The most important thing I have to say to you is PLEASE be sure you are registered to vote, and be sure everyone you know is also registered. Please read article #12 for more information. Voting is the first and most important step in making the changes we seek.
As we prepare to go to press I’m sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to hear if Governor Spitzer has signed into law the successful bills we supported! Call him, tell him you vote, and help him make up his mind (#3) We’re also waiting for a decision in the Parole Case, Graziano v. Pataki. It’s been postponed again, this time to July 20. The outcome will determine whether the case can go forward as a Class Action suit. The court is open to the public. I’m going; why don’t you join me? (#5).
We hope you'll listen to some of the interesting interviews scheduled in July: Roland Acevedo, Merv Otero, and Glenn Martin (#6).
The Family Empowerment Day Project will present Family Empowerment Day on October 20, 2007 at Columbia Law School (#1). Please save the date and spread the word!
Please share your copy of Building Bridges. Have a wonderful day!
1. Family Empowerment Project - Date and place and theme set for Family Empowerment Day 3.
2. Job Opportunities and Internships Available at the C.A. - Three positions are open, and several internships.
3. Major Legal Victories - Three bills we’ve been supporting passed through both houses of the State Legislature and will become law unless Gov. Spitzer vetoes them. Call him!
4. Merit Time - A committee has formed to look over the 5 existing merit time bills and try to come up with one all of us can support. We want your input.
5. Never Say Never - a collection of poems and short stories tells about falling in love and staying in love with incarcerated men and celebrates these committed relationships against tremendous obstacles.
6. Parole - Updates on Graziano v. Pataki; the Otisville Lifers Broadband Support; reports on June's parole hearings; and a wife’s report on the pain of a parole denial.
7. Prison Radio - Roland Acevido, Merv Otero, and Glenn Martin will all be heard in July.
8. Reconciliation and Reentry--A True Story of Heroism - Sixteen years after taking a life, Ramon saves one.
9. Square Fetter - The last installment in our 6 part serialization of the vignette by James E. Morse.
10. Support Meetings - You have lots of company if you want it.
11. Telephone Justice - Pack the courtroom for another round of oral arguments on Friday, July 6th at 10:30am at the New York State Supreme Court in Troy, NY to demonstrate how important this lawsuit is for families.
12. Transportation to Prisons - Cheap or free, weekends or weekdays.
13. Voter Registration is Important! - THE REGISTRATION DEADLINE FOR THE 2007 PRIMARY ELECTION IS AUGUST 24TH (that’s next month, folks!) Do you need to re-register?
14. What’s Happening Around New York State - In Buffalo, Prisoners Are People Too! will be showing, “Condemned: Life Behind Bars,” and hosting Odessa Hunter, a NYS CO for 17 years. In NYC the Family Empowerment Project continues to move forward with preparations for FED3. Voter registration is the first step.
15. Words from Inside - In "Warehousing of Lifers in Medium Facilities" Hector Millan writes: "visits are no longer 7 days a week, they are now weekend visits only... family ties suffer."
16. Words from Ramon - No matter what anyone says, we do have a voice and we count.
17. Work Release - Keep those signatures coming. We're at 1,119!
18. Building Bridges Subscription Drive. - PAN Membership donations are what keep this newsletter alive. Please use this flyer to help us raise funds to pay for printing and postage.
1. FAMILY EMPOWERMENT PROJECT
Family Empowerment Day 3 will take place on October 20, 2007 at Columbia Law School in NYC from 10am - 3pm. The theme will be Education for Empowerment, focussing on voter education, learning your rights (when dealing with police, criminal justice system, etc.), petition and letter writing campaigns, and suggestions from successful grassroots campaigns. Save the date, and we’ll give more details as we get closer.
2. JOB OPPORTUNITIES AND INTERNSHIPS AVAILABLE AT THE CORRECTIONAL ASSOCIATION
With Jaya leaving the position, the Women in Prison Project is looking for a new Project Associate. There is also an opening in the Prison Visiting Project for a project associate, and a full time Development Associate position. For details visit the CA website: www.correctionalassociation.org or if you don’t have access to a computer write Tamar Kraft-Stolar at the Correctional Association, 135 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003.
Internships are available with all CA projects. For more information, contact the Project Directors:
Women in Prison Project: Tamar Kraft-Stolar,212-254-5700 ext. 306
Juvenile Justice Project: Mishi Faruqee, 212-254-5700 ext. 315
Prison Visiting Project: Jack Beck, 212-254-5700 ext. 310
Public Policy Project: Robert Gangi, 212-254-5700 ext. 305
The Correctional Association is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.
3. MAJOR LEGAL VICTORIES
There is no disputing that it was our efforts over the years, and particularly in the last few weeks, that got these bills not only moved out of committee, but passed by both houses of our State Legislature. It was our calls and our letters, and our noise that won us these victories! So never doubt the power of the people to create positive change. It may take patience as well as hard work and time, but we can be successful. Congratulations to all of us!! And note that there is still work to be done before we can actually taste the success - we must call Governor Spitzer and urge him to sign these bills into law. (See more at the end of this article.)
FAMILY CONNECTIONS BILL (S705) Passes in Both Houses!!
This bill says, in part, that telephone services contracts for inmates in state correctional facilities shall be subject to the procurement provisions as set forth in article eleven of the state finance law provided, however, that when determining the best value of such telephone service, the lowest possible cost to the telephone user shall be emphasized. The department shall make available either a "prepaid" or "collect call" system, or a combination thereof, for telephone service. Under the "prepaid" system, funds may be deposited into an account in order to pay for station-to-station calls, provided that nothing in this subdivision shall require the department to provide or administer a prepaid system. Under a "collect call" system, call recipients are billed for the cost of an accepted telephone call initiated by an inmate. Under such "collect call" system, the provider of inmate telephone service, as an additional means of payment, must permit the recipient of inmate calls to establish an account with such provider in order to deposit funds to pay for such collect calls in advance.
MEDICAID BILL (S5875) Passes!
The bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly! It permits a person who is incarcerated in a state or local correctional facility and who was receiving medical assistance pursuant to law prior to being incarcerated, to remain eligible for such medical assistance while in prison, except that no medical assistance shall be furnished during the time such person is incarcerated. Now it's on to the Governor to sign into law. We urge all readers who are able, to please call the Governor's office right away (see below).
SHU BILL (S.333B/A.4870C) Also Passed!
This bill which prevents people with psychiatric disabilities from being placed in solitary confinement in New York State prisons, was vetoed last year by Governor Pataki after passing in both houses. Many of us voted for Eliot Spitzer just because we thought he was more humane and would sign this bill into law if in office. Now he’s in office and has publicly stated he will veto it because is cost prohibitive. We don’t agree. If you don’t agree, please call him and tell him so.
FINAL STEP: CALL THE GOVERNOR! to express your support for these bills and ask him to sign them all into law: 518-474-8390 or click here.
If you’ve never called an elected official before it’s quite interesting and not at all unpleasant. You will be talking to an assistant, often the person who answers the phone. Tell the person your name and zip code and then the Name and Number of the bill or bills you’re calling about. (If I get a chance I like to tell them why I think this is an important bill, because often the assistant seems not to know anything about it. I don’t worry about sounding smart or being right. I just explain the real reason I am making this call, as if I was talking to you. I allow myself to stammer and get emotional. But I always remain polite and I always assume the person calling will pass my message on, and that the governor or senator or assembly person will do the right thing. I talk as if we’re on the same wavelength. Who knows? Maybe at heart we are. Maybe all they need is to know it’s safe for their careers to support this measure.) Give it a try and see for yourself how exhilarating it can be! Let us know.
4. MERIT TIME
A committee has formed to try to make sense of the five Merit Time bills currently under consideration. We want to design one bill that unites all of the good points in these bills and eliminates all the parts that would harm our cause, so that all supporters of merit time will be able to join together to get the bill passed. We expect some compromises will be needed in order to get it passed, but let’s at least start with a bill we all agree with. We want to include you in the process. Please write or call us with your suggestions. Address and phone # appear in the footer below.
5. NEVER SAY NEVER, a collection of poems and short stories
Never Say Never; A Dedication to Love Beyond the Walls, is by Susan Goins-Castro, Rhonda L. Harris, and R.Y. Willingham. It tells about the unpredictability of love, falling in love and staying in love. Three women marry incarcerated men and share how they celebrate these committed relationships against tremendous obstacles. The book offers a glimpse of a life that is often isolating, sometimes lonely and seclusive; but continues to thrive and prosper. Love does indeed conquer all. Love is far-reaching and attainable even in the unlikeliest of places. The voices of these women tell beautiful stories of finding love beyond physical barriers. --Eddie Castro
[To order a copy, send $12.95 + $2.19 for shipping to A5 Books, PO Box 220, Stony Point, NY 10980]
GRAZIANO VS. PATAKI
Robert Isseks, lead attorney, reports that the June 22nd oral argument was adjourned to July 20th. The oral argument is open to the public. It will be at 11:00 a.m. on the second floor in Courtroom 218 of the United States Courthouse at 300 Quarropas Street, White Plains. Call PAN’s office a couple of days before to make sure it’s not been postponed again.
OTISVILLE BROADBAND PAROLE SUPPORT INITIATIVE
This month’s featured parole hearing is that of Loflin Jackson (DIN 93A2234). Loflin came to America from Jamaica when he was 11. His family believed in discipline and good work ethics and Loflin was a model student through Jr. High. He began to work, in a barber shop, at 11 and as he got older in the restaurant business. When he was 19 he suffered a car accident and could no longer work. That’s when he became fascinated with the street life and after-hours partying and hanging out. It was a short distance from there to robbing an illegal gambling front with his new friends and when he was shot by the victim, fear and panic caused him to fire blindly, killing the man. He was sentenced to 15 to Life. Now 34, Mr. Jackson has returned to his religion, and feels deep remorse for his crime. The Otisville Lifers tell us; “As his peers we have seen the pain and change in Loflin. We urge you to please support Loflin’s release by writing a brief letter of support to: Mr. George Alexander, Chair, NYS Div of Parole, 97 Central Ave, Albany NY 12206 or calling him 518 473 9548, and Mr. James Cassel, Sr. Parole Officer, Otisville C. F., PO Box 8, Otisville, NY 10963, 845 386 1490 x1135.”
His list of accomplishments is too long to print here; if you want to know more, please contact Loflin Jackson. He is a graduate of the New York Theological Seminary Certificate in Ministry Program, has acquired a Food Handlers Cert. and skills in upholstery, furniture making, sewing, welding and is studying plumbing and heating. Your editor can personally attest to his artistic skills. I once received a card from the Lifer’s Group that Mr. Jackson had designed and constructed, and it was worthy of a place in an art museum.
AT OTISVILLE, 16 people were to see the board, 13 appearances and 3 merit board (papers only). Of the total 16, 11 had life. Of the 11 with life, 8 were released. 1 @ his 6th board; 1 @ 4th board; 2 @ 3rd board; 2 @ 2nd board; 2 @ 1st board. Of the 8 lifers, 7 had violent felonies and 1 had a nonviolent. There were also 2 deportations. You get the picture. It was a fairly good month at Otisville! Congratulations to all the men who are going home. We wish them well.
AT GROVELAND since January (2007), twelve  Lifers have appeared before the Parole Board. Two have been released, one a homicide on his second board, the other a persistent felon on his first. It hasn’t been a good year for the men at Groveland who were hoping to go home.
AT FISHKILL, long time lifer Jerry Balone was finally released on his 7th board. His release should give encouragement to thousands of prisoners who have given up hope of ever being released.
PAROLE DENIALS HURT! [We received the following letter from the wife of a man who got hit:]
At my husband J's recent parole hearing, the commissioners were VERY, VERY impressed with him and all that he has done. They read the information packet we prepared for the hearing INSIDE AND OUT. They went over almost every detail in it and were amazed at how excellent it all was; from his college degrees to his work history; from his parole release plans to all of the support letters. HOWEVER, the main commissioner told him they had to weigh the seriousness of crime against all of this.
J. told me they also commended me for my love, work and devotion to him, etc. As well, the commissioners were amazed at all the support letters he received. To those of you who sent in letters of support, we thank you SO MUCH. For your love and prayers, we thank you very much too.
While I'm thrilled the commissioners read the information and support letters, as well as acknowledging my husband's remorse, rehabilitation, accomplishments, etc., I ultimately can't believe they didn't give him a chance. If you knew him you’d have trouble believing it also. In fact, some of his fellow inmates had said to him, "If you don't get out, we don't stand a chance."
In any case, the main commissioner told my husband that he (J.) was making his (the commissioner's) decision difficult. Upon reflecting on that statement, it sounds to me as if that commissioner went in there with the intent to deny my husband parole. However, when he met and spoke with J. at length he probably had to rethink his decision. That's the impression I got. In any case, that's now in the past.
The hearing ran for more than a half hour, which is considered unusual according to some inmates who spoke with my husband after his hearing. I've heard that the hearings usually last anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. J. was so emotionally exhausted after his hearing and then to get this denial!? Unbelievable! While my husband and I were both well aware of the strong possibility that he could get hit with two more years, it still hit us like a massive tidal wave. We're angry, devastated and extremely sad about this decision, of course. Our next step, once we get past all of these feelings, is to appeal the parole board's decision. I believe appeals usually take a year or more. By then, my husband will be getting ready for his next hearing. That being the case, we're still planning on giving it all we got.
In closing, I want to return to the statement that was made to J. by his fellow inmates: 'If you don't get out, we don't stand a chance.' In my opinion, this is a heart-wrenching statement, filled with hopelessness. For those of you who believe this when comparing yourself to another inmate, I URGE YOU, don't give up; don't lose heart. Continue to be faithful to yourselves on your road to rehabilitation. I don't know what the future holds for me and my husband, and I certainly don't know what the future holds for each of you. But, again, try to take heart and persevere. And more importantly, try not to compare yourselves with others. You never know who could be released. It could just be you. Praying for each of you that you may return home soon, M.
7. PRISON RADIO
AL LEWIS LIVES, hosted by Karen Lewis, broadcasts on Saturdays from noon to 1:30 pm on WBAI, 99.5 FM, NYC. Much of July will be devoted to fund raising.
THE FANCY BROCCOLI SHOW: On July 1st the guest on the show will be ROLAND ACEVEDO, a formerly incarcerated person who has since won the right to practice law in NYS. We will hear his personal story and his take on some current legal issues. On July 15th it will be MERV OTERO. 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, also airs on WBAI - 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 www.justicepages.org
VOICES FROM THE PRISON ACTION NETWORK: In July you’ll be able to hear an interview with GLENN MARTIN, co-director of the National H.I.R.E. Network of the Legal Action Center, a national organization focusing on job opportunities for formerly incarcerated people. Available on a new site that might be easier for you to access: hmimc.swapspace.com. It’s also still available at www.radio4all.net, where it is podcast.
8. RECONCILIATION AND REENTRY - A TRUE STORY OF HEROISM
The connection between the following and Reconciliation is that the event described happened at a facility where there has been a lot of committed work on forgiveness and reconciliation by the Lifers Organization, in preparation for their reentry into society. Your editor feels this is no coincidence. The story:
At about 1 pm on Monday I was taking a break from work and smoking a cigarette outside a different building than usual. On a nearby hill I could see outside contractors digging a trench with an excavator.
Suddenly I heard a shout from their direction: “Hey! Hold it! HOLD IT!!, then “HELP!!!” When I looked up I saw the escort officer running up the hill towards the trench. I yelled to the other inmates working with me, and we ran up the hill where we saw a civilian whose legs were pinned by a very large section of shifting earth which had slid downhill to pin him in. The CO was asking the pinned man, who was in a ditch about seven feet deep and now eighteen inches wide (rather than the four feet it originally was), if he was ok. The excavator operator was yelling, “What do I DO?!!” I instructed him to place the large digging claw between the shifting earth and the trench wall that was stable. This ensured that the man did not get crushed. Once the claw was in place, another inmate and I jumped in and began digging with our bare hands. The man was trapped up to his thighs, one leg deeper than the other. Holding him in was dirt and rock. For twenty or twenty-five minutes we dug and were only able to get one leg free. Then, having been told that there was a man trapped, the civilians I work for came running out to help. The other inmate and I were told we had to get out of the hole; that we could not be there. By this time the escort officer had called in the incident and a medical team had arrived to evaluate the civilian when taken out. With adrenaline coursing through my veins I refused to get out and stop digging until someone else took my place. Two civilians said they would take our places and dig. The other inmate and I were pulled out and they were lowered in. Approximately 15 minutes later the man was extracted to a round of applause and congratulations. The three of us were taken to the hospital. He is fine, and so are we. I am being called a hero.
I was denied release at my parole hearing in May. I’m now choosing to believe a Higher Power made sure I was still here so that I could save this man’s life. At any rate I WAS there, I acted without regard for myself and I saved his life. Now I feel an internal balance. Sixteen years ago I took a life that wasn’t mine to take. Sixteen years later I saved a man’s life that I was in place to save. -- Ramon Gonzalez
9. THE SQUARE FETTER © Copyright by James E. Morse 2005. [This is the last installment in our 6 part serialization.]
From a nearby fetter, there came the words from an old recording that, to his ear, teemed with nostalgic appeal. The lyrics typified how, in the vacuum of time, strange things proliferate. The song—commencing with a grotesquely melodious guitar riff—celebrated the majestic durations of time. The tap, tap cadence of the phantom gavel merged with the incessant timing of the song’s cowbell beat. The melody swung with a relentless 4/4 syncopation:
“Time has come today—TIME!
Young hearts can go their way—TIME!”
The lyrics were reminiscent of happy faces. Sunshine faces in other times and places. Carefree times, seemingly timeless. Receding memories of laughter, now with no time for reprise, renewal, no time for recurrence. For Jones, there were no tomorrows—only fading memories of yesterday. Only the tap, tap timing of the inescapable now.
A thick spider’s web was suspended in the corner above the stinking toilet. A green and red insect lay sepulchrally enclosed within dense, filmy webbing. Like Jones, the insect was trapped in the fetters of Malus Chronos—perpetually enclosed in the relentless grasp of Bad Times.
“Now the time has come—TIME!
There’s no place to run—TIME!
I might get burned up by the sun—TIME!
But I had my fun—TIME!
I’ve been loved and put aside—TIME!
I’ve been crushed by tumbling tide—TIME!
And my soul has been psychedelicized—TIME!”*
Jones groaned in despair. He turned away from the fluttering spider’s web, from Prudence on the wall. He rose from the floor and stood gazing through the little window in the iron gate, no longer tormented by the tap, tap rapping in the depths of his soul. Hours later when night shadows engulfed the square fetter, the iron gate abruptly lurched open.
Jones fled from his memories.
Lyrics from ‘Time Has Come Today’ (1967) by the Chambers Brothers. [A hand crafted, illustrated edition of the book is available for $4 through Prison Action Network]
10. 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
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.
11. TELEPHONE JUSTICE CAMPAIGN
While we achieved a major victory in the passage of Bill S.3335 which would prevent future administrations from renewing harmful - to us - telephone contracts, there still is a pending lawsuit that could reimburse those who've been harmed in the past. Here’s something you can do to support our cause:
Walton v. NYSDOCS, CCR's civil lawsuit which could become a class action suit and result in damages for families, has to go through another round of oral arguments on Friday, July 6th at 10:30am at the New York State Supreme Court in Troy, NY. We need to pack the courthouse to demonstrate how important this lawsuit is for families, regardless of the victories we've had this year! Please mark your calendars and let Lauren know if you are willing/able to come out to show your support of this case! lauren melodia | center for constitutional rights | 666 broadway 7th floor | ny ny 10012 | 212.614.6481
12. TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS
From the Capital District:
The NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow CFs on Sat, Jul 7 ($30 adults, $20 children), Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson CFs on Sun, Jul 15 ($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, Jul 21, and Sullivan Hub (Ulster, Eastern, Woodbourne, Sullivan CFs) on Sat, Jul 28 leaving at 5 AM ($40 adults, $25 children). Reservations: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.
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.
13. VOTER REGISTRATION
If we want to be taken seriously when we advocate for bills and for changes we need to be registered voters. And if you aren’t eligible to vote, you can register others. So please get involved. Call or write us for The Bronx Defenders voter brochure, which explains the process. Members with email will find it attached.
If you haven’t voted in the past 4 years your registration has probably lapsed, and you will likely experience difficulty casting a regular ballot at the polls. It’s best to re-register! (Conditional ballots are not always counted.) If you’ve moved since you last voted, it’s also wise to re-register. This is especially important if you sign any petitions, because any inconsistencies can be used to invalidate your signature.
To register to vote you must mail or deliver your completed registration form to the Board of elections at least 25 days before the next election.
THE REGISTRATION DEADLINE FOR THE 2007 PRIMARY ELECTION IS AUGUST 24TH (that’s next month, folks!). Only enrolled party members can vote in the primary election. Party members who help nominate candidates by signing petitions and voting in the primary have greater political clout than non-enrolled voters who can vote only in the general election. Also, you are not obligated to vote for your party’s candidate in the general election. In November you can vote for any candidate from any party.
The deadline for registering to vote in the General election is October 12.
ANYONE WHO IS A U.S. CITIZEN, WHO WILL BE 18 OR OLDER BY ELECTION DAY, AND HAS COMPLETED THEIR SENTENCE FOR A FELONY CONVICTION IS ELIGIBLE TO REGISTER AND VOTE IN NEW YORK STATE.
If you’re not eligible to vote, you can still register people to vote and have even more impact than if you simply voted. Everyone who wants to change the laws that oppress us SHOULD get involved in registering voters. It’s our most powerful tool. You may think it doesn’t make a difference, but that’s only because so many people DON’T VOTE and don’t get EDUCATED about the issues.
14. WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND NEW YORK STATE
PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO! is a justice advocacy program that meets monthly on selected Mondays in Buffalo at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street from 6:30-8:30pm. Each meeting features a documentary film related to some prison issue, and one or more guest speakers who address that issue.
At its next meeting on Monday, July 23, 2007, PRP2!’s guest speaker will be native Buffalonian, Odessa Hunter, who has worked as a New York State Correction Officer for 17 years. She is also well-known and well-respected for her volunteerism in the Buffalo community. Officer Hunter will share information about the guidelines and challenges of her job.
Preceding Officer Hunter’s presentation, PRP2! will screen the documentary film, “Condemned: Life Behind Bars,” a History Channel production that takes a “...hard-hitting look at the sad state of America’s penal system...that does little, if anything to prepare [prisoners] for a return to society.”
Prisoners Are People Too! will meet next month on August 27. Film and guest speaker(s) TBA.
THE FAMILY EMPOWERMENT PROJECT’S GENERAL MEETING met on Monday June 11. Maggie Williams, from the Voter Enfranchisement Project at The Bronx Defenders was our main presenter. It was much too detailed and rich to be able to summarize adequately. But she left us with a 3-fold brochure "NYC Voters' Bill of Rights" which answers a lot of questions people might not even think to ask. We will have them available at future meetings for those who were absent. Some of the points she made :
* Voter registration forms need to be complete and legible because our opposition will try to discredit as many as they can. (We will do the same with theirs...) So it's not a bad idea for us to fill them out for the person, by asking the questions and very legibly - printing if possible - filling in the answers.
* We want to ask everyone the same questions about their eligibility to vote, so no one thinks we're singling them out by appearance to ask certain questions like if they're a citizen or if they've completed a felony sentence.
* People need to register a] if they've never registered before, b] if they've changed their address since they registered, c] if they've changed their name, and one I never knew before: d] if they haven't voted in 4 years.
Did you know people without a permanent address can register to vote? Yes, people can list an address of a relative or a service provider located in the neighborhood in which they want to vote. The address they give will determine the location of their assigned polling site, so it's important they pick out a convenient place.
As an independent group, not incorporated as a non-profit, we have the freedom to endorse candidates if we feel strongly about someone, which gives us a unique position among advocacy groups.
Members took voter registration forms when they left and committed to register at least 10 people.
Along with a new name, (we were formerly known as the Coalition of Family and Community) we also formalized our Mission Statement:
The goal of the Family Empowerment Project of the Prison Action Network is to bring together and empower families, communities and individuals impacted by the high rate of incarceration in New York State and the abusive parole practices of the NYS Division of Parole. Through the use of effective social, educational and political actions we intend to build a power base strong enough to effect change, restore fairness to the parole eligibility process and improve the quality of life of individuals and communities affected.
If you would like to join the Family Empowerment Project, please call 518 253-7533 for more information.
15. WORDS FROM INSIDE
Warehousing of Lifers in Medium Facilities
Due to the current parole board policy of repeatedly denying parole release to people with violent offenses and specifically those with murder charges, more lifers are now in medium security prison than ever before. In many cases, Lifers are doing the equivalent of “max time” (10 years or more) in Mediums. These Mediums are becoming warehouses for Lifers.
Once Lifers are transferred to a Medium they are subjected to medium security restrictions, hence visits are no longer seven days a week, they are now weekend visits only and due to the split visiting procedure at most medium facilities, that means one visit per week; the same visiting schedule as Special Housing Unit (SHU) inmates. Because of these restrictions, family ties for Lifers suffer. Due to the time, distance, and costs spent getting to each facility, only to spend a few hours, family resources are stretched thin and in many cases connections are severed.
Medium security prisons were originally designed and intended primarily as conduits for release back into society. While there, inmates could reestablish and strengthen family ties, because they were often closer to home. They were never meant to be warehouses for inmates to spend decades doing time. Most Lifers were parents with small children when arrested; those children are now parents themselves. Many Lifers lost out on parenting, and must get to know their children all over again, and for some, their grandchildren. The lack of visits is an obstacle to the bonding of family
Reintegration into society is always difficult for someone coming out of prison and those difficulties are compounded when considering how much time a Lifer has done. To face these difficulties with little or no family support makes this a challenge that is almost insurmountable. Focusing on strengthening family ties for Lifers betters their chances at remaining in society while becoming an active productive, and most importantly, a law abiding citizen of society. We need to work towards having the seven day visit schedule, work release and education transfers re-instituted into the DOCS.
- Hector Millan
[Editor’s note: Mr. Millan included a sample letter to the governor which PAN would be glad to send you upon request: firstname.lastname@example.org]
16. WORDS FROM RAMON
Greetings from Otisville where the Lifers and Long Termers Organization is in full swing. On June 11th we held our first general membership meeting, laid down our objectives and created our goals.
Those present suggested we commit to involving families; begin voter education and registration to our families and friends; start awareness and education initiatives; and try to secure celebrity voices to speak on our issues.
New members joined the Tuesday Think Tank and began work on what may soon become our boldest endeavor; one spanning law, the judiciary and politics. We are in the fact finding stages, but if all goes well we will call on you individually as well as your organization, group, network or coalition to join us.
No matter what anyone says, we do have a voice and we count. It’s up to us - it’s up to you - to make sure to speak clearly and be counted when it’s time. Stay the course with the Otisville Lifers and Long-Termers Organization!
17. WORK RELEASE UPDATE
In June, PAN received 48 more signatures on the Work Release Petition, bringing the total to 1119!! We’ve had requests for more petitions, so there’s no reason to doubt we’ll eventually reach our goal of 2500.
[By the way, Rosie Perez, author of the petition, is not the celebrity of the same name, as some of you have mistakenly assumed. She apologizes for the confusion her name causes.]
18. Membership Drive
PRISON ACTION NETWORK PROVIDES THE FOLLOWING FLYER WHICH WE HOPE YOU WILL USE TO PROMOTE OUR MEMBERSHIP DRIVE.
Please copy and distribute to those who care:
the monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network
For people who believe we can make a difference!
CONNECTS YOU WITH OTHERS INTERESTED IN
issues affecting incarcerated people and their families
opportunities to work with others for positive change
NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT
A yearly donation of $12 to Prison Action Network brings you a year's subscription to Building Bridges. (We also invite donations to cover the memberships of those who can't afford $12.)*
INVITES YOUR SUBMISSIONS
We publish informational and educational articles of no more than 350 words (some exceptions are made), and reserve the right to edit them before publication. Our editorial policy: No whining, no blaming; let the facts speak for themselves.
Sincere thanks to all of you who have expressed appreciation and made donations, and especially for being part of the population that seeks information and understands that change only comes with hard work. We are honored to join with you in the struggle.
*Checks may be made out to Prison Action Network and sent to: PAN, H-M IMC, PO Box 35, Troy NY 12181