Dorsey Nunn: Real Clear Radio Interview

Dorsey at his most amazing self!
Bill Freeza interviews Dorsey for Real Clear Radio (broadcast 4/30/16), who turns the 20 minutes into Movement magic: clearly conveying LSPC / All of Us or None’s current work on Ban the Box & restoring our rights, sharing his personal prison experience, & reminding us that language & labels can encourage or condemn formerly incarcerated people on our route through reentry.

Getting Out the Vote Behind Bars

With California election campaigns in full swing, interest groups are launching voter registration drives in neighborhoods, churches, union halls — and even jails.

Thousands of people in jails and on probation are being urged to vote following an obscure but potentially helpful legal ruling in 2012 in Riverside County, along with a change of heart in Sacramento.

The legal decision came after Vonya K. Quarles of Corona mounted a drive during the summer before the 2012 general election to make better citizens of inmates in Riverside County jails by registering them to vote.

As a result of the ruling by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Sharon J. Waters, voter registration material were made immediately available to inmates in the jails, and volunteers could visit to assist in registration. But the ruling did not come in time for the 2012 general election.

Now, in the first presidential election year since the ruling, Quarles and other advocates are ramping up get-out-the-vote drives in jails across Southern California with hopes of building on the Riverside experience.

“If you want people to be responsible, you want them to engage in the community and take responsibility for their lives — like with voting,” said Quarles — who is executive director and co-founder of Starting Over Inc., which provides transitional housing for women and children.

She certainly knows. As a youth in south Los Angeles, she had drug issues, which led to convictions and imprisonment. But when released, she cleaned up, had a 20-year career in the oil refinery industry, and then earned a law degree — joining the California Bar in 2013.

Along the way she learned the notion that convicts can’t vote, which many believe to be true, is in fact a myth.

In California people who have been convicted of either federal or state felonies and misdemeanors can vote — as long as they are not in state prison or on parole. (The provision blocking voting after a felony was rescinded in 1974 by a California constitutional amendment.)

And the number of California residents who fit into this category increased by between 60,000 and 70,000 after the state’s justice system realignment in 2011, whereby inmates convicted of lower-level, non-violent crimes were transferred to county jails or put on county-supervised probation.

A Hard Sell

In 2014, advocates in Alameda County won a Superior Court order that these individuals could vote. But then Secretary of State Debra Bowen appealed the order.

However, after years of efforts by inmate advocates, current Secretary of State Alex Padilla last year cancelled the appeal. Padilla’s decision followed years of efforts by activists around the state to help the formerly incarcerated lead productive lives.

But pushing for voting by those in jail remains a touchy subject, which some groups avoid.

In San Diego, officials of the League of Women Voters there declined to discuss the issue. While the American Civil Liberties Union of California is putting out information on such voting, San Diego affiliate officials also declined interview requests. San Diego County Register of Voters Michael Vu said his office wasn’t going into jails for registration.

Nonetheless, while the concept may be a tough sell to some sheriffs — who in California run the county jails — progress is being made.

For example, officials in Riverside Sheriff Stanley Sniff’s department say they have modified the informational voting pamphlet and keep voter registration forms readily available for the jail system’s 3,500 inmates.

“We are going above and beyond the settlement,” said Scot Collins, a chief deputy in the Riverside department.

At the Riverside Registrar of Voters office, Art Tinoco said that in 2014 staff provided the sheriff’s department with 1,000 registration forms, with 12 returned. He couldn’t say how many of those voted.

While the number low and less that satisfying for advocates, it is double the number previously returned for registration.

Meanwhile, systems used in some other counties, including Orange, are still seen as restricting the ability to vote.

For instance, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department — like others in San Diego, Imperial and San Bernardino — has a policy where eligible inmates can register to vote, but they must ask deputies for the documents.

“If you have to contact a deputy, we feel that is problematic,” said Quarles. “There are good deputies, but some are non-responsive to inmate needs. When it comes to a person’s right to voting material, they shouldn’t have to go through that kind of barrier.”

Neal Kelley, Orange County’s Registrar of Voters, said his agency provides voter registration material to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ department; where deputies say they distribute the documents after inmate requests.

“At this moment, I am pretty comfortable” with the system, Kelley said.

For the 2012 General Election, Kelley’s office sent 1,400 registration documents to the sheriff for the jails — of those 46 were returned. For the 2014 election, 550 registration forms were sent, with 56 returned.

Officials said they had no records on voting from the jail.
Typically, there are about 6,500 inmates in Orange County jails.

In Southern California, only Los Angeles County has an active program involving both that region’s registrar of voters and trained and certified volunteers [who also get security clearances] to help register inmates in jails. Los Angeles has average jail population of about 22,000 inmates, the largest such system in the world.

Los Angeles provided records dating to 2004 for both jail registrants and those who voted. In 2012 for the General Election, for instance, 1,228 registered with 661 voting. In 2008, 599 registered and 305 voted.

Inmate advocates — including a number who were previously incarcerated themselves — say having certified volunteers go to jails is vital to increase voting.

While the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2000 approved of a jail voter registration program, officials say it didn’t get any traction until about 2006.

That was when volunteers started working with the county registrar and the jails to boost registration, said Joseph Paul, who manages vocational services at Shields for Families, a non-profit agency in Compton.

“We decided to leverage the historical situation with an African American running for president to demonstrate the intention of democracy,” said Paul, who now has a coalition of at least 60 volunteers involved in registration.

“We use the right to vote as a way to educate our men and women,” he said. “People have felt ostracized and excluded; they felt the vote didn’t matter. We try to make it relevant.”

Such efforts were pioneered by a San Francisco advocacy group called: All of Us or None. [A line from a Bertolt Brecht poem.] The AOUON group also was co-plaintiff with Quarles in her Riverside lawsuit.

From San Quentin to the White House

Key among them is Dorsey Nunn, who himself was incarcerated more than 35 years ago for being involved in a murder.

It is a journey that has taken him from a cell at San Quentin State Prison to walking the halls of the White House; where he was invited after coining the phrase “ban the box,” an employment document notation for criminal history that is being eliminated nationally by legislation.

“When you get down deep, you see the voting right is the definition of citizenship,” said Nunn. “I use this issue to motivate people. The state should ensure the eligible have support to vote in all county jails.”

Hutchens’ office said in a statement: “To say that voter registration is key to empowering individuals is a little simplistic. [But] the act of voting is a good indicator of a person attempting to integrate into the community.”

The statement said the sheriff was supportive of efforts to increase inmate voting, as long as they weren’t disruptive and conformed with security requirements.

Building on Nunn’s philosophy, Quarles engaged Joshua E. Kim, an attorney for A New Way of Life Reentry Project in Los Angeles, for the litigation.

The Riverside decision is so obscure that it wasn’t known by several registrars of voters, including Kelley, who is the current president of the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials.

While the Riverside ruling did not create a statewide precedent, Kim said it could be used to prompt recalcitrant Southern California counties to improve voting programs for inmates.

An advocate could file the case in a county like Orange and seek “judicial notice” of the decision, attorneys say. A Superior Court judge then would rule, with a sheriff intervening if desired.

“There is no reason this couldn’t be done in other counties,” said Kim.

Officials with the League of Women Voters‘ chapters in Orange County expressed interest when they learned from a reporter of the drives to increase registration in jails.

“That’s not something we have ever done,” said Joan Hake, a League volunteer for 25 years in the central region. “Absolutely, we might do that.”

“I think this is a very interesting subject,” said Susan Guilford of Orange, who is president of the organization coordinating the League’s local chapters. “I plan to put the idea on an agenda for one of our coming meetings.

In its statement, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department statement said it would “work hand in hand” with registrar-trained volunteers in any registration drive.

Rex Dalton can be reached directly at

Voting Rights to be Restored for Tens of Thousands of Felons in California

Check out the full article, by Malaika Fraley, on Contra Costa.

Alameda County Chief Probation Officer LaDonna M. Harris speaks as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, second from left, looks on during a news conference at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. Padilla announced on Tuesday that he's dropping the appeal of Scott v. Bowen, clearing the way for 45,000 Californians who have been convicted of low-level felonies to get the right to vote. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Alameda County Chief Probation Officer LaDonna M. Harris speaks as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, second from left, looks on during a news conference at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015.  (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

5 August 2015 – OAKLAND – Los Angeles County probation Chief Jerry Powers said he hasn’t heard the question over allowing low-level felons to vote posed better than by his 12-year-old son: “Dad, what part of voting makes us less safe?”

“Only a 12-year-old can put it that way. There’s not a single part of allowing these individuals to vote that is going to make our society less safe,” Powers said Tuesday on the steps of an Oakland courthouse, where California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced the right to vote will soon be restored to tens of thousands of low-level felons in California serving out their sentences under the community supervision provisions of the state’s recent criminal justice reforms.

“If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and our prisons and serious about reducing recidivism, we need to engage, not shun, former offenders,” Padilla said. “And voting is a key part of that engagement. It is part of a process of becoming vested, having a stake in the community.”

Alameda County Judge Evelio Grillo ruled last year that offenders being supervised under the state’s Public Safety Realignment Act are eligible to vote under the California Constitution, thereby negating a 2011 decision by Padilla’s predecessor Debra Bowen that they had no voting rights.

Previously, it was only felons in prison or on parole who weren’t allowed to vote. When the realignment act passed in 2011 to integrate low-level offenders back into society and alleviate prison overcrowding, Bowen added the new category of offenders to the can’t-vote list, concluding that the supervision created under realignment was “functionally equivalent to parole,” and there was no evidence lawmakers had intended to let more convicts vote.

Dorsey Nunn, executive director of the Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, speaks as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla looks on during a news conference at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland on Aug. 4, 2015. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Dorsey Nunn, executive director of the Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, speaks as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla looks on during a news conference at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland on Aug. 4, 2015. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Voting and civil liberties groups sued and won, but Bowen filed an appeal before she termed out last year.

Padilla announced Tuesday that he’s abandoning an appeal he never believed in. He said he agrees with the judge that the secretary of state does not have the power to deny the right to vote to offenders who are no longer in prison or on parole but are being supervised under realignment.

“I believe it’s the right thing to do,” Padilla said. “Civic engagement and participation in the electoral process can be an important factor helping former offenders reintegrate into civil society.”

An estimated 58,000 people are serving out sentences under the realignment act, which includes people ineligible to vote because they’re either underage or noncitizens.

Padilla’s announcement came two days before the 50th anniversary of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 that banned racial discrimination in voting.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla speaks during a news conference at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland on Aug. 4, 2015.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla speaks during a news conference at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland on Aug. 4, 2015. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)”

It is not lost on me that persons of color are disproportionately represented in correctional institutions and that undeniable disparities exist,” Padilla said. “It is not lost on me that many states in our nation are advancing legislation to roll back our voting rights, not just for former offenders but for all voters.”

Dorsey Nunn, who was released from prison over 30 years ago and now serves as the executive director of the San Francisco-based Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, one of the plaintiffs that challenged Bowen, said when one doesn’t have the right to vote, they question whether they are a full citizen.

“This vote that we are talking about is not just simply a vote that belongs to incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people,” Nunn said. “It’s a vote that belongs to our families, to our children, that was fought for and bled for by people of color. So, to me, today is an excellent day, and it’s an excellent start.”

Peninsula Activist Lobbies for Federal “Ban the Box” for Ex-cons

Read the full article, by Brendan Bartholomew, on the SF Examiner.


Dorsey Nunn, executive director of LSPC and co-founder of All of Us or None

2 August 2015 – President Barack Obama has received national — and in some cases bipartisan — support for his recent calls to reform criminal justice in the U.S., and some impetus for his ideas might be traced to San Mateo County-based activist Dorsey Nunn.

Nunn was among demonstrators who rallied outside the White House on Thursday calling upon the president to follow through on his proposal to “ban the box” on federal employment applications asking job seekers if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime.

Nunn, who is executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children and co-founder of the civil rights group All of Us or None, has been advocating this change for years. In 2013, his organizations helped pass California Assembly Bill 218, which prohibited public employers from asking most job applicants about their conviction histories.

California is one of at least 10 states that have removed questions about conviction histories from job applications, and 50 cities or counties have taken similar actions.

“Ban the box” legislation does not require public agencies to ignore criminal records where they might be relevant, such as when hiring law enforcement officers. And Nunn said the executive order he’s asking the president to sign would still allow federal employers to ask about conviction histories, but those questions would come later when an agency is ready to make an offer of employment.

In addition to preventing such questions from being used to screen out applicants, Nunn and his allies are asking for transparency and an appeals process. Applicants denied employment because of past convictions would have a chance to ask employers to consider mitigating factors, Nunn said, such as how long ago they were convicted and whether they’ve shown signs of being rehabilitated.

Rehabilitation is a deeply personal topic for Nunn, who, at the age of 19, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in an incident that left one person dead. Asked whether the life sentence made him think about giving up, Nunn said, “Hope is a hard thing to kill, homey.”

A father of two at the time of his conviction, Nunn said being able to maintain a relationship with his children was crucial to his rehabilitation.

“When I went to prison, I saw people abused and tortured,” Nunn said, “My contact with my daughter and other people helped me maintain my humanity in an ugly situation.”

Nunn was 31 years old when he was released from prison, but he struggled with crack addiction for several years, and says conditions in the East Palo Alto-Menlo Park community he was released into conspired to keep him addicted.

“The way we practice re-entry in California is reprehensible,” Nunn said, noting that preparing to leave prison can be nerve-wracking for inmates who know they will have no resources or support system on the outside.

Nunn eventually cleaned himself up, and with 25 drug-free years under his belt, the activist is something of an evangelist for sobriety, having founded Free At Last Community Recovery, a drug rehab center in East Palo Alto.

Despite running an organization with a $1.3 million annual budget, meeting Obama and his staff, and maintaining a quarter-century of sobriety, Nunn says he tries to remain humble and keep a good sense of humor about himself.

“I always joke with my kids: if you see me fall off the wagon, hide the check book!” Nunn said.

“That Box Was The Bane Of My Existence”

Read the full article, by Mark Otiz, on Community Change.

28 July 2015 – On Thursday, advocates will rally in front of the White House and the Department of Justice to demand that President Obama issue an executive order to Ban the Box and give people who have been incarcerated a fair chance to find a job and work toward economic success when they get out.

Currently, more than 100 cities and counties in 18 states have ban the box legislation, which means that employers won’t ask a job applicant about his  or her incarceration history until the person receives a conditional offer of employment. That’s makes the initial hiring process fair and doesn’t automatically shut people out of jobs.

President Obama is making huge strides to acknowledge the difficulties and lack of resources that people face when they are released from prison. During his visit to the El Reno federal prison on July 16, which made him the first sitting president to visit a prison, he met with six incarcerated people and noted, “Visiting with these six individuals.  I’ve said this before — when they describe their youth and their childhood, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made.  The difference is they did not have the kinds of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.”

Advocates such as Dorsey Nunn, executive director of All of Us or None, says the president is on the right track, but needs to do more. He says the president has to focus on helping not just people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, but all people who’ve served their time and are released. He says this especially holds true for those people convicted of violent offenses who need the additional support so they don’t land back in the clutches of the criminal justice system.

That’s why Nunn is making the trip from San Francisco to D.C. on Thursday.

“We’re demanding that he lead,” and give the 70 million Americans with criminal records a fair chance to success, he says.

Working to give formerly incarcerated people their rights back has been an issue he has felt deeply and personally since he left prison 34 years ago. He has been fighting for prisoners’ rights ever since.

“I went in at 19 and got out at 31,” he says. He says the world that existed when he went in as a young man had change drastically when he was released in 1981. That’s when he saw a flaw in the society he lived in.

“I had no clue of our societal addiction to punishment,” he says.

His first weeks out of prison were frustrating. Prison life left a lasting mark on him.

“I couldn’t forget my experience,” he says.

Unlike many of his compatriots, Dorsey was able to find work two week after he was released, working for the Prison Law Office, where he would began fighting for better conditions for the imprisoned of our country. “It gave me a deeper purpose,” he says.

Dorsey and fellow advocates came up with the concept and the term of “ban the box” as a way to give the formerly incarcerated a fair chance for work. At the heart of the proposal is that an applicant’s qualifications are the first consideration, not their previous convictions. This would allow applicants to be judged on their merits as opposed to the blacklisting that comes with a felony conviction.

The current difficulties that the formerly incarcerated have with finding work has contributed to the vicious cycle that has become America’s prison industry, where people get out, can’t find work that sustains them and their families and commit an act that find them back in the prison system.

“My success would be don’t go back to prison,” Dorsey says. He says prison does little to rehabilitate and that the “box” people have to check off when applying for work about their conviction history was another tool in the vicious cycle of felony discrimination.

“That box was the bane of my existence,” he says. “That box banned me from health care for my family and made our children less healthy.”

He says he is frustrated with the nation’s idea that punishment is the only way to address crime and our inability as a society to forgive those who have paid their debt to society. He says part of that also means recognizing that our current criminal justice system, which incarcerates black men at higher rates than other groups, is a symptom of the structural discrimination that exists in our society.

Dorsey and other advocates from across the country will descend on Washington this Thursday to insist that forgiveness through rehabilitation and resources be part of the solution.

For Dorsey, the fight doesn’t just end with the President’s support but a nationwide awakening for employers to recognize that formerly convicted felons deserve a second chance.

“If we can drive American corporations to stop discriminating, we can stop this,” he says.

California Group Asks President Obama to “Ban the Box”

Read the full article by Suzanne Potter on Public News Service

Advocates for people in prison are asking President Barack Obama to ban the criminal history box on federal job applications

Advocates for people in prison are asking President Barack Obama to ban the criminal history box on federal job applications

23 June 2015 -Advocates for prisoners incarcerated in California are asking President Barack Obama to take action to ban the question about criminal convictions on applications for federal jobs, and positions with federal contractors.

Their calls come after the president’s recent comment that the country should “ban the box” on all job applications. Doing so would delay a criminal background check until the applicant has had a chance to prove his or her qualifications.

Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), says the national publicity has breathed new life into the group’s campaign All of Us or None. “For him to say it was really important,” he says. “Some of us have been out here doing this work for 10 years trying to get a fair shake and a clean application.”

California banned the box for public-sector jobs in July 2014. San Francisco has banned it for all jobs in the city, public and private. To the north, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed that state’s “ban the box” legislation last week.

Nunn notes there are 70 million Americans with a criminal record who have a hard time even getting a job interview, which creates a permanent underclass disproportionately affecting people of color.

He says the focus in California is now on removing the question from housing, student aid and all private-sector job applications.

“The process would be a lot fairer,” he says. “I don’t think you can get to public safety through force and fear. I think it takes rehabilitation and forgiveness.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently circulating a petition on the issue, which requires 25,000 signatures to force a government response. It has received 21,700 signatures so far.

While counting President Obama’s NAACP speech and prison visit as big wins, let us keep fighting

You can read the full article, written by our very own executive director Dorsey Nunn, in the SF BayView here!

18 July 2015 – On Tuesday, July 14, one day after commuting the sentences of 46 people currently serving sentences for nonviolent drug offenses in federal prisons, President Obama addressed the NAACP National Convention in Philadelphia. In his address, the president declared that our criminal justice system is “built on the legacy of slavery, segregation and other structural inequalities that [have] compounded over generations.” Our current system, the president said, is “not an accident.”

As part of his solution to begin to address fixes to our system, the president asked the country to invest in linking prisoners with prospective employers, to “Ban the Box” on job applications so that people have a decent shot at a job interview.

We applaud the president for supporting Ban the Box, a campaign initiated by All of Us or None, and are hopeful that this public message is a sign that the president will support his views with action. Since All of Us Or None launched the campaign to Ban the Box over a decade ago, over one third of the nation – 14 states and over 100 cities and counties – have passed fair chance hiring policies, intended to protect people with arrest and conviction records from discrimination on initial job applications.

We have steadily gained traction nationwide, and in May of this year, Congresswoman Barbara Lee sent a letter urging the president to adopt a federal fair chance hiring policy that would prohibit federal contractors from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record history on initial applications. All of Us or None has called on the president to sign an executive order that would require all private contractors to similarly “ban the box.”

President Obama commuted sentences for 90 people – a fraction of the 2.3 million people behind bars in our country, and yet more than any other president since Lyndon Johnson. By issuing an executive order to Ban the Box, he would provide hundreds of thousands of people the “decent shot” he says they deserve. This would be an opportunity for the president to lead the country towards a more just criminal system.

Responding to the movement begun by the California prisoners’ hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 to stop mass incarceration and longterm solitary confinement, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, where he met with a group of prisoners. Afterward, he asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to “start a review of the overuse of solitary confinement across American prisons.” Accompanying the president is Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels (right). – Photo: NBC News

The president also commented on the use of solitary confinement in prisons across the country, and said that these practices are more likely to make inmates more hostile and violent, that this practice “is not going to make us safer, not stronger,” imploring us to remember that the vast majority of people who serve time in prison will be released. As he finished his remarks, the president called on the American tradition of remaking ourselves, the Christian traditions that “all of us need redemption,” and that “none of us is without sin” that “justice and redemption go hand in hand.”

We are heartened by the president’s message of justice for all, including for those who endure and are injured by solitary confinement – spending 23 hours in an 8-foot-by-10-foot cell every day across our country. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children has been litigating a suit against the state of California alleging the prolonged use of solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison is a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The next, crucial step President Obama must take to decrease the prison population is to commit his values to action by following the lead of human rights organizations across the globe and identifying solitary confinement as a form of torture, then prohibiting its use in prisons and jails in our country.

The president urged Congress to act, to get “smart on crime” by moving away from blanket reliance on mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses to investing in crime prevention tactics that target juveniles and adults. On this end, the president offered concrete solutions such as job readiness programs, as well as a more abstract plea for empathy – that all children should be seen as important by their parents, neighbors, law enforcement and country.

The first, crucial step the president must take to end mass incarceration is to himself embody this empathy and to rethink his statement that “there are a lot of folks who belong in prison” and that our neighborhoods are safer thanks to police officers who put “violent criminals” in jail. This is a radical suggestion for a country so torn apart by racism, when the vast majority of those folks “who belong in prison” – those children and adults the president initially urged us to love and to see as important – are African-American and Latino.

But we will not escape the shadow of mass incarceration until we remember, as a country, that the legacies of slavery, segregation and other structural inequalities are endured by all people – those who commit crimes, both serious and non-serious, and those who punish those crimes. Fixing a criminal justice system built on these legacies requires us to dismantle all of that system – not just the parts that seem most politically feasible at the moment.

President Obama’s words and actions are a promising start. Let us all continue to push him further.

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.

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?

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_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-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?

Proposition 47: The clock is ticking to apply for relief!

Check out the full article, written by our very own staff attorney Brittany Stonesifer, in the SF BayView here!

29 June 2015 – By now, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of Proposition 47 (Prop 47). With more than 3,200 people released from state prisons and 115,000 petitions filed under the law within the first six months of its passage, Prop 47 is likely the most significant reform to California criminal justice policy since 2011’s Realignment.

Oldtimers who played Monopoly as kids will remember fondly the “Get out of jail free” card.

Like Realignment, Prop 47 is far from perfect and, as highlighted by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children’s Dorsey Nunn in an article last November, it does not challenge the dominant narrative about incarceration because it explicitly excludes certain people from relief. Prop 47 does, however, demonstrate that California is ready to push back against excessively harsh sentences and provides the opportunity for tens of thousands of people to reduce their criminal records and, in some cases, secure early release from prison or jail.

Since Prop 47 passed last November, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children has been heavily engaged in public education and community outreach in an attempt to maximize the number of people who will receive relief under the law. It is critical that individuals with eligible criminal convictions act quickly because the law created only a three-year application window.

Petitions for Prop 47 relief must be filed by Nov. 5, 2017.

So what exactly does Prop 47 do and who is eligible? Prop 47 converts specified drug possession and theft crimes from felonies or “wobblers” to straight misdemeanors. The bad news is that the law is more narrow than many people believe because it only applies to a set list of California convictions; it does not cover all drug or theft felonies and it does not cover out of state convictions.

The good news, however, is that the law is retroactive and eligible people can apply for relief either while they are serving their sentences or after the sentence has been completed, even if it was completed many years ago.

Eligible crimes

The following is the complete list of crimes that are eligible to be reduced to misdemeanors under Prop 47:

Theft crimes:

  1. Any type of property theft – including shoplifting by entering a business during regular business hours with intent to commit theft – if the value of the property is $950 or less. (California Penal Code Sections 490.2 and 459.5.)
  2. Receiving stolen property, if the value of the property is $950 or less. (California Penal Code Section 496(a).)
  3. Forgery of a check, money order etc. for $950 or less, unless the person is also convicted of identity theft under Penal Code section 530.5. (California Penal Code Section 473(b).)
  4. Passing bad check(s) for $950 or less, unless the person has three or more prior convictions for Penal Code sections 470, 473, 475 or 476. (California Penal Code Section 476a(b).)
  5. Petty theft with a prior, unless the person has a prior conviction for a theft offense or elder abuse, served a term for the prior, and is required to register as a sex offender; then it is a wobbler. (California Penal Code Section 666.)

Drug possession crimes – not with intent to sell:

  1. Possession of various controlled substances, including cocaine and heroin. (California Health and Safety Code Section 11350.)
  2. Possession of concentrated cannabis. (California Health and Safety Code Section 11357(a).)
  3. Possession of methamphetamine. (California Health and Safety Code Section 11377.)

Though the crimes listed above will now usually be punishable only as misdemeanors, the following people with “disqualifying priors” are, unfortunately, excluded from relief under Prop 47:

  1. Those with any prior convictions for “serious or violent” offenses under Penal Code section 667(e)(2)(C)(iv), or
  2. Those with any prior convictions which require sex offender registration under Penal Code section 290(c). This includes many, but not all, sex offense convictions.

If you have a conviction for one or more of the above listed eligible crimes and do not have any convictions for the disqualifying priors, it is important to keep a few considerations in mind before applying for relief. For those who are currently serving their sentences, reducing a Prop 47 felony to a misdemeanor will likely mean a shorter sentence and possibly immediate release.

Reducing a conviction to a misdemeanor under Prop 47 does not restore gun rights, however, so if this is important to an applicant, he or she should speak with an attorney about other options before filing. Similarly, reducing a conviction to a misdemeanor using Prop 47 may remove deportability for immigrant applicants, but they are still strongly advised to speak with an immigration attorney before submitting a Prop 47 application.

Individuals who are interested in learning more about Prop 47 – including how and where to file an application, where to get legal help with an application and how Prop 47 works with other record-reduction options – are encouraged to contact Legal Services for Prisoners with Children as soon as possible at 1540 Market St., Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94102. You can also see our manual, “Using Proposition 47 to Reduce Convictions and Restore Rights.”

Pressure Builds for Feds to ‘Ban the Box’

Find the full article, written by Freddie Allen, on District Chronicles.

The ‘Ban the Box’ campaign aims to remove the question about prior criminal background from employment applications.

22 June 2015 – Sources say 17 states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws making it easier for ex-offenders to find employment. Civil rights and community groups that advocate for returning citizens are now pushing the White House to do the same.

Blacks – who are nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population – account for 35.7 percent of the state and federal prison populations, compared to Whites who make up 32.8 percent.

“Our justice system is deeply unjust and unfair,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We often focus on the incarceration rate and the impact that policing and sentencing have on communities of color, but the injustice of our system is much more widespread.”

Henderson alleges that this is due to the United States continually punishing people long after they have paid their debts to society.

Most people who are convicted of crimes return to their communities, often facing greater challenges when it comes to finding affordable housing, educational opportunities and jobs.

According to an NELP report, “Economists estimated that because people with felony records and formerly incarcerated people have poor job prospects, the nation’s gross domestic product in 2008 was between $57 and $65 billion lower than it would have been had they been gainfully employed.”

Some of the biggest companies in the United States are taking notice and revising their hiring policies to provide greater opportunities to ex-offenders. KOCH Industries, worth more than $100 billion, recently joined Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot to “ban the box” on job applications.

According to the NELP, “There are a total of 17 states representing nearly every region of the country that have adopted the policies: California (2013, 2010); Colorado (2012); Connecticut (2010); Delaware (2014); Georgia (2015); Hawaii (1998); Illinois (2014, 2013); Maryland (2013); Massachusetts (2010); Minnesota (2013, 2009); Nebraska (2014); New Jersey (2014), New Mexico (2010); Ohio (2015); Rhode Island (2013); Vermont (2015); and Virginia (2015).”

Additionally, six states have required that private employers remove the question about criminal background from job applications.

Andrea Marta, the campaign manager for Lifelines to Healing, said that finding a job is the key to helping people return to their communities.

“Jobs help provide redemption and the second chance that many of our folks need to be successful once they come home,” said Marta. “People can walk away from the cycle of violence and poverty through a job that can prevent it.”

Earlier this month, a group from PICO National Network – which included ex-offenders – met with White House officials and staffers from the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss recommendations for returning citizens facing employment and housing barriers.

Ban the Box logoAccording to Maurice Emsellem, program director for NELP, the ‘ban the box’ legislation is also in compliance with current civil rights laws that require employers to take into account the age of the record directly related to the job or rehabilitation programs that the applicant has completed.

In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance on hiring practices, encouraging companies to be more mindful of how they use an applicant’s criminal background history in judging whether they’re qualified to do the job. This is to prevent them from unintentionally violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and co-founder of All of Us or None, alleges that if the federal government is going to spend his tax dollars, then he should have access to everything that they spend his money on. That includes jobs with companies that do business with and for the federal government.

“There are boxes all over the place that exclude me from access to a meaningful life,” said Nunn. “‘Ban the box’ is more than a question of fair chance hiring. I want the full restoration of my civil and human rights and this is just the first step in the process.”

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