Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

BUILDING BRIDGES SPECIAL EDITION

Posted Oct. 2: AWAITING SUPREME COURT DECISION RE: TROY DAVIS
For the most current updates, visit www.troyanthonydavis.org

THE NEXT ISSUE OF BUILDING BRIDGES WILL BE COMING OUT AROUND OCTOBER 13.

BUILDING BRIDGES
September 22, 2008

Dear Reader,

This special edition will have some of the same columns as other months, but it will also prepare you for the events of October 25, 2008. We’re actually going to do something quite challenging at Family Empowerment Day 4. It’s not just going to be a day to hang out with others who have similar concerns about prison and parole and all the other issues surrounding incarceration. This year we are going to be meeting old friends again, and making new ones, but we’ll do it in the context of working together to create a plan. And so we need to prepare.

In order to achieve our goals, we need everyone there! If you have a loved one in prison and you want them to come home when they’re ready, then you need to show up. Because you have to be part of the process that makes that happen. You know it’s not what’s happening now. Many people are being denied parole 4, 5, 6, 7 and more times, despite having done everything possible to become a person with something positive to contribute to the family and the community they left so many years ago. They get denied solely for the nature of their crime, while others who haven’t made any changes in their behavior get released. It seems totally arbitrary and cruel, not to mention dangerous.

What can we do to make parole more fair, more just, and more rational? The chairman of parole will talk to us, and we’ll have an opportunity to ask him these questions. Is he doing anything to bring fairness, compassion and wisdom into the parole process? How can we help him? Who is this man and how much does he support what we want parole to be? Maybe he shares many of our goals, but hasn’t the authority to implement them. After all, he’s a government official with a job description. How much leeway does his job description and the law allow him in the pursuit of a safer and saner society?? This is our opportunity to find out, and to move forward with realistic expectations.

In order for everyone to be safe, there has to be a way where the decision about who is ready to come back into our communities is based on as much concrete evidence, risk assessment, and professional skill on the part of the commissioners as is humanly possible. Parole releases are not minor decisions! They affect all of us in a very serious way. It is time for change! Come to Family Empowerment Day 4 - NYC and start to make change happen!


Please pass Building Bridges on. We all need to be on the same page!

Our new address is Prison Action Network, PO Box 6355, Albany NY 12206. Please send us a donation to support Family Empowerment Day 4. Checks can be made out to Prison Action Network.

In this Issue

1. Family Empowerment Day 4/NYC details and more details
2. Lifers and Long-termers Clearinghouse Alert
3. Parole
4. Prison media
5. Reentry, the long road home. Sonny Rudert and Julio Medina
6. Telephone Justice Campaign
7. What's Going On In New York State
8. Writing Contest


1. FAMILY EMPOWERMENT DAY 4/NYC - SPANISH TRANSLATION, FEP GENERAL MEETING ON OCT 11; LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY; CURRENT AGENDA; LISTS OF PANELISTS AND ADVISORS; TIPS FOR SUCCESS [ONE GOAL-ONE QUESTION]

WE ARE OFFERING SPANISH TRANSLATION
 Spanish translators will be available throughout the day.

COME TO THE FAMILY EMPOWERMENT PROJECT GENERAL MEETING
Saturday October 11, from 3 - 5 pm, at the Fortune Society Academy on Riverside Drive and 140th St.  #1 train stops at 137th.  What could be easier?  There's even parking, if you MUST drive your car.  
We’ll meet to plan the details like registration, lunch, and a myriad of other details.  This will be the orientation session for those volunteer jobs.  We'll also be discussing the agenda, and how to compose your parole goal and your questions for Chairman Alexander.  So it's like a pre-meeting.
Please confirm your attendance so we can make sure the space is large enough. 

A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY FOR NEWCOMERS TO PAN AND FED
In 2005, at the request of the Otisville Lifers and Longtermers Group, Prison Action Network helped to promote a Family Empowerment Day to begin to organize and mobilize families and supporters of the incarcerated around parole policies that unfairly keep their loved ones behind bars.

The primary objective of FED1 was to educate family members about the policies that prevent eligible, community-ready people from being paroled; FED2 began to organize families and supporters; FED3 educated families about tools that can bring about change. This year, FED4 intends to mobilize families into a knowledgeable, efficient and active group of change agents.

THE AGENDA AS IT LOOKS CURRENTLY:
There are three main sections of FED4:

1) "The Visitors," a documentary film about families and loved ones who take the buses to visit incarcerated men upstate, will serve as both a mirror and an educational tool for families, loved ones and supporters who have faced the trials and tribulations of this experience.  A panel discussion* following the screening will help us analyze and discuss these experiences in the context of the society in which we live.

2) The second part of the event deals specifically with the issue of parole. The Chairman of the NYS Division of Parole, George Alexander, will deliver a speech on the state of parole today.  It will be followed by a question-and-answer period designed to give us clarity about what he can and cannot do.  This question and answer period is not designed to get specific solutions to personal situations, but to gain some indication of where Chairman Alexander stands on the goals that are important to us.

3) In the third session, we will be guided to take ownership of a goal, state the goal clearly, and identify the steps necessary to achieve it. We will first analyze the Chairman's address, looking for the legal and political implications of what was said and not said. Using this information, we will then select a goal we want to work on from a list presented by participants. After input from a team of advisors** who have expertise in areas important to our cause, we'll take a vote. People can vote for as many of the goals as they support; we'll select the one with the most support. The remaining time will be used to strategize with our team of advisors, answer questions and prioritize the steps necessary for success.
 
FED4/NYC is about empowering people to choose a goal, learn how to achieve the goal, and do the work to achieve the goal. It won't happen without you!

*”The Visitors” Panelists:
Melis Birder: Producer and director of “The Visitors”, which was inspired by her own experiences traveling to visit a loved one. Ms. Birder is a native of Turkey. She studied documentary filmmaking at the New School and has directed and produced documentaries dealing extensively with social issues.

Denise Robinson: Worked as a bus coordinator on the Operation Prison Gap buses to Clinton where much of the film takes place. Her story is the thread that runs through the documentary.

Dr. Divine Pryor: Co founder and director of Nu Leadership Policy group, the world’s first and only academic center that was designed and developed and organized by formerly incarcerated professionals, for research and analysis by scholars for a full range of urban issues that affect incarceration, including affordable housing and full participation in society as a way of discouraging criminal activity.

Ernest Henry: Spent 24 consecutive years in prison.  While incarcerated, he acquired his Bachelor's and Master's Degrees, chaired AVP for 10 years at Sing Sing, and received a Certificate in Ministry & Human Resources Program at Fishkill.  After being released in Sept 2007, he found employment with the Osborne Association.  He is a member of the Dutchess County Re-Entry Task Force, and a Transition and Re-Entry Specialist for CURE-NY.  

Kathy Henry: Works as a graphic and web designer, and has been married to Ernest for nearly 10 years, eight of which were spent in the prison visiting room!  During visits, they created two businesses to assist incarcerated people, Friends Beyond The Wall and Jaden Moore of NY, as well as NewYork Prisoners.com, a parole support web site for NYTS graduates.  Kathy is a member of the Poughkeepsie Area Family Support Group and CURE-NY.

Rev. Vivian Nixon: Director of the College and Community Fellowship (CCF). Founded ReEnterGrace, a project that employs formerly incarcerated women and men to reach out to African American faith-based communities and educate them about the disparate impact of US criminal justice policies on people of color. Serves on advisory boards of the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College, ICARE, and Reentry Net.


**The Action Planning Team of Advisors

Edwin (Eddie) Ellis: Host-producer of “On the Count: The Prison and Criminal Justice Report,” a weekly public affairs program on WBAI-FM in NYC, consultant for many organizations including the Council of State Governments, New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus, National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the Vera Institute of Justice.

Robert Isseks: Practices law in Middletown, NY, focusing on civil rights and constitutional law. He is one of the lead attorneys in Graziano vs. Pataki

Amy James-Oliveras: Co-director of C.U.R.E.-NY, and Co-Producer and Co-host of the Fancy Broccoli show, which has many incarcerated listeners.

Glenn E. Martin: Vice President of Development and Public Affairs at The Fortune Society, Inc. responsible for, among other things, developing and advancing Fortune’s criminal justice policy advocacy agenda. Drafted the updated version of How to Get and Clean Up Your New York State Rap Sheet, Sixth Edition, a manual to assist clients in obtaining and understanding how to read their state criminal records. Serves on a multitude of committees and boards addressing issues related to reintegration of people with criminal records.

Sheila Rule: President of Resilience Multimedia, a publishing company where she is channeling her passion for social justice into the world of social entrepreneurship, Ms. Rule volunteers with the Riverside Church Prison Ministry. Formerly worked as a journalist at The New York Times where her beats included the New York State Legislature, social services, the homeless and national civil rights.

Peter Sell: Practices law in NYC, specializing in criminal law and civil rights. He works with Robert Isseks as one of the lead attorneys in Graziano vs. Pataki.

Claudette R. Spencer Nurse:. Living in Trinidad since 2003 after husband was released from prison after serving 25 years and was deported there. Currently practices law in Trinidad. Co-founder of the Coalition for Parole Restoration (CPR), an organization advocating for fair parole practices. She currently serves as the Administrative Coordinator for CPR.

William Eric Waters: Program Director at the Osborne Association, also Vice President of the Coalition for Parole Restoration, and Editor of its newsletter, The Deuce Club. He has a master’s degree from New York Theological Seminary and bachelor’s degrees from Albany University and the College at New Paltz.


IMPORTANT; PLEASE READ! TIPS FOR SUCCESS: “ONE GOAL; ONE QUESTION”
We recently contacted a small selection of our mailing list, asking them to name the one change they thought was necessary in order to bring their loved ones home. The response was immediate and voluminous! We received so many good and thoughtful responses, going into such detail, that we realized there's no way there will be time at the event to voice them all.
 
We want everyone's concerns to be heard. That's absolutely necessary if this is to be a grassroots movement, motivated by the concerns of those of us most directly impacted by parole practices. This is how we suggest accomplishing it:
 
1) Before arriving at the event, decide on the ONE CHANGE you and/or your incarcerated loved one think would make parole hearings more fair and equitable and increase the chance your loved one will come home when he or she is community-ready. [Be specific. Here are just a few examples to help you compose your goal: 1 Change the law so they can’t base a denial solely on the nature of the crime, except in the most egregious situations. 2 Respect the judge's sentence. 3 Develop definitive criteria. 4 Give the people appearing before the board ample time to explain the changes they’ve made in their life. 5 Record Parole Hearings in their entirety.]
Your goal, or one like it, will be added to the list of goals we vote on.
 
2) Since there will be only 30 minutes for the question-and-answer period following Chairman Alexander's speech, there won't be time to ask personal questions or tell our heartbreaking stories. Instead we urge you to prepare ONE QUESTION, of no more than 100 words, that's related to your goal. For example, if your goal was #5 above, your question to Chairman Alexander might be: "My loved one tells me that the minutes of his parole hearings not always accurate. We suggest implementing the practice of recording or videotaping parole hearings in their entirety, which would also allow for transparency and oversight. What do you think of that idea?" The chairman’s response will help us make our decision and plan our strategies. If someone else has already asked it, there’s no point in asking it again.
 
Please keep in mind that any changes proposed have to work for the good of us all, including our communities, in order to work for any one of us .



2. ALERT FOR LIFER AND LONG-TERMER ORGANIZATIONS - LARRY WHITE TALKS ABOUT THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE THREE MAIN STAKEHOLDERS IN ACHIEVING FAIR AND JUST PAROLE POLICIES AND PAROLE BOARD DECISIONS

Progress on the outside requires certain moves on the inside. The Family Empowerment Day event this year features the appearance of the Chairman of the New York State Division of Parole, who has agreed to address a gathering of your families and supporters regarding the issue of parole. Now, that is a major development and represents progress by a community criminal justice advocacy organization that is dedicated to addressing the needs of those incarcerated in state prison.

The Prison Action Network did the work to bring about this major step to achieve fair and just parole policies and parole board decisions. But it is just a step in a protracted struggle. The struggle will be a long and hard one and must be a joint venture that involves 1) all those incarcerated in state prisons, 2) their families and supporters, and 3) the community-based advocacy groups and organizations that coordinate the struggle.

An effective joint venture is one with strong and supportive linkages between the parties involved, that is, between prison organizations, the families and supporters of those who are incarcerated, and the community-based advocacy organizations. It will be informative and instructive to quickly examine the role of these three stakeholders. The incarcerated are required to unify themselves into approved prison organizations that work to develop linkage with community advocacy organizations. Linkage is the process of identifying, contacting, and establishing collaboration with community-based advocacy groups and organizations. (Identifying community organizations in the nearby area of your particular facility may be extremely difficult, but you can contact Prison Action Network in such instances.)

Once linkage has been established, the prison organization must support and help fund the joint efforts it undertakes with the community advocacy organization. This is crucially important because prison organizations must never appear to be helpless or inadequate in the face of struggle. Approved prison organizations have the ability to generate funds by the operation of franchises, and that too is an undertaking that prison organizations can collaborate with the community-based advocacy group to achieve.

Financial support for the Family Empowerment Day event is an obligation of approved prison groups and organizations, and incarcerated individuals as well, because all will benefit from fair and just parole policies and parole board decisions. That is what is meant by the term “stakeholder” – they all have a direct interest, a “stake” in the outcome of an undertaking.

Now lets take a cursory look at the role of families, loved-ones and supporters of the incarcerated. Families, loved-ones, and supporters play a valued role in the struggle for fair and just release policies. By the nature of their relationship with those who are imprisoned, families, loved-ones, and supporters are in close, personal contact with incarcerated individuals and are more readily able to state their personal cause than community-based advocacy organizations that have a more direct linkage with the leadership of prison organizations.

This means that families, loved-ones, and supporters are able to speak with a more personal and detailed fervor not only about the incarcerated, but about their own trails and tribulations suffered as a result of the prolonged incarceration of their loved-ones. There are a number of families-of-prisoners organizations and every person who is incarcerated should encourage their family, loved-ones and supporters to become a member of one of them.

One of the primary aims of the Family Empowerment Day 4 event is to initiate a movement to unify the efforts of these various families-of-prisoners groups and organizations around the issue of parole. Initiating a movement entails an educational process in which families are presented with information that not only increases their knowledge of the political workings of parole policy and practices, but what direct actions they can take to initiate change.

As they mature in their understanding, knowledge and strategies, they impart all this to their incarcerated loved ones and this exchange develops into a more unified, effective and decisive relationship that truly empowers both.

Community-based advocacy organizations, like the Prison Action Network, that are committed to working directly with incarcerated individuals are few and hard to find. With the ascendancy of reentry as the dominate concern of criminal justice service provider organizations, more attention is being focused on dealing with the problems that occur after release from imprisonment than during incarceration. That is why organizations like Prison Action Network, CURE-NY and the Coalition for Parole Restoration (CPR) need to receive the support of all those behind the walls, especially by prison organizations.

Lifer and long-termer organizations are the premier prison group because they represent that segment of the general population that has more time to serve and therefore more at stake when it comes to matters of release and prison conditions. Other prison organizations are no less responsible for providing leadership to the general population in the struggle for early release laws and policies, and the improvement of prison conditions. All organized segments of the prison population must share the burden of providing financial support to those community advocacy groups that lead the charge on behalf of the incarcerated.

It is crucial that prison organizations keep abreast of what is being done by community groups to bring about fair and just parole laws and policies and the three newsletters that should be subscribed to and read for up-to-date information are “BUILDING BRIDGES”, the voice of Prison Action Network, CURE-NY, the news organ of CURE-NY, and “THE DEUCE CLUB”, the official newsletter of the Coalition for Parole Restoration.

Larry White
PAN Board Member



3. PAROLE - GRAZIANO UPDATE; FACILITY STATISTICS FROM ARTHUR KILL, OTISVILLE, AND WOODBOURNE PRISONS; REPORT ON RESCISSION HEARING .

THE GRAZIANO VS PATAKI case has been assigned to the Honorable Cathy Siebel. The lawyers are scheduling the final depositions and the case should be ready for motions right after that.

PAROLE BOARD STATS. Release info for a1 violent felons [A1VO] is not available for this edition, since it is only mid-month. We will be publishing August and September statistics in our October Edition which is scheduled for October 17.

Not all the reports are in from the individual prison reporters either, but here’s what we do have.

August, September 2008 Releases based on Reports from the Inside:

ARTHUR KILL
August-September - Casey, Lemons, Hernandez
83 saw the board, 30 were granted parole
31 were initial interviews; 11 were granted parole
45 were reappearances; 12 were granted parole
7 were merit time interviews, all seven received dates

11 of those released were Lifers, according to an unofficial count. Two with 25-Life on initial appearance; two with 25-Life on 2nd board; one with 25-Life on 3rd board, one 20-Life on 6th. Five others made it, but their sentences and which appearance, are not known.

OTISVILLE
August - Hernandez and Lemmons
6 Lifers were released.

WOODBOURNE
August - Grant, Greenan, Ross
11 saw the board; 2 (1 A1VO) were granted parole, (1 flat bid also released)
Of those denied, 4 were A1VO, 3 were reappearances, 1 was initial


SHU’AIB ABDUR RAHEEM’S RESCISSION HEARING ON FRI. SEPT. 5.
I attended the hearing and as a layperson I was quite impressed with the perseverance of his lawyer, Lawrence Stern, who was well prepared and diligent in his arguments. The opposing lawyer made strong arguments also, so we will have to wait to see what the judge decides. From all reports, no matter what the judgment based on the law is, the moral judgment is that Mr. Raheem is a changed man, and eminently deserving of his freedom. We hope the judge feels the law supports this. Unfortunately there were only two of us there to support him. Probably because at the last minute the time of the hearing was changed from the morning to the afternoon. It’s unknown how many people took time off in the morning, and could not return in the afternoon.



4. PRISON MEDIA - FANCY BROCCOLI ON THE RADIO; STILL HERE, HARLEM PRODUCTIONS, INC ON TV.

Rudy and Betty Cypser will be on the Fancy Broccoli Show on October 5 to talk about some new developments in the effort to restore higher education in prison. “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'.

Visit archives www.fancybroccoli.org to find lots of other good interviews.

Write Fancy Broccoli Show, WVKR, Box 726, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604-0726

Joseph "Jazz" Hayden, has formed his own TV production company, Still Here, Harlem Productions Inc. You can see his work at www.ovntv.com, Channel 35 or on myspace.com/376646829. Starting on September 25, he will be on MNN channel 34 at 7:30 every Thursday. Jazz can be reached at 201 West 138th St. Suite 1, New York, NY 10030, Office: 212-234-0596, Cell: 917-753-3771, Jhayden512@aol.com



5. REENTRY
"The long road home: two ex-inmates talk about re-entering society," Julio Medina and Sonny Rudert, Purchase College, SUNY, 735 Anderson Hill Rd, Purchase, NY 10022, 914-251-6500, Tues, Oct 14, 4:30 to 6:30 pm. Free and open to the public.



6. TELEPHONE JUSTICE CAMPAIGN, CCR - THE NY STATE COMPTROLLER IS CURRENTLY INVESTIGATING GLOBAL TEL*LINK’S CLAIMS THAT THE BIDDING PROCESS FOR THE NY PRISON TELEPHONE CONTRACT WAS UNFAIR.

The Telephone Justice Campaign knows that it was fair because it complied with the Family Connections bill, which we all worked together to get passed last year. The Telephone Justice Campaign is circulating a petition to the Comptroller asking that they speed up the process and give us our new contract!
It has been more than a year since we passed the Family Connections Act and ended the 57.5 percent kickback to the State on all prison calls.
Write the State Comptroller at Office of the State Comptroller,110 State Street
Albany, NY 12236, who is currently investigating complaints by the phone company that previously held the contract, that he should approve the new contract now so that families can finally get the fair rate they deserve.
In related news this week, CCR attorney Darius Charney made oral arguments in an appeal before the New York State Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of the unlawful tax. We asked the court to reverse the most recent dismissal in Walton v. NYSDOCS and allow families to be compensated for 10 years of the unjust, illegal tax, which amounted to $225 million out of their pockets. It is also critical that the court rule in the case so that no future administration can bring back the kickback contract.
-- Annette Dickerson, Director of Education and Outreach, Center for Constitutional Rights



WHATS GOING ON IN NEW YORK STATE

BUFFALO:
From Karima Amin:
Dear PRP2 Family: Please forgive this late notice. Many of you know that I have been caring for my father in recent weeks. At age 91, he was (is) my most ardent PRP2 supporter, never missing a monthly meeting in three years, until last month. You will also note that I have not written an article this month. However, our 4th Monday meeting (09-22-08) is still scheduled to take place. Come if you can. Peace. -ka

Date: Monday, September 22, 2008 Time: 6:30-8:30pm Place: Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, Buffalo

Topic: Abuse in America's Prisons

Documentary Film: "Torture: America's Brutal Prisons" (2005, Icarus Films)....48 min., color.....ages 14+.... The report of the horrendous treatment of enemy soldiers by American soldiers in 2004 at Abu Ghraib in Iraq was a shock to the American public. That same public is woefully lacking in the knowledge of the vicious and humiliating treatment that prisoners experience on a daily basis right here in America.

Guest Speaker: Mr. Gary Craig- Investigative Reporter from Rochester's "Democrat and Chronicle" newspaper. In the mid-1990's, Mr. Craig was instrumental in uncovering prisoner abuse in Albion Prison, a prison for women in New York State.


7. WRITING CONTEST - “THINK OUTSIDE THE CELL” RESILIENCE MULTIMEDIA, PUBLISHER OF THE WIDELY PRAISED BOOK, “THINK OUTSIDE THE CELL: AN ENTREPRENEUR’S GUIDE FOR THE INCARCERATED AND FORMERLY INCARCERATED,” IS SPONSORING A WRITING CONTEST FOR PERSONAL STORIES TO BE INCLUDED IN BOOKS IN OUR “THINK OUTSIDE THE CELL SERIES.” THE SERIES HELPS THE INCARCERATED AND FORMERLY INCARCERATED TACKLE HARD CHALLENGES AND HAVE SUCCESSFUL LIVES.

Story Topics: Reentering society after incarceration, Waiting for loved ones to return home from prison, Prison marriages and relationships

Prizes: Three winners will be chosen for each topic: 1st Place: $300, 2nd Place: $150, 3rd Place: $ 75

Stories that do not win cash prizes will still be eligible for inclusion in the series.
Writers whose stories are selected will receive a free copy of the book in which their work appears.

Rules: All stories must be original and about situations or events that actually happened.
You may submit stories on more than one topic.
Stories may be up to 3,000 words.
Stories should be typewritten and double-spaced.
Handwritten stories will be accepted as long as they are legible.
Each page must include page number, your name, contact information and story title.

Resilience Multimedia reserves the right to edit stories for clarity, punctuation, spelling and grammar.

Story entries will not be returned.

ALL ENTRIES MUST BE RECEIVED BY NOVEMBER 30, 2008. WINNERS AND OTHER SELECTED STORIES WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON FEBRUARY 1, 2009 IN A PRESS RELEASE.

How to Enter:
Email your story, indicating which topic it is intended for, to:
resiliencemultimedia@verizon.net

OR mail your story to: Resilience Multimedia, 511 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 525, New York, NY 10011


Prison Action Network thanks the Community Church of NY, Unitarian Universalist, for their support.