This Thursday, our country will join together in celebrating a national day of gratitude. Whether you have the opportunity to be surrounded by loved ones and good food, or are spending the day on your own, we join you in reflecting on all that 2016 has brought.
We recognize that this has been a hard year for many across our community of formerly incarcerated people (FIP) and those directly impacted by the criminal justice system, and beyond. Perhaps you will be observing the holidays while incarcerated, or without an incarcerated loved one by your side. Whether serving time on a wrongful conviction or paying the debt that a broken system has deemed necessary for a crime you did commit, we know how challenging incarceration is for both the person inside and the people they are forced to leave behind on the outside. Perhaps the election results did not leave you feeling like you have much to be proud of as an American this holiday season. Perhaps you are disheartened by racial injustice and that so much of our country does not view it as a needed point of change. Perhaps environmental protection and the treatment of our indigenous brothers and sisters brings you sadness, or anger. Perhaps you are fearful that our nation may soon reverse decades of progress, that true equality in our nation now seems further away and harder to achieve, that human rights recently deemed basic and necessary may be rescinded. Perhaps you are suffering more personal hardships and disappointments. We stand with you.
But we also work hard to stay focused on the positive. Here are some of the achievements that we have to be thankful for this year:
While we, too, find ourselves with many battles to fight and loses to mourn in 2016, we are incredibly grateful for the good that this year brought to us, to our community, to the country, and even to the world. We hope that you, too, find joy and success to celebrate this Thursday.
Give thanks by giving back.
This year, on Tuesday, November 29, 2016, VOTE is participating in #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to charitable giving and volunteerism.
In working to reform Louisiana's broken criminal justice system, VOTE fights to help not just one person, but hundreds, thousands, even a hundred thousand. While much of what our community organizers do every day connects directly impacted people with the resources they need to seek opportunity and to thrive, the bulk of our organizational work focuses on big-picture changes like sentencing reform and fair housing policies. We may help a mother and son find a ride to Angola State Penitentiary to visit a loved one, or host the LSU Dental School's Toothbus for free dental screenings in our parking lot, but we're suing the Louisiana Secretary of State to get voting rights back to everyone in the state on probation and parole at the same time.
This work is not done in a silo. We are deeply rooted in our community and rely on our members to provide us with direction. We partner with a vast array of local and national organizations who focus on various aspects of criminal justice reform and related work. But more than anyone, we couldn't do this work without the support of our donors and volunteers. That's why we joined #GivingTuesday.
Last year, more than 45,000 organizations in 71 countries came together to celebrate #GivingTuesday. Since its founding in 2012, #GivingTuesday has inspired giving around the world, resulting in greater donations, volunteer hours, and activities that bring about real change in communities.
As you spend the upcoming holiday reflecting on all that we have to be thankful for, we hope you'll join us on #GivingTuesday by making a gift to support our work. But whether you use this season of gratitude and giving to support criminal justice reform through VOTE or you give to another charity whose work is important to you, whether you give your time or your money, whether you tell the world that you participated in #GivingTuesday by using the hashtag on social media or you give anonymously, we are happy to count you among the socially-conscious supporters of charitable work.
Thank you in advance,
Our Deputy Director, Bruce Scottus Reilly, can't vote until he turns 65. Help us overturn Louisiana's voting ban for people on probation and parole by joining our Louisiana Campaign for Democracy: http://www.vote-nola.org/campaign-for-democracy.html
Last week, VOTE Lead Organizer Dolfinette Martin and State Organizer Robert Goodman discussed voting rights with Adrienne Wheeler of the Justice and Accountability Center's radio show, All Rise, on WHIV New Orleans. The weekly show promotes equal human rights and justice for all, and "speaks truth to power."
by: bruce reilly, deputy director
It’s that time of year again. Time to mount up with 40 other riders and take a three-day trek to the Louisiana State Penitentiary and raise funds for families who have to ride buses to visit their loved ones locked inside. This is my third year being part of the Nola-to-Angola bike ride, and is likely to carry the most personal significance. Whether engaged in a conversation or focused on my thoughts, the struggles of American mass incarceration are reaching a critical era.
Last week, over 500 people gathered in Oakland, California for the first national conference of the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement. This gathering was years in the making, and lays down a clear marker in the new era of reversing mass incarceration. New Orleans was well represented, as it should be, holding the dubious title of the most incarcerated city in the most incarcerated state in the most incarcerated nation in the world.
Upon arrival at the hotel, old friends embraced while new ones were quickly made. Once again, people who have spent time in a cage — whether for days or decades — could greet and speak in comfortable terms without feeling ostracized or discriminated against. All of VOTE’s staff joined with three VOTE board members and several of our members, including those who intersect with OPPRC, the Louisiana Prison Education Coalition, Women With a Vision, and the free living members of the Angola 3, Robert King and Albert Woodfox.
VOTE Executive Director Norris Henderson joined with several other impressive leaders, who have been planning this gathering for many years, to welcome everyone to the space and provide the history of this collaboration.
Tomorrow, September 2nd, join the Congress of Day Laborers in solidarity to stand up against the retaliatory incarceration of community members
Tomorrow, the Congress of Day Laborers will hold a 24-hour vigil in Lafayette Square, across from the U.S. Attorney’s office, starting with a press conference at 2:00 pm. VOTE members and other allies may join the vigil any time from Thursday, September 1st at 2:00 pm to Friday, September 2nd at 2:00 pm.
Three months ago, William Diaz-Castro, Jose Isaias Lara-Serrano, and Jonny Manzanares exposed flagrant civil rights abuses by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These abuses are now under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security. As a result, all three face felony reentry charges and permanent separation from their families. They have been incarcerated in St. Tammany Parish Jail for three months.
Over the past two decades the number of offenders sentenced in federal courts has increased dramatically with the enforcement of the immigration felony offense for unlawful reentry into the United States. An increase in such convictions accounts for nearly half of that growth from 1992 to 2012.
The federal Bureau of Prisons recently released a decision to let contracts with private prisons expire. It has spawned a somewhat new conversation around incarceration, which many of us have been living, breathing, and discussing for decades. Here are VOTE’s thoughts.
Three questions to ask regarding any prison reform
First, it is important to consider whether new reform will reduce the number of people in cages, if it will only “move the furniture around” or, worse, will end up increasing the number of people in prison. For example, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California’s prisons were so overcrowded that incarceration was “cruel and unusual punishment,” California relocated their prisoners instead of releasing some. The new facilities were a combination of taxpayer-owned, and rented from private corporations. This is “moving around the furniture.”
When we filed VOTE v. Louisiana, a lawsuit against the state to restore voting rights to 70,000 people on probation and parole, some maintained their pessimism that our state’s troublesome history on race and criminal justice would lead this effort to a dead end. But recent events have highlighted the importance of asserting, right now, that voting is a right and not a privilege.
At a time when 100 million Americans are trying to move on from their criminal records, hundreds (and possibly thousands) of people will gather in Oakland, California to address their common struggle with an oppressive criminal justice system. The Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement (FICPFM) is made up of the directly impacted families and communities confronting a system of control; a system that has, itself, grown out of control. This two day conference (Sept. 9-10) is the latest of many historical markers in the Civil Rights movement, and represents the courageous individual and collective journeys among every organizer and participant.
The FICPFM is a natural result of mass incarceration, as thousands of people annually enter a criminal justice system that is used as our national program to address substance use, addiction, mental illness, unemployment, conflict resolution, and homelessness. Mass incarceration is a program overwhelming reserved for people from low-income communities, overwhelmingly imposed upon Communities of Color. It is interwoven with our school systems, and provides cradle-to-grave interaction that people of wealth and/or connections can opt out of. After decades of skimming people from our communities, of people returning to those same communities, our efforts to reclaim our lives and seek healthier options for our children, have led to our own national gatherings.
People can register for the conference by clicking this link here. The FICPFM organizers have been raising funds for travel support, for directly impacted people all over the nation to get help attending, and the registration allows for people to request funding (Click Here). With commitments from roughly two dozen states so far, priority will be given for organizational representatives, and the goal of having someone from all 50 states in Oakland.
The first FICPFM gathering came five years ago, in Selma, Alabama. We walked backwards over the Edmund Pettis Bridge to mark a restoration of the historic Civil Rights Movement, a movement that lost its way under the rhetoric of drugs and crime that invested heavily into a gulag of cages to theoretically make community problems go away. Yet the War on America known as the “War on Drugs” most effective result was to destabilize and weaken the same communities that were previously organizing for political power, justice, and equality.
In Watts, California, the FICPFM ratified a 14-Point Platform. Since that time, we have continued to progress through individuals, organizations, and collaborations. In 2016, we see an American culture that has had enough of mass incarceration. These voices come from both political parties and from no party. This frustration is present in rural White America as well as concentrated urban communities of Color. Ultimately, a small group of insulated people have been providing “solutions” for us that they would never provide for their own families. And although 6 million of us can not vote, many millions more can. Our families, friends and allies combine with us for the largest single-issue population in America. An issue that these politicians will strain, yet again, to ignore this election season.
The conference will include workshops and strategy sessions with highly acclaimed advocates from all parts of America. Several special guests are scheduled to attend, so check back on the conference page for updated information as the schedule is modified.
People seeking more information are encouraged to contact the FICPFM here.