Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

October 2016 Prison Action Network Building Bridges · Post


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

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During the month we post late breaking news and announcements here, so please check back now and then.  Scroll down now to go directly to the July/August newsletter.

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Late breaking news:
A Sullivan County Court judge has been placed on restricted status amid an investigation of whether the judge intentionally ran over his older brother with an all-terrain vehicle.


Peter Labuda, 70, is accusing his brother Judge Frank LaBuda, 66, of breaking his leg and his rib by intentionally knocking him over with an ATV on Sept. 25 on property Peter Labuda owns.  Full story at www.NYLJ.com


Building Bridges, October 2016

Dear Reader,  
A very difficult Presidential election is coming up.  Many people are so disgusted with both major party candidates, and convinced the third party candidate could never win, that they have decided not to vote at all.  Please don’t throw your vote away!  Give it to your incarcerated family member or friend!  No one in prison can vote, nor can anyone who is still on parole without a certificate of relief from disabilities.  Many of them want very much to have a say in who governs us.  Why not give them the power of your vote!  Instead of throwing it away, simply vote for their choice, no matter what you think about it. 
 
Trying to make something good out of what is not good! Your Editor 


Table of Contents:

  1. If you want to do more than vote, here is a list of  efforts you can join to canvass for candidates in important NY legislative races.
  2. Parole News:  August releases, comments from parole applicants about how hard it is to keep hope alive after being denied parole based on the one thing that can’t be changed.
  3. The SAFE and Fair Evaluations Parole Act has been revitalized by the attention given to John MacKenzie and if you are interested in saving others who are in similar situations as John MacKenzie was, please contact us at parolereform@gmail.com  for time, date, and place of the Parole Justice -NY face to face NYC meeting being planned as we go to press.
  4. NetWORKS reports on the new rules and regulations proposed by the Parole Board.  There is still time to send in your comments.  (See article 3 for address)
  5. Legislation News:  Danny O’Donnell was still introducing good bills when we thought there were no more.
  6. The high court has said most kids shouldn't be sentenced to life without parole, but some prisoners' fates are in the hands of politics.
  7. Married to a sex offender:  “I thought, There’s no way you can go to jail for this. I mean, you guys were two stupid young kids. You’re not a monster. You’re not the crazy man in the park, the lurker. And I just thought that it would go away.  It never went away.”
  8. Auburn NY, an upstate prison city, can learn what's happening behind those tall walls in the middle of town, when the Auburn Public Theater screens (this week) “Incarcerating US” a feature-length documentary that exposes America’s prison problem.
  9. Online video of Samuel Hamilton and Lorenzo Brooks, who work to put compassion and wisdom into creating better solutions for our social problems, discussing their reentry.
  10. Every September Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. remembers what happened at nearby Attica prison in Septmber 1971.  This year, we remembered Attica with a previously screened film (2011), “Against the Wall,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Clarence Williams III.
  11. Paul Wright, co-founder of Prison Legal News, was featured in an article in the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal.  He's been fighting to be allowed in to prison since founding the news magazine from inside of prison.  Sometimes he's received settlements large enough to expand his efforts.

1.  For those who think their vote is important, here are some activities you may want to join:

Upcoming Activities for NY Candidates: Some of our allies are leading efforts to canvass for candidates for important NY legislative races.
October 1: Canvassing on the ground (going door to door) for Terry Gipson and Sara Niccoli with Beacon Prison Action in the Hudson Valley. Contact info@beaconprisonaction.org if you are interested in participating. Both of these candidates have told Beacon Prison Action that they will support the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, as well as the SAFE Parole Act and Raise the Age.

October 16: Canvassing on the ground for Adam Haber in Nassau County; likely around 12 pm – contact Angelo Pinto if you are interested in participating: apinto@correctionalassociation.org

Phone banking for Adam Haber in NYC. Date/time/location tbd. If you are interested, please contact: jchausow@gmail.com and spaltrowitz@hotmail.com.

Oct 13: Meet the Candidates forum, 7 pm, at Elmont Public Library, 700 Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont, NY (meeting room 2. Includes candidates: Adam Haber, Todd Kaminsky, Michaelle Solages, Elaine Phillips, Chris McGrath, Seth Hirsh, and Robert G. Bogle.



2.  Parole News - August 2016 Release Rates
PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001  
unofficial research from parole database
August 2016 - Interview Summaries
Type
Total 
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rates
Initials 
22
4
18
18%
31%
Reappearances
83
23
60
28%
31%
Total 
105
27
78
26%
31%
4 de novo denied; 3 de novo released

August 2016 - Initial Releases
Facility
Age at hearing
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Cayuga
42
21
18-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
36
18
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
41
19
23-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
42
20
20-Life
Mrd 2
1


August 2016 - Reappearance Releases

Facility
Age @ hearing
Age @ commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Cayuga
51
27
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Clinton
55
29
20-Life
Mrd 2
4
Collins
59
31
20-Life
Mrd 2
3
Fishkill
47
23
23-Life
Mrd 2
9
Fishkill
52
28
20-Life
Mrd 2
5
Fishkill
52
28
20-Life
Mrd 2
5
Fishkill
61
34
20-Life
Mrd 2
2
Five points
62
34
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Green haven
45
21
26-Life
Mrd 2
8
Groveland
53
29
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Livingston
59
32
20-Life
Mrd 2
3
Orleans
52
28
24-Life
Mrd 2
3
Otisville
46
22
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Otisville
50
24
27-Life
Mrd 2
3
Otisville
55
29
15-Life
Mrd 2
6
Otisville
60
33
22-Life
Mrd 2
2
Otisville
61
34
15-Life
Mrd 2
4
Riverview
48
24
25-Life
Mrd 2
6
Southport
66
38
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Sullivan
47
23
25-Life
Mrd 2
5
Ulster
44
21
17-Life
Mrd 2
4
Woodbourne
60
32
21-Life
Mrd 2
3
Woodbourne
64
37
18-Life
Mrd 2
3


August 2016 - Over 60 Age Summary
Age Range
Total seen
# Released
# Denied 
August Release Rate
Year to Date Release Rate 
60-69
27
7
20
26%
27%
70-79
8
0
8
0%
24%
80+
2
0
2
0%
38%
Total
37
7
30
19%
27%

One age unknown

August 2016 - Summary of ALL Parole Releases (not just A1VOs) - unofficial research from Parole database
Type of Release
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rate
Initials
487
128
359
26%
23%
All other decisions
421
140
281
33%
30%
Total Seen
908
268
640
30%
26%
Includes Merit Time Cases


Tales of hope: for release, for justice, for change...
I was sentenced to 25-Life and my first parole board hearing was in 2012; my third was in 2016.  I was denied 3 times.
After the decisions, in the next month and even for the next year,  I felt distraught.  My dreams and hopes were shattered not into a thousand pieces, but into a million.  I’ve been contemplating not appearing before my 4th parole.

People say hang onto hope, but hope is painful when the yearning and the wanting so bad for freedom is not guaranteed.
Hope is to convince yourself that this is the one and then BANG!, the door to your dreams is slammed once again.  
How do I feel?  Numb.   ~R.R. at Otisville

[From the Editor:  We consider it torture to be locked up for an unknown amount of time.  No one can thrive on regular two year cycles of hope followed by disappointment.  That’s cruel and goes against the purpose of incarceration: “to insure the public safety by preventing the commission of offenses through the deterrent influence of the sentences authorized, the rehabilitation of those convicted and their confinement when required in the interest of public protection." (Penal Law 1.05(6).  Yet many of our readers - parole applicants and their families and advocates - live on a two year emotional roller coaster ride for years on end.  It’s hard to maintain hope under those circumstances. We can relate to R.R.’s words.  

Nevertheless we want to suggest that anyone considering missing their next parole hearing might want to think some more about it.  Some people - almost a third of the A1VOs who show up - are released in any one month.  You could be one of them.  There’s no way to know what motivates the Board to make the decisions they make.  They seem purely arbitrary.  But that means you have as good a chance as anyone else.  It’s like a throw of the dice.  You could be the one who’s number comes up!  Try different approaches, experiment.  What do you have to lose?  If you don’t show up you definitely won’t be released.  If you’re in the room, you might be released.  That’s 100% more of a chance than not showing.   May your next hearing be your last one!]

A letter from another of John MacKenzie’s many close friends:
It is with a heavy heart and a mind in turmoil that I put pen to paper herein.  I write in reference to the death of my dear friend, John MacKenzie, (R.I.P.) whom I have known since his entry into the system 40 years ago.  To continue to shower John with kudos and accolades would be a simple chore to accomplish, for surely few men have achieved and contributed as much in these taxpayer friendly warehouses of monotony and despair, as did that very humble man.  However, where it would be an honor to sing his praise, it would also be contrary to the personality of the man himself.  
Rather, I simply ask that we honor his life and passing by exposing the “Cause and Effect” principles that led to John’s ultimate sacrifice.
The cause may be attributed to the parole board’s failure to act independently in the face of PBA pressure and power, along with fear of unfavorable media newsprint.  Compound that with the parole board’s unbridled discretion wielded by parole commissioners wedded to Law Enforcement, the PBA mantra of “No parole for cop killers” is a forgone conclusion.
The effect of the parole board’s attitude and decision to placate the PBA with yet another parole denial, ignoring completely the 40 year record of achievement, contribution, and redemption, saw a man of character and resolve make a decision of his own, a decision to end the “game of parole” on his terms.  Yes, it was a tragic decision but when “Hope” is relegated to just a woman’s name and a town in Arkansas, John felt it was time to call an end to the parole board/PBA folly and hopefully by his death bring change to a broken and biased system. 
I pray John did not die in vain, and his memory lingers long.  ~J.R. at Fishkill



3.  The Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act
John MacKenzie did not die in vain!  Already we see signs of change.  His death has revitalized determination to pass the SAFE Parole Act which would require the parole board to tell a parole applicant they’ve denied what she/he must do in order to convince the Board it’s safe to release them.  Although there now are other Parole Board reform bills, no other existing bill stipulates that.

If you are one of the new voices who were shocked by John MacKenzie’s story to learn what happens behind prison walls, we invite you to join Parole Justice - NY, which is in the process (as we write) of choosing a date for a face-to-face meeting in NYC.  

Parole Justice -NY is a collaboration of organizations and individuals from around the State so most of our meetings are monthly phone calls.  At least 3 times a year we hold face to face meetings.  Our goal is to end Parole Board abuse and we discuss many strategies, including a strong focus on passing the SAFE Parole Act.  If you’re interested in saving others who are in similar situations as John MacKenzie was, please contact us at parolereform@gmail.com  for time, date, and place of our Fall meeting in NYC.

One of the most surprising and encouraging changes we’ve seen is the release of proposed rules and regulations newly submitted to the State Dept. by the Parole Board.  [Notice the proposal was written by different council - Kathleen M. Kiley - than the last one was,]  While the proposal does not take us as far as we would like, it could provide more opportunities for successful appeals.  As Tina Stanford said at their meeting to vote on the proposal, the commissioners will not have to change the way they make their decisions, they just have to educate the public better to understand why the Board makes the decisions they make.  That’s what judges and the public have been asking for all along. 

Noteworthy is new language: in § 8002.3, they propose that if the Board decides to deny release to Community Supervision, the Board shall provide individualized factual reasons stated in detail as to why ..... It also says -in § 8002.2(c) - that regarding individuals serving a maximum life sentence for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18, there are additional factors that the Board must consider.  Text of the proposed rule and any required statements and analyses may be obtained from: Kathleen M. Kiley, Counsel to the Board of Parole, Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, 1220 Washington Avenue, Building 2, Albany, New York 12226, (518) 473-5671, email: Rules@Doccs.ny.gov

Public comment, data, views or arguments may be submitted to the above address. It will be received until 45 days after publication of this notice (Sept. 28, 2016).  Data, views or arguments may be submitted to the same address as above.
We see this as evidence that our persistent call for passage of the SAFE Parole Act and litigation by John MacKenzie, Dempsy Hawkins and others, has had an impact on Albany.  Certainly that has been our intent.  We believe in second chances, not only for people with long sentences and low risk assessments, but also for the Commissioners making life or death decisions.  We only wish the regulations took it further and added an assurance of release after the parole applicant’s compliance with their stipulations.  We will keep on advocating for that.  Won’t you join us?



4.  NetWORKS: The monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
Are We Finally Cracking the Brick Wall of Parole Injustice? Yes and No.
The good news about parole reform is that the Parole Board is issuing revised regulations, the chair of the Assembly Corrections Committee has introduced a new bill, public officials are calling for change, and John MacKenzie’s suicide after his 10th parole denial captured the attention of media and stirred the energy of activists. The bad news is that all these developments have so far trickled down barely, if at all, to incarcerated people who have done long time for serious crimes and who are ready to return to their families and communities.  
The main changes introduced in the new proposed parole regulations are: (1) adds to the parole interview a requirement to discuss each applicable factor with the applicant; (2) adds that in making the parole release determination the Board "shall be guided by" the COMPAS risk and needs score, and if a denial departs from the COMPAS score, shall give reasons for the departure in its decision; (3) adds the Transitional Accountability Plan to the factors to be considered; (4) adds additional factors for applicants serving life for a crime committed before the age of 18; (5) adds that a denial decision shall, in factually individualized and non-conclusory terms, address how the applicable factors were considered in the individual's case.
These changes, and the tone of an August Parole Board meeting watched online by many activists, indicate that the Board has noticed that there is public, media, legislative, and judicial outrage at their conduct. The fact that the Board sees the need to draft new regulations at all indicates that they are feeling pressure, and for that our movement can take some credit. The regulations echo language by legislators about risk and needs assessments, and the Parole Board meeting indicated concern about public and media opinion and about adverse court decisions -- hurray for us! There was even a mention of John MacKenzie. 
The proposed changes now enter a 45-day public comment period. In 2014, during the comment period for the last set of changes, community members and justice organizations wrote hundreds of scathing comments criticizing the way the Board operates, especially the many cruel denials for community-ready long-termers who have served their time and are the lowest possible risk for recidivism.  The Parole Board totally ignored all the comments and passed the regulations exactly as they had drafted them. Now we have another chance, and indications are that the Parole Board is aware of widespread anger at their conduct. Will they pay more attention this time? 
A clue to the answer might be in the video of the Parole Board’s August business meeting, in which the commissioners discussed and voted to recommend the proposed regulations.  Some advocates felt that the Chair of the Parole Board was trying to encourage reluctant Board members to change their ways. This reporter felt that instead the Board was trying to create an appearance of accountability and compliance without changing what really matters – the outcomes for parole applicants.
Although the regulations reference a change in how the Board makes its determinations, the meeting focused entirely on how (or whether) they will write their decisions differently in order to better justify the exact same determinations. The Board's Counsel said explicitly, early on in the meeting, that this change in regulations changes nothing about the way they make decisions, only about the way they write them up. The Chair said many times that the commissioners just have to educate the public better to understand why the Board makes the decisions they make. The Chair spelled out how they can keep making the same decisions in the face of these explicit changes in regulations: “COMPAS isn't the only way to assess risk and needs; we use many other sources to make our determination, we find risk and need in all of the record before us, including all of the other relevant factors.”  One commissioner stated that the circumstances of the original crime constitute a risk factor for recidivism (a belief that is contradicted by current research). The Chair reassured the other commissioners throughout the meeting that they do not have to do anything different, they just have to explain it differently. In other words, their interpretation is that re-sentencing based on the original crime is a legitimate way of being guided by risk and needs principles -- and they intend to sell that interpretation to their critics. 
I don’t think we the critics are going to buy it. 
Although the new regulations appear to be better than the old ones, they will not bring about the changes urgently needed if the Parole Board can use them to bend law and justice to their own punitive ends. The parole reform bill introduced last spring by Assembly members O’Donnell and Aubry (A. 9960) insists on the use of risk and needs principles in making parole determinations – but the Board is already preparing to put their own spin on the concept of “risk and needs.” As parole justice activists, we may want to support the O’Donnell-Aubry bill and also continue to press for the SAFE Parole Act, which would require the Board to state how a parole applicant could satisfy the requirements for release, and then release the applicant when the requirements are met. In addition to promoting SAFE, this is a good time to bring a whole range of new and old strategies and tactics into play: litigation, legislation, education, mobilization, and more.
At this very potent and fluid juncture in our battle for parole justice, activists and advocates on both sides of the bars are evaluating the current situation, strategizing about a response to the proposed regulations, and continuing to press on multiple fronts for an end to parole injustice as a step toward ending mass incarceration.


5.  Legislation Report:  Danny O’Donnell left Albany for the Summer with a flurry of good bill proposals!  ....It took us a while to learn about them.

Bill Number
Sponsor/s
Purpose
A.2119
no same as
O’Donnell
Amends 259-i, 259-r, 259-s of Executive Law and 273 of Correction Law to remove phrase “and will not so deprecate the seriousness of the offense as to undermine respect for the law”
A.2290
no same as
O’Donnell
 The Board of Parole shall give due deference to the type of sentence, length of sentence and recommendations of the sentencing court when considering the seriousness of the offense as a factor in making parole release decisions and due consideration to the recommendations of the district attorney, the attorney for  the inmate, the pre-sentence probation report as well as consideration of any mitigating and aggravating factors, and activities following arrest prior to confinement. 
A.2463
no same as
O’Donnell
Allows a parole applicant who is denied, to appeal directly to the Supreme Court via an Article 78, without going through the internal appeals process. Inmate is entitled to assigned counsel for the Article 78 appeal. Board is required to make a full transcript of the hearing within 30 days, to record the hearing and to provide all hearing materials to the reviewing court. The court can uphold, require de novo, or release.
A.2943/S.356
Passed Assembly
Died in Senate
Sepulveda
Directs the Board of Parole to add to their annual report the demographic data of persons considered for release.
A.7634/ S.2023-A   
O’Donnell/Hassell-Thompson
Restores voting rights to parolees, to facilitate community reintegration and participation in the civic process, rather than
requiring a parolee to wait until he or she has been discharged from
parole or reached the maximum expiration date of the sentence.




6.  When Parole Boards Trump the Supreme Court 
The high court has said most kids shouldn't be sentenced to life without parole, but some prisoners' fates are in the hands of politics.
By Beth Schwartzapfel
Excerpts from the article published by the Marshall Project:
Almost everyone serving life in prison for crimes they committed as juveniles deserves a shot at going home. That’s the thrust of a series of Supreme Court rulings, the fourth and most recent of which was decided this year. Taken together, the high court’s message in these cases is that children are different than adults when it comes to crime and punishment — less culpable for their actions and more amenable to change. As such, court rulings have determined all but the rarest of juvenile lifers are entitled to “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”
The court left it up to states how to handle this year's new ruling but suggested parole boards were a good choice.  Prisoner’s rights advocates and attorneys have begun to argue whether parole boards, as they usually operate, may not be capable of providing a meaningful opportunity for release. A handful of courts have agreed.
Last month, a New York state appeals court judge ruled that the state’s parole board had not “met its constitutional obligation” when it denied parole to a man who had killed his girlfriend when he was 16. Dempsey Hawkins is now 54 and has been denied parole nine times in hearings that, the court said, did not adequately weigh what role his youth and immaturity had played in his crime.
One common basis for parole denial is the seriousness of the crime. This may be an allowable metric for adult offenders, these lawsuits argue, but in light of the Supreme Court’s rulings, juvenile lifers must be judged by a different standard.
“An unrepresented, indigent juvenile homicide offender will likely lack the skills and resources to gather, analyze, and present [his case in court] adequately,” the court wrote.
In New York, attorneys for Mr. Hawkins are lobbying the governor to widen the scope of the court’s ruling in his case and put protections in place for all juvenile lifers facing the state’s parole board.
Even with special protections, lawyers and advocates say, whether juvenile lifers get parole is still largely dependent on the political atmosphere and whims of the board members.


7.  I Married a Sex Offender
Life, restricted.
By Gretchen, as told to Beth Schwartzapfel, writer for the Marshall Project  (published in collaboration with Vice.)

Condensed version by Building Bridges:
In 2001, about six months before Gretchen met her husband, David, he was charged with sexual assault. After a night of drinking, police found him and a friend drunk and half-dressed on the side of the road; she was passed out, and he fled when the cops arrived. Gretchen (names have been changed) says that initially, David thought he would be getting a DUI.  In fact, he was ultimately charged with [a sex crime ].
David did three years in a California prison, three more on parole, and will spend the rest of his life on the sex-offender registry. Fourteen years after the incident, almost every aspect of the couple’s life together has been shaped by that night, from where they can live to whether to start a family.
Gretchen is particularly worried about the passage of a new law that will make it difficult for registered sex offenders to travel internationally.  

From Gretchen:  
A couple months into our relationship, he told me what had happened. I was 18 at the time. He was 22. I was very young, and obviously in a little bit of shock. I thought, There’s no way you can go to jail for this. I mean, you guys were two stupid young kids. You’re not a monster. You’re not the crazy man in the park, the lurker. And I just thought that it would go away.  It never went away.
He didn’t go to prison for about a year and a half after we met, [and then when he did], I was finishing my college degree. He still says ... that prison was the easiest part. We’re so fearful every time we drive up to our house: Are the neighbors going to be picketing out front? Every time the doorbell rings, my heart drops. You live in this constant state of fear.  We’re fearful ...that somebody might see the police show up at our door every single year and start to get suspicious about what is going on in our house.
They said he can’t live within 2,000 feet from a school. We had just bought a home, and lived about 2,020 feet away from a school. Thank God we didn’t have to move.
We really wanted to be parents. But the more the laws kept changing, and the more we saw how people on the registry were treated...we just thought it’s not the responsible thing to do, to bring a child in the midst of this. To have to explain to them, “Your dad can’t pick you up from school, you can’t have friends over.”
We went and bought a large map and placed it in my office and just said, You know what? We have four young nieces that all live within about ten miles of us. Our very close friends with kids, they are always spending time at our home. We’re going to be the best aunt and uncle we can be and we’re just going to go travel the world. We started traveling everywhere we could. We’ve gone to the Caribbean, we’ve gone to Europe. We have a trip planned right now to Greece in August.
This new law [about travel] finally put us both over the edge.  There’s been times where they’ve looked through all his stuff, torn everything apart, asked if he has computers, asked where he’s been, asked who he’s been with. To be harassed every time you come home, it’s a little uneasy.  Now with what’s coming, we kind of just feel like our backs are against the wall. Do we pick everything up and leave? We just don’t know if that’s the right thing to do. We have very close ties to our family here. I’m a business owner. We’re financially pretty successful here. We just thought: Either we’ll stay in California and just stick this out and hope maybe one day the laws will change. Or we’ll leave the country altogether and be done with it. 
It’s just a never-ending punishment.

Beth Schwartzapfel is a staff writer. Her long-form reporting on the criminal justice system has appeared in Mother Jones, The American Prospect, and the Boston Review. She won the June 2014 Sidney Award, the 2016 James Aronson Award, and the 2016 John Jay College/H.F. Guggenheim Prize for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting, for which she was also runner up in 2014 and 2015.



8.  Auburn NY, an upstate prison city, is learning about what's happening behind those tall walls in the middle of town.
The Auburn Public Theater is screening “Incarcerating US” a feature-length documentary that exposes America’s prison problem and explores ways to unshackle the Land of the Free through vital criminal justice reforms. With 2.3 million people behind bars, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the history of the world.

If you live near there, you may want to get on their mailing list to see when the next relevant event is scheduled:


9.  Two minute video features Samuel Hamilton and Lorenzo Brooks
 TakePart.com is a digital news and lifestyle magazine from Participant Media, the company behind such acclaimed documentaries as CITIZENFOUR, An Inconvenient Truth and Food, Inc. and feature films including Lincoln and Spotlight.
Recently it posted a 2 minute video of Samuel Hamilton and Lorenzo Brooks, who work to put compassion and wisdom into creating better solutions for our social problems.  Under the heading, “The Letter ‘V”, Samuel Hamilton, who served 32 years in prison, and Lorenzo Brooks, who served 30 years, describe the barriers created by being classified as Violent felons.         http://tak.pt/i/jd__aNye


10.  Attica 1971…..Never Forget…
By Karima Amin

For 11 years, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. has devoted time and space to the Attica Uprising of September 1971. At our September monthly meetings, we have featured films, live guest speakers, and panel discussions that have helped us to have a better understanding of why the revolt occurred, how it evolved from September 9 to September 13, who were the major figures involved, and what happened to make this one of the best known and most significant rebellions of the Prisoners’ Rights Movement. Though commonly referred to as a riot….this was NOT a riot. It was a demand for political rights and better living conditions.

It was a revolt against the insensitive prison administration. It was a rebellion that happened as a result of the abuse, brutality, violence and racism that prisoners experienced on a daily basis. The evil that defined Attica then, is a critical part of the Attica we know today, forty-five years later. Articles have been written, voices have been raised, and petitions have been signed about closing a place that is “infamous for bloodshed.” 

In 1971, the prisoners issued a “manifesto of 27 demands” which included a call for legal representation at parole hearings, improved medical care, adequate conditions for visiting family members, and an end to racial, political, and religious persecution. There were demands for better food, an end to overcrowding, opportunities for education and vocational training, and a policy giving working prisoners wages that conformed with state and federal minimum wage laws. Most working prisoners made less than fifty cents an hour. Prisoners were allowed only one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper each month. The New York state correction commissioner, Russell Oswald, ignored this “manifesto.” The prisoners, mostly Black and Latino also demanded that the prison’s warden, Vincent Mancusi, be fired and that all participants in the uprising receive full amnesty. Outside observers, requested by the prisoners, had minimal input but they were there to mediate and negotiate. Buffalo’s Arthur O. Eve, who was then the Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly, was a well-known voice for the prisoners. He was the first official to enter this maximum security facility to hear the demands of the prisoners. At a PRP2 meeting in September 2012, Mr. Eve (now in his 80s) said that it’s hard for him to talk about Attica but he understands the importance of the history and he urged us to never stop fighting for justice.  
Negotiations came to a halt when the prisoners took 39 prison guards and employees as hostages.  Gov. Rockefeller refused to meet with the prisoners, following President Nixon’s directions. Oswald, Mancusi, and Rockefeller stood together when the governor ordered the State Troopers and National Guardsmen to retake the prison. In the massacre that followed, 43 hostages and prisoners were killed.

Recently, a new book about Attica was published by Pantheon Books, BLOOD IN THE WATER: THE ATTICA PRISON UPRISING OF 1971 AND ITS LEGACY by Dr. Heather Ann Thompson.  A major part of her research was done right here in Buffalo at Erie County Hall, after discovering some long-forgotten documents related to the trials of the Attica Brothers. I have invited Dr. Thompson to come back to Buffalo next September when we remember Attica and say, “ATTICA IS ALL OF US.”  

This month, we remembered Attica with a previously screened film (2011), “Against the Wall,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Clarence Williams III  More info: Karima, karimatells@yahoo.com, 716-834-8438 or BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com,  716-491-5319.


11.  Paul Wright:  Ex-con fights for prisoner rights and battles censorship
Oct 21, 2016 - David L. Hudson Jr., American Bar Association Journal
Paul Wright has been fighting to get Prison Legal News into America’s prisons and jails for more than 25 years.
Part journalist, part prisoner-rights advocate, part First Amendment crusader, Wright says his monthly publication doesn’t get a warm welcome from corrections officials whose institutions and practices are often criticized in its pages.
The newsletter, Wright says, “is frequently censored by prison or jail officials around the country who are hostile to an independent media that focus on prison and jail issues.”
“One indicator of Prison Legal News’ success is the extent of attempts to ban it by prisons and jails throughout the country,” says Seattle attorney Mickey Gendler, who has represented PLN.
That success was hard-won by a man who’s highly motivated to publicize what he sees as the inequities and indignities of prison life. He should know. He was once on the inside. While in prison in Monroe, Washington, Wright saw that inmates lacked a constructive outlet to voice their concerns. They had no resources to learn about legal rights, nor ways to advocate for change within the system. He felt that traditional media were either unable or unwilling to report on prisoner rights issues and was compelled to do something himself.  “The press often reflects the public’s lack of interest in knowing anything at all about prison affairs because the public just wants to wash their hands of what happens in prison.”
The name Prison Legal News, or its acronym, is instantly recognized among those in the prisoner-rights movement.
PLN is an indispensable part of the prisoner-rights movement,” says David C. Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “PLN has done more for the First Amendment rights of prisoners and their correspondents than anyone else.”
Prison Legal News not only publishes prison-related news but also has a role in litigating prison censorship and public records cases across the country. “Their success rate is close to 100 percent” Fathi says. “They have been described as a litigation juggernaut. If anything, that is an understatement.”
To do all that legal work, PLN has developed a litigation network headed by Human Rights Defense Center General Counsel Lance Weber, who practiced criminal defense in Kansas City, Missouri, for the first decade of his career. “We have established a moderate-sized network of lawyers across the country with whom we have teamed up over the years,” he says.  Some are high-profile, including former U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement and Michael McGinley of Bancroft in Washington, D.C., who head the PLN appellate team in the Florida case.
Wright and his team have fought prison and jail officials in more than 30 states that tried to ban Prison Legal News. Many times, a correctional institution will simply confiscate the newsletter and not deliver it to inmate subscribers.
When that happens, the HRDC springs into action. The organization has obtained consent decrees in 10 states that prevent prison officials from failing to deliver the newsletter to inmate subscribers.
Litigating can be costly, but PLN has benefited through some of its victories. Prevailing parties in civil rights cases can recover attorney fees, and PLN and its attorneys have won some large attorney-fee awards. One filed in federal court in Oregon led to an attorney-fee award of more than $800,000.
The work that Wright and his colleagues have done through Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center is highly valued among prisoner-rights advocates.
“We are committed to freedom of speech,” Wright says. “We are the only publisher that routinely challenges censorship in the prisons. We are driving this whole area of law.”
“What Paul and Prison Legal News are doing is not only for the benefit of prisoners; it also is for the benefit of society,” journalist Sussman says. “The legacy and great achievement of Paul Wright is that he has linked together the legal aspects, the human aspects, the civil rights aspects, and the information aspects, which affect not just prisoners but the public in general.” 

[This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Fighting for prisoner rights and battling censorship: An ex-con turns his frustration with corporate media into a ‘litigation juggernaut.’”




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