Major Legal Victory for Incarcerated Fathers

ACP victory_Steve Czifra

Steven Czifra with his son. Steven graduated from UC Berkeley this past May and is now the director of the Underground Scholars Initiative for formerly incarcerated students at Cal. He is a survivor of Pelican Bay Prison SHU.

By Jesse Stout

Yesterday, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) helped win a major victory for family reunification in California. The judge’s order in Sassman v. Brown allows some male prisoners to go home to care for their families through the Alternative Custody Program (ACP).

“This case is vital: we receive numerous letters from fathers parenting children at time of arrest,” says LSPC Executive Director Dorsey Nunn. “In my 25 years of doing this work, I’ve learned there are many fathers in prison who love their children. If they really want males to be participatory parents, they should make available every opportunity for us to do that.”

The Legislature created ACP in 2010 to allow incarcerated parents to finish their sentences outside prison, on electronic monitoring with their children. In 2012 legislators amended ACP to allow only women to apply.

In July 2014, LSPC and co-counsel firm Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld filed Sassman v. Brown in federal court, challenging ACP’s exclusion of male prisoners on the grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. William Sassman is a male state prisoner who meets the ACP’s requirements except for his gender, and wants to finish his sentence at home to care for his young children.

In October 2014 Chief Judge Morrison England of the Eastern District of California denied our preliminary injunction, but wrote that the “primary objectives of the ACP are family reunification and community reintegration,” and invited us to file our motion for summary judgment on an expedited basis so he could reach the case’s merits.

On September 9, 2015, Judge England granted our motion and ordered CDCR to “immediately cease denying admission to the ACP on the basis that the applicant is male.”

The court order to expand the ACP stated that, “The State cannot use gender as a basis to grant or deny its citizens their freedom.” Judge England went on to say that if the court accepted CDCR’s argument, it would have to “categorically view male defendants as dangerous and aggressive, with no real regard for their families, punishing them for their perceived inferiority with respect to the potential for rehabilitation and family reunification.”

The Sacramento Bee published articles when the case was filed and when the judge ruled.

Obama won’t reform prisons by focusing only on those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/judicial/249549-obama-wont-reform-prisons-by-focusing-only-on-those-convicted-of

Dorsey Nunn_close-up with plantThis week, formerly incarcerated people and their families will march to the White House to push the president to sign a federal order that gives people who have served their time in prison a fair chance at employment when they get out.

The rally follows a week of firsts. President Obama became the first commander in chief to visit a federal prison. He spoke passionately in support of a national campaign to “Ban the Box” on job applications so the formerly incarcerated can find work. He questioned the overuse of solitary confinement in America’s prisons. He commuted the sentences of 46 people convicted of drug crimes in the most extensive use of his executive powers to help address the unfair sentences of those convicted of nonviolent offenses.

The president’s views are evolving when it comes to the rights that should be extended to the formerly incarcerated. But he has farther to go.

He has focused only on the rights of those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, maintaining that the reason our prison population is so high is because more people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses are serving longer sentences.

That is political expediency.

If the president wants to solve this crisis, he has to address the rights of all incarcerated Americans.

About half of the 200,000 people in federal prison have been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. But state prisons hold the majority of incarcerated people, about 1.3 million, and only 16 percent have been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, according to federal statistics.

Meanwhile, a small army – more than 650,000 people – is released every year from prison, tens of thousands of whom have been convicted of violent crimes. About two-thirds of those released are doomed to failure, ending back in the prison system.

We’ve wasted enough money – $80 billion a year – on short-sighted solutions to crime that are rooted in a thirst for revenge and only leads to the meaningless repetition of an action that expects a different result each time – the imprisonment of millions.

It’s time for a new vision for the formerly incarcerated that is based on forgiveness and can shatter the misconception that relentless punishment, even after these men and women served their time, actually works.

I know the reality of life in prison. I know the reality of life coming out of prison. These are the realities that bind me, like the shackles I once wore. I know the struggle to find a job, to reconnect with loved ones, to succeed when the system is set up for us to fail.

I’ve spoken to many a friend who couldn’t stay out of the clutches of the criminal justice system because he couldn’t find work or opportunities to make ends meet on the outside. Over and over, these friends told me that crime was not a first choice but a last option that stood between them and hunger, homelessness and despair. These friends made me acutely aware of the role that structural discrimination played in their failure.

Their failure is society’s failure. We have made no commitment to rehabilitate the formerly incarcerated or invest in jobs and opportunities in the distressed communities where they are destined to live upon their release.

In recent years, formerly incarcerated leaders, such as myself, have pushed the Obama administration for employment rights for those released from prison. We have pursued an executive order to Ban the Box for federal contractors. Current policy demands immediate disclosure of conviction history, which keeps jobs out of reach for millions of formerly incarcerated people. Banning the box would delay the question until an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment, making the hiring process fairer.

We have won Ban the Box measures in more than 100 counties and cities in 18 states and in corporations, such as Koch Industries, Wal-Mart and Target. Our effort enjoys bi-partisan support, but more importantly, it has created a movement of formerly incarcerated people who demand to be heard.

It would be a reach to think that one speech, visit or executive action will erase decades of oppression that targets people of color, especially black men, for prison at higher rates than other groups. Or that the president’s actions will erase stereotypes of incarcerated people or change notions of crime and punishment.

But our movement for the dignity and respect of incarcerated people is at a turning point.

The president should sign an order banning the box for contractors. But to do that, he has to see the waste of human potential. He has to see the people occupying prison cells as assets, not liabilities.

That’s why we march this week. So he sees us as human beings.

Nunn is the executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. He is also a co-founder of All of Us or None, which initiated the national Ban the Box campaign.

LSPC Staff Perspectives on the Charleston Massacre

At a recent LSPC staff meeting, we found that we were so shaken up by the racist terrorism in South Carolina that we were unable to continue with the meeting as planned, and devoted most of the meeting to a deeper conversation about it. The perspectives here by five staff members come out of that larger, very impassioned and honest, discussion amongst all of us. Our hearts go out to all those in Charleston and elsewhere grieving this tragic loss.

DORSEY NUNN
The murder of nine people in Charleston is part of a larger picture – it is an act Dorsey-Nunn_close-up-with-plant 2that could take multiple generations to heal. Last night I was watching this on the news with my granddaughter. She knows me and how I react. When the story first broke, all we heard was that it happened in an AME church, so I immediately knew it was Black folks and that it was probably a white person who did it.

There are certain defining moments when people remember where they were when they heard about it, like the assassination of MLK or JFK or, going back further, the bombing of the Birmingham church or the murder of Medgar Evers. This could be one of those moments for my son, my grandchildren, and my great grandchild.

Dylann Storm Roof said that he was trying to take back his country. But how fringe was he really? Some of those same kinds of statements are being made in the public domain by theoretically respectable politicians. On a real level, if racism could be so openly practiced towards the president, the highest office in the land, how long was it going to be before this kind of atrocity happened?

With this messaging as accepted practice, the people in Emanuel AME didn’t stand a chance. Moreover, if we continue to capitulate to force and fear on the part of the police and the criminal justice system, why wouldn’t racist individuals think that they too can murder with impunity? Public policy and practice gives rise to and reinforces private practice.

Nine Black people were killed yesterday in a South Carolina church. How many millions of people in this country, of all ethnicities, were injured by it?

MANUEL LA FONTAINE & ENDRIA RICHARDSON
The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Manuel_June-2014 2Although President Obama shared his “deep sorrow over the senseless murders that took place last night,” there is nothing senseless about the killings of nine people at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nothing ever happens in a vacuum.

It is easy to look at one person – in this case, 21 year old Dylan Storm Roof – as the sole perpetrator of violence. If you take a step back and attempt to look at it through a historical lens, history will reveal that the U.S. throughout its history has been an incubator of both systemic and interpersonal violence perpetrated against black people for centuries – the very church the massacre occurred in was co-founded in 1816 by Denmark Vesey, a Black freed man who was hanged for organizing enslaved Blacks in Charleston.Endria-Richardson-web-cropped

If Dylann was the perpetrator of the murders of nine people, we must acknowledge that he was not born violent. Rather, he was shaped by the environment he was – and continues to be – submerged in.

He is submerged in a culture that does not fundamentally or unconditionally accept Blackness in America. Like many other individuals, regardless of race, he is part of a culture of white supremacy in America. This is at the root of Dylann’s actions. His actions are symptomatic of an exclusionary culture.

In order to really begin the healing process as a collective body of people fundamentally against racism, we must first acknowledge that white supremacy and racism are alive and present as fundamental aspects of American culture, imbedded in our social fabric through laws and policies that allow black teenage boys and girls to be shot,detained, and assaulted; segregated schools and workplaces; and a dearth of stories told by and about black people in our movies, television shows, and books.

We must challenge the way racism, white supremacy and the devaluing of black lives show up in our work and ourselves. Along with challenging racist and deadly laws and breaking down the dominant narrative told about black and brown formerly incarcerated people as well as third world people, we can ask ourselves these simple questions:

  • How is your solidarity with Black people, in particular Blackness, reflected in your own personal life?
  • Do you have Black friends who are in touch with their Blackness over for lunch or dinner on a consistent basis?  If so, when was the last time?
  • Are you able to name five Black authors who reflect Blackness and have had an influence in your life?
  • Are you able to name five historical Black Colleges in America?

It’s not an end, and it won’t bring justice to America. But it’s a start.

BRITTANY STONESIFER
Brittany_headshotAgainst the backdrop of heightened media attention to police killings of unarmed black and brown men, many of us reacted to the tragic news from Charleston by thinking “oh no, not again.” This was my first thought.  Indeed, the most heart-wrenching aspect of this story is not that it is senseless and random, but that it is tied to an ideology of white supremacy that is unexceptional in this country. Dehumanization of people of color is, in fact, the norm. It plays out in more and less obviously violent ways, but we are nonetheless exposed to it every single day.

On days like today, the absurdity of claiming that racism is dead in America becomes inescapable. Most days, however, I see white people, whether explicitly or implicitly, struggling to support this claim. Many of us fail to see, for instance, that when we ignore or justify the inequities and abuses of the prison industrial complex, when we cling to the trope of individual accountability, we tell ourselves a lie that reinforces the dehumanization of people of color.

This is because it is psychologically impossible to uphold our system of incarceration without simultaneously fostering racist beliefs that black and brown people are somehow more deserving of punishment. If we, even unconsciously, see people of color as less innocent, as less human, it becomes easier to cage them and, sometimes, to kill them. In this way, a color-blind approach to looking at the criminal (in)justice system – and other systems of oppression in this country – is literally deadly.

Color-blindness – the tendency to claim that we live in a post-racial America – allows for the continued dehumanization of black and brown folks. It allows us to accept the status quo and to avoid the uncomfortable work it takes to remake ourselves and our country. The sad truth is that white supremacy pervades our society. It exists in the police, in “lone gunmen” in the South, and here in “progressive” California, but we owe it to future generations to stop repeating this story.

So to those of you who are thinking today “oh no, not again,” and especially to my fellow white allies, I encourage you not just to pray for the families of those lost in Charleston, but to ask yourself honestly what role color-blindness within you or those around you plays in the dehumanization of people of color.

DENISE MEWBOURNE
Denise-300x225This morning I woke up to the horrific news that nine people were shot and killed by a white gunman in a Charleston, South Carolina church. I felt a jolt go through me that literally took my breath away and brought a sick feeling to my stomach. I sat down and cried at the breakfast table with incoherent grief and rage. The question that came to me then, that still lingers, is how long will this kind of racial terrorism continue to happen? How long will we continue to put up with it?

At a Coming to the Table conference on racial healing, I learned about “social trauma” from two Black women who taught a genealogy class specifically for descendants of enslaved people and descendants of families who “owned” “slaves.” Social trauma is the understanding that, because we are all connected in a web of consciousness, when atrocities and oppression are practiced towards any group it actually hurts us all. Not in the same way, not remotely…but even those of us who are not directly impacted, if we have an open heart and a conscience, and if we do recognize the humanity of all people, can feel tremendous pain.

White supremacy and all its atrocities have been passed down through the generations, and shows no signs of weakening its death grip on this country. It is practiced on a daily basis by police, by prison guards, by courts and legislatures. It is a poison, a great blistering disease of our body politic. Today I am asking myself, as a white person who has inherited this horrifying state of affairs, including white privilege – am I doing the most I can to fight the system of white supremacy, by challenging other white folks and speaking out about it? What else can I do, starting today?

All of Us or None Statement in Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter

new logo23All Of Us Or None stands in solidarity with our Black relatives and the Black Lives Matter movement nationwide who are organizing themselves to stop state-sanctioned murders at the hands of law enforcement. History reminds us that not much has changed regarding the lives of Black people in the U.S. from slavery to the present. Per capita, more Black men are currently in cages or under some form of judicial supervision than were enslaved in 1850.

The roots of policing date back to slavery, where it was used for two primary purposes: slave-catching and protection of private property. Policing and prisons have never existed to solve social problems — indeed, quite the opposite. They exist as part of an interlocking web of laws and policies to enact a system of racialized social control that overwhelmingly target Black communities, taking Black lives with impunity and denying Black access to mainstream economy and society.

Slavery morphed into Jim Crow, and into what today we call the “criminal justice system,” with the main players being law enforcement: police officers, district attorneys and judges. The rampant use of deadly violence by police officers has rendered them judges, juries and executioners. Many police departments — in collaboration with district attorneys — influence which crimes are prosecuted, and which police murders are even counted.

There have been many recommendations on how to improve police accountability, including expanding training, installing body cameras on police, requiring police officers to carry professional liability insurance, and other superficial remedies. The problem with these proposed reforms is twofold: they simply don’t work and moreover, don’t address the underlying cause of police killings. The murders of Rodney King, Oscar Grant, and Eric Garner were all caught on tape. And what happened? Absolutely nothing to stop police killings of ordinary people of color, particularly young Black men. People from the communities of Ferguson, New York, and across the nation have taken to the streets because there has been no meaningful way to address and put an end to the murders committed by police and vigilantes.

However, due to our status as people directly impacted by the Prison Industrial Complex, formerly-incarcerated people and our families are in a very vulnerable position. Some of us have two strikes and/or have a history of directly challenging the police presence in our communities, so cannot be as present in protests, demonstrations, and other actions. Yet, there are other ways we can support the Black Lives Matter movement.

We must recognize that the only way to put an end to police brutality and killings is to organize our own communities and stop it ourselves. A movement to transform a status quo which tolerates state-sanctioned murders into a society woven together by transparent, accountable, and safe communities requires visionary leaders and organizations. We must be grounded in our respective communities, and imagine the world as it could be 30, 40, or 50 years down the road.

The world has seen over 523 years of European colonization, years that have been marked by genocide against the First Nations, and we stand with our many brothers and sisters who are still here, still resisting the theft of their lands and their cultures. Our efforts to dismantle the police state and to eradicate the destructive aspects of colonization are part of a protracted struggle, which will not be won overnight, nor in a year or two. We are building this movement for the long haul — and though they may imprison and murder us, they cannot cage and kill the power of our resistance. We know that Black power matters and is the key to achieving the collective liberation of peoples everywhere.

To heed this call, people of critical conscience and integrity, particularly self-described liberals and progressives, need to break their ties with liberalism, and reject the entities financing, supporting, and legitimizing the injustice of police brutality, mass incarceration, solitary captivity, and genocide. As Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently stated, we must “[a]lways anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal.” This means that we must withdraw our support from corporations like Walmart, Koch Industries, Caterpillar, Monsanto, and other multinationals who have been protected by law enforcement. But this also means that those of us who are critically impacted by policing in our communities must learn to become self-sustainable and not capitulate to liberalism for survival. And we must also learn to follow the tactical leadership of young people, women of color, and queer and trans people of color in communities throughout the nation who are in the forefront of the recent organizing efforts combating police terror.

You can join us in this struggle for liberation, led by our Black relatives and the Black Lives Matter movement, wherever you are and whatever your circumstances. Connect with BlackLivesMatter.com to find and join your local movement leaders and fight back.

Beaten one, who shall avenge you? You, on whom the blows are falling,

Hear your wounded brothers calling. Weakness gives us strength to lend you.

Comrade, come, we shall avenge you. Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

-Bertolt Brecht

All Of Us Or None Journey for Justice to Selma

Gallery

Almost at the end of their 2,400-mile van ride across the country, All of Us or None members stopped in Byhalia, Miss., to see a comrade, Shabaka Ji Jaga, and have a little reunion and breakfast.

Bay Area All of Us or None (AOUON) members drove across the country this past weekend to Selma, Alabama, to attend the 50th anniversary commemoration of Bloody Sunday, which included a speech by President Obama and a reenactment of the historical march. They went to speak out about voting rights for formerly incarcerated people as

Federal Pell Grant eligibility for people in county jails or juvenile hall

January 1, 2015

by Dorsey Nunn

http://sfbayview.com/2015/01/federal-pell-grant-eligibility-for-people-in-county-jails-or-juvenile-hall/

When I was in prison, I used to work out with heavy weights constantly. But when I started to understand that my best chances of survival were actually centered on education, I focused more on that instead, and it has made all the difference in the kind of life I now have. When I was released, having a student aid package was what kept me from having to go back into the underground economy in order to survive.

On Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a Correctional Education Guidance Package designed to improve the quality of education services provided to America’s estimated 60,000 incarcerated young people. The Guidance Package was released as part of a series of efforts to address interactions between youth and the criminal justice system and builds on recommendations in President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force report.

The Guidance Package does not change any federal or state law, but instead articulates best-practices recommendations for providing education in correctional institutions based on respect for safety, prioritizing education in institutions, adequate funding, qualified educational staff and relevant curricula.

The Guidance Package clarifies Federal Pell Grant eligibility for students who are incarcerated in county jails or juvenile justice facilities (JJFs). Although incarcerated students may not receive loans under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, they may in some cases receive Federal Pell Grants.

As the Guidance Package makes clear, only those students who are incarcerated at a “Federal or State penal institution” or who are “subject to an involuntary civil commitment upon completion of a period of incarceration for a forcible or non-forcible sexual offense” are ineligible for Pell Grants. See 34 CFR sec. 668.32(c)(2)(ii).

Students incarcerated in county jails or JJFs, who are otherwise eligible, may receive Federal Pell Grants regardless of the student’s age, type or length of sentence, or whether the student was adjudicated as a juvenile or an adult. This also means that if you are in the county jail as a result of having a felony changed to a misdemeanor under Prop 47 or were sentenced to serve your sentence there under realignment, you are eligible for a Federal Pell Grant.

In addition, you can receive a Pell Grant if you are taking correspondence courses as long as your courses are toward an associate, bachelor or graduate degree. Also, your school should not provide more than 50 percent of its courses or serve more than 50 percent of its students through correspondence. (The school also may not have more than 25 percent incarcerated students.)

Students seeking Pell Grants must apply using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The only conviction “box” on the form asks if the applicant has ever been convicted of a drug possession or sale offense while receiving federal student aid.

California has made a decision to house a greater number of prisoners in the county jails. If you are on the outside reading this and are concerned about folks occupying cages in local detention facilities, please reach out and tell someone on the inside.

If we fail to tell the people about something like this, we are reconstructing Juneteenth – the time that enslaved people in south Texas were not told they were freed until several years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

For those of you on the inside reading this, please spread the word!

Dorsey Nunn is executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), which organizes communities directly impacted by the criminal justice system. He is also a co-founder of All of Us or None, a project of LSPC by and for formerly incarcerated people working for their civil and human rights. Email him at info@prisonerswithchildren.org.

Prop 47: We support it, but it’s complicated….

 

Dear Family, Friends, Allies, Associates and Supporters,

You may be aware of California’s ballot initiative Prop 47, which would reduce six crimes that could be charged as felonies to misdemeanors and prevent thousands of people from being incarcerated. Prop 47 represents an important opportunity to push back on overcharging people for crimes that leads to mass incarceration. All of Us or None will continue to loudly demand an end to overcharging and for the freedom of our people. However, I need to state that this proposition has proven to be complicated for us. I am writing to share with you our perspective on the opportunities and challenges represented by Prop 47.

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and All of Us or None support Prop 47. We worked tirelessly collecting signatures to qualify it for the ballot. All of Us or None is particularly engaged in regions that prove most challenging to changes in the criminal justice system.

Prop 47 rightly reduces these wobblers to misdemeanors because people should not be caged for minor survival acts or medicating themselves. However, it does not shift the paradigm, and law enforcement, conservatives, as well as liberals, will continue using old and unchallenged arguments to imprison and kill us.

Prop 47 frees some of us while at the same time arguing others should or will not be considered for fundamental relief. It puts us in the position of having to choose between our loved ones. Creating an artificial dividing line for sentencing reform reinforces the idea that certain people with convictions are deserving of justice, while others are beyond redemption. All of Us or None was created to fight for the full restoration of the civil and human rights of ALL incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.

We need to be honest about violence. We know that people are afraid and their fears are often exploited. It takes a society to raise a child to become a violent person. Violent social practices, both historical and present-day, have a major influence on the past and present violence in the lives of currently, and formerly-incarcerated people and our families. It takes collective social responsibility to stop violence and to raise our next generations of people free from the systemic and interpersonal cycles of violence.

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and All of Us or None want our families, friends and neighbors free. We are committed to freeing whoever we can now and we will continue to fight to free more whenever we can.

However, we must point out that the language and practice of separating us presents real challenges to organizing the full body of our community. It suggests not all lives are important and perpetuates thinking that enables mass incarceration. We hope to engage in a robust discussion about these issues at the conclusion of this election cycle. Once again, our commitment is to freeing our people and Proposition 47 is one step in that direction.

In pursuit of Justice,

Signature_jpeg

Dorsey Nunn,

On behalf of All of Us or None and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

 

It’s Time for an Executive Order to Ban the Box

Dorsey Nunn_close-up with plantBy Dorsey Nunn

Posted on TalkPoverty.org

When I got out of prison 30 years ago, the only job I could get took me right back inside the gates of San Quentin, where I helped inmates through the prison’s law office. What I witnessed 30 years ago is still happening now: that small box on job applications that asks have you ever been convicted of a crime continues to make it tough for formerly incarcerated folks to get a job.

When I checked in with people asking how their job searches were going, it was always the same answer: checking “yes” on that box meant their job application was tossed aside. Then one day when I went to Jack in the Box for lunch, the guy behind the counter had tattoos all over his arms, tattoos I had seen on prisoners. I asked him how he got this job and found out that Jack in the Box did not ask potential employees about their criminal records.

So 11 years ago, All of Us or None, the organization I co-founded, started the campaign called “Ban the Box” to give Formerly Incarcerated People a better chance at getting a job – so they can provide for themselves and their families, and fully reenter society. Studies have shown that three out of every five formerly incarcerated folks remain jobless one year after they are released from prison.

We’ve been successful at winning “Ban the Box” campaigns in 13 states and nearly 70 cities and counties. Now we think it’s time for the federal government to weigh in.

A few weeks ago I was part of a delegation of Formerly Incarcerated People who went to the White House to ask for its support for “Ban the Box.” We want an executive order eliminating exclusionary questions on initial job applications. We are also asking for a presidential memorandum to be issued to the Office of Personnel Management and other federal agencies, directing the government to make the necessary adjustments to federal hiring practices.

The memo should instruct federal agencies to develop policies and procedures that will conform with our request for the box to be banned in the private sector. In order for the federal government to lead, it should model the practice it wants the private sector to follow.

Some people may say that Formerly Incarcerated People are asking for an entitlement and special privileges. To them I say that we also pay taxes that finance the work of the federal government, so we deserve the same access to those job opportunities that everyone else has. Especially since no one is alleging that we become bad employees – in fact, quite the opposite is true. What really produces public safety is food, clothing, and shelter, and in order to secure those you generally need a job.

However, Ban the Box is much more than just the removal of the dreaded question about conviction history from employment applications. Ban the Box is actually a larger effort to dismantle structural discrimination. For example, we demand the right to return to our families upon release. Research shows our families are a strong source of support and may live in public housing, from which we are often banned. With the kind of pervasive discrimination we face—not only with jobs but also housing, professional licenses, and school applications—it’s time to consider laws that protect Formerly Incarcerated People from discrimination.

As Formerly Incarcerated People, we must own our civil and human rights struggle and the changes we want. Formerly Incarcerated People are a community, including people involved in national organizing. I believe the way these changes in federal hiring practices are rolled out is almost as important as the changes themselves. That’s why we are asking that the executive order be announced at a national strategy session organized by directly impacted people.

To prepare for that event, we would like cabinet-level officials to conduct ten different town halls in five different states for communities directly impacted by incarceration. This will provide venues for our community to speak with, and be recognized by, influential and prominent people in government who normally talk about us but not with us.

Imagine if this struggle were being waged by organized groups of women or farmworkers – it would be inconceivable to make so many major statements without directly addressing representatives of those organizations.  If we are going to change the circumstances in which we all live, we cannot continue to leave so many Formerly Incarcerated People – 65 million – outside of societal and government norms.

An executive order banning the box on federal contractor employment applications, supported by a presidential memorandum and announced at a national strategy session organized by Formerly Incarcerated People, would demonstrate to the marginalized population that our voices are genuinely heard, and that we do have some fundamental access to U.S. democracy.

Dorsey Nunn is the Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and Co-Founder of All of Us or None

Photo provided by Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons

SHU Survivor Gabriel Reyes Reunites with Daughters

Gabriel Reyes & daughtersRE: Statement of SHU Release/Adjustment. July 22, 2014

I was placed in SHU Isolation in 1996, where I stood for the next 18 yrs. During that stay, I was beaten by the Green Wall gang, constantly had to struggle for proper medical care, and to maintain my sanity!

By now its no secret, the effects of prolonged isolation on the human mind can be devastating, life threatening, and life long. However the most difficult aspect of dealing with this isolation was being a father of two beautiful young daughters who were barely 3 and 6 years of age when I was placed into the living tomb!

As the years passed, my daughters grew from little girls to teenagers, to young adults, who are now 21 and 24 years of age. I missed many firsts, from their first day of school, first lost tooth, first crush, graduations, and many other things young girls go through, and fathers dread, love, and keep in their memories forever!

Being in the SHU isolation vastly restricts communication, and stressed my relationship with them. I’ll never forget my youngest daughter reaching out to me from the other side of the glass window separating us, wanting me to pick her up and hold her in my arms as I once did! My eldest daughter asking why she couldn’t hug or touch her daddy!

As the years went on they became numb to the idea of hugging and kissing their daddy the “king”. Although, each time we visited, I could see the longing in their eyes, which was reflected in my own as well, it never got any easier, no matter how use to it I got, it pulled and tore at my very soul, breaking my heart and constantly testing all my strength each and every day.

To make matters worse, the distance of Pelican Bay from home in Southern California made regular visits hard, and few in-between, which further stressed our relationships to the point where it was non- existent.

Today, only after several hunger strikes, the last being a year ago, where our desire to make changes for all oppressed human beings that are, and were suffering from the same torturous conditions, and punishment. I and other persistent and willing warriors put our lives on the line to bring about change, and bring attention to our struggle and our desire to have a choice, and to be recognized as human beings as well as to ignite social consciousness towards the suffering of human beings at the hands of CDCR.

Thus, for 59 days I willingly put my mind and body to the test and put my life on the line! My dedication was tested and pushed beyond what even I would have imagined! Each morning I awoke with salutations to all the brave men around me, giving encouragement, and respects to each.

Our strength and dedication was not found to be wanting or lacking in any aspect. We were willing to die if necessary and we looked that death in the face each day we continued on, and we laughed in its face knowing that the cause we stood for was bigger than any one life, and we all were wiling to give that life if necessary. That same dedication to our cause and men who stood with me and us remains the same today and shall never change!

Because of this extraordinary unity and bond that California State Prisons had never seen before, I stand here a proud participant of the struggle, and free from the cruel and unusual conditions of the home of the living dead at Pelican Bay SHU.

I can now receive contact visits with my daughters, mom, family and loved ones! I have embraced my daughters in my arms, I have held my mom in a very heart felt hug that lasted far longer than what the rules allow with not one guard saying anything, the same went for my daughters. I gave them a prior warning that I hadn’t hugged them in over 18 years, and if they wanted to try and pry me away from them, they were free to try!

Holding my daughters in my arms was overwhelming, my mind and heart was filled with all sorts of emotions, scenes from their childhood rolled and replayed in my mind and came crashing down on me. I felt like I wanted to cry but no tears came. Inside my heart was melting, finally holding my babies in my arms and discovering that their hair no longer smelled like baby shampoo! The experience was a rare and never felt before one! However, I realized that I was incapable of shedding tears, that my mind and body had adjusted to the hard conditions of SHU isolation and that 18 years of it had left its mark. I ponder why wasn’t I able to cry? Inside I was, but outside I was not?

I cannot explain the joy I did feel and of course I annoyed them and embarrassed them by try to feed them like they were still babies! I kept wanting to touch them to see if they were real and this was really happening! They regularly reminded me that they were not babies anymore, and I did the same by telling them that they would always be babies to me no matter how old they got!!

During each visit with my family and at each hug, I also had thoughts and memories of those that I just left behind in the SHU, and my family quickly noticed that I talked about them a lot! I would say “Darell would like this after biting into an avocado from the vending machine, or Oh, Tony and Jack would love this for Saturday burritos! Fernando would love this mango!” It was a common theme! And they are all constantly on my mind and my heart and will always be no matter what! I am dedicated to each and every one of these men, and for their release from the SHU!

Although I have been physically released from the SHU, I am still confined there in so many other ways!

I am rebuilding my relationship with my daughters, we are strangers that know each other, but yet don’t! We are like characters in a novel you read, you don’t know personally, but what the words in the book say! The good thing is tat we have this change to get to know each other again, and that’s what we are doing, taking once visit at a time and learning how to hug and touch each other without all the awkwardness!

It’s been frustrating, but, I now have this opportunity because of the sacrifices we made and those that our supporters made as well, and I thank each and every one of you brave human beings each time I hold my baby girls in my arms and hear them face to face tell me “Hi Dad, I love you!”

There are all of our daughters, all of our mothers, and family and friends, and I hold and hug them for all of us!

My release from the SHU is an ongoing adjustment that continues every day. I adjust everyday and attempt to adjust everyday, as each day there is something new that I must adjust to.

Gabriel Reyes C-88996

CSP- SAC C4-119

P.O. BOX 290066

Represa, CA 95671

 

It’s Time to Restore the Dignity of the Formerly Incarcerated

By Dorsey Nunn

Posted on Alternet.com

August 22, 2014  |

I do not define myself as an ex-convict; I am a person. To use that term is to take the worst moments of my life and call that a whole life.

I know there is more to life and that’s why I am now speaking out and fighting for the restoration of human dignity for myself and the 65 million formerly incarcerated persons living in the United States.

I was convicted of first degree murder at age 19 and sentenced to life in prison. Although I was tried and sentenced as an adult, reading through my letters to friends and family at the time it is clear that I was still just a child. In 1981 I was released on parole after serving 10 years in prison. In the three decades since my release, I have been working to expose the flaws in a system that now holds over two million people in cages and seven million under criminal justice control. It continues to bar us from becoming productive, engaged members of society.

If we wish to address the startling rate of incarceration in our country we must ask ourselves, are we living with a broken system or broken people? Policy and national dialogue suggest the latter, and so we continue to blame individual weakness and failings. And yet, 65 million people in our country are survivors of incarceration, and black men are six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated during their lifetime.

We cannot continue to claim imprisonment is the product of individual character flaws – there is something larger, something broken about our system. Until we can accept a systematic failing, we will never be driven to fix what’s broken and we will continue to see structural discrimination against one third of our country.

Anyone with a conviction history like me faces a constant barrier to being an involved, productive member of our society. It is a small typeset box that asks, “Have you ever been convicted by a court?” Checking that box on rental applications, job applications, loan applications, and almost any form you could imagine plagues our everyday life.

That box tells me I have fewer rights and prevents me from engaging in democracy as others can, all because of the worst moment of my life.

As a co-founder of All of Us or None, a project of the Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, I am working to “ban the box” in communities and states across the country. We have harnessed the power of our community of 65 million formerly incarcerated people to stand up and demand that our human rights be restored. We may be locked out of our democracy, but there are still ways for us to engage in a process that excludes us.

And it’s working – more than 50 cities and 10 states have banned the box on public employment applications. We will continue to speak up, engage in our communities and use our voices until our country acknowledges and fixes a broken justice system.

While we are a community that is often forgotten and one that policymakers rarely talk to, we will not give up on the pursuit of our human dignity. We cannot afford to lose the talents and contributions of 65 million people in this country.

Dorsey Nunn is the executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a co-founder of All of Us or None.