our interests. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get ready to work hard and long for the successes ahead! Remember, together we CAN make a difference!


1. EDUCATION BILL A7043, S4085 - a bill has been proposed which would return incarcerated persons to eligibility for TAP grants!

2. INNOCENT - After five young people identified him in court as the murderer, Fernando Bermudez was convicted in 1992 of killing a 16-year-old youth in Greenwich Village. No other evidence — a gun, a fingerprint or a clear motive - tied him to the crime.

3. LIFER’S GROUP STATISTICS REQUESTED - How many Lifer’s Groups are there in NYS? And where are they?

4. MERIT TIME BILL COMMENTARY - Lawyer sees problem with bill’s language, not intent.

5. PAROLE - April’s Boards at Otisville and Mid-Orange were an improvement over the past few months; May’s candidates seek your support.

6. PORT HURON STATEMENT - this document from 1962 still is relevant: Students for a Democratic Society said then, "we ourselves are imbued with urgency, yet the message of our society is that there is no viable alternative to the present."

7. PRISON RADIO - a list of productions focused on our issues and achievements; Sonny Rudert on Fancy Broccoli May 6.

8. RECONCILIATION INITIATIVES - in a meeting with Rev. Glorya Askew, it was easier for the Otisville Lifers "to understand, accept and discuss how we suffer from a collective injury that only we can individually fix"

9. SQUARE FETTER - [from part 4 of the serialization]: "For the institution induced the devout conviction that, no matter what Jones said or did, the “Beast” was supreme, eternal."

10. SUPPORT MEETINGS - join others who share your feelings about the impact of incarceration on you and your loved ones.

11. TELEPHONE JUSTICE - Help urge the State Legislature to pass the Family Connections bill (S.705/A.3397)

12. TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS - ways to get to see your incarcerated loved one.

13. WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND NEW YORK STATE - groups you can join to get involved in creating change.

14. WORDS FROM RAMON - "We have to find new approaches for making the changes we seek. I say Economics is the place to start."

15. WORK RELEASE - a total to date of 566 signatures on the petition sent to Gov Spitzer in support of work release for formerly violent offenders! Our goal is 2500. We can do it!

1. EDUCATION BILL, A07043, S4085
We all know how important higher education is to public safety. With college degrees, parole release is more likely and success upon reentry is greatly increased. We've been fighting to get it back for incarcerated people since Pataki vetoed it during his administration. Now a bill has been introduced that would return eligibility for TAP grants to incarcerated students. Here is the information; you know what to do! Thank the people who support it, especially if they represent your district, and urge everyone else to get on board. Here's the info you'll need:

Introduced by:
will take you to a page where you can locate any senator, and their contact information. We suggest you save the information or bookmark the page.]

and in Assembly, by AURELIA GREENE, 77th Assembly District,, 930 Grand Concourse, Suite E, Bronx, NY 10451, 718-538-2000, LOB 646 , Albany, NY 12248, 518-455-5671.

Referred to Committee on Higher Education. (Chair: Catherine Nolan;
Members: Carmen E. Arroyo, Michael Benedetto , James F. Brennan, Ruben Diaz, Jr., Patricia A. Eddington, Steve Englebright, Aurelia Greene, Earlene Hooper, Susan V. John, Tom Kirwan, William B. Magnarelli, David G. McDonough, Joel M. Miller, William L. Parment, Amy Paulin, Phil Ramos, Bill Reilich, Bob Reilly, Joseph S. Saladino, Teresa R. Sayward, Mike Spano, Robert K. Sweeney, Fred W. Thiele, Jr, Paul D. Tonko, Harvey Weisenberg)

To find out how to contact these Assembly people, you can visit To find out who represents you in the Assembly there is a place on the right side where you can search by zip code. We suggest you copy their information for easy reference.

Bill A7043, S4085 repeals paragraph d of subdivision 6 of section 661 of the Education Law, relating to eligibility of incarcerated persons for academic performance awards thus restoring their eligibility to receive TAP grants.

Section 1. Paragraph d of subdivision 6 of section 661 of the education law is REPEALED. 2. This act shall take effect immediately.

Building Bridges hears from or about many people who claim their innocence, and we must say most of the stories are very convincing and heartbreaking. We believe there are a lot more innocent people wasting away in prison than anyone realizes. Below is one such example. This case was featured in Scott Christianson’s book, "Innocent: Inside Wrongful Conviction Cases", and recently made front page news.

April 13, 2007 New York Times front page
[we have chosen 2 sections from a much longer article, which is posted in the Previous Posts column on the right, as 'Innocent: Fernando Bermudez'.]

Accusers Recant, but Hopes Still Fade in Sing Sing By PAUL von ZIELBAUER

After five young people identified him in court as the murderer, Fernando Bermudez was convicted in 1992 of killing a 16-year-old youth in Greenwich Village. No other evidence — a gun, a fingerprint or a clear motive — tied him to the crime.

He has been jailed ever since, despite the fact that for 14 years, the same five witnesses have insisted their testimony was false. The five gave sworn statements in 1993 that Mr. Bermudez was not the killer and that their testimony had been manipulated by the police and prosecutors. They did so at the risk of being charged with perjury, and they have stuck with those accounts even as they have approached middle age, taken on steady jobs and raised families. Nonetheless, the recantations have had little impact. The same judicial system that once relied on the witnesses now no longer believes them.

“What does it take, with the system that we have, to reinvestigate a wrongful conviction?” said Scott Christianson, a supporter of Mr. Bermudez and a former state criminal justice official. “It’s really beyond me.”
Mr. Bermudez’s situation has attracted a legion of supporters, including lawyers, law professors, a retired detective and a former federal judge. “The evidence powerfully shows that Bermudez is innocent,” said Bennett L. Gershman, a professor at Pace University Law School.

Mr. Bermudez’s hopes now rest on an appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In an interview at Sing Sing prison, he recalled the faith he once had in the system. “I believed that it was as simple as telling the truth,” he said, “and the truth prevailing.” Now, he says, the truth doesn’t matter.
Now Mr. Bermudez awaits the judgment on his latest, perhaps final, appeal. He has a clean disciplinary record and spends evenings reading legal briefs. His wife, whom he met through correspondence, and his children visit him every few weeks. In 15 years his story has not changed. “I sometimes have to manufacture hope,” he said, “because this is a very depressing, dangerous, evil place.”

The Coalition for Family and Community would like to know how many NYS prisons have Lifer’s, Long Termers, or similar groups. If you know of a prison with such a group, please let us know, by sending a note to PAN. We are also interested to know what percentage of that prison’s population is composed of Lifers.

While I wholly support extending "good time" to prisoners with life, determinate sentences, etc., I think that the language of Bill S3578 presents some problems.  As an initial matter, the bill does not clearly state its purpose, and can be construed to be taking away the current good time system for those with indeterminate sentences (1/3 off the max date).  It is unclear from the plain language of the bill whether it intends to replace the conditional release system for prisoners with an indeterminate sentence, or whether it intends to extend/create a merit time system for all prisoners (indeterminate, determinate, lifers) and use that system to get prisoners to their initial parole appearance date sooner. At line 14-15, the bill states that prisoners "may receive merit time against the MAXIMUM and minimum terms", but since prisoners with an indeterminate sentence are already receiving a 1/3 time cut off their max date under the current system, this use of the word MAXIMUM seems to confuse that.  While I am not a criminal defense lawyer, I do have significant litigation experience and that language could easily be construed to mean that the proposed merit system stands in place of the current CR system. So, under that interpretation of the bill, prisoners who are now receiving a basically automatic time cut of a 1/3 off their max date under the CR system would now be required to "earn" that time vis a vis the new merit system every 6 months.  While I am sure that is not the intent of the bill, legislation is often subject to interpretation by the Courts and I would be deeply troubled to see a bill that we propose as prisoners' advocates used against the CR system down the road to deprive prisoners of their guaranteed CR date (provided there is no loss of good time recommendation due to disciplinary matters). I also have some concern over the concept of setting up individual merit committees at each jail that would have "discretion" (see line 27) over determining merit time awards, as firstly, this puts a tremendous amount of power in individual facilities and adds a tremendous pressure to prisoners already strained by the oppressive parole board system.  Surely, since some "problem" prisoners are really just vocal advocates, such a merit system will likely prejudice the most active prisoners, as the merit committee will not likely view their efforts in the same light that we do.  Further, creating dozens of merit committees statewide opens the door to a wide disparity in the way prisoners are granted time cuts.  Perhaps a more crowded facility will rubber stamp these 6 month reviews due to limited staff, where a smaller facility might probe a prisoner's record with a fine-tooth comb, making it much more difficult for the prisoner at the smaller facility to earn merit time.

Further, the bill does not provide for who makes up the merit committee, but rather vests all of the control in the DOCS Commissioner to promulgate the rules and regulations.  Wouldn't it be better to lay some foundation for who should comprise the committee in order to ensure a better result?

Finally, the sponsor's memo contains some troubling language (as does the unamended Section 1 of the bill).  The memo does not fully explain the intent of the bill, and does not distinguish what this bill proposes, what it intends to replace, and that it does not, in any way, interfere with the current CR system.  To the contrary, the memo seems to suggest that the CR system is in some way being replaced. (see paragraph 5 of Justification section).  This suggestion is bolstered by the end of paragraph 6 of the same section where the memo states, "It can be expected that, unlike now, the PRISON STAY OF SOME PROBLEM INMATES MAY BE EXTENDED BEYOND THEIR CONDITIONAL RELEASE DATE."  I find that statement very troubling for a number of reasons including (1) how does this system push back a CR date if it intends only to apply merit time to a minimum date of an indeterminate sentence, and (2) who defines a problem inmate? 

While I understand that the legislative memo is not law, it is looked at by the Courts when trying to interpret a law, and as such, should be a clear statement of the bill's true purpose and intentions.

Therefore, I believe that it is in our best interests to revise the language of this bill, make clear its intent, and draft in a way that leaves it less vulnerable to problematic interpretations.

Graziano Vs. Pataki update: After weeks of settlement discussions, NYS made a motion to dismiss the suit, on the basis of there being a new administration in office now. Complainants are opposing the motion. On May 25 Charles L. Brieant, US District Judge for the Southern District of New York, will meet with the attorneys and hopefully issue a ruling in our favor.

Otisville Broadband Parole Support Initiative
Ramon Gonzalez, president of the Otisville Lifer’s Group, will appear before the parole board on May 16. If you know him personally and would like to write a letter of support, please contact Mr. Gonzalez 92A7663, Otisville C.F., PO Box 8, Otisville NY, 10963 immediately.

Other Parole Support Requests:
Yusef Shakoor, 82A0304 sees the parole board in May also. He’s been in prison for 27 years during which he has lost his immediate family and support network, and is in dire need of your support. He needs letters of support, housing, and reasonable assurances of employment. His incarceration has been spent with a penitent and contrite attitude, wanting to save lives to make up for the one he took. For more information, you may contact him at Otisville C.F., PO Box 8, Otisville NY, 10963, or contact PAN.

RELEASED IN APRIL: Richard Hopes and two other Lifers from Otisville were among the 5 released. Four of the 18 who saw the board had convictions for violent crimes. Their hearings lasted longer than usual, and the Board members are reported to have given sufficient attention to their institutional records. It could be that we are seeing a beginning of the positive changes we have been seeking for such a long time. At Mid-Orange 11 of the 22 men who were seen by the board were granted release.

Courtesy Office of Sen. Tom Hayden
  • Port Huron Statement

  • On April 14 at Bard College, during the ‘Resisting Criminalization’ conference organized by students from around NYS, Eddie Ellis, in his keynote speech mentioned the Port Huron Statement, which upon reviewing we decided to share with you, at least the introduction. We are struck by how little has changed in the past 45 years. [The entire document is linked at this site - see right column]

    The Port Huron Statement of the Students For a Democratic Society 1962

    Introductory Note: This document represents the results of several months of writing and discussion among the membership, a draft paper, and revision by the Students for a Democratic Society national convention meeting in Port Huron, Michigan, June 11-15, 1962. It is represented as a document with which SDS officially identifies, but also as a living document open to change with our times and experiences. It is a beginning: in our own debate and education, in our dialogue with society.

    Introduction: Agenda for a Generation

    We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.
    When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world: the only one with the atom bomb, the least scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we thought would distribute Western influence throughout the world. Freedom and equality for each individual, government of, by, and for the people -- these American values we found good, principles by which we could live as men. Many of us began maturing in complacency.
    As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss. First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism. Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought awareness that we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract "others" we knew more directly because of our common peril, might die at any time. We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these two, for these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take the responsibility for encounter and resolution.
    While these and other problems either directly oppressed us or rankled our consciences and became our own subjective concerns, we began to see complicated and disturbing paradoxes in our surrounding America. The declaration "all men are created equal rang hollow before the facts of Negro life in the South and the big cities of the North. The proclaimed peaceful intentions of the United States contradicted its economic and military investments in the Cold War status quo.
    We witnessed, and continue to witness, other paradoxes. With nuclear energy whole cities can easily be powered, yet the dominant nationstates seem more likely to unleash destruction greater than that incurred in all wars of human history. Although our own technology is destroying old and creating new forms of social organization, men still tolerate meaningless work and idleness. While two-thirds of mankind suffers undernourishment, our own upper classes revel amidst superfluous abundance. Although world population is expected to double in forty years, the nations still tolerate anarchy as a major principle of international conduct and uncontrolled exploitation governs the sapping of the earth's physical resources. Although mankind desperately needs revolutionary leadership, America rests in national stalemate, its goals ambiguous and tradition-bound instead of informed and clear, its democratic system apathetic and manipulated rather than "of, by, and for the people."
    Not only did tarnish appear on our image of American virtue, not only did disillusion occur when the hypocrisy of American ideals was discovered, but we began to sense that what we had originally seen as the American Golden Age was actually the decline of an era. The worldwide outbreak of revolution against colonialism and imperialism, the entrenchment of totalitarian states, the menace of war, overpopulation, international disorder, supertechnology -- these trends were testing the tenacity of our own commitment to democracy and freedom and our abilities to visualize their application to a world in upheaval.
    Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living. But we are a minority -- the vast majority of our people regard the temporary equilibriums of our society and world as eternally-functional parts. In this is perhaps the outstanding paradox: we ourselves are imbued with urgency, yet the message of our society is that there is no viable alternative to the present. Beneath the reassuring tones of the politicians, beneath the common opinion that America will "muddle through", beneath the stagnation of those who have closed their minds to the future, is the pervading feeling that there simply are no alternatives, that our times have witnessed the exhaustion not only of Utopias, but of any new departures as well. Feeling the press of complexity upon the emptiness of life, people are fearful of the thought that at any moment things might thrust out of control. They fear change itself, since change might smash whatever invisible framework seems to hold back chaos for them now. For most Americans, all crusades are suspect, threatening. The fact that each individual sees apathy in his fellows perpetuates the common reluctance to organize for change. The dominant institutions are complex enough to blunt the minds of their potential critics, and entrenched enough to swiftly dissipate or entirely repel the energies of protest and reform, thus limiting human expectancies. Then, too, we are a materially improved society, and by our own improvements we seem to have weakened the case for further change.
    Some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst prosperity -- but might it not better be called a glaze above deeply felt anxieties about their role in the new world? And if these anxieties produce a developed indifference to human affairs, do they not as well produce a yearning to believe there is an alternative to the present, that something can be done to change circumstances in the school, the workplaces, the bureaucracies, the government? It is to this latter yearning, at once the spark and engine of change, that we direct our present appeal. The search for truly democratic alternatives to the present, and a commitment to social experimentation with them, is a worthy and fulfilling human enterprise, one which moves us and, we hope, others today. On such a basis do we offer this document of our convictions and analysis: as an effort in understanding and changing the conditions of humanity in the late twentieth century, an effort rooted in the ancient, still unfulfilled conception of man attaining determining influence over his circumstances of life.


    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 airs on WVKR, 91.3FM, Poughkeepsie NY on somewhat alternate Sundays from 3 - 6 pm, Eastern Time. Tune in to hear Bryce “Sonny” Rudert’s interview on May 6th.  WVKR streams online - go to and click on (or near) the word 'LISTEN'. 

    Democracy Now!, with Amy Goodman, also airs on WBAI 99.5 FM - - from 8AM-9AM weekdays, on WVKR every weekday from 5PM-6PM, and on WRPI Troy, 91.5 FM  from 9AM-10AM,

    Justice Pages Audio at An interview with Rev. Kobutsu Malone, a Zen Buddhist priest whose eyes were opened after he began working at Sing Sing prison in 1992.  He's now an activist in the movement for the abolition of prisons.

    Voices from the Prison Action Network is back!  You can listen, when convenient, on the internet.  The first program in our weekly series features John B. Ducksworth talking about his fledgling organization, ‘Successful Reentry, Inc.’ and the need for those who have successfully returned to society to participate in policy making decisions for parole and reentry.  

    Otisville Lifers Take the Second Step in their Reconciliation Initiatives, by R. Gonzalez, 92A7663:

    For several months these men have been discussing among themselves: Redemption, Responsibility and Remorse; all phases birthed from Reconciliation. On April 3, 2007, they came together in mind, body and focus of soul to share words of mouth and meditation of heart with Rev., Dr. Glorya Askew. Without breaching confidentiality or going into details because of the sincerity and individual openness each man exhibited - it suffices to say: her passion and curiosity allowed us, [in the words of one of those present] "to understand how life, acceptance, forgiveness, trust and success are all processes". In communing with her it was easier to understand, accept and discuss how we suffer from a collective injury that only we can individually fix. Our long-standing sense of community and the comfort zone she provided, allowed the depth of internal outpouring to be cleansing. This evening Rev. Askew "planted a seed; throughout the course of our time together we nurtured and enriched it, and now we all hope to plant our own seeds."

    Reflections: Otisville Visit in April 2007 -- Can Any Good Thing Come Out of Prison?, by Rev., Dr. Glorya Askew

    The Community that I visited at Otisville C.F. is open and receptive to growth; I would even liken it to some of the most positive and good-natured persons in DOCS, the creme de la creme. I don't say this to be complimentary or laudatory, nor do I say this out of sheer naiveté, because I recognize that these men have not been Altar Boys or members of the Harlem's Boy Choir or the Boys Club of America all their lives. Notwithstanding, I commend this group and recognize their growth, their struggle with growing, as well as their potential for more growth, which is the primary reason that precipitated my visit in answer to their "Macedonia Call" for help -- with issues around forgiveness and reconciliation.

    Our three hours of authentic, heart-to-heart, gut-level sharing demonstrates how to build bridges and tear down walls in prison -- that is, build bridges of peace, wholeness, harmony and tear down walls of bitterness, anger, resentment. That Tuesday evening our candid, clear, and concise communication poignantly models what one well-known pastor posits about 'experiencing life together': "It includes unselfish loving, honest sharing, practical service, sacrificial giving, sympathetic comforting, and all the other 'one another' commands found in the New Testament." This pastor further states explicitly that in 'real fellowship' people experience authenticity, mutuality, sympathy, and mercy. Now, I don't mean to sound infantile and elementary by stating the obvious; however, I've concluded that building community requires commitment, and cultivating it takes honesty, humility, courtesy, confidentiality, and frequency.

          And on this closing note, I say "Ashay!" And "Amen!"

    9. THE SQUARE FETTER © Copyright by James E. Morse 2005. This is part 4 in the serialization.
    [A hand crafted, illustrated edition of the book is available for $4 through Prison Action Network, H-M IMC, PO Box 35, Troy NY 12181]

    Through the arched windows of a narrow corridor, he spied  the dense, dark cloud, directly above the somber cellblocks. In the distant skies, he saw towering puffs of radiant cumulus clouds, beaming in strange contrast to the shroud of gloom overcasting the organism’s bleak, hideous architecture. Shuffling onward, Jones felt harassed by the aura of cruelty that emanated from the redundancy of captivity’s iron fixtures. He was oppressed by the sentiment that, just as the monstrosity enclosed about him predated his coming, it would postdate his going. For the institution induced the devout conviction that, no matter what Jones said or did, the “Beast” was supreme, eternal.

    Tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.

    Arriving at C Block, he passed through a wooden door, labored up a spiral staircase, and alighted onto the tier where he was to lock. The tier before him appeared to stretch for one half mile, ending with a large, multi-paned window that bathed the end of the tier with bright frosted light.  At regular intervals, on both sides of the tier, stood the iron gates of the mighty square fetters. Each contained a solitary captive reaping the bitter harvest of perpetual enclosure.  Nearby, a somber tier guard stood within a barred control center.  He controlled the lockboxes that opened and closed the fetter’s gates. On the opposite side of the control center, there stretched an identical tier of fetters, ending with the same blast of frosted light.

    Momus unleashed a final broadside of invective. “Kick that ass”—that ass, that ass!

    Tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.

    Momus looked expectantly to the tier guard for immoral support. When it did not come, he pointed the sacred pole at a pile of bed linen and a roll of toilet paper on the floor. Jones picked it up and crunched down the tier, oblivious to what awaited him there. The closer he came, the more he succumbed to the square fetter’s supernatural attraction. At the threshold, he was pulled inward by the vacuum of time within the miniscule man-trap. The iron gate lurched shut with a resounding bang. Thus the unsuspecting Jones journeyed from the outskirts of the ordinary world into the unknown dimensions of ceaseless durations and constrained space.

    The iron cubicle was six feet by ten feet by nine feet in width, length, and height.  The cold-water sink and flushing toilet were crowded onto the rear wall. There was a small, doorless locker, and an iron slab bolted on to the metal sidewall. On the slab was strewn a thin, stained mattress—it smelled of mildew and stale body odors. Scattered about the fetter were bits of random debris, evoking phantom images of long ago occupants. In a damp, dismal corner, the continual splash of urine had rusted the walls where the porcelain toilet squatted. Its pale, splay orifice was speckled with filth, stunk of sewage, was lousy with buzzing insects. To Jones, the limitless spaces without were violently compressed into an area smaller than a walk-in closet. The entirety of three iron walls were covered with time-sick scribblings—the memento mori of the fetter’s past victims:


    Most of the inscriptions predated Jones’ birth by generations. Squinting at the scrambled messages, he wondered if any of the persons memorialized on the iron wall were still alive, still doing time, still in love? How many had died in prison—in the same fetter in which he now languished? The notion that anyone could “like this shit” caused him to shudder, triggered the awareness of Time’s unstoppable passage.
    [To be continued]

    Albany: PFNY meeting at 7:00 pm every Monday at the Women’s Bldg, 79 Central Avenue. Please call ahead: Alison 518 453 6659

    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 at 7pm on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of every month at First United Methodist Church - 603 State Street - entrance on Chapel Street - behind MVP Building.  Jeanette: 518 280 0354 anytime after 6pm.

    Push the State Legislature to pass the Family Connections bill (S.705/A.3397):  Over the past two years, the NY State Assembly has passed this bill, which would demand permanent end to the state’s commission, and a change to fair market rates and calling options.  In the coming months, we must pressure the NY State Senate to follow the Assembly’s lead.  We currently have an online action on our website at  Please participate in this effort. 

    From Albany/Troy: The NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow Facilities on Sat, May 5 ($30 adults, $20 children), and the Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson Facilities on Sat, May 12, and Sun, May 27 ($15 adults and $10 children), from Oakwood Ave Presbyt. Church parking lot, 9th St, Troy at 7 AM, and Albany Greyhound Bus station at 7:15. Trip to the Utica Hub (Midstate, Marcy, Mohawk, Oneida Facilities) Sat, May 19 leaves at 5 AM ($40 adults, $25 children). Reservations: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.

    From the Capital District:
    Rides are offered by volunteers of the First Unitarian Universalist Society’s Justice Committee on weekdays only. Please contact us at 518 253-7533 if you need a ride.

    The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too! on Monday, May 21, 2007, Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street from 6:30-8:30pm, will include the screening of , “A Fight for Justice: The Struggle to Overturn Indictment 41-413,” a documentary film about Buffalo resident John H. Walker, Jr., who was wrongfully convicted  of a 1976 murder at the age of 16. John has spent  22 years behind bars and is currently on lifetime parole. For nearly three years, he and his supporters have been trying to clear his name and have his record expunged.

    Guest speakers will include, John H. Walker, Jr.; the filmmaker, Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean, a criminologist and sociologist from the University of Buffalo; and City Court Judge, Hon. James A. W.  McLeod who has publicly stated that John and his codefendants, “...did not and could not have committed that crime.” Judge McLeod, who was a young lawyer in 1976, represented one of the boys charged with this crime. That boy was acquitted.

    Celebrating its second year, Prisoners Are People Too! will meet  next month on June 25.  Film and guest speaker(s) TBA.


    NYC FED3 Think Tank met on April 17 to discuss strategies for the future. The attending Mothers, Wives and other relatives expressed their profound appreciation, and commended the former comrades in attendance for their show and extension of information, love, support, information they freely provided all of us.  All members agreed: "Together We Stand, Divided We Fall"! A June meeting will be announced in the next Building Bridges.

    The Coalition for Parole Restoration (CPR) will meet May 21st from 5:30-8P at 520 8th Ave, between 36/37th Streets, 22nd floor (time can change, so please call ahead: #888-590-9212) Travel Suggestions: "A" or "D" Train to 34th Street....(Families/Public are invited)

    Coalition for Women Prisoners (CWP) meeting will be held on Thursday, May 10th from 5:00-7:00pm at the Legal Aid Society, 1st Floor Conference Room, 49 Thomas St.  Please note that there will be a new member meeting from 4:00-4:45pm that afternoon, also at Legal Aid at the same address.  On April 13th, Incarcerated Mothers Committee co-chair Tanya Krupat reported on the Committee’s recent activities; one report was on the Visiting and Reunification Programs:  The Committee continues to advocate for increased visiting and family reunification programs at all women’s prisons in New York – the Committee’s priority issue during this past Advocacy Day.  As part of the effort to make its budget advocacy more specific and strategic, the Committee is creating two documents: 1) a chart that contains information about the visiting services and circumstances in the seven prisons that house women in New York State and the approximate number of children who have a mother incarcerated at each prison, and 2) a breakdown of how much it would costs to expand various visiting and reunification services for mothers in prison and their children.  


    Greetings to our readers,

    We have to find new approaches for making the changes we seek. I say Economics is the place to start. Taxpayers don't want to hear that it costs $36,000 a year to incarcerate someone under 55, and between $55,000 and $70,000 for those over 55. They don't want to hear their kids can't get proper educations or medical care because the cost of incarceration and prisons eats up so much of the State budget.

    Politics is a tricky game. If (and we don't know he doesn't) Spitzer wanted to push a prison and parole reform agenda the deeply entrenched Republicans wouldn't let him. So we should also focus on the census count. The business of building and running prisons has become a mammoth industry with powerful constituencies. Prison based money and political power have distorted the legislative landscape; disenfranchised prisoners are included in the population counts that became the basis for drawing legislative districts. By counting "unemployed" inmates as residents, the prison counties lower their per capita incomes - and increase the portion they get of federal funds. Economics revolve around prison payrolls, and politics are dominated by unions that represent correction officers. Since 1982, NYS has opened 41 prisons, not counting annexes, all in rural areas represented by Republican senators, 80% of all NYS prisoners are confined in Republican senate districts, employing almost 45,000 people. If we (all of us) can work to get census counts for the incarcerated back to the communities from which they came, equitable representative seating would be returned to these communities due to new drawings of legislative lines, and maybe Spitzer could quell the Upstate Republicans and Unions which are the proverbial "thorn in the side".

    In every struggle, changing tactics is commonplace - ours is no different. So if we need to look along these lines, I hope some of our hardest working men inside - you know who you are -, and all progressive groups will join in. And of course our families, friends and supporters on the outside with a voice need to speak, email, fax, write, and educate on our new tactics . Let's go, we have got work to do to let Spitzer know we're serious! Stay Strong. -- Ramon



    Support for Work Release for Former Violent Offenders continues. In May we received 143 more signatures, making a total to date of 566 signatures on the petition sent to Gov Spitzer! The governor's office is receiving a steady stream of petitions. Prison Action Network sends what we have every week to 10 days. Please keep them coming. Our goal is 2500. We can do it! We’re close to 1/4 of the way there.

    Yes, we had a major setback when Gov. Spitzer issued Executive Order #9. Understandably, many of us feel discouraged because Spitzer promised change on Day 1. I do not feel discouraged. We got a big change on Day 8, when Eliot rolled back our telephone charges. He's also made some very favorable appointments: Brian Fischer as DOCS Commissioner brings a much more compassionate and intelligent person to that position. George Alexander, as the new Parole Commissioner is somewhat unknown, but that he dropped in to the April meeting of Prisoners Are People Too! in Buffalo is taken as a good sign.

    We have to face the reality of politics. Deals have to be made; politicians support a colleague's issue in return for support later on one of their own. Compromise is the name of the game. It's not a game for those of us who are inflexible! It was very disappointing to have Mr. Spitzer issue Executive Order #9, restricting Work Release even further. But we believe there's a way around it, and that with our efforts it can be reversed. It just will take longer, and for someone in prison for decades, and their loved ones, that is not easy to accept. Yet what choice do we have?

    According to Assemblyman Adam Bradley's office, in a letter to Mid-Orange Prison, signed by Keith Scranton, Constituent Services, "...there is not a legislative procedure available that allows an executive order of this nature to be overturned other than the passage of direct legislation. In order to effect change you, your family and your friends must become as involved as possible. In order to convince the State to make a change you must not only make your opinions heard, you must present convincing evidence that your proposals are beneficial to the people of New York. In regards to new legislation addressing work release and the Temporary Release Programs, will be your best resource given the number of related legislative items in consideration by the Assembly."

    It is my belief that electoral politics are where our strength lies. We must begin to diligently keep track of the votes of our own district representatives, whether on the local or statewide level, and in the next election make it known we will not vote for those who have not supported our issues, and we WILL vote for those who promise to. And we will keep a watchful eye to see that they keep their promises, or they will not get our vote next time.


    Innocent: The Story of Fernando Bermudez

    from the April 13, 2007 New York Times front page

    Accusers Recant, but Hopes Still Fade in Sing Sing By PAUL von ZIELBAUER

    After five young people identified him in court as the murderer, Fernando Bermudez was convicted in 1992 of killing a 16-year-old youth in Greenwich Village. No other evidence — a gun, a fingerprint or a clear motive — tied him to the crime.

    He has been jailed ever since, despite the fact that for 14 years, the same five witnesses have insisted their testimony was false. The five gave sworn statements in 1993 that Mr. Bermudez was not the killer and that their testimony had been manipulated by the police and prosecutors. They did so at the risk of being charged with perjury, and they have stuck with those accounts even as they have approached middle age, taken on steady jobs and raised families. Nonetheless, the recantations have had little impact. The same judicial system that once relied on the witnesses now no longer believes them.

    “What does it take, with the system that we have, to reinvestigate a wrongful conviction?” said Scott Christianson, a supporter of Mr. Bermudez and a former state criminal justice official. “It’s really beyond me.”

    The reason is based in the prevailing wisdom of the American justice system, which views recantations as untrustworthy, acts not of conscience, but of sympathy or bribery or coercion. That view is so deeply ingrained that one judge, rejecting one of Mr. Bermudez’s appeals in 1995, said candidly that five recantations were simply too many to believe.

    In recent years, though, the reliability of recantations is being re-evaluated, driven in part by the growing number of cases in which DNA evidence has cleared people who had been locked behind bars for years. In several recent cases, DNA evidence has shown not only that people were innocent, but that witnesses who had recanted really were telling the truth. “Blanket suspicion of recantations is clearly not warranted,” said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law. “We know now that many of the traditional precepts that have been held by the courts are not warranted, and yet the courts continue to cling to them.”

    Mr. Bermudez, 38, a husband and father of three, has no exculpatory DNA evidence in his corner. He is serving a sentence of 23 years to life and has watched appeal after appeal fail.
    Yet he has never wavered from the account he first told investigators: He did not know the victim, Raymond Blount, he had no motive to shoot him and he was elsewhere with friends at the time of the murder in August 1991.

    Two friends who were with Mr. Bermudez that night have given accounts that support his own. Their versions also have not wavered since the crime.

    Mr. Bermudez’s supporters say he was a victim of the crime wave that beset New York in the early 1990s. They say that the police and prosecutors, overwhelmed in the face of a near record number of murders, seized on bad evidence, settled for easy answers, ignored looming contradictions and bullied impressionable young witnesses into testifying against Mr. Bermudez.

    The Manhattan district attorney’s office rejects those assertions. It notes that the conviction of Mr. Bermudez has been upheld several times, most recently by a federal court in 2006. “A federal magistrate found after an extensive hearing,” said Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, “that the recantations of the eyewitnesses were incredible, that the conduct of the trial prosecutor with respect to the witnesses was proper and that the defendant’s due process rights had not been violated.”
    The same magistrate judge, however, noted missteps in the case, among them allowing the people who identified Mr. Bermudez as the killer to view his mug shot as a group, a prejudicial blunder that in New York is nearly always grounds for ordering a retrial. The police also failed to look for the man whom the main witness had first implicated.

    The police investigation was led by a detective who had been involved in an earlier homicide case in which a young man had been mistakenly identified as a killer only to have his conviction overturned. The detective was suspended from the force after being charged in a drunken-driving accident in 2004 in which two women were critically injured.

    Mr. Bermudez’s situation has attracted a legion of supporters, including lawyers, law professors, a retired detective and a former federal judge. “The evidence powerfully shows that Bermudez is innocent,” said Bennett L. Gershman, a professor at Pace University Law School.

    Mr. Bermudez’s hopes now rest on an appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In an interview at Sing Sing prison, he recalled the faith he once had in the system. “I believed that it was as simple as telling the truth,” he said, “and the truth prevailing.” Now, he says, the truth doesn’t matter.

    The Crime
    Much of what happened to Raymond Blount early on Aug. 4, 1991, is not in dispute. On a dance floor at the Marc Ballroom on Union Square West, Mr. Blount punched another teenager, Efrain Lopez, apparently after he caught the youth looking at him the wrong way.
    Angry and embarrassed, Mr. Lopez later testified, he approached a man in the club whom he knew from his neighborhood and told him what had happened. Later, at 3 a.m. outside the club, Mr. Lopez and his friends again encountered Mr. Blount and his friends. People broke bottles, ready to fight. The man from the neighborhood asked Mr. Lopez to point out the puncher. Mr. Lopez pointed at Mr. Blount. With that, the man jogged up and fired one .25-caliber bullet into Mr. Blount’s abdomen, severing an artery. He died at a hospital later that morning.

    The killing was one of 10 in Greenwich Village that year.

    “The Police Department was stretched,” said Mr. Christianson, who has written about the case. “The district attorney was stretched.”

    Mr. Bermudez’s supporters say lapses in the investigation began within hours. Several of Mr. Blount’s friends were hauled into a windowless Police Department storage room. Photographs of young Latino men with arrest records were placed before them. Among the photographs was one of Mr. Bermudez, a graduate of St. Nicholas of Tolentine High School in the Bronx.
    He had been arrested a year earlier on a marijuana possession charge and faced a separate charge that he had tried to sell 165 grams of cocaine to an undercover agent. But he had no history of violence and was living with his parents in an apartment in the Inwood section of Manhattan.

    The photograph of Mr. Bermudez caught the eye of one witness, Jamie Velazquez. She asked, “Who’s this cutie?” or something to that effect, according to court records. The man looked, she said, like someone she had seen at the club. She and three other witnesses conferred and agreed he resembled the gunman.

    A federal judge later found that the police had violated regulations that bar witnesses from collectively viewing a mug shot. Courts have ruled that such discussions allow witnesses to be improperly influenced by others.

    But that morning, the police thought they had a lead on a suspect.

    A Key Witness
    The next evening, Aug. 5, detectives brought in the teenager who had been punched, Efrain Lopez, for questioning. Mr. Lopez, who had served time in prison for stealing a car, feared being charged in the shooting, he said later, because he had pointed out Mr. Blount for the gunman.

    Over the next 27 hours, he was questioned about what had happened, eventually admitting he knew the gunman. The killer’s name is Lou, he said in a videotaped statement. Wool Lou was his street name, because he sold “wools,” slang for crack cocaine. Wool Lou, Mr. Lopez said, hung out near Mr. Lopez’s grandmother’s building on West 92nd Street, and in a schoolyard nearby. At trial, Mr. Lopez would testify that he had gone to Public School 84 with Wool Lou, and knew him to be Puerto Rican.

    None of these descriptions matched Mr. Bermudez. He is of Dominican descent and lived on 204th Street, six miles from Mr. Lopez’s neighborhood. He had not attended P.S. 84. And he had never been called Wool Lou.

    But presented with a photo array of suspects, Mr. Lopez pointed to Mr. Bermudez. As it turned out, there was a man known as Wool Lou who lived on West 91st Street, in Mr. Lopez’s neighborhood, and had a criminal record, though not for dealing drugs. His name, Luis Muñoz, and his street alias were in the Police Department’s files. Anyone looking at the files may have noticed how closely Mr. Muñoz’s facial features matched those of Mr. Bermudez.
    But the police were satisfied they had their man. They never interviewed anyone from Mr. Lopez’s neighborhood, never spoke with any of his friends who knew the man named Wool Lou, or with anyone else from the 92nd Street schoolyard where Mr. Lopez said Wool Lou hung out. For his part, Mr. Muñoz said years later that he did not commit the crime.

    The Arrest
    On Aug. 6, detectives picked up Mr. Bermudez for questioning. From that moment, his supporters say, they should have wondered whether they had the right man.
    Witnesses had said the gunman was light-skinned, thin, Hispanic, 5 feet 11 inches tall and 165 pounds, a description that the defense later argued matched that of the man listed in police files as Wool Lou. Mr. Bermudez was darker, and he stood a muscular 6-foot-1 and weighed 205 pounds.

    Nonetheless, he was brought to the Sixth Precinct station for questioning by Detective Daniel Massanova. Mr. Bermudez told the detective and an assistant district attorney, James G. Rodriguez, that he and three of his buddies had spent the night of the shooting driving around Manhattan looking for girls. At 2 a.m. they ate at a restaurant a few blocks from the shooting, he acknowledged. But he said they had left the area by 2:30, a half-hour before the shooting, and were back in Inwood by 3 a.m. Mr. Bermudez was then placed in a police lineup in which he and several “fillers” were told to sit down instead of standing. His supporters say it had the effect of reducing the disparity between his height and that of the gunman described by witnesses.

    One witness, Nkosi Boyce, later told a federal magistrate that detectives at the lineup had repeatedly asked him about Mr. Bermudez. “They said, ‘Is that him?’ ” Mr. Boyce testified. “I said, ‘It’s not him.’ They asked me again, ‘Is that him?’ I said, ‘That’s not him.’ ”
    The prosecution did not ask Mr. Boyce to testify at trial.
    Mr. Bermudez was represented by Barry Kenyon, a lawyer who hired a retired detective to help him prepare for trial. But they had little time. The district attorney’s office did not turn over its evidence until the last business day before the trial’s start in January 1992.

    With only a weekend to study thousands of pages of witness statements, autopsy reports and grainy videotape of Mr. Lopez’s statement, Mr. Kenyon did little to challenge the credibility of the five witnesses. Four of the five, it turned out, had arrest or conviction records. One, Michael Thompson, had a gun possession charge that was dropped by the district attorney just before trial. That fact was never presented to the jury.

    The key witness, Mr. Lopez, seemed the most troubled of all, a convicted car thief who said he routinely smoked marijuana. He was aware, he acknowledged later, that he might be charged if he did not cooperate with authorities.

    At trial, Mr. Lopez’s role was crucial. On Jan. 28, 1992, he pointed to Mr. Bermudez and identified him as the killer. Four other witnesses did the same.

    Still, the prosecutor, Mr. Rodriguez, lacked a clear motive to explain the killing, since Mr. Bermudez did not know anyone involved. Instead, he depicted Mr. Bermudez as a spoiled brat who dealt drugs, slept late, thought highly of himself and, thus, thought nothing of killing someone on a whim. And he suggested that Mr. Bermudez had suddenly begun wearing eyeglasses during the trial to confuse witnesses about his appearance.

    It was enough, even without physical evidence. On Feb. 6, 1992, after an 11-day trial, a jury convicted Mr. Bermudez, then 22, of second-degree murder.

    The Recantations
    Years later, one witness, Mr. Thompson, says he still struggles to explain why he testified against Mr. Bermudez. “When you’re not educated or you just don’t know, when the cops tell you to do something, you do it,” said Mr. Thompson, 34, a married father who works at a private clinic for the mentally ill. “You figure they got the guy, he must have done it.”

    Another witness, Okpa Iyesi, is now an elder at a church in Maryland. In his recantation, he said the prosecutor had lied to him, telling him that ballistics evidence already pointed to Mr. Bermudez as the killer, according to court records.

    Ms. Velazquez, the witness, said she told Mr. Rodriguez on the eve of the trial that she did not think Mr. Bermudez was the killer, the court records show.

    And Mr. Lopez said he knew all along that Mr. Bermudez was not Wool Lou. But he said the authorities threatened to charge him with murder if he didn’t cooperate. And he said Detective Massanova had made it obvious that he wanted him to pick out the Bermudez photograph. “He didn’t tell me, ‘Pick him,’ but he was like, pick him,” Mr. Lopez said in an interview. Detective Massanova, in an interview, denied coaxing Mr. Lopez. He and the prosecutor have denied any improprieties.

    Approached by Mr. Bermudez’s first appeals lawyer in 1993, each witness submitted a sworn affidavit retracting the identification of him as Mr. Blount’s killer. But recantations have long been regarded with skepticism. Jury verdicts are meant to offer finality, legal experts say. Recantations undermine that certainty, if all it takes to reopen a case is to get witnesses to revise their testimony.

    Some judges have ruled that recantations should be given more weight in cases where the original testimony constituted the only evidence. Few trials, though, have had five witnesses identify someone as a murderer, only to attest later that their testimony had been false. The very number upset Justice John A. K. Bradley, the Bermudez trial judge, who dismissed the first motion for a retrial without a hearing.“It strains credulity to believe that five unshaken trial witnesses would suddenly claim that they had testified falsely under oath,” he wrote in a 1995 decision. Had Mr. Bermudez presented fewer than five, he said, it would have been more believable.

    In 1997, a state appeals court, citing “the inherent unreliability of recantations,” affirmed the conviction.

    Appeals Pile Up
    At first blush, the Bermudez case seems fertile ground for appeal, with a last-minute delivery of evidence, a conviction that relied on testimony from teenagers with legal problems of their own, and police work that the defense has characterized as slapdash.
    But appeals courts tend not to look at mistakes in the aggregate. Rather, they consider whether any one error represents a violation of an appellant’s constitutional rights or a basic miscarriage of justice.

    Appeals courts also generally limit their reviews to what happened on the record at trial and avoid delving into evidence that was not presented to a jury. It is a process that favors appellants whose lawyers aggressively raise objections and exploit gaps in evidence at trial, something Mr. Bermudez’s lawyer, Mr. Kenyon, acknowledges he did not do enough of — in part, he said, because the family lacked the money to fully investigate the case.
    In 2002, though, a federal magistrate, Kevin Nathaniel Fox, finally agreed to hear testimony from the five recanting witnesses, as well as from the prosecutor, police detectives and Mr. Bermudez’s alibi witnesses.

    He concluded that the prosecutor’s summation had included improper remarks, and that the police never should have allowed witnesses to discuss the mug shot as a group, a blunder he called “impermissibly suggestive and conducive to irreparable misidentification.”But he discounted the recantations as unbelievable. He rejected the account of one witness because, he said, her testimony reflected a more precise recollection of events than she had exhibited at trial. On Judge Fox’s recommendation, a judge in Federal District Court, Loretta A. Preska, turned down Mr. Bermudez’s bid.

    Now Mr. Bermudez awaits the judgment on his latest, perhaps final, appeal. He has a clean disciplinary record and spends evenings reading legal briefs. His wife, whom he met through correspondence, and his children visit him every few weeks. In 15 years his story has not changed. “I sometimes have to manufacture hope,” he said, “because this is a very depressing, dangerous, evil place.”

    Detective Massanova is now battling his own problems. He is on trial on charges related to the off-duty car accident in 2004 that injured the two women. In an interview, he declined to say whether he still thought Mr. Bermudez killed Mr. Blount.

    “Bermudez is in jail because a number of people said he was the shooter,” he said. “I can’t use a lie detector test on everybody who comes in.”