Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

October/November 2013



Welcome to the site of Building Bridges, Prison Action Network's newsletter!  We post it on or near the 25th of every month.  If you would like to receive a copy in your email in-box every month, please send a note.

During the month we post late breaking news and announcements here, so please check back now and then.  Scroll down to immediately read the October/November 2013 letter.

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Posted Nov 13:


We have decided to push forward and develop the Reentry Anonymous New York City Group inspired by the principles of Alcoholic Anonymous.  In the next few months we are dedicating ourselves to re-writing and re-shaping the 12 steps to Reentry.

If you are interested in joining us and creating a safe, supportive and friendly place for returning citizens, we invite you to come to our first meeting tomorrow night.  We are looking for 7-10 committed volunteers. The goal is to launch the first Reentry Anonymous Group in May 2014.

Reentry ANONYMOUS Planning Meeting
 Thursday, NOVEMBER 14, 2013

Bronx Community Solutions
Criminal Court Building
215 E 161 Street, Room 212C
Bronx NY 10451
 
6:00 p.m-7:30pm

Please RSVP with Ramon Semorile: semorile60@yahoo.com or 718-618-2490 or contact Cary Grant:carygrant_25@yahoo.com or




Posted Nov 13 
The American Civil Liberties Union has just released their report, A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses which documents the thousands of lives ruined and families destroyed by sentencing people to die behind bars for nonviolent offenses and analyzes the laws that led to these harsh sentences, and a petition to President Obama to consider reducing their sentences.


Shoplifting three belts. Siphoning gas from an 18-wheeler. Selling a single crack rock. These are just some of the offenses that can get you sentenced to spend your entire life in prison, until the day you die, with no chance of ever getting out for good behavior.

Thousands of people have been sentenced to die in prison for nonviolent offenses because of overly extreme mandatory sentencing laws that take away judges’ discretion.

The President has the power to reduce the sentences of people unfairly in prison for life without the possibility of parole, but the Obama administration has used this commutation power less than any administration in recent history. Let’s urge President Obama to reverse his record and begin to restore justice.
Sign the petition asking him to review the cases of the over 2,000 individuals sentenced to life without parole and consider reducing their sentences.



Posted Nov 3 by Prison Action Network

ENDING PAROLE ABUSE - REUNITING FAMILIES  Kick-off event was a success.  Much work was accomplished.  See the Nov 25 Building Bridges for more details.  



Saturday workshops

Nov. 9th Parole Conference:   

8 am – noon:   Registration  
8 am – 9 am:  Free Light breakfast  

9 am:   Welcome

9:20 am:  First plenary (with Q and A), moderated by Kathy Boudin: Outlines the problems, challenges, and issues surrounding NYS’s parole system, and suggests ways we can address them. Panelists will talk about their experiences with the parole system, what goes on behind the scenes, their ideas on how to bring about change and accomplish our goals, including the creation of a Commission on Parole by executive order, a bicameral public hearing on parole and passage of the SAFE Parole Act. Panelists include Hank Morris, Alan Rosenthal, Assemblyman Aubry, State Senator Parker, and two former parole chairs, Robert Dennison and Ed Hammock.

Workshops: 
11 am - 12:30 pm  Choice of workshops  (all include opportunities for Q and A)

Litigation Strategies: Parole Board Hearings & Admin. Appeals/Risk Assessments/Current Litigation: Cheryl Kates, esq., with Tom Grant, Dr. Pamela Valera, Paul Petrus Esq., Alan Rosenthal, Oralee Goldfeld, Diedre Sinnot, Louise Pitcher


 • Building the Campaign: Taking Action NOW!  - Kevin Quirolo


• Telling Our Stories With Data:  Using Metrics to Our Advantage  -  Jim Murphy and Nikki Zeichner, Esq

Free lunch

1:30 - 3 pm  Choice of workshops (all include opportunities for Q and A)

• Parole Board Hearings: Making a Convincing Case  -  Lewis Webb, Esq.

• Media Matters: How to Use the Media to Achieve Our Goals   - Tommy Lanoi (formerly of “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live”)

•  All about the SAFE Parole Act, Bill S.1128, A.4108  -   
Participant centered workshop to ask and answer questions about the bill and strategies to pass it.   - Judith Brink, with Andrea Bible, Scott Paltrowitz, and Corey Parks 

3:00 - 3:30  Summaries from each workshop reporting on next steps.

3:30 - 5:00    Closing Plenary: We will end the day’s conversations with a concrete action.  We will plan how to most effectively use the December 4th Assembly Correction Committee’s Hearing on Parole Board processes to reach our goals.   People who have been invited to testify at that hearing will be present to hear attendees' ideas.  We will brainstorm ways we can bring all our voices into the conversation.   - Judith Brink with Tom Grant, Jim Murphy, Alan Rosenthal







Building Bridges  October/November 2013

Dear Readers,

This is our year!  Our window of opportunity to pass the SAFE Parole Act and make other important changes in the parole system.  The moment is here but only if we seize it.  If we let it pass without putting ourselves at the forefront of the struggle, it may set us back far longer than you want deserving people to languish in prison. 

In 2011 a committed group of volunteers completed two years of weekly efforts to revise Exec. Law § 259-i, named it the Safe And Fair Evaluations (S.A.F.E.) Parole Act, and subsequently convinced a legislator in each branch of our state legislature to sponsor the bill, now A.4108, S.1128.  And then they went their separate ways without any coordinated effort to get more support.  

However we kept talking about the the bill individually and by the efforts of many individuals to mobilize more people we have now arrived at this very exciting time, when several large advocacy/service organizations - the Bronx Defenders,  Center for Community Alternatives, Community Service Society, Correctional Association, Fortune Society (and perhaps others I apologize for not remembering) have put it on their legislative agendas.  Then suddenly this summer two energized grassroot groups - NYS Prisoner Justice Network and the Riverside Church Prison Ministry - embarked on major campaigns to reform parole, both of them including the passage of the SAFE Parole Act.  As a result, many groups who were unaware of each other are now working together; bringing with them new, passionate, bright and energetic younger people, and suddenly the air is humming with energy and optimism for this worthy cause!  The time is NOW!  But they need us, all of us, to join them in taking it to the next level.  I hope to be seeing you a great deal this year!  I know I will be showing up every chance I get!!  

PLEASE!  Start by reading every word of Article #3 before making your decision on how to spend the weekend of November 8-10.  I think you’ll want to be there and we really need you to show New York State how important this is to a lot of New Yorkers!

As if this is not enough evidence of the window of opportunity, the Assembly’s Correction Committee also is focusing on the Parole Board.  It plans to hold a hearing on December 4 and is inviting representatives to speak about ways to support the Parole Board in doing their job fairly and transparently!  [more details will be announced as Building Bridges learns of them]

I hope you’ll join hundreds of others at Riverside Church on November 8 for a giant Kickoff Celebration with celebrities and the start of an online petition.  Then definitely return Saturday November 9 for a day of action-based workshops to get you started, and if you want more inspiration, join the congregation of Riverside Church on Sunday morning when the service will focus on the campaign.  Please be there!  Please sacrifice your prison visit that weekend.  Instead, join in the work of getting her or him home so you can put an end to making those trips upstate to keep your family together. 

The Editor     .


Summaries of articles

1.  Parole News: September releases include year to date release rates; News on NY Supreme Court’s ruling in Michael West’s Article 78 vs. Parole;  Story of one man’s successful bid for parole release, which he credits to friends who generously offered to help him prepare; Wall St. Journal article quotes Henry Lemon, former Parole Board member, who says COMPAS has proved useful in making release decisions.
2.  Anonymous is a 67 year old man with a hearing aid in each ear, who has a proposal for expediting the release of aging people in prison like himself, thus saving millions of dollars for the State.

3.  Riverside Church Prison Ministry’s campaign to overhaul New York’s Parole System begins their Friday Nov. 8 kick-off celebration with the circulation of a petition for reform. Highly publicized petition drives will lead into a public hearing on parole, which will expose the horrible unfairness of the parole boards’ practices.  The campaign will pressure Governor Cuomo to initiate a bipartisan Commission on Parole to address issues raised in the Campaign’s public hearing and to make recommendations for policy change.  Reading this article will help you understand how much you want to be there.

4.  Prisons, punishment, and violence against women.  We cannot end mass incarceration without a vision of well-being for everyone. The system’s impact on women reveals much about its impact on everyone.  Prisoner Justice Network asks a set of hard questions, even if we aren’t ready to answer them: if this system is wrong, what’s right? How do we create safe communities, value every life, and solve social problems without the current prison system?

5.  In this last installment of Baba Eng’s article on the way we think about criminal justice, crime and punishment, he commissions us, the community, who have the major stake in the processes that affect our lives and the lives of those we welcome among us, to make sure that these men and women return to us committed to working to fight poverty, crime and violence, unemployment and underemployment, miseducation and any reality that exists in our community that does not serve the interest of all of the people.

6.  Erie County has three choices in the upcoming election for Sheriff.  One is a candidate who is obviously more concerned about the deputies than the inmates, another is a loser, still in the running, who has nothing to say about the holding center at all, and the third is the incumbent, Sheriff Timothy Howard, who has been cited by the New York State Commission on Correction for gross negligence and incompetence and says, “... by law, matters involving health, mental health, and upkeep of the county jails, outside of day to day maintenance, are the responsibility of the County Executive, not the Sheriff.”  At the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, the discussion will focus on what voters can do with such a choice.

7.  Corey Parks talks about Recovery, the power of which is a gift to life.  All we have to do is accept it by believing in ourselves.


1.  Parole News:  
SEPTEMBER 2013 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONY OFFENSES - DIN #s through 2001  
unofficial research from parole database


Total Interviews
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Yr to Date Release Rate
17 Initials
8
9
47%
26%
88 Reappearances
21
67
24%
27%
105 total
29
76
28%
27%



Sept ’13 Initial Releases




Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Bare Hill
60
20-life
CSCS1*
1
Bedford Hills
65
15-life
Mrd2
1
Cayuga
37
18-life
Mrd2
1
Fishkill
41
25-life
Mrd2
1
Otisville
49
25-life
Mrd2
1
Riverview
48
25-life
Mrd2
1
Shawangunk
56
20-life
Mrd2
1
Sing Sing
54
21-life
Mrd2
1
*crim possession of controlled substance 1









Sept ’13 Reappearance Releases




Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Attica
65
25-life
pre 74
10
Bedford Hills
71
15-life
Mrd2
7
Coxsackie
51
15-life
Mrd2
10
Fishkill
58
20-life
Mrd2
5
Fishkill     deport
54
20-life
Mrd2
7
Fishkill
51
18-life
Mrd2
6
Fishkill
45
22-life
Mrd2
2
Franklin
36
16-life
Mrd2
2
Green Haven
47
25-life
Mrd2
3
Hudson
41
15-life
Mrd2
3
Livingston    Juvenile Off.
36
5-life
Mrd2
9
Otisville
61
25-life
Mrd2
8
Otisville
61
16-life
Mrd2
2
Otisville
58
20-life
Mrd2
3
Otisville
53
25-life
Mrd2
3
Otisville
51
25-life
Mrd2
5
Otisville
48
22-life
Mrd2
5
Sullivan
48
25-life
Mrd2
2
Washington
36
15-life
Mrd2
3
Woodbourne
57
20-life
Mrd2
7
Woodbourne
39
15-life
Mrd2
2


[Note: most denials are for 2 years, thus a person who was released on her 7th board has probably had 14 years added to her minimum sentence of 15 years.  So she may have served 29 years, one year less than double her sentence.  Which is why we are campaigning to pass the SAFE Parole Act!  -Editor] 


Matter of West v. NYSBOP, 3069013, Supreme Court, Albany County, 3069-13.  Justice Richard Mott decided 9/27/13. Petitioner Michael G.West represented himself.  Respondent was Brian J.O'Donnell, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Petitioner, now 66 years old, serving a term of 25 years to life following his convictions in Erie County on December 13, 1976, appeared for his seventh parole interview on June 11, 2012. He already had served more than 38 years. Notwithstanding an exemplary record, yet again inexplicably he was denied parole in boiler plate language most Building Bridges readers are familiar with.  The transcript of West’s parole hearing comprised a mere eight and one half pages.  In an interview that consists of 185 lines of questions and answers, only 40 concerned factors other than his criminal history and subject crimes.  The Court agreed with plaintiff that the inadequacy of both the interview and the decision convincingly demonstrate that the Board failed to provide a basis upon which the Court could review the Board's decision.  The Board received and presumably reviewed a victim impact statement from a relative of one of the victims. However, the State’s response failed to disclose that such victim impact statement had been submitted, let alone that the individual, who was 5 at the time of the crime, had submitted statements - as a representative of the victim - in each of Petitioner's six prior appearances.  The Board's “disingenuous and purely ceremonial description” of the factors and reasons for its decision “transforms the parole process into a charade in which meaningful judicial review repeatedly is subverted, and where, as here, material relied upon by the Board remains undisclosed in the hearing and in its determination.”
The Court ordered that the Board's decision must be vacated, a new hearing conducted, and a decision that complies with the statutory mandate must be issued in order to ensure appropriate judicial review.
Surprisingly, the Board determined that a nephew of a victim who was five years old at the time of Petitioner's crime was an "appropriate victim's representative." 9 N.Y.C.R.R. §8002.4(5). The victim impact statement argued repeatedly over the course of seven parole board appearances that Petitioner should never be released from prison. “This Court has no way of knowing how and to what extent the Board's determination was influenced by such an extreme recommendation.”
“As in Matter of Zarro v. New York State Department of Corrections, Index No. 6073-13, the Attorney General again has failed to append crucially relevant documents to Respondent's Answer or submit them for in camera review. Failure to provide a court with all documents considered by the Parole Board bespeaks Respondent's view that the Board's actions simply should be rubber stamped.”
[The above article is a composite of the judge’s decision and a NYLJ article.  Readers may request copies of both documents by sending us an email.]

K. M. asked us to share his story with you:
The Albany County Supreme Court ruled that the Parole Board had to grant me a de novo hearing after basing their decision at my initial board on erroneous information contained in my file.  Four days prior to the subsequent Parole Board appearance at my facility I was offered a place on the list, but I wasn’t prepared and asked if I could wait for the September hearing.  Thank God I did because out of 23 people who saw the September Board 14 were granted release and I was one!  I attribute my success to 3 men here - all members of the Lifer’s group - who selflessly devoted their time to help me prepare, so that when I entered the hearing room I had more insight than I had before they extended their help.  Perhaps my story can be an inspiration to others to seek help and have hope.  

When the Wall St. Journal carries a balanced full page article on the practices of the NYS Parole Board you know something has shifted! 
An article by Joseph Walker published in the Oct 12-13, 2013 weekend edition of the Journal uses the story of a man who had seen the parole board 11 times before he was released in 2012 - probably due to his COMPAS score - to illustrate the article’s subject, “Justice by the Numbers, Parole Boards Use Software to Predict Repeat Offenders”.  Although using such methods can contradict the instincts of parole commissioners, as the article claimed, they are considered valuable in helping the Board make evaluations within the limited time they have to pull together all the information needed to make a good decision.  

The article closes with a comment by Henry Lemons, a former NYS Parole Board member who had voted to free the man and said the COMPAS assessment provided useful context.  “Making a decision on someone’s life is extremely difficult,” he is quoted as saying, “You have to try to make a real quick decision during a 20-minute or half-hour interview with a person and consider his history and his likelihood of reoffending.”   



2.  Anonymous is a 67 year old incarcerated man with a hearing aid in each ear
He gave permission to tell his story, but not his name.

Anon has been incarcerated for 22 years. He recently saw the the parole board for the first time, and was denied parole despite his age and his multiple health problems.  He appears depressed and withdrawn most of the time.  When asked why, Anon says NYS DOCCS is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars by keeping him and others like him, in prison.  He has served his minimum sentence, is diabetic, and has a sister ready to take him into her home. He has ideas about how the elderly could be phased out of the NTS prison system, especially when there are an array of medical conditions.  In those cases, Anon suggests that a medical advisor - someone who would be part of an independent review committee with no ties to the Executive branch of the government - be appointed to make the decision.  

Remaining in prison is not just a waste of money, but it creates more health issues, he says, claiming the prison environment is unhealthy, and points to how cold his housing unit always is in the winter when it feels “like I’m sleeping outside”.  

Anon has heard of RAPP (Release of Aging Persons from Prison) and appreciates their work in bringing this issue to the public’s attention.  Not only is he getting on in years but he’d like them to know he’s also a Vietnam Vet.  “I served my country and was exposed to Agent Orange and came back to the states with an addiction to heroin that made my life a living hell.  When I returned I had never heard of PTSD, and everyone was saying I should just get over it and move on with my life.  How was I supposed to do that when my dreams were haunted with the faces of the persons whom I killed and the the faces of my fellow soldiers’ who in my opinion died in that war for a cause none of us had a clue about?”.  He still cries when remembering those times.



3.  The NYS Parole Reform Campaign has combined forces with “Ending Parole Abuses and Reuniting Families”,  Riverside Church Prison Ministry’s campaign to overhaul New York’s Parole System.

The campaign begins at the Friday Nov. 8 kick-off celebration with the circulation of a petition for reform. Highly publicized petition drives will lead to a public hearing on parole, which will expose the horrible unfairness of the parole boards practices. The campaign will pressure Governor Cuomo to initiate a bipartisan Commission on Parole to address issues raised in a People’s Public Hearing on Parole and to make recommendations for policy change.

The statewide, multi-pronged strategy to pass the SAFE Parole Act will leverage coalition building, monitored progress, and public relations to gain the votes necessary to win a legislative victory.

New York Needs You

You can support this campaign by coming to the kick-off celebration and enjoying a weekend of celebration, networking and workshopping. To create a just parole process, New York needs New Yorkers.

Saturday November 9 
Informative plenaries and workshops to advance the Campaign
Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive @ West 120
th Street

8 am – noon:   Registration;  
8 am – 9 am:  Light breakfast
9 am:   Welcoming Remarks 
9:20 am:  First plenary (with Q&A) outlines the problems, challenges, and issues surrounding NYS’s parole system, and suggests ways we can address them. Participants will include one or more justice advocates, lawyers, state legislators, former parole commissioners, and formerly incarcerated people who were unfairly hit by the board before being released.  Together they will let you in on what goes on behind the scenes, their ideas for how to identify the influential people needed to help accomplish our goals. We’ll talk about specific and measurable strategies for realizing safe passage of our bills, including the SAFE Parole Act.


*The following workshops are subject to change, but we wanted to give you an idea of what’s in store.
11 am - 12:30 pm  Choice of workshops  (all include opportunities for Q & A)
  • Litigation Strategies: The Whole Truth  - Cheryl Kates, Esq.
    All of your questions about parole law and procedures—including those you didn’t even know to ask—will be addressed in this smart, forward-thinking workshop. You’ll learn the ropes and how to effectively confront the challenges on a range of topics, from the felony murder rule and administrative appeals to risk assessments and current litigation.

  • Building the Campaign: Taking Action NOW!  - Kevin Quirlo
    Got action-oriented ideas that could propel us closer to victory? Tell us about them in this workshop, which will familiarize you with the campaign’s goals, structure and strategies—and will brainstorm about ways each and every one of us can start where we are, use what we have and do what we can to end parole abuses and reunite families. How to build a coalition, create our action steps, and be accountable. 

  • Dogging the Data:  Using Metrics to Our Advantage  -  Jim Murphy & Nikki Zeichner, Esq.
    Tracking the numbers—from the voting patterns of parole commissioners to rates of recidivism—can lead us to unassailable evidence about parole abuses. It can also debunk the myth that releasing certain categories of community-ready incarcerated people would be “incompatible with the welfare of society.” Follow the numbers in this workshop, and bring our loved ones home.  

12:30 - 1:30 pm free lunch

1:30 - 3 pm  Choice of workshops (all include opportunities for Q & A)
  • Parole Board Hearings: Making a Convincing Case  -  Lewis Webb, Esq.
We know all too well what our friends and loved ones are up against when they appear before NYS parole commissioners. How can we help them prepare for their appearances so that they confidently tell their stories? And how can we work with them to develop strategies in the face of nonsensical board decisions? This workshop will arm you with the tools you need. 

  • Media Matters: Winning Allies with Winning Messages  - Tommy Lanoi
What sharp, focused messages do we need in order to engage the press and the public, change hearts and minds—and combat the fear-mongering of our opponents? You’ll find out at this thought-provoking workshop.  Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms allow us to raise our voices and speak our truths—to millions of people—in unfiltered ways we couldn’t have imagined even a decade ago.  Learn how to leverage social media tools to flood the market about our campaign and convince legions to join us.  

  • All about the Safe Parole Act  -  Judith Brink
This workshop will be a question and answer session with everyone invited to ask questions and present their ideas. We’ll justify the bill, explain it, and praise it.  We’ll discuss how to get it passed.  Bring your questions and your suggestions.  
3:00 - 3:30  Summaries from each workshop reporting on next steps.

3:30 - 5:00    Closing Participatory Plenary: We will end the day’s conversations with concrete actions.  First we will plan how to most effectively use the December 4th Assembly Correction Committee’s Hearing on the Parole Board to reach our goals.   People who have been invited to testify will be present to hear your ideas.  We will brainstorm ways we can bring all our voices into the conversation.  Should we travel to Albany?  Send written testimony?  Rally outside?  This discussion will also be an important first step in developing ideas for convening our own statewide public hearing on parole.  

After the closing, you are invited to take part in a walk to /rally outside the State Office Building at 125th St. and Lenox, so bring your walking shoes 

Click on this Eventbrite link to reserve your FREE seats now:


Please join us for Friday night’s celebration  
7 pm – 10:30 pm (Doors open and book/cd signing @ 6 pm)
Featuring:
Hill Harper – gifted actor, best-selling author of Letters to a Young Brother, Letters to an Incarcerated Brother(pub. date Nov. 2013)

Terrie M. Williams—youth and mental health advocate, best-selling author of Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting 

IMPACT – Grammy- and Oscar-nominated theater company

Prodigy of Mobb Deep

Gloria Browne-Marshall – professor, playwright, author of Race, Law and American Society

Register for the Friday Celebration: https://trcpmcelebration.eventbrite.com/



4.  Prisons, punishment, and violence against women
New York State Prisoner Justice Network

One of the most remarkable things about the END MASS INCARCERATION convergence in New York City on September 21st was that the people gathered there, representing 40 different organizations from all parts of New York State, were all on the same page about our most basic goals. All agreed about how wrong the current prison system is, how wrong the model of punishment is, and how fundamental are the changes that we need to bring about for the benefit of our families and communities.

Having gotten that much unity, it’s time to ask the next set of hard questions, even if we aren’t ready to answer them: if this system is wrong, what’s right? How do we create safe communities, value every life, and solve social problems without the current prison system?
A key starting point for safety and well-being for our communities is facing squarely the issue of violence against women. By all accounts, violence of all kinds against women is horrifyingly widespread. On the one hand, there is individual violence from intimate partners, acquaintances, and strangers; on the other, the violence of the systems of social power and inequality such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, police brutality, and lack of access to education and to health care. Women of color, economically disadvantaged women, and women who are members of marginal and targeted communities experience a disproportionate amount of both kinds of violence – but all women are at risk for being targets of violence.
Defenders of the prison system claim that it is needed to protect women and others from predatory criminals. Those of us who advocate against mass incarceration say that the prison system makes the problems worse, because (1) it is a form of violence itself; (2) it draws resources and attention away from solutions that might actually work, like jobs, education, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, and restorative justice; and (3) punishment does not change behavior, least of all punishment unequally dealt by the powerful (who never get punished for their large-scale crimes) to the less powerful. 

For all these reasons, the system does not create safe, healthy communities. It works worst for the most targeted communities, poor communities of color, and therefore also worst for the women of these communities. By focusing our attention on the needs and experiences of those for whom the system works worst, we can figure out what alternatives are possible, and how to organize for them.  Since men are incarcerated much more than women, our movement has focused mainly on the injustices experienced by men. But we cannot end mass incarceration without a vision of well-being for everyone. The system’s impact on women reveals much about its impact on everyone:

(1) Over 35,000 women in New York State are in prison or jail, or on parole or probation. Nearly 2/3 of them are mothers of young children.

(2) When men are incarcerated, women carry the burden of holding families and communities together in their absence. 

(3) Women suffer from the destruction of safe and healthy communities, the result of a system that substitutes punishment for solutions.

But in addition to the system’s violence, women experience widespread, brutal violence from individual men. A National Violence Against Women Survey found that 52% of women reported being physically assaulted at some point in their lives, a large percentage of these by intimate partners. The impact of such widespread violence on the day to day lives of all women cannot be overstated. Because women are not equal members of our society, a problem this destructive and this extensive receives almost no social attention – except when it serves the interests of those who benefit from putting people in prison. 

But if prisons aren’t the solution, what is?

Women of color, and feminists of color in particular, have struggled for decades to expose the violence and to try to create safety and well-being in the face of hostile social institutions. (See, for example, Beth Richie, Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation.)    Can our anti-mass incarceration movement hear these voices? What do we need to do to support such efforts and to incorporate these issues into our organizing?    

As our organizations explore these questions, we will continue to report to Building Bridges’ readers.



5.  Why we think the way we do about criminal justice, crime and punishment and the need for change. Last installment.
 
By G. Baba Eng

Last month Baba ended by saying:  We let our youngsters become destructive of themselves and anyone who stands in their way. Our own sons and daughters turned against everything positive that our communities have stood for throughout all these years of suffering and struggle in America. It’s so bad, that many times when they go to prison, our communities have the right to feel relieved, because most often the victims are also our family members, our own  people. That is our reality right now and despite the fact that we represent little more than 13% of the total population in America, we represent over 50 % of the prison population. Something is very wrong with that picture.
We are the Primary Stakeholders and The Power Belongs To Us
    
These are our present realities, and now the question is whether we as a community will allow it to continue.  Will we allow the frustration and anger to turn to hatred, bitterness, and further alienation from us?  Do we continue to abandon the thousands of young men and women who have gone to prison for hurting themselves and us, out of misguidance, ignorance, and fear?  Will you allow our sons and daughters to continue to be denied the chance, during their imprisonment, to change their thinking and behavior and reform so that they can come back to us as better human beings that when they left us?  The prison system is not going to provide them with the love and guidance necessary to positive change. Only you can do that.

     There are no more excuses. We must answer these questions together. Who has a major stake in the prison and parole systems in America today? Our answer must be a resounding: We Do!  It is the Black community and poor White and Latino communities that must decide how we want these men and women to come back to us and the only way to do that is by getting involved in the prison and parole reform movement. This is the movement that is responsible for developing the programs and initiatives that will make sure that the people in prison will not only have the opportunity and incentive to change their thinking and behaviors, but that in order for them to be released they have to commit to giving something back to the communities that they come from, that were hurt by their past lives of delinquency and crime.

     We, the community, have the major stake in the processes that affect our lives and the lives of those we welcome among us.  It is up to us to make sure that these men and women return to us committed to working to fight poverty, crime and violence, unemployment and underemployment, miseducation and any reality that exists in our community that does not serve the interest of all of the people.

As always, I say to you, The Power Belongs To the People!     Your Brother, BaBa  



6.  Who Will Be Our Next Erie County Sheriff?
by Karima Amin

As we move forward to November 5, Election Day, I wonder how many of us are prepared to cast an educated ballot for the office of Sheriff? Given the problems we have witnessed at the Erie County Holding Center, during the last 8 years, while Sheriff Timothy Howard has been in office, makes it imperative for us to stop and take a serious look at what has been accomplished under his watch. All political candidates have mottos and watch words which define who they are, what they do, and what they plan to do. Sheriff Howard defines himself as one who exhibits “a reputation for hard work and integrity.” There are some who agree with this wholeheartedly and others who have good reason for challenging this definition.

Are you an educated constituent? Do you know who is running this time for the office of Sheriff? Do you know what the Sheriff’s duties are? In a recent interview, Sheriff Howard said, "My reputation speaks of hard work, honesty and straightforwardness. I support the constitution and all that it stands for.”  

Those of you who have supported Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. and the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition may not be in agreement with what Sheriff Howard says about himself. What is more important, I believe, is not what he says about himself, but what he has done to improve our holding center in Buffalo and correctional facility in Alden. There have been no suicides this year but there have been 7 since the last election. The holding center has a “sparking new” reception area but what has been done to improve conditions for those who find themselves confined there?  If the compliance reports being compiled there by the Department of Justice were shared with the community, perhaps we would know what is being improved and what the deadlines are and if the Sheriff is working with the Department of Justice and the Commission of Correction to provide the kind of professional and humane treatment for which we have been advocating. No candidate is really talking about the holding center and for many of us, conditions at he holding center are a major issue and central to this election.
This time, Sheriff Howard is facing two candidates:  Richard “Dick” Dobson, the Democratic candidate, and Bert Dunn, of the Law and Order Party.  Both have worked for the Sheriff’s Department. Dobson says that ongoing problems at the holding center have had a negative impact on the morale of deputies “who put their lives on the line for the citizens of Erie County every day…. it is time to start putting policies into effect that will more closely protect our deputies…” Dunn, who lost to Dobson in the primary, hasn’t said anything about the holding center. In a recent interview with “New WNY Politics,” Sheriff Howard said, “One thing that some people don't understand who have criticized us for our handling of health and mental health related matters in the Holding Center is that, by law, matters involving health, mental health, and upkeep of the county jails, outside of day to day maintenance, are the responsibility of the County Executive, not the Sheriff.”
So there you have it: We have a candidate who is obviously more concerned about the deputies than the inmates. We have a loser, still in the running, who has nothing to say about the holding center. And we have an incumbent, Sheriff Timothy Howard,  who has been cited by the New York State Commission on Correction for gross negligence and incompetence. A Sheriff who says, “It’s not my job.”
Whether these men, all of whom have been invited, none of whom has responded, show up at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too or not, we need to have a discussion about conditions at the holding center and what we expect in the future. The community must make its demands clear and hold our elected officials accountable. 

Please join us for the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, which will be held on Monday, October 28, 2013, 6:30-8:30pm at 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo.  This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: Karima Amin, karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org; BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com. 716-834-8438.


7.  Corey Parks talks about recovery
Recovery generally means a return of normal state of health, mind, or strength.  Many of us in the addiction field associate the word with substance abuse.  In this article we are going to discuss recovery utilizing a wider scope.  
In essence, there are many issues we can recover from.  Some of these problem areas include mental health, incarceration, substance abuse, domestic and gang violence.  When a person grows up in one or more of the above environments, they often lose their normal sense of health, mind, and ability to live productively.  Some unhealthy actions become normal to those who are exposed to these dysfunctional life-styles. Whatever obstacle or damaging circumstance, one should understand that there is always a way to recover.  
However, first you have to accept accountability for your actions.  For instance, someone who is incarcerated for a crime may need to see their behavior in connection to prior issues like substance abuse, anger, family issues that shaped them into becoming a criminal.  Upon their release back into society, these men or women need support that will enable them to challenge their long journey of failure and distorted belief systems.  Recovery is bigger than what we think.  We need to heal from the many issues that corrupt our communities.  However, recovery must be accepted one individual at a time in order to lift up whole villages of people who suffer from issues that separated them from their true selves.  
When I was released from prison in 2012, I needed help adjusting. One of the problem areas for me was that I did not know how to use a metro card.  I felt a certain fear and anxiety every time I entered the Subway.  Although there was a struggle, today I travel easily on all types of transportation  .So this is one example how one may recover from an issue after incarceration.  The power of recovery is a gift to life.  All we have to do is accept it by believing in ourselves.
~ Corey Parks  [c/o  SNUG, NYC MISSION SOCIETY, 653 Lenox Ave,  NY, NY 10037]



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