Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Friday, February 29, 2008

March 2008

Please scroll down to get to the Building Bridges monthly newsletter.

March 25th from Frank Valverde:

I am pleased to announce that John has finally been granted parole! He is scheduled to return home on May 6th. Thank you all so much for your prayers and support over the years. The outpouring of support from everyone, including complete strangers, was vital to his release. This has been a long journey and we could not have done it without you!

I will provide more information as we get it. God bless!


March 19th from Nick Szuberla, nickszub@gmail.com,

Appalachian Prison Documentary Brings Home Human Rights Violations
ent.groundspring.org

NEW YORK CITY: The acclaimed prison justice documentary Up the Ridge will be screened at Maysles Films (343 Lenox Ave.) on Tuesday, March 25, at 7:30 PM. A question and answer session with directors, Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby, will follow.

A documentary film about urban prisoners in isolated rural prisons, Up the Ridge looks at the issues from the perspectives of prisoners, their suddenly distant families, corrections officers, and the mountain communities where new supermax prisons are located.



March 17 from F.R.E.E.:

Saturday, March 29th 2008
1-4pm
Families Rally For Emancipation & Empowerment
81 Willoughby St, Ste 701
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Register: (718) 852-0012
www.prisonfamiliescommunity.org

Are you tiring of fighting the system alone?

Join Families Rally for Emancipation & Empowerment (F.R.E.E.), formerly Prison Families Community Forum, as we welcome home our brothers and sisters who are returning to the community and form a network of united, strong families who will not be defeated by the system.

There will be food, film and conversation about the issues impacting our families; won't you join us?

There is no cost to attend this event but you must R.S.V.P by March 24, 2008.
By phone: 718-852-0012 ext. 3
By internet: http://www.prisonfamiliescommunity.org/node/274
By email: founderpfcf@yahoo.com



March 11 from NY Juvenile Justice Coalition of The Correctional Association of NY:

Support Facility Closures
ADVOCACY DAY
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Legislative Office Building, LCA Press Room, Albany NY
11am SHARP!

The Office of Children and Family Services has proposed closing six youth prisons. We need your help to make sure that the Legislature approves these closures.

Come to Albany to educate legislators about how closing youth prisons will 1) keep court-involved youth closer to their families and neighborhoods, 2) help ensure the fair treatment of black and Latino young people, and 3) save money that can be reinvested in youth programs in our communities.

RSVP to DeAvery Irons at 212 254 5700, x 316.



March 9 from Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc.:

Welcome Home!
Involved Communities Reduce Recidivism!
Featuring: Life Sentence, A documentary by Lisa M. Gray

at the MALCOLM X AND Dr. BETTY SHABAZZ MEMORIAL AND EDUCATIONAL CENTER
3940 BROADWAY (AT 165th STREET)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK

March 19, 2008
6:30 - 9:00 PM

Scheduled Speakers Include:
Imam Umar Abdul Jalil, Assistant Commissioner NYC /DOCS
Robert Dennison, Former NYS Commissioner of Parole
Honorable Bill Perkins, New York State Senator

Light Refreshments and more!
Admission is Free but RSVP!
For additional information call Citizens at: 212 252 2235
or send email to info@citizensinc.org

Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc.
Box 9 – Lincolnton Station
New York, New York 10037
212 252 2235



BUILDING BRIDGES MARCH 2008

Dear Reader,

Many community based and prison organizations have mobilized around the necessity of refuting the irrational fears being fanned by Senator Nozzolio and a host of others [see article about “Nozzolio’s Senate bill S.6908”]. We all know what we need to do. Have you done your part? As soon as you hear about an article in the media, write a letter immediately, with your opposing opinion and as many facts as you can state. [See article “Nozzolio in the Spotlight” for an example.] This is an opportunity to have our voices heard. Let’s not squander it. Speak from the highest part of you so that we can be seen for who we truly are - people who have a lot to offer the society that scorns us.


In this Issue:

Albany Call-out
Class Action Conference
Drug Sentencing
One person Away from a Democratic Majority in NYS Senate
ICARE restructuring
Nozzolio's Bill S.6908
Nozzolio in the Spotlight
Prison Action Network sets 2008-9 Agenda
The Yellow Press, by Karima Amin
Spitzer’s DOCS Budget
Parole
Sonny Rudert’s Big Picture
Cardell Sharid’s widow looking for photos
Prison Radio Interviews
Support Meetings
Transportation to Prisons
What's Happening Around New York State



IF YOU ARE FROM ALBANY OR HAVE RELATIVES IN ALBANY WHO WANT TO BE INFORMED OF LOCAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE OR PRISON REFORM ACTIVITIES, SUCH AS PUBLIC MEETINGS, DEMONSTRATIONS OR LOBBYING DAYS, PLEASE SEND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS OR PHONE NUMBER TO US AT 518 253 7533 OR PRISONACTION@HOTMAIL.COM, SO WE CAN NOTIFY YOU AS SOON AS WE GET THE INFORMATION.

COMING UP IN ALBANY IN MARCH:

Organizing Lunch:

The Campaign for an Independent Public Defense Commission is ready for action! If you have time and energy to help, please join us for an organizing lunch on March 11th, 11:00 - 1:00 pm, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 262 State Street, Albany NY.  Please RSVP to Katie no later than March 7th so she can plan the food accordingly.
Katie Blackburn, Community Organizer, Campaign for an Independent Public Defense Commission, New York State Defenders Justice Fund, 194 Washington Ave, Suite 500 , Albany, NY 12210, Phone: 518-465-0519.

Lobby Days:

Coalition for Women Prisoners’ 14th Annual Advocacy Day ¨ Tuesday, March 4, 2008 ¨ Albany, NY
Please call to find out how to join us: Serena Alfieri, Women in Prison Project Associate: 212-473-2807

Sign up for Drop the Rock’s Advocacy Day on Thursday, March 27th in Albany!  On this day, Drop the Rock coalition members from throughout the city and state will unite in Albany and show our elected officials that the public supports Rockefeller Drug Law repeal. Please contact Caitlin Dunklee, Drop the Rock Coordinator, at 212-254-5700 or cdunklee@correctionalassociation.org, for more information. 



CLASS ACTION CONFERENCE, FRIDAY MARCH 28 AT CARDOZO LAW SCHOOL : THE CRITICAL ROLE THAT CLASS ACTIONS HAVE PLAYED IN PROTECTING CONSUMER SAFETY, ADVANCING CIVIL RIGHTS, PROTECTING THE INTEGRITY OF THE MARKET, AND DISTRIBUTING JUSTICE WILL BE DISCUSSED.

On March 28, 2008, Public Justice, the American Constitution Society, and Cardozo Law School are sponsoring a one-day conference on "Justice and the Role of Class Actions" in New York City at Cardozo Law School, Yeshiva University, 55 Fifth Avenue at 12th Street, New York, NY 10003

For too long, coverage of class action litigation has understated or ignored completely the critical role that class actions have played in protecting consumer safety, advancing civil rights, protecting the integrity of the market, and distributing justice. This conference features a rigorous set of panels about the historic value of class actions, their contemporary application, and some of the threats and opportunities facing the class action system today. The day-long event will bring together scholars, practitioners, and law students to engage in an interactive set of conversations about class actions and the issues that swirl around this controversial and rapidly changing legal arena. Ken Feinberg, founder of The Feinberg Group LLP and the former Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, will provide the keynote address.

For more information and to register, please contact classactionconference@gmail.com, or contact the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at 212-790-0246 



GREAT NEWS FROM THE DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE: THE U.S. SUPREME COURT RULED THAT JUDGES CAN IGNORE UNJUST SENTENCING GUIDELINES THAT RECOMMEND SENTENCES FOR CRACK COCAINE OFFENSES THAT ARE HARSHER THAN THOSE FOR POWDER COCAINE OFFENSES. 

This ruling doesn’t change the draconian mandatory minimums that are the main source of the problem, but it gives judges greater discretion to show mercy to nonviolent drug law offenders. The 100 to 1 crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity is costing taxpayers billions of dollars and creating enormous racial inequities in our criminal justice system. It is also making our streets less safe by encouraging federal law enforcement agencies to target low-level drug offenders instead of violent drug traffickers and organized crime.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission partially reduced recommended sentences for crack cocaine offenses earlier this year. The Commission may decide to apply these sentencing reductions retroactively. Doing so could save taxpayers a billion dollars and make 19,500 federal prisoners eligible for early release over the next several decades.
Ultimately, only Congress can completely eliminate the crack/powder disparity. Four reform bills have been introduced in Congress (two by Democrats and two by Republicans). The U.S. Senate is expected to have hearings on the legislation in February. Unfortunately, no hearings on this issue have been scheduled in the House, and the House reform bill, Rep. Rangel’s (D-NY) Crack-Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 2007 (H.R. 460), has stalled. With your help we can make Congress change these unjust laws.

Call or write your legislators: To find out how, Click Here.

You could say something like this:
"My name is [ ] and I live in [ ]. I’m calling to urge the Senator to completely eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. The best way to do that is by passing S. 1711, The Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act. I’m interested in finding out what the Senator is doing to pass this legislation. May I leave my address so the Senator can write me?"
[from Bill Piper, Drug Policy Alliance Network]



ONE DOWN, ONE TO GO! WE ARE ONE PERSON AWAY FROM HAVING A DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY IN THE SENATE!! THIS IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE THE SENATE (BRUNO AND NOZZOLIO ARE SENATORS) IS WHERE A LOT OF THE LEGISLATION WE ENDORSE IS VETOED, AND A LOT WE OPPOSE IS PASSED. UNFORTUNATELY IT DOES BREAK DOWN INTO PARTY POLITICS. ON LOCAL AND STATE LEVELS, IT IS THE DEMOCRATS WHO ARE MOST LIKELY TO SUPPORT OUR CAUSE.

A special election was called after Senator James W. Wright, a Republican, announced his retirement. Darrel Aubertine (D-WF) won that election. In a district that the GOP has held for 110 consecutive years, the final vote was 52%-48%. Turnout was huge, and so was the Working Family Party’s contribution. They marched through the snow to knock on over 30,000 doors, called tens of thousands of voters, and raised more than $10,000 for a targeted mailing. 

The win reduces the Republicans’ majority to one seat and will intensify pressure on the majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, as he tries to maintain his party’s grip on the Senate, which it has controlled for more than 40 years. The Democrat, Darrel J. Aubertine, a dairy farmer, leaned heavily on Mr. Spitzer’s media consultant and the state Democrats’ money as he waged a costly campaign against the Republican, William A. Barclay, a lawyer and an assemblyman whose father once held the Senate seat.
.
Says the Working Families Party: You need 3 things to pull off an upset like this:
• You need a candidate with a brain and a heart. 
• You need a message that resonates with people’s real concerns.
• You need a crew of organizers, canvassers, volunteers, labor allies, contributors and leaders who are willing to do whatever it takes to win. We had all three.  Now, we’re on the brink of real change.  This fall, half a dozen more Republican incumbents will face tough challenges.  It’ll be a big fight, and we can't wait to get started.



ICARE APPOINTS SUSAN MARENECK AS ACTING DIRECTOR WHILE RIMA VESELEY-FLAD REMAINS DEEPLY INVOLVED IN STRATEGIC PLANNING, FUNDRAISING, AND INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT.

On March 1, 2008, Susan Mareneck will assume the position of Acting Director of ICARE. The last three and a half years have been an amazing period of growth, as ICARE staff and volunteers have engaged communities of faith in transforming our state prison system, by raising awareness of gross injustices as well as proposing pragmatic alternatives to the revolving door of prison and reentry. As a united presence, we have been well received in New York City and Albany on both sides of the aisle, and have worked closely with other organizations and forward-looking legislators to improve laws and policies. This year, we are proposing a “Restoration of Rights” omnibus bill that includes proposals for a “Certificate of Restoration,” sealing of criminal convictions, and new standards for employers and licensing agencies. We have become, in the words of an Albany-based consultant, a “formidable coalition.” And that is due to the indignation, dedication, and compassion that you, as members of the community and advocates, have expressed. Rima Vesely-Flad will continue to be active in policy and communications work for the next four months, serving as a consultant until the end of June. Next fall she will continue to sit at the table during the policy committee discussions. She will remain a board member ex-officio, deeply involved in strategic planning, fundraising, and infrastructural development.



“NOZZOLIO BILL” S.6908 CALLS FOR UNANIMOUS PAROLE DECISION TO RELEASE, AND MANDATES INTERNET POSTING OF PAROLE HEARINGS 9 MONTHS PRIOR TO APPEARANCE. THE BILL PASSED THE CRIME VICTIMS, CRIME AND CORRECTIONS COMMITTEE. ON MONDAY 3/3 IT GOES TO THE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER WHO CAN ADD IT TO THE CALENDAR FOR THE WHOLE SENATE TO VOTE ON.

February 7, 2008
Introduced by Sens. Nozzolio, Padavan, Alesi, Bonacic, Bruno, DeFrancisco, Farley, Flanagan, Fuschillo, Golden, Griffo, Hannon, O. Johnson, Lanza, Larkin, Lavalle, Leibell, Libous, Maltese, Marcellino, Maziarz, Morahan, Rath, Saland, Seward, Skelos, Trunzo, Winner, Young

AN ACT to amend the executive law, in relation to directing the division of parole, on its internet homepage, to maintain a list of inmates eligible for parole and to provide crime victims a means to register to receive notice of the parole hearing of the inmate who committed the crime against such victim, requiring the division of parole to submit a report on the inmates granted parole, the consideration of inmates for parole, and the crime victims fair treatment standard pamphlet.

Purpose: To improve notification to crime victims when inmates are scheduled to be considered for release on parole; and to require the unanimous agreement of the board to grant parole to inmates convicted of a class A felony.

This bill would:
1. Require at least 3 Parole Board members to conduct parole hearings for inmates convicted of a class A felony, and require a unanimous vote for parole to be granted in these cases.
2. Require the Division of Parole to maintain on their web site a listing of inmates and their parole eligibility dates, along with other relevant data.
3. Allow victims who did not choose at the time of the inmate's conviction to receive notice of parole hearings to elect to do so at a later date.
4. Require the Division's web site to provide a mechanism enabling victims of all crimes, not just violent crimes, to register to receive notice of when their perpetrator will appear before the Parole Board for a hearing. The web site must also provide a notice of their rights as a victim to make either a written or oral statement to the Board.
5. Require the Parole Board to give notice to victims who have requested to be notified of a proposed parole hearing and their rights as victim to make either a written or oral statement to the board.
6. Require the Division of Parole to provide an annual report to the State Legislature on all parole releases, release rates and other information.
7. Mandate that the Division of Parole must contact the local District Attorney in the county where a crime was committed, whenever an A-felon or Violent Felony Offender comes up for parole.

Justification:
The rate of release of violent felons, particularly those who have committed murder, has recently dramatically increased. New State Division of Parole data shows that A-1 violent felons appearing for the first time before the Parole Board are now being released at a rate 180% higher than during Governor George Pataki's last term in office. Felons who reappear before the Board are being released at a rate 122% higher than during Pataki's last term. Media reports have also detailed several instances where A-1 murderers have been released without any contact with the victim's families. The Division of Parole maintains an Internet web site, but does not provide any information to the public on the web site regarding who will be considered for parole or the dates of parole hearings. The Division also does not provide information to the legislature as to whom has been released and the rates of release.



NOZZOLIO IN THE SPOTLIGHT SAYS, “SHOCKINGLY, 215 CONVICTED MURDERERS WERE GRANTED PAROLE LAST YEAR AND RELEASED BACK ON TO THE STREETS. THIS ALARMING TREND OF MURDERERS AND VIOLENT FELONS BEING RELEASED FROM PRISON MUST BE STOPPED.”

On the Spot - Senator Nozzolio
Published on auburnpub.com, a product of The Citizen
click for link

Nozzolio: Alarming number of prisoners released

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 2:53 PM EST
Each Thursday, we put one of our local newsmakers On The Spot. This week: State Senator Mike Nozzolio

This week’s question: The number of felons being paroled in New York rose dramatically last year. Is this a sign of poor oversight or simply a coincidental occurrence? Is a new law changing the way the parole board operates really necessary?

Shockingly, 215 convicted murderers were granted parole last year and released back on to the streets. This alarming trend of murderers and violent felons being released from prison must be stopped. Throughout my tenure in the state Legislature, I have worked tirelessly to protect our communities and you can be assured that I will not stand by as more and more criminals are released onto the streets. There are three important provisions that Parole Board members must take into account when deliberating whether an inmate is fit to be paroled. They must factor in the nature of the crime that was committed, the threat the inmate poses to society if released, and the inmate’s rehabilitation record while they have been incarcerated. The growing number of murderers and dangerous convicts being released clearly indicates a growing disregard by Parole Board members of the heinous nature of the crimes that sent these perpetrators to prison. Data released by the State Division of Parole shows that violent felons appearing for the first time before the Parole Board in 2007 were released at a rate 180 percent higher than the year before. In an effort to curb this dangerous trend, I convened the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee last month to hear testimony from Division of Parole Chairman George Alexander and Division of Criminal Justice Services Director Denise O’Donnell. Unfortunately, their testimony did not offer any tangible reason for the alarming increase in the release of violent felons. It is apparent that legislative measures must be taken to strengthen New York’s parole policy. This legislative session, I am sponsoring comprehensive legislation that will require a unanimous vote of at least three Parole Board Members for parole to be granted to inmates convicted of a violent felony. In addition, my legislation will require the Division of Parole to maintain a listing of inmates and their parole eligibility dates on their Web site as well as notify a victim or their family when their perpetrator’s hearing is scheduled so that they can testify as to the harm that has been caused to them. To learn more about this legislation, please visit my Web site at www.senatornozzolio.com and sign-up for an on-line petition to express your support.
 
The Citizens' Say link at end of the article gives readers a chance to respond. Cheryl Kates (below) did, but to a different address. Now it’s your turn. Don’t leave it up to 2 people. They need to see hundreds of comments.

TO: EDITOR@THECITIZEN.COM

The Release of Violent Felons
 
    I find the article that was recently published discussing Senator Nozzolio's position on the release rate of inmates very troubling. First and foremost, Mr. Nozzolio's has misquoted the law when referring to the statutory criteria the Parole Board must consider when evaluating an inmate's fitness for parole. He stated, "There are three important provisions that Parole Board members must take into account when deliberating whether an inmate is fit to be paroled. They must factor in the nature of the crime that was committed, the threat the inmate poses to society if released, and the inmate's rehabilitation record."
 
    The Parole Board must consider many more factors than what the Senator has indicated.
NYS Executive Law § 259 (i) (2) (c) (a) states “Discretionary release on parole shall not be granted merely as a reward for good conduct or efficient performance of duties while confined but after considering if there is a reasonable probability that, if such inmate is released, he will live and remain at liberty without violating the law, and that his release is not incompatible with the welfare of society and will not so deprecate the seriousness of his crime as to undermine respect for the law.” The Parole Board shall consider; “(I) The institutional record including program goals and accomplishments, academic achievements, vocational, educational, training or work assignments, therapy and interpersonal relationships with staff and inmates; (II) Performance, if any, as a participant in a temporary release program; (III) Release plans including community resources, employment, education and training and support services available to the inmate; (IV) Any deportation order issued by the federal government...; (V) Any statement made to the Board by the crime victim or the victim’s representative, where the crime victim is deceased or is mentally or physically incapacitated...” Executive Law § 259  (i) (2) (c) (a)
 
George Alexander, the CEO/Chairman of Parole, directed in his memo specifically on April 17, 2007: “That legal standard requires the Board to consider in each inmate’s case all of the following:
1). Whether there is a reasonable probability that, if such inmate is released, he or she will live and remain at liberty without violating the law; and
2). Whether his or her release is incompatible with the welfare of society; and
3). Whether the inmate’s release will so deprecate the seriousness of the offenses to undermine respect for the law.”

    Despite this memorandum directing members of the Parole Board to follow the law, an increasing number of parole denials do not include evidence that all of the necessary factors have been considered resulting in an increased number of appeals that must be filed. While we as citizens want our communities to be safe, we cannot alter the law to accomplish that. Many people in this state have been incarcerated for decades . They have been rehabilitated. Yet the Parole Board continues to deny them parole based solely on the nature of the crime, a factor that will never change.
    There are many juvenile offenders being denied parole. These individuals were convicted of crimes while in their teens receiving sentences of between 5-9(minimum)  years - life. Some of these people have remained incarcerated and are now adults serving decades in prison.
    The miseducation of the public in regards to these issues is what contributes to the continued break down of our criminal justice system. During the hearing on January 15, 2008 in which Senator Nozzolio received testimony from George Alexander, information was given regarding the recidivism rate. There is no credible evidence that the released people have re-violated the law or made our communities more dangerous.
    Even if Mr. Nozzolio's takes measures to strengthen parole policies this legislation cannot be applied retroactively in an ex post facto manner. The people that are currently being released were already incarcerated. A change in the law will have no effect on them as he cannot enacted legislation that will increase the punishment of someone that has already been convicted of a crime.

Cheryl L. Kates Esq. Attorney at Law
PO Box 711, Honeoye, NY 14471
(585) 820-3818
www.cherylkatesesq.com



PAN AGENDA HAS EXPANDED TO INCLUDE PAROLE SUPPORT, TRANSITIONAL HOUSING DEVELOPMENT, A LIFERS AND LONGTERMERS CLEARINGHOUSE, DAY TRIPS FOR COMMUNITY YOUTH, A REENTRY SUPPORT GROUP, AND A JOURNALISM PROJECT TO COUNTERACT NEGATIVE PRESS. A GENERAL MEETING IS PLANNED FOR MARCH 15.

Prison Action Network’s Advisory Board met on February 16 and voted to take on the following very exciting projects:
1) Parole Support - writing letters of support for the people our paroled members left behind,

2) investigate the possibility of opening a Transitional Residence specifically for Lifers and Longtermer,

3) Lifers and Long-termers Clearinghouse offering information exchange and networking opportunities between those in prison and community based organizations,

4) Phoenix Rising day trips for community youth,

5) Reentry Support Group for formerly incarcerated people, which meets regularly from 6-8 at St. Ann's Church, 295 St. Anns Ave, in Bx. Call or email PAN for the date of March’s meeting; and

6) Journalism Project which will work to get press coverage for experts in criminal justice and prison reform in response to reactionary stories such as we’ve seen lately about the Nozzolio bill (see Feb. issue of Building Bridges as well as this issue).. We decided to postpone plans for FED4, which may reappear as a Prison and Journalism Conference depending on our success with the journalism project.

We invite all who are interested in getting involved with these projects to a General Meeting on Saturday March 15 from 10am - 1pm, at the Fortune Society Academy's Conference Room, ground floor 630 Riverside Drive (at 140th Street). Please contact us for more information: 518 273 7533 or prisonaction@hotmail.com



KARIMA AMIN WRITES ABOUT THE IMPACT OF THE RECENT NEGATIVE PRESS:

Prisoners and the Yellow Press by Karima Amin

Prisoners are people too. Some of us have never considered that simple fact. As human beings we are all endowed with the instinct for survival. As human beings, we all have the capacity for making mistakes, or errors in judgment, which may lead to disorder and crime. No one is immune. Some of us have engaged in wrongful acts that have gone undiscovered. Some have committed wrongful acts that have put them behind bars. And let us not forget those who have committed no wrongdoing who end up incarcerated nevertheless.

In recent months, the “yellow press” has been on a mission to denigrate and dehumanize all prisoners, especially those convicted of a violent felony offense. These articles, designed to frighten the public, foster the belief that all prisoners are “scum bags,” “sickos,” “jailbirds,” “monsters,” “convicts,” “demons,” and “killers,” -- not people. These politically motivated, misinformed and slanted articles seem to be taking us back to the days of Pataki, when the law was ignored and very few paroleable people, convicted of a violent felony offense, were being released. And, although it has been denied, I believe parole commissioners were instructed to render denials, despite a person’s being parole ready and parole eligible. So now that we have been properly frightened by reading these negative articles, some of us are beginning to believe prisoners are not people and they deserve to be kept behind bars.

The “yellow press” creates a powerful divide between those of us who are out here and those who struggle behind the walls. I think that those of us who are Black need to realize that most prisoners in Amerikkka look like us. They belong to us. Their absence from our community has created “holes” that only they can fill. They are our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, and our children. Some have been locked up for twenty and thirty years or more. The “yellow press” would have us believe that they have not been punished enough for the crimes of which they have been convicted. At parole hearings, their expressions of remorse and evidence of their positive transformation are ignored, “due to the nature of the crime.” Sadly, we go on with our lives, sometimes believing that more punishment is in order and/or that we are powerless to fight the “yellow press” and all of mainstream media which effectively strives to denigrate and dehumanize the prisoner while criminalizing the Black race.

Whether in prison or in community, we are all in this together and we have to reject and fight against the negative definitions and subsequent outrageous acts that we are subjected to as a people.

[This is an EXCERPT from an article which first appeared in "THE CHALLENGER," a Buffalo-Rochester weekly, February 20, 2008}...



PAN ENDORSES MUCH OF SPITZER’S 2008-2009 DOCS BUDGET, BUT NOT ALL. WE SUPPORT SAVING MONEY BY CLOSING UNDER-UTILIZED PRISONS; EXPANDING REENTRY PROGRAMS, ESTABLISHING A PAROLE VIOLATOR FACILITY IN NYC, ADDING MORE MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT PROGRAMS, AND UPGRADING THE MEDICAL PAROLE RELEASE STATUTE. WE DO NOT ENDORSE ELIMINATING CERTAIN CATEGORIES OF FELONS FROM THE BENEFITS OF MEDICAL PAROLE, NOR SAVING MONEY ON HEALTH CARE IF THE SAVINGS DO NOT RESULT IN BETTER CARE.

DOCS budget highlights from the Spitzer administration’s 2008-2009 Executive Budget: 

The Executive Budget recommends $3 billion funding for the Department of Correctional Services. This is an increase of $67 million from the 2007-2008 budget. This net change primarily reflects continued growth in re-entry and mental health programs for people in prison, higher health care costs including pharmaceuticals and billings from outside medical providers, as well as the Department’s Technological infrastructure. Offsetting savings are achieved by closing three camps and one correctional facility, and implementing operational efficiencies, including: initiatives to reduce energy usage, improving the delivery of inmate health care, and constraining overtime. 

Major budget actions include: 

Savings from prison closures:
Since 1999 the Department’s under-custody population has fallen by over 9,000 inmates.  Under New York State law the Commissioner is required to issue notification one-year prior to closing a prison and to explore the potential for reuse.  The Department will follow the provisions of the law, and anticipates a January 2009 closure date for Camp Pharsalia, Camp Gabriels, the Camp at Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility and the Hudson Correctional Facility.  Staff at these facilities will be offered positions at other facilities or can accept positions in other State agencies. 

Prison Action Network endorses this budget item.


Expanding Re-entry Programs:
DOCS recently opened its first Re-entry Unit at the Orleans Correctional Facility which connects inmates being released to Erie County, with community support programs. DOCS will replicate this unit at three additional facilities during 2008-2009.  The Department will also expand its Family Reunion Program which provides select inmates the opportunity to meet in private with their families for an extended period of time.

Prison Action Network endorses this budget item. 


Establishing a Parole Violator Facility: 
The Edgecombe Correctional Facility in NYC County will be used to hold technical parole violators for up to 30 days.  The Facility will have the capacity to hold 100 parolees and resources will be provided to expand the program by up to 130 additional parolees.  DOCS will contract with an Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services licensed provider to deliver the treatment program at this facility.  Upon their release, parolees will receive case management community follow-up. 

Prison Action Network endorses this budget item. 


Additional Mental Health Treatment Programs: 
DOCS, in cooperation with the Office of Mental Health, will continue to expand its mental health treatment programs.  During the 2008-2009 fiscal year, additional residential units, which provide intensive treatment and programs to inmates with serious mental illness, will be opened at the Albion, Bedford Hills, Green Haven, Fishkill and Great Meadow Correctional Facilities.  A new 100 bed Residential Mental Health Unit will open at the Marcy Correctional Facility to provide inmate-patients who were identified with a serious mental illness while in disciplinary confinement, with specialized treatment.  Other mental health initiatives starting in 2008-2009 include opening 215 beds for inmates to transition out of mental health units back into general confinement, and expansion of mental health assessments at Reception Centers.  More than $36 million in capital investments will be committed to implement these initiatives.

Prison Action Network endorses this budget item. 


Implementing Operational Efficiencies: 
Savings will be achieved by focusing on capital improvement projects that reduce energy utilization, exploring new ways to deliver health services in a more cost-effective manner (including the utilization of telemedicine), and from tightening overtime controls.  Health services will also be reduced by expediting the parole medical release procedures for terminally ill inmates and inmates with severe incapacitating conditions.  Legislation is being advanced allowing inmates, whose medical conditions are so severe that they pose no danger if returned to the community, to be released to receive outside medical care.  This will free regional medical units from serving as nursing homes and permanent sites for hospice care, reducing costs by $5 million. 

Prison Action Network DOES NOT ENDORSE the use of telemedicine without sufficient health oversight controls.  PAN champions State Department of Health oversight of DOCS health services to assure proper delivery of prison health care. 

Prison Action Network DOES ENDORSE legislation that revises the medical parole statute to authorize release of all inmates with such severe medical conditions that they pose no danger if returned to the community.



PAROLE: REPORTS FROM ARTHUR KILL, FRANKLIN, WOODBOURNE, AND WYOMING, GEORGE BABA ENG AND ANTONIO CALDERONE.

ARTHUR KILL
Nov/Dec: 63 hearings (27 initials, 31 reappearances, 5 merit time reviews), 18 were granted parole.
8 initials got parole, 17 were denied, 2 were postponed; 9 reappearances got dates, 20 were denied, 2 were postponed; 1 merit time got date, 4 were postponed.
Jan/Feb 48 hearings (28 initials, 17 reappearances, 3 merit time reviews) 4 granted (1 to deportation) , 2 initials got parole, 20 were denied, 6 were postponed; 1 of the reappearances received a date, 11 were denied, 5 were postponed; all 3 merit time interviews were postponed.

FRANKLIN February: Initial or earlier: 4 went, 4 denied. Merit:: 6 went, 2 granted and 4 denied. Presump. Release: 1 went, 1 granted. Initial: 12 went, 5 granted, 5 denied, 2 postponed. Reappearance: 16 went, 2 granted, 12 denied, 2 postponed. Parole Violators: 6 went, 5 granted, 1 postponed. CRC: 20 went, 20 granted. Supp. Merit:: 2 went, 2 granted. Ms Clarke was on the Board, others unnamed.

WOODBOURNE December: 20 appearances, 1 granted (1st board-drugs), 4 postponed (1 A1VO), 15 denied
Commissioners were Thomas P. Grant, Chris Orfloff, and an unnamed female. It was stated at one hearing that Div of Parole was under a lot of pressure for their release rate.

WYOMING January 31 hearings, 19 initials, 7 Reappearances, 5 merit time reviews. 14 initials were denied, 5 got parole. 1 reappearance was granted, 6 were denied. 2 merit times were granted, 3 denied.

GEORGE BABA ENGS'S parole was denied for the 4th time. CORRECTION: ANTONIO CALDERONE'S January appearance was postponed by the board in order to request sentencing minutes. He is rescheduled for March so there is still time to express support for his release.(DIN 78A3717). The parole officer at Otisville advised potential parolees that the Board will ne longer postpone parole hearings in order to obtain the sentencing minutes, as long as they have requested them.

[We get our reports from you; please send them to Building Bridges and we’ll publish.]



SONNY RUDERT’S BIG PICTURE:

An Attitude 0f Gratitude

            Soon, each new morning will freshly remind us that March brings with it some of the most extreme weather we face all year. In New York, March is traditionally the coldest and snowiest month of the year. It is also often wildly unpredictable. We often step out of our indoor comfort into bitter cold mornings which later give way to warm, sunny afternoons—and, equally often, into bright, mild mornings that have by noon turned dark, frozen and windy. Our conversations--over both hot soup and iced coffee--circumnavigate politics, sports and global warming; the tires on our many vehicles negotiate black ice, flooding, snow and slush. It is a month of paradox and change. Promise and anticipation. Challenge and momentum. And, aptly if unintentionally entitled, we New Yorkers do seem to march through it all.

            Of course, we all know spring is just around the corner. During this transitional period of the seasons--so richly highlighted in our New York weather--the world’s great spiritual faiths also focus their attention on stories of conflict and renewal. Atonement and redemption. Exile and return. Death and Resurrection. As spring unfolds, the earth itself, in its ever revolving cycle, is a metaphor for these things. And, lest we forget, this is also the prisoner’s story.

            In many of our respective faith group gatherings, we join together weekly or daily and repeat one form or other of a familiar prayer in which we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. Yet, quietly and alone, having returned from the fellowship of our masjids and churches and temples, many of us are also learning the hardest lesson of all: to forgive ourselves. A therapeutic tenet of this very important self-forgiveness is to recognize that forgiveness is not permission; it is not an excuse or justification. It is a deeply reflective, heartfelt acknowledgment of the error of one’s ways coupled with the need to move forward anew yet never forgetting one’s lessons learned.

            Before I sat down to write these words, I grabbed a pen and on the back of an old envelope that I unearthed from the “paid” section of monthly bills atop my coffee table I jotted down some names. The following is a list of guys I know who, like myself, have returned home after having served many years in prison—most have served at least twenty years, some more than thirty. We were all categorized as “violent offenders” for the regrettable crimes we committed many years ago. It is a list I compiled off the top of my head in under five minutes, no way “comprehensive,” and I apologize to anyone I may have omitted who also belongs here (and I am using first names and/or nicknames because I didn’t ask anyone for their permission). In no particular order, these names are: MoJo, Jerry, Richie H., Heavy, Tee-Two, Humble, Fred, Richie W., Hurk, Joe, Uni, Ramone, Larry, Mike, Knowledge, Lucky, Merv, Rob, Jafar, Leo, Sean, Mikial B., Dino, Paulie, Mikial D., Brian, and Sonny. (Here are some additional names of men who fit the list, which I will explain in a moment, but who, unfortunately, still remain in prison: Carlito, Brother Eddie, Chipo, Flaco, and Zayd.)

            This list represents many things. To some, it is simply a list of “violent offenders” or “convicted murderers.” Most are “lifers”; most are also convicted of homicide offenses. This list also represents men who have satisfied the terms of their prison sentences (including those still in prison) and have qualified for parole. Except those who are still in prison, everyone on this list is on parole. But, what this list represents to me is this: We are all honest, decent folks who share equally regrettable past experiences. None of us has become bitter or cold. Instead, we have each embraced our second chance at life (those Inside as well). We serve our respective communities in the spirit of love, understanding, atonement, and forgiveness. And, in all that we do we strive to always proceed, first and foremost, with an attitude of gratitude.        Peace.



CARDELL SHAIRD’S WIDOW LOOKING FOR PHOTOS.

As I adjust to life without the physical closeness of Blood, the few pictures I have of him have become more precious than ever. Might you have one, or several, you’d be willing to share? I would make a copy and send you back the original. I’d be deeply grateful.

Thanks so much (in advance),
Nancy Helene Wright, 17 Dixon Court, Queensbury, NY 12804

PS He’s only a thought away. His spirit lives on through all of you whose lives he touched. I know he continues to want us all to “keep on keeping on” as we become the ones we were created to be. Peace, Nancy



PRISON RADIO FEATURES PHYLLIS KORNFELD AND BRIAN FISCHER IN MARCH INTERVIEWS ON FANCY BROCCOLI.

Fancy Broccoli airs on WVKR, 91.3FM, Poughkeepsie NY on Sundays from 3 - 6 pm, Eastern Time, and streams online - go to www.WVKR.org and click on (or near) the word 'LISTEN'. (Be patient, it can be very slow to open.) Coming up on March 2, an interview with Phyllis Kornfeld, author of Cell Block Vision and on Mar 16 Current DOCS Commissioner Brian Fischer is scheduled. Visit their archives available at www.fancybroccoli.org
to find lots of other good interviews.



SUPPORT MEETINGS: IT’S NOT EASY RETURNING FROM PRISON OR HAVING A LOVED ONE IN PRISON. BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALONE; THERE’S A COMMUNITY OF FAMILY MEMBERS AND FORMERLY INCARCERATED PEOPLE AROUND THE STATE AND ON THE WEB WHO WILL WELCOME YOU. ONLY NEW MEETINGS AND TIMES ARE MENTIONED. SEE PAST ISSUES FOR THE OTHERS.

Renssalaer:
Reentry Task Force - St. Anthony’s Church at 28 State Street, between Church and 4th St. in Troy. from 6-8pm on the second Tuesday of each month. Information from service providers about resources available to help people recently released from prison make a successful transition.

World Wide Web:
New Online Support and Resource Forum. New York Inmate Families is an online support and resource forum that includes a Discussion Forum where you can post Issues and Problems and find Suggestions and Solutions. The site also has a Chat Room and a Photo Gallery.



TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS: THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO GET THERE. DRIVING YOUR OWN CAR OFFERS THE MOST FLEXIBILITY AND CONVENIENCE BUT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE. TAKING THE DOCS FREE BUS CAN BE INCONVENIENT AND UNCOMFORTABLE BUT IT DOESN’T COST ANYTHING. RIDES FROM VOLUNTEERS ARE CONVENIENT AND FREE, BUT DON’T GO EVERYWHERE.

From the Capital District:
NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow CFs on Sat, Mar 1 ($30 adults, $20 children), Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson on Sat, Mar 8 ($15  adults, $10 children) from Oakwood Ave Presbyt. Church parking lot, Troy at 7 AM, then to Albany Greyhound bus station at 7:15. Trip to Utica (Midstate, Marcy, Mohawk, Oneida) on Sat, Mar 15 leaving Troy at 5 AM. Sullivan trip (Ulster, Eastern, Woodbourne, Sullivan) on Sat, Mar 22 leaving at 6:30 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.

CarPooling: Please call 518 253 7533 if you would be willing to take a passenger or if you want a ride.

Statewide: DOCS Free Bus
To find out how to sign up:
from NYC area: Deacon Mason on Tues. & Fri., 212 961 4026
from Albany: on Wed & Thurs., 518 485 9212
from Buffalo area: Rev. Roberson 716 532 0177, x4805
from Syracuse: Sister Patricia: 315 428 4258



WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND NEW YORK STATE

Albany: see first article in this issue

Buffalo:
Prisoners Are People Too! meets monthly in Buffalo at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street from 6:30-8:30pm.

The documentary film for this month’s meeting, on Monday, March 24, is one that was funded by Buffalo’s “Squeaky Wheel,” a media arts organization and the Margaret Wendt Foundation. “Squeaky” invited grassroots organizations to submit proposals for a short films project, “Channels: Stories of the Niagara Frontier,” which would focus on community issues. Upon being selected, “Prisoners Are People Too!” decided to produce a film that would deal with the issue of employment for formerly incarcerated people. Karima Amin, Founder/Director of “Prisoners are People Too!” worked with local documentary filmmaker, Doug Ruffin of “Urban Legacy Filmworks,” to show that formerly incarcerated people who desire to take care of themselves and their families and make a contribution to society, deserve an opportunity to do so.

Guest speakers will be community organizer, Eric Walker, who works with “PUSH-Buffalo” (“People United for Sustainable Housing”) and Micaela Shapiro who is the project coordinator for “CEJ” (“Coalition for Economic Justice”). They will talk about an Anti-Poverty Platform which they have led in crafting with the help of over 40 community based organizations and community leaders. They will discuss what they have learned about including people, recently released from prison, in the process for social change.

The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too! is scheduled for April 28. Film and guest speaker(s) TBA.
PRP2! programs are sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of Baba Eng. For further information, contact Karima Amin at 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.

New York City:

New York Campaign for Telephone Justice Meeting & Conference Call, Tuesday, March 25, 2008 6:30-8:30pm. Find out about what changes you will experience with the NEW prison telephone contract, which will go into effect April1, 2008 so that you are prepared for any unexpected changes in the system.  Pick up fliers that will detail the changes so that you can share the information with your family, constituents and community. 

We will also be joined by Susan Wright, from the Coalition for Parole Restoration, who will give us an update on S.6825, a bill Senator Nozzolio is sponsoring to make the Parole Board require A-1 felon requests been seen by 3 commissioners and require a unanimous vote for release.  After her update, we will talk about ways we can stop this bill and, instead, get the parole reform that families need.

* In person: Join us at 666 Broadway, 6th Floor. The closest trains are the B/D/F/V stop at Broadway-Lafayette and the 6 Train at Bleecker Street. Food will be served.
* On the phone: Call in to the meeting by dialing TOLL FREE (800) 298-6863. The Conference ID number: 6143333.