It seems to Buiding Bridges that we should all be there to witness this event. I am told there will be no public comment period.
New York State Senator Michael F. Nozzolio will be convening the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee to conduct a legislative oversight hearing to examine the increase in parole release rates for violent felons in the New York correctional system.
Denise O’Donnell, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice Services; George Alexander, Chairman of the New York State Parole Board; and Brian Fischer, Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services, are expected to testify before the Committee to address the increased release rates.
“It has been widely reported that the Board of Parole is releasing a substantially higher number of violent felons from custody this year. As Chairman of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee, I will be conducting a legislative oversight hearing in January to review the matter and to take testimony from the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Chairman of the New York State Parole Board, and the Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services,” said Senator Nozzolio.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Hearing Room A
Legislative Office Building
12/18 Call for Clemency for RDL Prisoners
In an article titled "Rescue Mission for Governor Spitzer", posted December 18, 2007 at Huffingtonpost.com, Anthony Papa wrote:
With the coming holiday season in mind, I recommend that Gov. Spitzer go on a personal rescue mission and grant executive clemency to the large number of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoners who have fully rehabilitated themselves and already served enormous amounts of time behind bars under the draconian provisions of mandatory-minimum sentencing.
To read the entire article, click here
12/17 Sentencing Commission Hearing Transcripts
For those of you who wished you could attend the Sentencing Commission hearings but couldn't, or even if you did and would like to read the testimony to refresh your memory, the transcripts are now posted at
the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services website.
12/12 News Report from ICARE:
Birth Certificate Legislation Passes NYC Council
Today, Tuesday, December 11, 2007, Intro. No. 574, a bill granting free birth certificates to all residents coming home from City jails (after serving 90 days) or New York State prisons, was passed by the full Council of the City of New York (39-6 vote). The Bloomberg Administration stated their support and Mayor is expected to sign it into law within 30 days.
The intention and effect will be to rescind one more barrier to people successfully reentering their communities and attempting to rebuild their lives after incarceration. It is exactly the kind of gesture of hope that ICARE was founded to advocate for. Birth certificates are needed for many aspects of making a new life - from employment to housing to official ID’s, applications to educational institutions, healthcare, other benefits and social services.
12/11/07 GRAZIANO: WHAT'S NEXT?
When the plaintiffs filed the complaint originally, they had the choice to file in any federal district court in New York (Northern, Western, Eastern, or Southern) because plaintiffs live in all districts of New York and plaintiffs are given the first choice for venue of the case. They chose to file in the Southern District and Judge Brieant, who sits in the Southern District, was randomly assigned to preside. (this, in my opinion, was an incredibly lucky break because he appears to be a very fair judge -- so much so that I felt if he ruled against us, it would mean we didn't have the law behind us.)
Now what happens?
The case remains in his courtroom and he makes all rulings (except under certain circumstances not relevant here) through trial, including issuing a judgment after hearing all of the evidence in the trial.
At this point, the case goes back to Judge Brieant's court in White Plains on December 20 (the judge decided when the parties must appear next in court). This court appearance will probably only involve scheduling the case for trial, so Building Bridges is not planning to attend.
The class will be notified about the case and class members will be given the opportunity to opt out of the class (which is only done where the individual believes he/she could get a more favorable ruling than the one reached by the attorneys).
-- PRISON ACTION
12/6/07 NEWS BULLETIN!
A DECISION ON THE MOTIONS IN GRAZIANO V. PATAKI WAS DISTRIBUTED TODAY. [If you would like a copy of the decision, please request one from firstname.lastname@example.org.]
IN BRIEF, JUDGE BRIEANT DENIED THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS ON MOOTNESS GROUNDS AND GRANTED PLAINTIFFS' CROSS-MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION.
ACTION: Write letters of appreciation to Judge Charles Brieant, United States Federal District Court, 300 Quarropas Street, White Plains, New York 10601-4150, and to the lead attorney, Robert Isseks, 6 North St., Middletown NY 10940. Also to the NY Daily News, who seem to have an interest in this lawsuit: The NY Daily News: email@example.com or 450 W. 33 Street, New York, NY 10001. Please include your full name, address and phone number.
and now to return to December's Building Bridges Newsletter:
A few days ago as I prepared about 45 checks for deposit, all of which arrived after October 20 and most of which were donations for FED3, I tried to think of how I could convey what it means to me to witness this continuing flood of tangible support. The Family Empowerment Day events, whose purpose is to raise awareness of the possibility for change if we work together, are produced for, by, and with all of us. Family Empowerment Day is not about something in the future, it is the present. We are already changing. We are getting to know and trust one another. We are learning to work together. All the hundreds of us! I am so grateful for the opportunity to help all of this unfold.
Since then it's been a roller coaster. Buffalo's FED3 event was a big success! Excellent workshops, and George Alexander, in his keynote speech, caused many of us to feel we finally had an ally on the Parole Commission. He was open to dialogue and encouraged us to hold him accountable. Then, about a week later, we got word that Graziano et.al. vs Pataki had reached a settlement in which all the plaintiffs would be getting a rehearing. Parole releases for community ready men and women appeared to be at a new high, and we actually were looking for a new issue to take on (naively..). The Sentencing Commission was holding hearings at which we were all invited to speak. Finally we had a say in how justice was accomplished. Hope dared to put down its tender roots.
And then we had a huge disappointment and setback. First an alarming article in the NY Daily News hysterically spreading fear that the parole release trend was releasing dangerous killers into our communities, followed two days later with a report that Governor Spitzer was not accepting the settlement, and would continue to fight in the courts. His spokesperson Paul Larrabee was quoted as saying, "The state will absolutely litigate the case. The state has taken the position that the parole board has the right to reject parole for violent felons." What does this mean?! For certain it means we have a lot more work to do.
We may feel tempted to give in to anger, frustration, and above all APATHY. Apathy is a terrible disease, and often is fatal. I believe we need to stop worrying about what we can accomplish or not accomplish. The decision is between what is life affirming and what is not. Do we want to be free? Do we want our loved ones to be free? Then we must work for it. That's the only decision needed. Will we ever be free? Maybe not from prison, nor the prison industrial complex; but we are all free to take a stand for what is right. Let us take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way. Wherever we are stationed is where we must create the world we want to live in. I want to live in a world where you and I are working together in harmony to create justice, freedom, peace and love. It doesn't matter which side of the wall we're standing on, we are on the same side of justice. Let us keep on keepin’ on!
PS. Two articles below (#4, #6) have suggestions for Actions. If you’ve never done more than read and attend events, here’s your opportunity to start taking action!
Please share your copy of Building Bridges. To recycle your issue, please contact PAN for the name and address of someone who wants a copy but can’t afford to make a donation.
1. Education in Prison - “ I have heard from a source high in the Spitzer administration not to expect the return of college programs anytime soon, for the reason that the public is against it.”
2. Family Empowerment Day3/WNY and ALBANY- Report by one of several paroled lifers who were present to hear Chairman George Alexander give the keynote address at Family Empowerment Day3/WNY; first impressions after FED3/ALB.
3. Indigent Defense Suit - "...legal aid services to the indigent has deteriorated to the point where defendants' constitutional right to representation is being violated, the New York Civil Liberties Union contended in a lawsuit..."
4. Merit Time Legislation - S.3164/A.6150 – would grant merit time eligibility to survivors of abuse who have been convicted of violet crimes as a result of the abuse they experienced.
5. Other Criminal Justice Publications - ways to subscribe
6. Parole - Graziano, et.al. vs. Pataki update; “Make a Noise”Action; November Release Reports
7. Pen-Pal Project - ‘Dear Friends’ is a group of people who want to exchange ideas and feelings with people behind bars. p.7
8. Prison Radio - Additional venues for our voices to be heard: Al Lewis Lives, Fancy Broccoli, Democracy Now!, Justice Pages, On the Count, Thousand Kites, Voices from the Prison Action Network.
9. Re-Entry Poem I WALK FREE - “I don’t have a limo to pick me up at the gate when the time is up"
10. Sonny Rudert’s Field Report #1 - "We have to keep coming home, joining our neighbors, and living our lives in an exemplary manner. [This way] we keep the door open for others who have earned the right to fair parole hearings after years and years of anything but."
11. Support Meetings - ROOTS re-entry group in Albany joins the list
12. Transportation to Prisons - Ride to Attica wanted, as well as the usual options
13. What’s Happening Around New York State - Updates, plus read about a unique opportunity for people throughout the state (with email access) to join forces with many advocacy organizations for improvement in the NYS criminal justice system, a project of CURE-NY.
14. Words from Inside - "The minimum sentence given is being completely and arbitrarily ignored, as if it meant nothing." Carl Berk; "Being disconnected geographically, emotionally and psychologically, over long prison sentences, takes a serious toll on our (and our families) psyches and spirits". Chas Ransome
1. EDUCATION IN PRISON
Restore College Programs to Prison Now!
It has been a year since Spitzer became governor of New York, and for many in prison, things are beginning to look up. True, we are a long way from meaningful prison and parole reform. But with increasing release rates, lower phone rates, and the appointment of Brian Fischer as Commissioner, we are now moving in the right direction.
Skeptic that I am though, I never really did believe that any change from Albany would be radical. And let us not forget, DOCS still engages in the practice of confining the mentally ill in SHU's; the return of Work Release is still nothing but talk; cigarette smoking is still allowed and poses an ever growing health risk to many, and Spitzer's Commission to explore the possibility of closing some prisons crashed and burned at the hands of the CO's union and other powerful upstate interests. In many ways it is still business as usual in Albany.
But of all the ideas that came from Spitzer, the one that I had the most faith in becoming reality--the idea of using programs, such as college, to lower the prison population by reducing recidivism--has indeed been the most disappointing. I have heard from a source high in the Spitzer administration not to expect the return of college programs anytime soon, for the reason that the public is against it. So what we need to ask ourselves is, is this true?
Some say that most people know and believe in the benefits of higher education for the incarcerated. So there is no reason to re-argue the fact that college programs lower recidivism, that they pay for themselves in the long run, that they enhance prison security by giving inmates something positive to do, or that no one's child was denied funding because the money went to a prisoner. Most fair-minded people support the notion of the incarcerated turning their lives around and contributing to society through higher education. This argument is easy.
But others insist that it is again the CO's union and powerful upstate interests that don't want to see the college programs return, and we don't have to wonder too hard to figure out why. Lowering recidivism and closing prisons is an economic threat to those whose livelihoods depend on the continued growth of the prison industrial complex. And to the ill-informed, the racists, and other slack-jawed yokels, the notion of the incarcerated--i.e. people of color from NYC--bettering themselves through free college is simply intolerable. To them it's like rewarding crime, or so they argue.
So let us first rejoice in the progress we have made so far, but let us not stop there. Although we have many issues that need to be addressed, clearly the return of college programs to the prison system should be included. We all remember the hurt we felt when Pataki pulled the plug on the college programs, we all knew what message it sent. We all felt for those whose dreams of a better life had been shattered, and we despaired at the loss of hope. Well, hope is beginning to return, but only in baby-steps. It is up to us to put the issue of the return of college programs, along with our other issues, back on the table, and hopefully for more than just discussion. Let us prove them wrong that the public is against this issue, and let's work together to restore college programs to prisons now!
Thomas Popowich, M.P.S., N.Y.T.S. Sing Sing, Class of 2005, firstname.lastname@example.org
2. FAMILY EMPOWERMENT DAY/3
REPORT FROM WNY - Nov 3rd
A number of paroled lifers were present to hear Chairman George Alexander give the keynote address at Family Empowerment Day3/WNY sponsored by People are Prisoners Too on November 3rd here in Buffalo. Jerry Balone and Daniel Rance (both served 37 years before being paroled in August) and Mel Bruckman (who did 28 and has been out for four years and doing good), and a number of other ex-lifers were there carrying the message for longtermers who deserve fair hearings and release. Mr. Alexander took questions from many of us and participated in the afternoon workshops. Everyone was fairly impressed by his commitment to give people inside a fair deal, and to commit resources to re-entry services and tools to assist people once released.
The inertia and punishment preference that were earmarks of the former governor's administration (especially as they pertain to longtermers) will not change radically overnight. One indication of that is the tentative agreement by the Spitzer administration to settle the Graziano class-action suit and the withdrawal of the terms of that settlement. That had to be very discouraging to everyone involved and their families.
However, don't lose hope, there is good cause to believe that the suit will be settled in our favor. The fact that the state initially conceded to re-hearings and selection of parole commissioners will not go unnoticed by the federal judge deciding this matter. And remember that federal judges have lifetime appointments and a degree of independence and thus are less subject to the whims of political parties. Stay strong and know there are brothers and sisters out here who have not forgotten those they left behind.
For peace and justice, Chuck Culhane
REPORT FROM ALBANY - Dec. 1st
Albany’s event had the lowest attendance of the three FED3's, but made up for it with the amount of heart! There was lots of discussion between the presenters and the “audience” and the only negative report so far was that “more people should have been here!” It was almost impossible to drag people away from their networking conversations. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t grab their attention long enough for my closing remarks, which I gave up, deciding they were not nearly as important as what was happening in the conversations!
A screening of the rough cut of “The Visitors” documentary by Melis Birder, which followed the FED3 event, was attended by a diverse representation of those who had been there for the day, and the feedback was very useful to the filmmaker.
The truth is, Family Empowerment grows as the word spreads. New York grew from less than 100 the first year to close to 300 this year. It is my belief that each event has attracted exactly the people who it was important to have there.
3. INDIGENT DEFENSE SUIT
NYCLU Suit Seeks Reform of Defense for Indigent
By Joel Stashenko, November 9, 2007
ALBANY - New York state's county-based system of providing legal aid services to the indigent has deteriorated to the point where defendants' constitutional right to representation is being violated, the New York Civil Liberties Union contended in a lawsuit filed yesterday.
The class action suit in Albany County Supreme Court seeks the immediate creation of a statewide public defender office to assume, at state expense, all criminal legal services for the indigent in New York.
The NYCLU is being represented in Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York by its staff attorneys and pro bono by Schulte Roth & Zabel. Gary Stein, a partner at Schulte Roth, said at a news conference yesterday in front of the Court of Appeals in Albany, that providing adequate defense services to those who cannot afford attorneys benefits all those with interests in the criminal justice system. "The system works best, for all concerned, when there is defense counsel who is qualified, who has the time and the resources and the training to communicate effectively with the client and promptly represent his client's interests," said Mr. Stein, a former prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District. "It means less needless delay and it means more confidence that the ultimate disposition of criminal cases is fair and just and final."
The complaint alleges that such competent, efficient representation is not being provided indigent defendants by legal aid providers in the 62 New York counties. By giving counties that responsibility in 1965, but failing to provide adequate funding or oversight of the legal aid services system that has since evolved, New York has "abdicated" its responsibility to ensure that criminal defendants have proper representation regardless of their ability to pay, according to the suit.
The complaint lists a host of deficiencies with the criminal defense system, including "incoherent" client eligibility standards, lack of attorney training, inadequate staffing, no attorney caseload standards, delays in securing public defender representation, inadequate investigatory resources and no attorney performance standards.
The system "deprives or threatens to deprive" defendants' rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 6 of the state Constitution, the complaint argues. "Constitutionally adequate counsel is counsel that is capable of putting the prosecution's case to meaningful adversarial testing," the complaint continues. "Where, as is the case in New York, public defense counsel do not have the resources and the tools to engage actively and meaningfully in the adversarial process, courts cannot ensure that their decisions, judgments, verdicts and punishments are rendered fairly and accurately."
The suit lists 20 plaintiffs starting with Kimberly Hurrell-Harring, a nurse from Rochester whom the NYCLU said is facing a six-month jail sentence for trying to smuggle three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana to her husband in a state prison in Washington County. The woman pleaded guilty to a felony charge of introducing prison contraband with minimal representation from the local public defender, NYCLU attorney Palyn Hung said. The Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, which provides legal services in Washington County, did not immediately return a telephone call yesterday for comment.
The plaintiffs are criminal defendants in Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington counties. They were selected because the NYCLU said all suffered to some extent from representation by the public defense system, such as being jailed for long periods of time awaiting trial or having next to no contact with public defense attorneys.
'Systemic Failure' - Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, said her group would not name the public defenders involved. The group did not name them in the suit. "This isn't about the individual lawyers," she told reporters. "This is about a systemic failure." Ms. Lieberman said the state should adopt the 2006 recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services. That panel, appointed by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, concluded that the current system is laboring under a "grievous" lack of funding and recommended that an independent statewide commission oversee criminal legal services for the poor (NYLJ, June 29, 2006).
Other groups, including the New York State Defenders Association, have argued that a statewide public defender is needed to rescue the current system from what critics say are severe shortages of funding and, in some parts of the state, of attorneys willing to handle public defense cases (NYLJ, Oct. 23).
Ms. Lieberman said yesterday the problems with the current system and the need for change is now almost universally acknowledged within the legal community. "It is no figment of the NYCLU's imagination," she said.
Thirty other states have statewide public defenders offices. Creating one in New York would relieve county taxpayers of the $264 million they spend on criminal public defense services, either through public defender offices, legal aid society offices or by assigning indigent defense cases to private attorneys. The state provides about $67 million for criminal and Family Court legal services for the indigent. Ms. Lieberman said it is unclear how much it would cost to pay for a statewide system of providing the "meaningful and effective" representation that her group's suit seeks to guarantee.
Governor Eliot Spitzer has endorsed the idea of a statewide public defense office but has not advanced legislation to create one. His spokesman Jeffrey Gordon had no comment on the suit yesterday.
A bill to establish a statewide commission (A9087/S4311) did not get to a vote in either chamber of the Legislature after being introduced toward the end of the 2007 regular session. It is being sponsored by the chairmen of the Codes committees in the Senate and Assembly, Senator Dale Volker, R-Depew, and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn. -
Joel Stashenko, email@example.com
4. MERIT TIME LEGISLATION
The Women in Prison Project's Violence Against Women Committee continues to advocate for S.3164/A.6150 – sponsored by Senator Dale Volker, Chair of the Codes Committee, and Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, Chair of the Judiciary Committee – which would grant merit time eligibility to survivors of abuse who have been convicted of violet crimes as a result of the abuse they experienced. Currently all people convicted of violent offenses are ineligible for merit time, which allows them to earn time off their sentences for maintaining good behavior and completing certain programs and activities. Although it did not pass the Assembly or the Senate during the 2007 legislative session, the bill still has strong support in both houses.
Unlike other exceptions that apply only to incarcerated survivors who have committed homicide or assault crimes against their abusers, the merit time legislation includes all crimes committed as a direct result of abuse – including robbery, burglary, and criminal possession of a weapon. One of the main challenges facing the Committee is overcoming the Senate Majority Leader’s opposition to this expanded list of crimes. The Committee is working with government officials to explain why it is critical for the bill to include these crimes.
ACTION: Members of the Committee are continuing to gather letters of support letters for the Merit Time Bill. The Committee has collected approximately 500 letters to Senators and Assemblymembers thus far. For a copy of a letter to send, please write or phone Serena Alfieri, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Women in Prison Project/CA, 135 E. 15th Street, NY NY 10003; ph: 212 254-5700, x311. You can find your Senator and Assemblymember by going to www.votesmart.org and entering your zip code (your nine digit zip can be found at www.usps.com) or they will fill in the information for you. The Committee is also organizing a mini-lobby day on January 29th to advocate for the bill and to present the support letters to elected officials in Albany. The Committee is also organizing a mini-lobby day on January 29th to advocate for the bill and to present the support letters to elected officials in Albany.
5. OTHER CRIMINAL JUSTICE PUBLICATIONS
CURE-NY’s Fall 2007 issue is available online at C.U.R.E.-NY, or by mail when you become a member. Send an email to email@example.com or write to PO Box 1314, Wappingers Falls, NY 12590. Include your name, mailing address or email address if you wish to join or just receive the newsletter. Basic membership is $10, newsletter only is $5, and membership for incarcerated persons is $2.
The Deuce Club
CPR’s newsletter, The Deuce Club, will be out in January online at www.parolecpr.org, or by mail when you become a member. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to PO Box 1379, New York, New York 10013. Include your name, mailing address or email address if you wish to join, membership is $10 per year for families and $2 for people in prison.
Graziano, et.al. vs. Pataki update: Spitzer reneges on Graziano settlement
Once an incarcerated person has completed their minimum sentence they are entitled to a hearing before the Parole Board who determine whether they are eligible for release under parole supervision. Under Executive Law §259-I, the parole board is required to take into consideration a number of factors, including the seriousness of the offense, the inmate's institutional adjustment, and academic and other achievements. While the parole board clearly has the discretion to give as much weight as it deems appropriate to any of those factors, it may not refuse to exercise any discretion at all and automatically deny release to violent felons, U.S. District Judge Charles Brieant has ruled. That is what the plaintiffs in Graziano v. Pataki, 06-cv-00480, allege the board is doing.
The case has been in the courts for several years, and in early 2007 the State requested a dismissal based on the fact that a new administration was now in place. The plaintiffs argued against dismissal basing their arguments on the fact that there was evidence that the same policy was being followed by this administration. Additionally they asked to have the case certified as a class action. Judge Brieant delayed ruling and directed both parties to meet to see if they could reach an agreement.
After several months, just a week or so ago in November of 2007, the parties announced that they had reached a tentative agreement which included giving all members of the class a rehearing as soon as possible; the commissioners who hear their applications would be chosen by the class; and the facts of the crime would not be allowed to take precedence over other factors [in most cases], nor could the commissioners base their decisions on their personal penal philosophies. All that remained to do was the paperwork.
Advocates were in a celebratory mood.
Then on Thursday Nov.15, an article appeared in the NY Daily News by Joe Mahoney, the Albany Bureau Chief, which stated that Gov. Spitzer has opted to fight the lawsuit. It quoted Spitzer spokesman Paul Larrabee as saying, "The state will absolutely litigate the case. The state has taken the position that the parole board has the right to reject parole for violent felons."
Peter Sell, one of the case's lead attorneys, stated that they "will therefore continue to litigate the action and await the court's decisions on the defendants' pending motion to dismiss and our cross-motion for class certification."
Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) was reported as saying the "streets [would have been] flooded with thousands of parolees who belong in prison" if the settlement had been allowed to stand. Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, was credited with saying, "The decision to fight this ridiculous suit by violent felons and killers is the right decision,".
PAN invites you to join our “Make a Noise Project”, by committing to make a noise following every development in the struggle for fair parole practices. PAN will send you the news by email or phone, and you will immediately send off letters and/or make calls to the people listed. We started with responses to the views stated in the Daily News article. It’s best to respond while the topic is hot, which in our fast paced culture is not much more than 24 hours. However, it’s never too late to express your views. Please send PAN your phone number or email address (postal mail is too slow...) if you’re willing to commit to the responsibilities of the Make a Noise Project. Meanwhile here are the people who were mentioned in the report above:
Judge Charles Brieant, United States Federal District Court, 300 Quarropas Street, White Plains, New York 10601-4150 (he reads his mail, and is interested in facts, not feelings, from what he has said in court.)
Joe Mahoney: jmahoney@daily news.com
The NY Daily News: email@example.com or 450 W. 33 Street, New York, NY 10001
Please include your full name, address and phone number. (This information will be used for verification purposes only). The Daily News reserves the right to edit letters.
Senator Golden: www.senatorgolden.com or 946 Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY 12247 (518) 455-2730
P B A President Patrick Lynch: firstname.lastname@example.org or Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, 40 Fulton Street NY NY 10038-1850, Phone (212) 233-5531
Governor Eliot Spitzer: Eliot Spitzer, State Capitol, Albany NY 12224, 518 474 8390
Please strive to educate rather than alienate. May good come to all who work for Justice!
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER: First, two omissions from October:
“Jumping” Joe Rudd will be home for Christmas. He’s spending his last weeks up in the snowy north at a facility with no programming, which he’s choosing to see as a rest period in preparation for the free world’s hectic pace! He looks forward to continuing his work in pursuit of fair parole practices for those less fortunate than himself. (It was his first hearing.)
We heard from Howard Hughes, featured in this column in the Sept issue, that he was granted parole on his third appearance, after 29 years.
And a correction - the DOCS website confused us - Louis Mortillaro is already home! He was released on Nov. 20 and is enjoying his freedom immensely.
Now for November: October’s featured Otisville Broadband Support candidate, John “Mojo” Flynn and two other Otisville Lifers, Herbert Ehringer and Michael “Heavy” Spearman were released. John and Mike will be relocating to the NYC area on Dec 28. Herbert will be released for deportation to Germany, his native country, where his wife will be joining him. We wish them all the best! Sources at Otisville report that 18 of the 28 men seen there were released in November.
The Fishkill board met just as the Spitzer retraction of the settlement made the news. Whether there’s a connection or not is unknown, and the information is mostly anecdotal, but from what we’ve been told, of the approximately 78 people who saw the board only a handful made it (10-15). We do have the specifics for 5 individuals, all of whom were denied: one had 15-life, on his 9th appearance; another had 25-life, on his 4th appearance; a third had 25-life, on his 3rd appearance; the fourth with 25-life, on his 2nd appearance; and the last had 6-life, it was his 5th appearance.
Woodbourne reports 24 men were seen, and 11 were granted parole, among them Charles “Doc: Friedgood, the oldest person incarcerated in NYS. Also among those released were one man with 15-life, at his 1st appearance; another with 20-life on his 3rd board; a third with 20-life on his 4th board; another with 20-life on his 5th board, and a man with 10-20 at his 3rd board. The board members were Chris Ortloff, Thomas P. Grant, and Kevin G.Ludlow.
[We get our reports from you; send word to Building Bridges, email@example.com.]
SENTENCING MINUTES: As you probably know if you have been reading Building Bridges for awhile it is important for a parole candidate to have a copy of their sentencing minutes. [see article #9 in Sept ‘07’s Building Bridges] The parole board will no longer hold a hearing for people with violent felony charges without the sentencing minutes. In the past when they did, it was reason for reversal because the board is required to consider them. But we just learned that it is quite difficult to obtain them if you don’t already have them (despite the fact that they are supposed to become part of your file as soon as you are sentenced). One recently paroled person credits his release to his wife because she was able to buy - yes, buy! -a copy, days before the hearing. I asked how she did that. In this case she had to go to Center Street (the parole officer at the facility gave her the address) and purchase them for $140. $140!!! And if that’s not enough of a burden, to order them you need to know the indictment number and the date of the hearing (because they need to be gotten from the stenographer who was working that day, since the stenographer OWNS them!). So we say if you or your loved one are eligible for parole, even if it’s 10 years from now, start getting your own copy of the sentencing minutes. Then if it gets lost, or something, you’ll always have a backup copy. A word to the wise...
7. PEN-PAL PROJECT
‘Dear Friends’ is a group of people who want to exchange ideas and feelings with people behind bars. If you’re interested, please write Dear Friends, PO Box 185, Nutley, NJ 07110.
8. PRISON RADIO
Al Lewis Lives, hosted by Karen Lewis, broadcasts on Saturdays from noon to 1:30 pm on WBAI, 99.5 FM, NYC. Due to technical difficulties and human frailties we failed to get a recording of Annette Dickerson’s keynote speech at FED3/NYC, despite our best efforts. Next year we’ll have a better back-up plan.
The Fancy Broccoli Show: Dec. 9: Peter Wagner will explain how using his proposed method will create a fairer system of counting the citizens of our state; Dec 16: Former NYS Parole Chairman Robert Dennison will be talking about his experience in that capacity as well as his current efforts to change some of the conditions of parole currently being imposed on people in NY. 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'. Archives are available at Fancy Broccoli
Democracy Now!, with Amy Goodman airs around the country, check www.democracynow.org to find the station nearest you or to read the transcripts. While not solely devoted to prison issues, she provides in-depth coverage of some of the most serious prison and criminal justice issues.
Justice Pages Audio at www.justicepages.org/
On The Count: The Prison and Criminal Justice Report, WBAI, 99.5 FM, NYC, broadcasting every Saturday morning 10:30 am until noon. It is the only regularly broadcast program in America whose host and entire production staff is composed of people who were formerly incarcerated.
Thousand Kites:thousandkites.pbwiki.com. Listen to the newly launched Thousand Kites Radio Station, a twenty-four hour online webcast dedicated to the Thousand Kites project, a national dialogue project addressing the prison system and human rights in the United States through theater, video, web, community radio, and grassroots strategies.
Voices from the Prison Action Network: Hoping to produce a program with lawyer Cheryl Kates, Esq., and recently paroled Jerry Balone in December. If you’d like to be interviewed by telephone (or in person) please call me to set up something for the future. 518 253 7533. Archives available at radio4all.net and www.hmimc.swapspace.com.
I WALK FREE
I don’t have a limo to pick me up at the gate when the time is up.
Only a ticket for confusion after a time of torture.
Laughter and happiness, tears of inpatience or defeat
but I only know.....? that sunshine is in any door.
Where, I don't know.
Oh no, again, lost time for forgiveness
WALKING FREE ... STEPS TO SADNESS
Samuel Vazquez (firstname.lastname@example.org)
10. SONNY RUDERT'S FIELD REPORT #1
One of the simple maxims of life on the planet is this: A little bit of negativity goes a long, long way; it takes at least ten times the same amount of positive energy to overcome the negative effect. Most people who have ever played a team sport like football understand this. One guy acting negatively can undermine the efforts of the entire team—if you let him.
The trick is to identify the problem, understand it, and isolate it. Life is no different.
Recently, we have experienced a so called “backlash” in the mainstream media. Various reporters are making a story of “violent offenders” being released from prison. Our task, therefore, is to identify this, understand it, and isolate it. To properly identify the problem we have to recognize it is simply a politicized numbers game: More people who have served past their time are being released and the “story” here is that the powers that be are now “soft on crime.”
Understanding this is simply a matter of seeing the Big Picture. Either you believe in the power of human redemption or you don’t. But, if you don’t—or if you do—subject your belief to rational analysis. To truly believe a “violent offender” is being released from prison you have to subscribe to the idea that no change has occurred in this person’s life over the course of many, many years.
We know better. And, our job is to isolate this problem as best we can. Unfortunately, most of our views do not get printed in the mainstream press—they just don’t conform to the political agenda. However, the truth is not afraid of the light. Those of us leading transformed lives must continue to do so, and help others to do the same.
Our neighbors, co-workers and social acquaintances read the papers—and they see us doing our thing, day in, day out. When the incongruity comes to light, they will know the truth by what they see. As in the case of any type of prejudice, people come to hate their concepts of who they believe people are. However, when the same people come to know the actual person, they realize their concept is out of line (and more often than not shaped by somebody else’s view).
We have to keep coming home, joining our neighbors, and living our lives in an exemplary manner. In this simple way, we keep the door open for others who have earned the right to fair parole hearings after years and years of anything but. We also become a sort of “living billboard” that disputes the myths and false concepts propagated by writers that choose to bow down to the unexamined politics of the day.
11. SUPPORT MEETINGS
ALBANY: PFNY meeting at 7:00 pm every Monday at the Women’s Bldg, 79 Central Avenue. Please call ahead: Alison 518 453 6659
ROOTS: Re-entry Monthly Orientation Sessions (on the last Thursdays of each month)
ROOTS Bi-Weekly "Re-entry Peer Support Groups" from 11am-1pm. Dec. 8 and 22.
These meetings take place on the second floor of Trinity Institute, 15 Trinity Place, Albany; For info: ROOTS: 518 434 1026; Corey Ellis 518 4499-5155m x131
BUFFALO: Groups for men and women meet separately on Thursdays, from 5:30-6:30pm at GROUP Ministries, Inc., 1333 Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo. These programs are FREE and confidential. For more information, call 716-539-1844.
NORTH BABYLON LI: Prison Families Anonymous meets on the 2nd and 4th Wed of each month at 7:30 pm at the Babylon Town Hall Annex. You are welcome if you have a family member in prison. For more info you may call Barbara: Ph: 631-630-9118, Cell: 631-943-0441
POUGHKEEPSIE: PFNY Support Group Room 306 of the Main Building of Family Partnership at 29 North Hamilton St. Poughkeepsie, NY. Meetings will be held on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month at 7pm. The Citizens for Restorative Justice meet the first Monday of the month, 6:30 to 8:00PM. The location changes so call ahead of time, 845-464-4736.
SCHENECTADY: PFNY Meetings temporarily suspended. Call Jeanette for more info: 518 346 5653
12 TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS
From the Capital District:
The NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow CFs on Sat, Dec 1 ($30 adults, $20 children), Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson CFs on Sun, Dec 9 ($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, Dec 15 leaving Troy at 5 AM and Albany bus Station at 5:15. Sullivan (Ulster, Eastern, Woodbourne, Sullivan CFs) on Sat Dec 22 leaving at 6 AM ($40 adults, $25 children). Reservations: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.T
Door to door, free rides are offered from Albany to prisons within 150 miles by volunteers of FUUSA’s Justice Committee on weekdays only. Please contact us at 518 253-7533 if you need a ride.
Ride to Attica from Albany wanted. Please call 518 253 7533 if you would be willing to take a passenger.
Statewide: DOCS Free Bus - to find out how to sign up, from NYC area: Deacon Mason on Tues &
Fri, 212 961 4026 and from Albany: on Wed & Thurs, 518 485 9212; from Buffalo area: Rev. Roberson 716 532 0177, x4805; from Syracuse: Sister Patricia: 315 428 4258
13. WHAT'S HAPPENING AROUND NEW YORK STATE:
ALBANY: ROOTS (Reentry Opportunities and Orientations Towards Success) has been around since 1997 when ex-offenders and supporters from the Capital Region desired to serve as models and supporters to other formerly incarcerated men and women who were trying to make a positive and constructive reentry into their community. They've taken youth of incarcerated parents on trips to the country, spoken in prisons and universities, helped develop re-entry and employment curriculums with Alb. County Probation, self-help groups at the jail, and participated in the Albany County DA's Community Accountability Board, and other activities too numerous to mention here.
Currently they are holding Orientation meetings once a month (see #11 above) for parolees being released from NYC correctional facilities and returning to Albany - these offer support, hope and proven suggestions from successful ex-offenders and supporters. They also offer a Bi-Weekly "Re-entry Peer Support Group" every other Sat from 11am-1pm. In December those will be held on Dec. 8 and 22. Both meetings are at Trinity Institute, 15 Trinity Place, Albany; for more info: ROOTS: 518 434 1026; Corey Ellis 518 4499-5155m x131
BUFFALO: Prisoners Are People Too! will not be meeting in December. The next meeting is scheduled for January 28. PRP2! programs are sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of Baba Eng.
NEW YORK STATE: The NYS Co_RR (NYS Coalition for Rehabilitation and Reentry) has been a collaboration of more than 33 advocacy organizations, who met on September 25, 2007 to cooperate in the development of a common restorative justice platform for reform . We are now inviting others to participate in that collaboration.
Sometime over the next six months, we will be calling for a "wave" of emails, from everyone, supporting one selected platform plank (each one in turn). That will demonstrate a collective support for that one plank. About every two weeks, a new "wave" will be launched for one of the twelve planks.
This is a unique opportunity for people (with email access) throughout the state to join forces with many advocacy organizations for improvement in the NYS criminal justice system. Visit
NYS CoRR Platform to join the wave now!
14. WORDS FROM INSIDE
Recently a good friend of mine went to his fourth board. The parole board denied him. They did this based solely on the nature of the crime. They gave mere lip service to his outstanding record of behavior for over 30 years in prison.
This injustice is devastating to all of us in the same boat, and to our friends and family who have stuck by us all these years.
The minimum sentence given is being completely and arbitrarily ignored, as if it meant nothing. Instead, inflammatory language is used to deny parole, focusing on the nature of the crime which it is humanly impossible to change.
How do we fight this injustice? I am asking for your help.
Being disconnected geographically, emotionally and psychologically, over long prison sentences, takes a serious toll on our (and our families) psyches and spirits. I’ve developed a series of segments for inclusion into the Aggression Replacement Training and Phase Three: Pre-release Program of Transitional Services to address this. The program segments which I call ”Manhood and Debriefing” help identify the things that we generally overlook, from how we arrange our personal effects similar to how we had them in cells, showering with our underwear and slippers on, eating every meal with a spoon, over-reacting to situations with aggressive responses, etc.
It’s necessary to learn and understand what’s important in life and how to plan and achieve our goals. It’s absolutely essential to develop motivation for the tasks ahead.
The information in Building Bridges is inspirational for me and for all with whom I share it. For this reason, resources like this newsletter and the prison radio programs listed in it, allow us - usually voiceless - venues and support to speak up, speak out and speak clearly! We must cherish these resources or they will dry up.
Kudos to Otisville, Green Haven, Comstock, Woodbourne, Sing Sing and others working through their own pain to help themselves and their supporters. Now we can add Franklin to that list!
Chas Ransome PS. Support PAN/yourself by making a donation to support the continued distribution of Building Bridges.
A VERY SPECIAL SEASON’S GREETING
TO ALL OF OUR JUSTICE LOVING READERS.
MAY THIS YEAR BRING
JOY TO ALL THE WORLD!