Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Sunday, October 04, 2015

October 2015


Welcome to the site of Building Bridges, 
Prison Action Network's newsletter 

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Building Bridges, October 2015

Dear Reader,
There is no question that our criminal justice system is dysfunctional.  It’s a problem too big for one person or one organization to fix.  Fortunately there are countless people and organizations working on it.  We each have our special ways of fighting against the injustices, and together we can change the system if we hold our ground long enough.  

For the past 10 years Prison Action Network has been focusing on ending the abuses of the NYS Parole Board.  We have chosen to use movement building, legislation and the electoral process in our search for justice.  That’s how we came to be strong promoters of the SAFE Parole Act, which requires the Parole Board to base their decisions on the applicant’s readiness for community living.  Obviously there are other parts of the parole system (and the entire criminal justice system) which need correcting.  We leave that work to others, always with our support.  

In the following pages we report on the efforts of many people and organizations whose particular strategies are moving all of us closer to our common goal. You are not alone!  We are all here working for justice and a kinder world. 

Prison Action Network’s strategy is to educate, build public support, support legislation, and help elect good people.

People in New York State prisons cannot vote until they are no longer under Community Supervision or have been granted a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities (it’s a disability to be unable to vote).  It can be argued that mass incarceration is used to keep a certain segment of our population from having a voice in how our society functions.  

Those of us who can vote must do it, not just for ourselves but also on behalf of our disenfranchised incarcerated brothers and sisters!  We need to educate ourselves on the issues and candidates and then make sure to VOTE!   See Article #8 to learn about  www.VOTE411.org, an on-line site where you can register to vote or update your voter registration, for example if you’ve moved or changed your name.  It’s not too soon to start getting ready for the upcoming elections! 
The Editor


Table of Contents

1. The Myth of the Dangerous Criminal, a groundbreaking conference on October 24th at Riverside Church, will expose the reality that the really “low risk” people are in fact those who have the longer sentences for violent crimes, homicide in particular.
2. Parole News - A1VO August release rates; ACLU research project inviting contributions, Linares case could change the policies of the Parole Board 
3.  Too much time spent in prison because inmates who have done their time and pose no danger to the community are denied release solely on the luck of the draw. by Jim Murphy
4.  Parole Hearing Data.org created by Nikki Zeichner  includes more than 30,000 records, along with prisoners' stories and parole-related legislation.  
5.  SAFE Parole Act - Last call for Rochester to join us at the October 17th FAMILY EMPOWERMENT TOUR stop.  
6.  NetWORKS says “If we are not looking at the full range of the criminal justice system’s impact on women, then we are seriously not understanding its disastrous effects on public wellbeing."
7.  PRP2!  Attica: yesterday and today; from  Elliot L. D. Barkley who said during the Attica rebellion in 1971,  “We are Men! We are not beasts and do not intend to be beaten or driven as such", to Mr. John Boyd who was a prisoner at Attica in 1971 realizing  44 years later that very little has changed.
8.  Black prisoners’ lives matter: This racist madness we’re witnessing serves as a rude awakening for those who believed we’re living in a Post Racial Utopian America.”  ~Mandu*Ra  
9.  Preparing for the Upcoming Elections which can be about our jobs, our health, our communities, our security and our future, if we all weigh in.   
10.  People in prison are “no worse than me”, proclaims Pope Francis.

1.  The Myth of the Dangerous Criminal
October 24, 1pm - 5 pm.
Riverside Church, 191 Claremont Ave. Manhattan
Click here for free tickets:  http://tinyurl.com/oczeq56 

“The Myth of the Dangerous Criminal” will bring together national thought leaders, activists and formerly incarcerated people to explore America’s reflexive, fearful response to people convicted of violent crimes and how we as a society might create a more honest, humane narrative about them in the movement for a just society.

The conference will challenge the conventional wisdom that has taken hold throughout this nation as consensus grows that mass incarceration is a failed system: “We should release from prison and offer support to only those who are “low risk,” i.e. only those who’ve committed nonviolent crimes.” President Obama echoed this conventional wisdom recently when he took his message of reform to an Oklahoma prison and said “…I don’t have tolerance for violent criminals. Many of them may have made mistakes, but we need to keep our communities safe.”

The counterintuitive reality is that the really “low risk” people are in fact those who have the longer sentences for violent crimes, homicide in particular.

Lasting and effective change in the criminal justice system—and in society as a whole—cannot happen if America fails to include in its reforms the millions of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who committed violent crimes. This topic—where, of course, the issue of race looms large—is of such importance that a thoughtful public conversation at this conference is called for.

Have questions about The Myth of the Dangerous Criminal? Contact Prisoner Reentry Institute of John Jay College, American Friends Service Committee, JustLeadershipUSA, Prison Ministry of the Riverside Church, Think Outside the Cell Foundation and Prisoner Action Network



2.  Parole News - August Release Rates, ACLU asking for parole research subjects, Linares Hearing
August 2015 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001  
unofficial research from parole database
August 2015 Interview Summaries
Interviews
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year To Date Release Rate
Initials 
10
3
*7
30%
34%
Reappearances
77
**19
58
25%
26%
Total 
87
22
65
25%
28%
  *includes 1 medical denial     
**includes 1 PIE (parole immediately eligible) & 1 Special Consideration (de nova?)


August 2015 Initial Releases
Facility
Age
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Greenhaven
57
31
27-Life
* CSCS1
INITIAL
Greene
42
21
24-Life
Mrd 2
INITIAL
Fishkill
43
24
22-Life
Mrd 2
INITIAL
* Criminal Sale of Controlled Substance

August 2015 Reappearance Release Rates
Facility
Age
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Auburn
39
19
22-Life
Mrd 2
3
Bedford Hills
38
20
18-Life
Mrd 2
  2 *
Cape Vincent
40
19
17-LIfe
Mrd 2
4
Elmira
40
21
9-Life
JO Mrd1
8
Fishkill
58
20
15-Life
Mrd 2
12
Fishkill
39
22
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Gouverneur
44
28
18-Life
Mrd 2
5
Green haven 
36
18
20-Life
Mrd 2
   2 **
Greene
60
35
27-Life
Mrd 2
2
Groveland
37
18
20-Life
Mrd 2
8
Hudson
45
22
25-Life
Mrd 2
5
Wende
51
28
25-Life
Mrd 2
6
Woodbourne
59
22
1-Life
Mrd 2
4
Woodbourne
52
28
25-Life
Mrd 2
7
Woodbourne
50
32
20-Life
Mrd 2
6
Woodbourne
46
24
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Woodbourne
47
37
15-Life
Mrd 2
8
Woodbourne
41
25
18-Life
Mrd 2
5
Woodbourne
23
17
7-Life
JO Mrd1
9
*special consideration ( de novo?)
** PIE (Parole immediately eligible)  


August 2015 Age at Beginning of Incarceration Summary
Age Range
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied 
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rate
16-20
15
7
8
47%
38%
21-25
32
8
24
25%
30%
Over 25
40
7
33
18%
29%
Total
87
22
65
25%
31%


August 2015 over 60 at Time of Hearing
Age Range
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied 
Rate of Release 
Year-to-Date Release Rate
60-69
20
5
15
25%
25%
70-79
1
0
1
0%
16%
Over 80
0
0
0
0%
0
Total
21
5
16
24%
22%


ACLU national is doing a report on young people's experiences on parole.  In particular, they are interested in surveying people from New York who meet the criteria listed below.  If you know of an individual who meets this criteria and who you think would be willing to be interviewed, please email Sarah Mehta at smehta@aclu.org.  You can also forward this email to people you know.
·         Were under 25 at the time of their offense; and
·         Were sentenced to 20+ years or life with the possibility of parole; and
·         Have served at least 10 years in prison; and
·         Have been denied parole despite doing well while incarcerated.


The Linares Case
Prison Action Network attended the Linares hearing before the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state.  
The panel of judges: Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Associate Judge Eugene F. Pigott, Jr.,  Associate Judge Jenny Rivera, Associate Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Associate Judge Leslie E. Stein and Associate Judge Eugene M. Fahey.

Alfred O’Connor, Esq. of the NYS Defenders Association represented Linares and Kate H. Hepveu, ASG from the office of the Attorney General of the State of New York represented the Board of Parole.

The following article by the NY Times Editorial Board was published in their September 4, 2015, Opinion Pages:

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, heard oral arguments in a case that may provide a rare chance to reform New York’s antiquated, ineffective and unfair parole system.
The basic idea behind parole is simple: People can change. It isn’t always easy, but if they succeed, they should have the opportunity to get out of prison a little sooner — even if their crime was serious.
When parole works, everyone benefits. But the tough-on-crime politics of the past few decades led many states and the federal government to eliminate parole. States that retained it can be a model for rehabilitating prisoners and shrinking prisons while still keeping the public safe.
The job is delicate; any high-profile crime by a parolee can become a political disaster. But modern risk-assessment tools have helped states make smarter, more informed choices about whom to let out.
Unfortunately, New York’s parole board clings stubbornly to the past, routinely denying parole to long-serving inmates based on subjective, often unreviewable judgments. If they explain their reasoning, board members almost always point to the seriousness of the crime, regardless of how much progress an inmate may have made.
Challengers say the board is refusing to follow a 2011 law requiring consideration of a potential parolee’s actual risk to society. New York, like many other states, has adopted a software program called Compas, which weighs dozens of factors and has proved to be more accurate than human intuition at predicting whether someone will commit another crime. But the board resists its use.
That’s no surprise, since parole board members are often political appointees, not psychologists. Their time with a candidate generally consists of a short interview with boilerplate questions.
The New York board’s intransigence is all the more exasperating because inmates who are paroled — and thus get supervision outside — may have a lower risk of reoffending than those who serve their full terms.
Half of all New York prisoners are serving indeterminate sentences, and so are or will be eligible for parole. At the very least, the board could release some of the oldest, longest-serving inmates, who pose the least risk to society.
Some parolees will inevitably return to crime, and it’s always easier for political appointees to protect themselves first. Since that behavior is unlikely to change, it is up to the Court of Appeals to drag the board into the 21st century and make parole a meaningful part of New York’s criminal justice system.

The basic idea behind parole is simple: People can change. It isn’t always easy, but if they succeed, they should have the opportunity to get out of prison a little sooner — even if their crime was serious.

Linares Case Summary, based on briefs filed with the Court and prepared by the Public Information Office for background purposes only: 
Argued Tuesday, September 8, 2015     No. 124 Matter of Linares v Evans 
Jorge Linares was serving 16 2/3 to 40 years ...when he appeared for his first parole hearing in November 2011. He asked the Parole Board whether his application would be evaluated pursuant to 2011 amendments to Executive Law § 259-c(4), which required the Board to replace its former "guidelines" with "written procedures for its use in making parole decisions," which "shall incorporate risk and needs principles to measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before the board [and] the likelihood of success of such persons upon release."

The Board did not respond to Linares' inquiry and it denied his parole application without considering a risk and needs assessment instrument known as the COMPAS (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions) system. Parole Board Chair Andrea Evans had issued a memorandum in October 2011 directing Board members to include consideration of COMPAS risk and needs assessments in future deliberations, but the Board did not adopt regulations implementing the Executive Law amendments until July 2014.
Linares brought this article 78 proceeding to challenge the Board's denial of his parole application, arguing that it failed to comply with the amended Executive Law § 259-c(4), among other things. Supreme Court dismissed his suit, ruling the Board complied with the Executive Law amendments based on the "promulgation" of the Evans memorandum "as well as the record as a whole."
The Appellate Division, Third Department reversed and directed the Board to give Linares a new hearing. The court did not grant his request for parole release, but it said he "is entitled to a new parole hearing due to the Board's failure to use a 'COMPAS Risk and Needs Assessment' instrument, which is a document created and intended to bring the Board into compliance with recent amendments to Executive Law § 259-c(4)...."
Linares says the Parole Board "has failed to establish written procedures required by 2011 legislation that abolished the 1978 parole release guidelines and replaced them with a new scheme based on risk and needs principles to measure a parole candidate's relative risk of reoffending," arguing that neither the Evans memo nor the 2014 regulations comply with the statute. Under the regulations, he says, "board members are free to dismiss COMPAS results out of hand without revealing that they are doing so or explaining why.... Petitioner simply asks that the Board be directed to comply with the enabling legislation and to otherwise give detailed reasons for determinations that run counter to COMPAS' empirically-based results ... so that courts can subject parole release denials to rationality review."
The Parole Board has moved to dismiss Linares' appeal as moot, given its adoption of implementing regulations in July 2014. It has also moved to strike his brief "because it is permeated by issues that are entirely outside the scope of this proceeding."
For appellant Linares: Alfred O'Connor, Albany (518) 465-3524
For respondent Evans (Parole Board): Assistant Solicitor General Kate Nepveu (518) 776-2016
[Building Bridges staff who attended the hearing felt that Mr. O’Conner presented a very convincing argument, and left us optimistic that the ruling will be in Linares’ favor.  It could be months before we know.]


3.  Too much time spent in prison
By Jim Murphy, Commentary Albany Times Union  Published Tuesday, September 1, 2015
The late judge and former Assemblyman Richard Bartlett, a leader in the 1970s legislation reforming parole, once observed of the state's parole board: "It is not the function of the board to review the appropriateness of the sentence. That is for the court to decide. Their role is to determine the suitability of release based on the inmate's behavior while imprisoned and the likelihood of their reoffending." Yet many parole board members ignore Judge Bartlett's remarks. Instead, they review the sentence to see if it has been long enough. The person's current history and risk assessment are merely noted and dismissed, as if they are unimportant and irrelevant. They assume current danger based on the past crime with no other indicators.

Take the case of Mohaman Koti, who the board determined was, "At risk to commit another crime, and ... create disrespect for the law" in denying him parole in 2013. At that time, Mohaman was 85 years old, with multiple medical problems and confined to a wheelchair. Sentenced to 25 years to life in 1978, he had been in prison for 35 years and had a low risk assessment and positive record. Luckily, on a 2014 appeal, a judge ruled that the board's basis for denying him parole was irrational and called for a new hearing. After a split decision in one hearing, he won release that September.
The board's reluctance to release aging felons shows in the state's own statistics. Among older A1 felons who came before the board in 2014, six of the 11 who were older than 80, and 48 of the 59 who were aged 70 to 79, were denied parole.
However, when individuals convicted of felony murder are released, the statistics underline the weakness of asserting current danger. Between 1985 and 2009, 2,130 individuals sentenced for murder were released. Just 47, or 2.2 percent, were returned with a new conviction. None of them was convicted for a new murder.
To put a face on some of these individuals:
• Larry White was released in 2011 after serving 32 years and being denied four times. At 80, he remains a passionate advocate for criminal justice reform and is working with the American Friends Service Committee.
Mujahid Farid was released in 2011 after serving 33 years on a 15-to-life sentence. He was denied parole 10 times. Currently he is the chief organizer for Releasing Aging People in Prison.
• Diana Ortiz was released in 2006 after serving 22 1/2 years on a 17-to-life sentence and being denied parole three times. She is now associate director of Exodus Transitional Services, an organization helping those returning from prison to live productive lives.
• Shuaib Raheem, released in 2011 after serving 25 years on a 25-to-life sentence and being denied five times, is a career coach in the fatherhood initiative at the Osborne Association.
Why were these people released after being denied multiple times before? Were there new factors that made them eligible that had not been there before? Were their releases based on a change in their risk assessment of danger to the community? No. The simple answer is, there were different board members hearing their case. The Parole Board is supposed to operate as a quasi -judicial body evaluating a person's readiness for release with the tools appropriate for the task. But in its current form, it's a lottery system, in which inmates who have done their time and pose no danger to the community have to rely on the luck of the draw.
Jim Murphy of Schenectady is a longtime advocate on criminal justice issues and parole reform.


4.  From the American Bar Association Journal, a bit about the creator of http://www.parolehearingdata.org/ 
Posted Sep 15, 2015 9:20 AM CDT

Nikki Zeichner uses data to give new perspectives on parole and incarceration

In 2013, Nikki Zeichner was juggling two endeavors.

As a Brooklyn criminal defense lawyer, she was representing a prisoner who had been denied parole nine times and was up for a 10th successful hearing.  Representing Thornwell Richburg taught her that New York parole decisions were often based on "the nature of the crime," not anything the prisoner had done in the decades since. Partially as a result, she says, more than 10,000 state prisoners are denied parole every year at a huge human and financial cost. "It's just so ridiculous that you have somebody who is 50-plus years old and [parole boards are] still looking at something he did when he was in his early 20s," she says. "It's not recognized that somebody grows over time."

The case also taught Zeichner, 36, where to find publicly available parole data from the state of New York. That soon became relevant to her other endeavor, as an integrated digital media graduate student at New York University's engineering school.  Wanting to convert the data into a more usable format, she asked her adviser, R. Luke Dubois, whether it was possible to collect it from the Web.  Before her eyes, he wrote a simple computer program to automate the collection.

That was the beginning of Zeichner's Parole Hearing Data Project, a repository of public New York parole data available in easily used formats and presented online. In addition to more than 30,000 records, the project presents prisoners' stories and parole-related legislation.  It's integrated into an earlier project of Zeichner's, the Museum of the American Prison, which she says is an attempt to tell stories about incarceration that don't fit into the context of a court case.  Zeichner sees the Parole Hearing Data Project as educational, particularly because mass incarceration is getting reconsideration in the U.S.

"I think it's easier for people to think more about the front end, like practices that put people in prison," she says. "Is [parole denial] another factor that leads to the vastness of our incarcerated population? So partly it's education-to give airtime to, I think, a less-recognized issue."

Issa Kohler-Hausmann, an associate professor of law and sociology at Yale University, has been considering using Zeichner's parole data as part of another parole-denial case. For that client and for a wider potential challenge, she'd like to know how the parole board handles similar cases, but, she says, the state corrections department is "somewhere between intransigent and obstructionist."  "That's why something like this is so amazingly useful," Kohler-Hausmann says, "because she's using the data that they do post and compiling it for us."

This year Zeichner is turning her legal background and data-wrangling skills to another task: a fellowship with the nonprofit Code for America, which builds technology to make local government services easier to use.  As part of a three-person team, she's working on tools to improve relations between the community and the police in Vallejo, California, which is struggling with the legacy of a 2008 municipal bankruptcy, a series of fatal police shootings in 2012 and a troubling crime rate. The fellowship has taken Zeichner, a New Yorker since 1997, across the country to the San Francisco Bay area. While she loves and misses New York, she says it's exciting to live somewhere new.

While Zeichner still practices law as a solo, her career has taken her far from the conventional path of a law school graduate. Inspired by an early job with a creative consumer attorney and then again at the public interest-focused City University of New York School of Law, she says she was always interested in people and problem-solving.  "I guess I always had an idea that I wanted to be creative," she says, "however I ended up using the law."


5.  Progress report on the Safe and Fair Evaluations Parole Act
LAST CALL FOR ROCHESTER RESIDENTS!  We’ve planned an event for Saturday October 17 when the 2015 Family Empowerment Tour will be stopping in Rochester.  The event is for families and other supporters of people who will be facing the Parole Board in the future or have already done so and been denied.  It’s a two part event, and you are welcome to attend both parts or just one, and have lunch with us either way. 

Starting at 10 am we’ll view a documentary about Parole Board practices, featuring former parole commissioners and a former parole applicant, along with leaders of parole reform campaigns.  The film will be followed by comments from experts including someone recently home after his parole release, family members, campaign leaders as well as from the audience.

At noon everyone from the morning session and those who are staying or arriving for the afternoon’s workshop are invited for lunch (which is donated by our hosts, the members of Lake United Methodist Church) and fellowship.

In the afternoon everyone is invited to stay for an interactive workshop demonstrating an alternative style of legislative visits led by family members, that is low stress and can lead to a positive visit with state legislators in support of the SAFE Parole Act, which offers a solution to the unfair parole hearings that were discussed earlier. 

Please RSVP so we can have enough food for your lunch:  
585-749-6638 or parolereform@gmail.com 

10:00 am- 2:00pm  (Lunch served at Noon)
Lake United Methodist Church
4409 Lake Avenue Rochester
For details, Contact 518 253 7533 or parolereform@gmail.com


6.  NetWORKS, the monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
Say Her Name: Women, Mass Incarceration, and Violence – Part I

Fewer than 5% of those incarcerated in the prisons of New York State are women. Therefore, our movement for justice in the criminal justice system should devote less than 5% of its time, energy, and resources to issues of incarceration and women -- right? Wrong. But it often seems like that’s what we do. Here are some reasons why we should do it differently, and some thoughts about how. 

“Women hold up half the sky” is like “Black lives matter.” Your first thought is, well duh. And your second is, Wait, there must be a reason why there is an urgent need to say something that should be so obvious. If we are not looking at the full range of the criminal justice system’s impact on women, then we are seriously not understanding its disastrous effects on public wellbeing – and we will not be able to challenge it effectively.

Approximately 2300 women are incarcerated in New York State prisons on any given day, 4000 over the course of a year – a substantial and growing number. Women in local jails are about another 1500. Women, particularly women of color, are the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population.  But the issue of incarceration and women goes beyond numbers. It encompasses the particularity of suffering experienced by women in the criminal justice system, the multiple negative effects of the criminal justice system on women who are not incarcerated, and the resulting destabilization of  entire families and communities.

Women in the criminal justice system suffer the same deprivations, injustices, cruelties, and humiliations as men do, plus many others specific to their situation as women.  A report released this year by the Women in Prison Project of the Correctional Association of New York is entitled, “Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons.” Its 200+ pages detail some of those special horrors -- from shackling during pregnancy, to lack of sanitary napkins (a majority of women do not receive enough each month), to a single gynecologist for a 1000-bed women’s prison, to re-traumatizing experiences for survivors of sexual abuse (9 out of 10 women in prison are survivors).

Nearly 75% of women in prison were primary or sole caregivers of a minor child prior to their arrest. Some of the heart-wrenching, long-term consequences of that separation on both mothers and children are recounted firsthand by children of incarcerated parents via videos made by the children themselves in a group called Echoes of Incarceration (www.echoesofincarceration.org). Women’s role as caregivers of children, elders, and other dependent family and community members is even more important in low income, disadvantaged, and people of color communities – those most disproportionately incarcerated --  than in more privileged communities. So the incarceration of women reverberates far beyond the prison walls. 

And what of the rest of the women who come from the same targeted communities as those who are incarcerated? Prison impacts those outside as well as those inside. Family members often say, “We are doing time too.” On any given day in the visitor room at any given New York State men’s prison, the overwhelming majority of visitors are women, and the overwhelming majority of those are women of color. Your reporter has seen days when all the visitors were women. And who are the visitors in women’s prisons? Also women. Women of all ages and relationships to prisoners make the long trek to visit their loved ones, at great cost – financial, psychological, and physical – and often with small children in tow.  Many live in communities and families where incarceration has left a profound void of youth, elders, parents, partners, teachers, and wage-earners. 

These are some of the impacts of prisons on women which will help to better understand the role of the criminal justice system in the destabilization, impoverishment, and disempowerment of communities. 
The powerful forces that created and maintain mass incarceration claim the criminal justice system exists to protect society from harm. By examining its impact on women we can better understand how far from the truth that claim is.

In Part II we will look more carefully at all forms of violence against women, one of the leading indicators of the status of women and perhaps the greatest threat to their wellbeing. We will look at the ways sexual assault and domestic violence are increased by the criminal justice system; how the criminal justice system itself perpetrates violence against women; and the multiple forms that violence against women takes in addition to direct physical violence – poverty, lack of health care, poor education, neighborhood deterioration, urban neglect, gentrification, environmental destruction, joblessness, homelessness – all factors that degrade the quality – and quantity -- of life for women. How does the prison system fit into this grim picture?  And what can we do about it?  Tune in next month. 

[Editor’s note:  another excellent publication came out at about the same time as the CA’S report mentioned above: 
“Prison and Social Death” by Joshua M. Price is not only a book about the horrors of incarceration and it’s aftermath, much of it describing the mistreatment of women, but it is also an examination of the biases and motivations of social researchers, the author among them.  Mr. Price’s humility as he looks closely at his own interviewing style is a refreshing and rare perspective.  That and the depth of his investigation make it a very valuable book.  We highly recommend it to our readers. (ISBN 978-9-8135-6557-6) ] 



7.  ATTICA: Yesterday and Today
By Karima Amin

On September 9, 1971, a group of courageous Black prisoners at Attica Prison in Wyoming County, New York, instigated a 5-day prison uprising that would shock this nation and the world.  In this rebellion, the bloodiest prison rebellion in America’s history, 10 prison guards and 39 prisoners were murdered by New York State Troopers and soldiers from the New York National Guard, who had been deployed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller at the behest of President Richard M. Nixon. The prisoners stood up and demanded better medical treatment, fair visitation rights, better sanitation, improved food quality, and opportunities for education.  Their feelings and a list of 27 demands were summed up in a now famous quote delivered by a prisoner, Elliot L. D. Barkley who said: “We are Men! We are not beasts and do not intend to be beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace has set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United States. What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed.” According to some reports, Barkley was shot in the back by an officer a few days after the uprising.

Every year in September, Prisoners Are People Too Inc. devotes its monthly meeting to remembering the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971. Often referred to as a “riot,” this event was much more than that. It was a rebellion, an uprising that was orchestrated by a group of prisoners who were frustrated with trying to survive in an environment of racism and unrelenting brutality. 

Previous monthly meetings in September have featured films and guest speakers that have given  us a better understanding of what happened in 1971. Prof. Terri Miller and her students from SUNY Buffalo have shared films they were allowed to produce after meeting prisoners at Attica in recent years., “Encountering Attica” and “Attica: The Bars That Bind Us.”  We have screened Cinda Firestone’s “Attica” which was produced in 1974 as well as “Against the Wall, “ featuring Samuel L. Jackson, produced in 1994. We have had the pleasure of hosting the former Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly, Mr. Arthur O. Eve whose compassion for prisoners was first recognized in the late 1960 ‘s. During his tenure, Mr. Eve did not fear political backlash or avoid prison reform issues.  He served as an observer and negotiator in the wake of the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion. He was critical of Gov. Rockefeller’s decision to ignore the prisoners’ requests and to pursue the tactical measures that resulted in the massacre of so many officers and prisoners.

This year, we have the honor of hosting Mr. John Boyd who was a prisoner at Attica in 1971. He remembers what happened in 1971 and he realizes, 44 years later, that very little has changed.  In a 2013 report, the Correctional Association of NY, which advocates for a more humane and effective criminal justice system, by educating the public about what goes on behind prison walls, described Attica Prison as being a symbol of what is wrong in prisons across the state with its  “…systemic and brutal staff-inflicted physical assaults, verbal and racial harassment, threats, intimidation, and excessive use of punishment and solitary confinement.”

For more information: Karima Amin, karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org, 716-834-8438; BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com, 716-491-5319.



8.  Black Prisoners’ Lives Matter Too!

Salutes to all of the foot soldiers out in Society who are Marching, Protesting and Setting the record straight, that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the senseless, outright racist practices of this nations’ police departments and justice system.

My name is Emmanuel “Mandu*Ra” Johnson. The 13th Amendment legalized slavery for those who are convicted of a felony.  I’ve been a convicted slave for nearly 30 years. 

Everything about the penal system today, reflects the slave plantations of yester-year.  The Warden/superintendent would be the plantation Master, and the officers are the overseers who terrorize and brutalize the enslaved/convicted.

More than half of the prison population are people of color.  There are more Black people in prison plantations today than there were in the entire 400 years of slavery!  America should be ashamed.  Word!

If the public thinks that police brutality and the senseless killings of unarmed Black and Brown people at the hands of white cops is only happening in the streets, I suggest they take a peek at the penal system.  We prisoners don’t have video phones to upload the brutal beatings and murders that are taking place in here, at the hands, feet and batons of white officers.

The murders of the “sistas”, Sandra Bland and Kindra Chapman are only the “tip of the Iceberg”.  There are countless more Black and Brown prisoners who have been killed by prison guards.  These two Black women were both lynched in jail cells, one day apart. (WOW!)  Jim Crow is alive and well within Amerikkka’s penal colonies (prisons).  The violence and brutality of the lynchings in the past are still happening today as we can see in the murders of these sisters for being “uppity Negroes”.

How can they continue to get away with this?  They can... because their victims are Black and Brown lives.  Politicians like Guliani get on Fox news and say stuff like ‘Black on Black violence and killings happen everyday and Blacks don’t march about that, but as soon as a white officer shoots a fleeing criminal, everybody is up in Arms.‘   I guess he doesn’t know about “stop the violence” groups like “SNUG” and “Cease Fire” or “S.O.S.” (Save Our Streets); grassroots organizations that stay marching and standing in between warring street gangs while bullets are flying past them.  It’s people like him that believe the propaganda hype of racist stereotypes that are being pumped into the psyches of White Americans that say Blacks are innately criminal and that they deserve what they get.  We seen it with the murders of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown; the news media didn’t waste a second to demonize and criminalize those young black boys who never did anything more criminal than what young white boys have done.

In the face of all that propaganda it’s no wonder a white majority Grand Jury won’t indict white cops or prison guards for the senseless taking of black lives in or outside of prison.  I don’t want to paint an entire ethnicity of People with a broad brush.  There are a lot of whites who are empathic to the struggle and plight of people of color.  I want to salute the Black fist of Solidarity to all the white brothers and sisters who have joined in the Black Lives Matter movement.  They are the John Browns and Newton Knights of this century.  It’s time the confederate flags flying over government buildings in the South are replaced by statues of those two Southern White heroes of the Civil War. (Look them up and you’ll understand why they haven’t been.)

In closing I just want you to know that all of this racist madness we’re witnessing should be a rude awakening for those who believed we’re living in a Post Racial Utopian America.  And what we are witnessing in society is even worse within America’s Prison System.  Dostoyevsky said: “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons”.  In other words, what you all are seeing out there is a reflection of what’s been happening in here (prison).  We are ONE!  Real Talk!  Wake up!  Wise up! Support the Cause, Join in, to win.



9.  Preparing to VOTE
Voter registration is the key to ensuring that all Americans can engage in our political process.  
www.VOTE411.org  (a project of the League of Women Voters) makes it easy to register to vote or update your voter registration, for example if you’ve moved or changed your name! 
Voting brings us together – it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, young or old; it is the one time when we are all equal. These elections are about our jobs, our health, our communities, our security and our future. They’re about us and we all need to weigh in. Together, through our votes, we can take control of this election.


10.  No one is exempt, says Pope Francis

All of us were aware that Pope Francis visited a medium security prison while in the USA.  Visiting prisons is not unusual for him.  Using the concept of sin instead of crime, Pope Francis preaches that no one is exempt from it. “Listen carefully to this: Each of us is capable of doing the same thing that that man or that woman in prison did,” Francis said in 2014. “All of us have the capacity to sin and to do the same, to make mistakes in life. They are no worse than you and me!”
Prison Action Network was founded on that belief




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Building Bridges is Prison Action Network’s way to communicate with our members.
Please contact us by one of the methods below if you’d like to join us.