Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

August/September 2013

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August 31 2013 - Posted by Prison Action Network

Defense lawyer Lynne Stewart is dying in prison 
because she represented unpopular clients.  

Please visit her website to beg for her compassionate release:

Building Bridges August-September 2013

Dear Readers,  

It’s important to remember we are part of an ongoing Civil Rights Movement, which took many speeches, a lot of writing, many events, many discussions with government officials, a lot of grass roots organizing, and much sacrifice by courageous people before we achieved any of our past victories.  Now we see that mass incarceration and its causes are perpetuating many of the past inequities.  So yes, there is still a long way to go, but we must not give up, because we can never know when the scales of justice will tip to our side.  In these pages, you’ll read about many of the activities going on right now in our communities that indicate progress.  Just about every article offers hope. 

Stay awake, stay hopeful and keep the faith!  
The Editor


1.  Parole Releases are averaging close to 26% for both initials and reappearances; a list of current Commissioners and their bios;  Parole Release Decisions and the Rule of Law, by Alan Rosenthal and Patricia Warth.

2.  Only four Criminal Justice bills that we were following made it into law.  None of them target a subset of the prison population, and 2 increase benefits to victims, so let’s be grateful.

3.  Campaign to overhaul NY’s failed parole system is moving forward with a meeting on September 7 to begin planning the year’s events.

4.  NYS Prisoner Justice Network takes a cautious look at the Stop and Frisk judicial decision and A.G. Holder’s speech calling for federal prison reforms.

5.  DOCCS is denying more and more women entry to the Bedford Hills’ prison nursery, particularly women who’ve been convicted of violent crimes and women who’ve had child welfare involvement with other children.

6.  Merle Cooper petition signatures reach 845.  We’ve got 6 days to at least be counted among those who think DOOCS should maintain programs that have proven track records.

7.  College degree program at Albion C.F. to start this summer, thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Sunshine Lady.

8.  Baba Eng follows the thread from Black Codes>criminal justice system>criminal codes>Emancipation Proclamation>13th amendment with its exception>vagrancy (and other) laws to catch up Freed Blacks.

9. Black August: In remembrance of Jonathan Jackson, brother of George Jackson, Mujahid Farid, the featured speaker at this month’s Prisoners Are People Too meeting, will consider how the fate of Jonathan ties into issues of juvenile justice.

10.  Corey Parks wants to convince you of your ability to become a leader after you come home.

11.  ReEntry Roundtable Wed. Sept 18, 1-3pm  Broken On All Sides”documentary.

1.  Parole News: 
unofficial research from parole database

Total Interviews
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
10 Initials
54 Reappearances
64 total

Year to date average:
For those who haven’t been keeping score, the average rate of 2013 releases to date, for initial interviews is 26.0%, and the overall average is 26.5%. 

July 2013 Initial Releases

Murder 2
Murder 2

July 2013 Reappearance Releases

# of Board
Bare Hill
Murder 2
Murder 2
Five Points  
8   **
Great Meadow 
Murder 2
Green Haven 
Murder 2
2   *
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Kid 1
3   *
8   **
Murder 2
Kid 1
3   *
Kid 1
3   *
Murder 2
9   *

* released for deportation   ** Youthful or Juvenile Offenders

Parole Board Commissioners:
The Parole Website lists the these 14 Parole Commissioners, and the internet plus testimony at their confirmation hearings supplied the bio information.  Exec. Law § 259-b.limits the number to 19, so in theory that leaves room for 5 more. 

Appointed By
Date Confirmed
Term Expires
Tina M. Stanford
Walter Wm Smith, Jr.
James Ferguson
Christina Hernandez
G. Kevin Ludlow
Lisa Beth Elovich
Sally Thompson
Joseph Crangle
Edward Sharkey
Marc Coppola
Ellen Alexander
Gail Hallerdin
Milton Johnson
Julie Smith

These bios were gathered from the internet and from testimony at the Senate Confirmation Hearing on June 19, 2013:

Tina Marie Stanford, native of Buffalo, NY.  Graduated from Fordham University’s Honors Program, got her law degree from SUNY Buffalo’s Law School, and has been admitted to the NYS Bar.  Served as an Erie County Asst. DA for 14 years, in 2007 appointed Chair, New York State Crime Victims Board. She’s been a member of the Bar Foundation of Erie County, the NYS Commission on Sentencing Reform, the NYS Domestic Violence Advisory Council, the Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, and the Violence against Women Act Advisory Committee.   She worked in the Buffalo City Court, on grand jury, domestic violence/sexual assault, felony trial and appeals bureaus. As a trial prosecutor, she worked directly with thousands of crime victims and their family members seeking justice for crimes ranging from theft to murder.

Gail Hallerdin  Assistant Attorney General in the Buffalo Regional Office, where she dealt with litigation and complaints submitted by prisoners, including those against parole, and then about her work in jails where she viewed them from another aspect.  NYS Office of Children and Family Services helped her to see the connection of offenders to the whole community, including the conditions of children and families. Working as a Hearing Officer for the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance she saw what the offender’s family goes through and and what offenders themselves may go through upon release, including seeking gainful employment.  She is a native of Queens and received her Juris Doctor degree from University of Buffalo, School of Law.

Milton Johnson served as a Special agent with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and also as Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge for the United States Secret Service.  He was “born and raised in Queens, in an urban  environment”.  He was case manager to undercover agents on domestic and international cases.   When he worked on investigations of cases, where he worked closely with a lot of criminal minds, persons who would do harm to society, there were some cases that were presented to the agency as a threat but which turned out not to be.  From that he gained the ability to assess things - to make sure a case is what it appears to be.  He believes in giving things a fair look, not just accepting them as presented --  “going through things to make sure what we’re talking about here is fair and equitable and that our actions are the same.” He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia State University.

Julie Smith worked as the Probation Director for the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services Genesee County Office of Probation and Correctional Alternatives monitoring offenders’ needs and what the victims expect.  Ms. Smith oversaw a department that provided supervision to approximately 700 adults and juvenile offenders.  In addition to her knowledge and experience in felony offender supervision and treatment, she previously served as a caseworker for Genesee County Department of Social Services.  Smith, of Batavia. She has an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Genesee Community College, a bachelor’s degree in community and human services from Empire State College and a master’s degree in management from Keuka College.  The Genesee county manager said Smith’s appointment to the Parole Board was the conclusion of a “long and drawn-out process” that began about two years ago.

Walter William Smith Jr., has been with the New York State Board of Parole since 1996. He has served as a senior investigator for the New York State Crime Victims Board.  Smith says COMPAS A, (a part of the Risk and Needs Assessment tool) helped not only in making release decisions but also in setting conditions of parole supervision.  He claimed that prison behavior, the amount of community support from organizations such as Fortune Society and Osborne Association, program participation, employment possibilities, family support also were considered, along with the standards in Exec. Law §259-i Sec. 2 (c) (A): reasonable probability that offender will live and remain at liberty without violating the law, that release is not incompatible with the welfare of society, and will not so deprecate the seriousness of the crime as to undermine respect for the law,  and for those with more than 8 year sentences, the seriousness of the crime.  He explained there were 4 Boards a week, for a total of 16 a month, and all but 2 were teleconferences, which offer less security problems for the facility, less travel for the Commissioners, and are also cost saving.  Claims the technology has improved so as to improve the immediacy of the experience and therefore the net effect is a plus. Regarding the release of sex offenders, Smith said it’s really a matter of following the law, but that there have been amazing advances in the technology; with more accurate polygraphs, and GPS’s for monitoring.  He told the story of a person who was suspected of a rape but his GPS showed conclusively that he was innocent.  In fact, later when his parole officer felt it was safe to remove him from GPS monitoring, his lawyer argued against it.  The man feared he’d be picked up for every sex crime in the community and he wanted the protection provided by a GPS.  The Board does get psychological reports from the Office of Mental Help. He advised increasing the use of medical parole.

Sally Velasquez-Thompson has been a Parole Board Commissioner since 2007. Her prior experience includes 20 years with the New York City Police Department as Detective and narcotics investigator.  

Lisa Beth Elovich has served on the New York State Board of Parole since 2007. She served as an Administrative Law Judge for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and as a Deputy Attorney General for the New York State Attorney General’s Office with a focus on juvenile justice and crime prevention programs.  [As an interesting side-note, Commissioner Elovich is also the state's only licensed female professional boxing promoter and the owner of Pugnacious Promotions, a promotional company based in New York's Capital Region.]  She emphasizes that “we must remember the Board is independent when it comes to making release decisions”.  She mentioned how inspirational her visits to the Fortune Society had been in terms of seeing parolees who are making successful reentries.  She claims to believe we as a society need to put more focus on crime prevention by early interventions, working to change negative behaviors before they become habitual, being aware of the challenges facing the children of an incarcerated parent.  

Joseph Crangle: assistant court analyst with the NYS Office of Court Administration, assigned to the Domestic Violence Part of the Buffalo City Court where he monitored defendant’s compliance with court orders; a probation officer with the Genesee County Probation Department, where he oversaw the Pretrial Release Under Supervision program. Mr. Crangle has a bachelor’s degree from Canisius College and his JD from the City University of N.Y.  

James Ferguson:  Administrative Law Judge at NYS Division of Parole, Jan 1999 – May 2005;  Assistant District Attorney, Bronx District Attorney's Office, Aug 1992 – Jan 1999.  Education: Marist College B.S., Political Science/Psychology;  Pace University School of Law, Juris Doctor. 

Christina Hernandez served as Commissioner of the New York State Crime Victims Board, as a Commission Member of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.  In 2009, Ms. Hernandez was selected as one of nineteen parole board commissioners from across the United States to participate in a pilot training, “Integrating Evidenced-Based Principles into Parole Board Practices,” created by the National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Department of Justice. Ms. Hernandez holds a Bachelor of Arts from Buffalo State College; a Masters in Social Work from the School of Social Welfare and a Certificate of Graduate Study in Women and Public Policy from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, at the University at Albany. Additionally, she has completed all course work towards a PhD at University at Albany-SUNY School of Social Welfare. 

G. Kevin Ludlow is a Lawyer in Utica, New York
Ellen Evans Alexander,  Rhode Island AG's office, R.I. DOCS Assistant Director for Administration for 12 years and Chief Legal Counsel for six years.  Chief assistant county attorney in Binghamton, NY. 

Edward M. Sharkey, from Olean,  attended Buffalo Law school, Air Force, 14 years in private law practice, 3 terms in DA's office. 

Marc A. Coppola,  former NYS Senator (for about 7 months), member of City Council of Buffalo NY, formerly worked with Div. of Parole and as a liaison with the Parole Board, working on the Board's application for Accreditation. In Buffalo he had worked as Deputy Sheriff (under Sen. Gallivan who was the Erie County Sheriff at that time).

Parole Release Decisions and the Rule of Law 
by Alan Rosenthal and Patricia Warth, Co-Directors of  Justice Strategies, Center for Community Alternatives
The following is a brief summary from the above captioned article in ATTICUS, a publication of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers,  Summer 2013, Volume 25 , Number 2.   Building Bridges recommends the article highly, since it relates to issues close to the hearts of many of our readers.
“In response to the amendment of Executive Law § 259-c(4) the Parole Board took no action to establish written procedures, instead apparently relying upon the “Evans’ Memo” to suffice. Upon inspection and investigation of this memo a simple truth emerges. The memo does not contain the procedures required to satisfy the 2011 amendment and it has not been promulgated by proper filing with the Department of State, the Secretary of State, or publication in the state register. Therefore any action taken by the Parole Board to deny parole to any person coming before it would be made in violation of Executive Law § 259-c(4) because it would have been made without first establishing or following proper procedures, thus inviting judicial annulment.
Men and women go to prison to serve duly imposed sentences. We expect that they will be treated in a manner that promotes their respect for the law. Isn’t this penological goal undermined when the Parole Board itself ignores the rule of law.” 
the article is available at Atticus Summer 2013, page 10

2.  Legislation: 
Four bills we reported on during last session have been signed into law.  There may be some we missed; if you know of them please send their numbers.  

7/31 Signed by governor 

Authorizes any employee of DOCCS to visit correctional institutions as requested by member of the legislature if the member requests to be so accompanied.

7/12 Signed by governor

Authorizes attorneys employed by the State Commission of Correction to issue substitute jail designations when a jail becomes unfit or unsafe for the confinement of inmates.

7/31 Signed by governor

    Defines and establishes the extent of relocation expenses for crime victim awards. 

7/12 Signed by governor

     Provides reimbursement to certain family members who resided with a homicide victim for expenses of crime scene clean-up

3.  Campaign to Overhaul New York’s Parole System-  
Planning meeting, Saturday, Sept. 7

The Riverside Church Prison Ministry is calling on criminal justice advocates to attend a meeting on Saturday, Sept. 7 to help plan the ministry’s statewide campaign to overhaul New York’s failed parole system.

The meeting will be at the church, on Riverside Drive at 120th Street in Manhattan. Those who cannot attend in person can call in.  

The year-long campaign will be launched at a weekend of events—Nov. 8th through 10th—honoring the Prison Ministry’s 40th anniversary. A Friday evening concert of hip hop, jazz and world music will feature remarks by influential thought leaders. On Saturday, there will be a daylong parole conference. Parole issues will also be included in Riverside’s Sunday worship service. 

For more information, contact Sheila Rule at, or 877-267-2303. You may also write to her at Think Outside the Cell, 511 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 525, New York, NY 10011.

4.  Chalk Up a Couple for Our Side... maybe
By the NYS Prisoner Justice Network

There’s currently a lot of buzz about two recent developments in relationship to the criminal justice system: Judge Shira Scheindlin's decision against the NYPD's Stop and Frisk practices, and Attorney General Eric Holder's speech calling the prison system "outsized" and promising federal reforms.

These developments are a major change from anything we have seen before, a stunning tribute to the growing strength and visibility of our movements for justice. We all deserve a bit of credit. The monstrous injustices of the mass incarceration system could no longer be totally denied, after dozens of campaigns over many years gradually brought them out into the light of day. But will the officials talk us to death to divert our attention while making no actual changes on the ground?
The ruling this month in Federal District Court by Judge Shira Scheindlin against the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk is the triumphant fruit of a long-term grass-roots-led battle against racial profiling and illegal searches. These policies intrude on the lives of over half a million New Yorkers a year, the great majority of whom are Black and brown young men. The Center for Constitutional Rights attached the grass-roots campaign to a powerful legal strategy, gathering a mountain of statistical evidence and gut-wrenching personal testimony.  Judge Scheindlin ruled that the Constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and to have the equal protection of the law, were flagrantly violated by the City’s policies. New York’s communities of color knew this all along; it is gratifying (and rare) to see it validated in court.

How much this will change life on the ground for New York’s young people remains to be seen. The judge put in place a federal monitor to oversee some modest reforms; Mayor Bloomberg vowed to appeal; and in the past many of this progressive judge’s rulings have been overturned by conservative appeals courts. Stops on the street, and subsequent arrests for small amounts of illegal drugs, are often a path into the system of mass incarceration for youth. It will take huge changes, beyond this one decision, to reverse the racism, punishment-based policies, and throw-away-the-key culture that dominate that system at all levels, resulting  in the mass incarceration and racial disparities that prevail today.

Attorney General Holder said some things that sounded like they came right out of our playbook: “Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities.  And many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate these problems, rather than alleviate them.” “It’s clear that too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.” He promised many changes, from reducing the charges brought by federal prosecutors in some cases, to confronting the school to prison pipeline, racial disparities in sentencing, and the inequities in the public defender system. The most attention-getting item was a promise that federal prosecutors would avoid charging low-level drug offenders with crimes that carry harsh mandatory minimum sentences. All of these statements and promises are a dramatic reversal of forty years of federal policies (including by the Obama administration)  that have increased the federal prison population by 800 percent, and have promoted and subsidized the corresponding explosion of state prison populations at the same time.

How much of Holder’s speech is window dressing? How much will the Obama administration actually translate into real, as opposed to cosmetic, policy changes? A friend who is a New York State lifer said this about DOCCS’ liberal ex-commissioner Brian Fisher: "Every time Fisher makes a speech about how much DOCCS is improving, they do something to make our lives one step more unbearable in here."  Could he just as well have been talking about Eric Holder?

We should celebrate but not be caught off guard. Holder covered all his bases. While promising improvements for some “low-level, nonviolent” drug offenders, Holder’s speech had more than a dozen references to strengthening police forces and keeping the system “tough” on “violent criminals.” These, he says in various ways, are the bad guys who deserve whatever they get.

The concept that certain people are worthless, evil, and deserve infinite suffering is the root of fascism. No one is safe in a society in which that concept is allowed to stand unchallenged. We can only win by standing on the principle that every person's life is precious, that everyone deserves rights and a chance to do right. How can we make that happen without the violence of mass incarceration? Watch this space.

We activists, advocates, and justice organizations can and should take credit for the changes in language coming from public officials and media. Public perception is part of our battle, and unless we make a dent in it, we have little chance against the entrenched system of injustice. Whether these changes will result in improvements on the ground, or act as cover for the same old policies with new names, will depend, in part, on the strength, persistence, and principled steadfastness of our movements.

5Women are being denied use of the nursery at Bedford Hills 

Since 1846, the Prison Visiting Project (PVP) has carried out the Correctional Association’s unique mandate to keep policymakers and the public informed about conditions of confinement that have an impact on the people who are incarcerated, prison staff, communities disproportionately affected by incarceration, and ultimately, society at large.

Recently CA found that DOCCS is denying more and more women entry to the nursery, particularly women who’ve been convicted of violent crimes and women who’ve had child welfare involvement with other children. Their research shows that the approval rate for women applying to the nursery at Bedford Hills has plummeted from 2010, when it was 67% to just 34 % last year. These denials seems to occur without a thorough evaluation and without strict adherence to the law that governs the nursery, which says that the standard for admission is whether it’s in the child’s best interest.

Given the profound benefits of the nursery to mothers, babies and the community at large, it is essential that as many women as possible have the chance to participate in the program.
The state's other nursery, at Taconic Prison, was closed down completely two years ago. The nursery at Bedford Hills, the one remaining nursery here in New York, can hold twenty-nine moms with their babies, but on a recent day there were only 11.  That means 18 empty beds, 18 empty cribs.

6.  Merle Cooper Program Petition Reaches 845 signatures.
“ Stay in the climb, and don't give up until we reach our peak.”  S. Hughes
This is our last chance; the program closes on Sept. 1.  We have to give it our all - send the link to everyone you know, whether or not you think they’ll sign it - if you want the powers that be to know we want effective programs continued in prison.  Let them close the outdated ones if there have to be any eliminated.

Here’s the link to the petition, one last time.

7.  College Degree Program at Albion C.F.
The Buffalo (/) Tuesday June 04, 2013
Women at Albion C.F. to benefit from Buffett grant
Women incarcerated at Albion Correctional Facility will be able to study for a college degree beginning this summer, thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation. The grant underwrites classes that will be taught by five faculty members from Medaille College in Buffalo and one from Nazareth College in Pittsford.  Sunshine Lady was founded by philanthropist Doris Buffett, sister of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.The initial session will offer courses in English, psychology, history and biology leading to a liberal studies associate’s degree. Classes will continue through the spring 2015 semester.

8.  Why we think the way we do about criminal justice, crime and punishment and the need for change.
Part II in the series By G. Baba Eng

Who wrote the laws and whom do they serve?  What is their real purpose?
We’ve already began the discussion [see article 11,  July/August issue of Building Bridges] of who has a righteous stake in, responsibility for, and what happens in, the prison and parole systems, as they presently exist in America. Therefore, we must also look at the history of the criminal justice system and the development of law, as it relates to us and all people affected.

As with all of our discussions, we can only take a look at some of the factors of the issue, because to thoroughly deal with the issue would take an entire book. So, for the purposes of this article, I will summarize and reference a lot of information that you, the reader, can research and follow-up on your own, if you want a more in depth understanding.

All societies and groups of people, who agree to live together, as a community, must have rules and regulations, usually that they agree on, to govern their behavior with each other and to protect their individual and collective rights and interests.

When we talk about society and groups of people agreeing to live together as community, we have to understand that Afrikan Americans were brought to America by force, then forced into a system of chattel slavery. Most times we were not a part of the discussion of what the rules and regulations would be that would govern ours and everybody else’s, lives. The system of chattel slavery was built on the premise that Black people were not human beings and that we were to be treated as beasts of burden, whose only value was in the labor that we produced on the plantations. Our labor was key to the building of the American economy at that time and that was the only interest that those who controlled our lives had in us.

From that time to the present, Black people were never actually asked whether or not we wanted to remain and live together with White Americans, as a community, and for the most part we have not lived in community with White Americans.  At best we have been marginalized in American society.  So, when we talk about law, in America, we are not talking about an institution that was developed with the consent of, agreement with, or even consideration of the interest of Black people.

If truth be told, and that is what we are committed to in these articles, the actual development of the first laws, in America, that were developed with Black people in mind, were the slave codes. These were the rules and regulations that governed the behavior of Black people on the plantations. They were also called the Black Codes.

It is from that cauldron of iniquity, that the so-called criminal justice system developed and later became the criminal codes. These were developed to protect the lives and property of the former slave owners in America.

The development of criminal codes that did not protect American Blacks can be traced back to the so-called “Emancipation Proclamation”, which declared that Black people were to be freed from the status of chattel slavery.  The trick, however, was that almost immediately after the full issuance of the “Emancipation Proclamation,” the United States Congress, in January 1885, right on the heels of the “Emancipation Proclamation,” wrote the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which stated that: “…neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”.

In other words, right after the “Emancipation Proclamation,” a green light was given to the former slave owners, police and sheriffs of those times, to arrest, charge, convict the “newly freed” slaves, run them through the Ku Klux Klan courts, and re-enslave us on chain gangs and other labor stealing institutions that allowed the former slave owners, represented by the state courts and prisons, to keep benefitting off of our stolen labor, just as they had been doing during all those years that our foreparents were forced to labor on the plantations.

That is when the so-called vagrancy laws and other civil violations were written into the codes to entrap the newly freed slaves in criminal justice systems created across America to neutralize or at least slow down the rise of Black people into the social, economic, and political power in America.

These law were imposed on Black people who had just been “freed” by the “Emancipation Proclamation,” but who still did not have the real means of livelihood, or residential accountability that would satisfy the criteria created to grant lawful protections to what this society deemed as the rights of citizenship. This was only granted to White men, at the time, who were protected under the Constitution and guaranteed the right to due process and equal protection of the law.

In many cases, Black people were immediately entrapped back into slavery after being arrested, charged with, and falsely convicted of not having identification, or residences, or employment. This just after walking off of the plantations. But this time our enslavement was with the approval of the Constitution of the United States.

My Brothers and Sisters, that was then; it is history, and we know that in the intervening years, between the development of the Black codes/criminal codes, and the present, there have been many shifts in the demographics of America.  

However, when it comes to criminal law, as it impacts Black people, most of the changes have not been in the acquisition of any real measure of due process and equal protection.  Rather we see the legal justification of socially generated factors that actually promote delinquency and criminality in our communities. This is done in order to create an atmosphere of vulnerability, so that Black Youth become the cannon fodder to feed what we have come to understand as the Prison Industrial Complex.

These factors, which we say are crime generative, are poverty, poor education and miseducation, unemployment and underemployment, below standard housing, lack of adequate nutrition and poor diets and unclean and unsafe neighborhoods. More next month.....

9.  Black August: Remembering Jonathan Jackson
by Karima Amin

Every year at our August meeting, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. takes time to acknowledge Black August, remembering those who have exhibited a “spirit of resistance,” defying those social, civil, and political barriers that have been designed to repress our conscious efforts to be self-determining and free. Past programs have referred to “Freedom Fighters,” some currently incarcerated for decades and others who joined the Ancestors long ago, whose names remind us that all is not well in Amerikkka.

In the past, we have looked at COINTELPRO, an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram. This was a series of undercover and sometimes illegal acts conducted by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), aimed at discrediting and disrupting domestic political organizations.  Just to name a few, the FBI infiltrated the following in an attempt to end their influence: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), MOVE, the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Black Liberation Army (BLA).  Working in collaboration with the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and the NSA (National Security Agency), COINTELPRO’s reach was far and wide but was especially directed at Black leadership.  It’s interesting to note that the leaders were young, in many cases, in their 20’s and 30’s, and that their following was often comprised of youth, some in their teens, ready to fight for justice.  Some lost their lives in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.

Past programs have highlighted activist Fred Hampton, deputy chair of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party who was assassinated at the age of 21; Bobby Hutton, the Black Panther Party’s first recruit at the age of 16 who was murdered by police just a few days before his 18th birthday; and George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye, murdered by prison guards at the age of 29. This month, we’ll take some time to remember George’s brother, Jonathan who lost his life at age 17 in a fatal and futile attempt to negotiate freedom for George on August 7, 1970. George was assassinated just a few days later.

Jonathan, like so many of today’s youth, had a rebellious spirit. He was inspired by George’s spirit of resistance and revolutionary fervor but he lacked the kind of instruction that could have channeled the “warrior” in him. Jonathan was a victim of circumstance, without the kind of guidance that could have saved his life. Many of our young ones today, unfortunately, are misguided and misdirected victims of circumstance.  They often lack the kind of nurturing and discipline that could save them and add value to their lives. Too many of our youth are criminalized at birth and throughout their lives by the systemic racism that leads to poverty, mis-education, poor nutrition, substandard housing, and stop-and-frisk policies that have been applied to first graders. 

What is the state of juvenile justice today? What measures have been put in place to insure that our children will have full and productive lives? Does the school to prison pipeline really exist? Our guest speaker, Brother Mujahid Farid, a Soros Justice Fellow, is a staff member of the Correctional Association of NY. While Brother Farid is quite familiar with the plight of aging prisoners, he is also quite knowledgeable about issues related to juvenile justice. He will address these and other questions.

 Our next meeting will be on Monday, August 26, 2013, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, 6:30-8:30pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or; or BaBa Eng,  

10.  Corey Parks:  From prison to leadership
Years ago while I was in prison I thought about the word opportunity. What would it mean and what would it entail.  Now that I have regained my freedom, I realize that living life outside the four walls of confinement is no small task. On top of coming from a controlled environment where your best accomplishment is still deemed an under-achievement, society itself has levels of challenges that even people who have never been incarcerated fall victim to. 
Some issues we are faced with are finding adequate housing, employment, and mentorship.  When people coming out of prison experience how difficult that is,  some of them become impatient and fall off course.  It is already a general understanding that the system is designed for many to re-offend and go right back into the criminal justice system. So how do we overcome this obstacle? I would say we first have to accept the fact that there are social inequalities that await anyone coming from prison. And secondly, we have to develop enough self confidence in order for us to counteract these barriers. 
After serving time in prison, I was fortunate to find employment, housing, and productive people to serve as mentors. I was able to write and produce my first novel. One key ingredient that allowed me to accomplish this is that I continued to network. The more people I met, the more options I created for myself. And I plan to never stop this habit because it will only increase my chances of success. I planted the idea in my mind that I am a leader and with that Idea I have created action. I refuse to allow a statistic or prison experience to define who I am.  Rather I utilize those experiences as tools in beating the odds. You can be a leader.  For the race for leadership has no finish line.  It is an ongoing process.
~ Corey Parks [c/o  SNUG, NYC MISSION SOCIETY, 653 Lenox Ave,  NY, NY 10037]

11.  ReEntry Roundtable Wed. Sept 18, 1-3pm 

“Broken On All Sides”documentary addressing racial inequities within our criminal justice system and its devastating collateral consequences. Director Matthew Pillischer will speak. RSVP: 212-614-5306   Community Service Society, 105  E. 22nd Street.

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