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.
During the first breakout session, our Deputy Director Bruce Reilly moderated a panel on housing that included Alfred Marshall, an organizer for Stand With Dignity. The panel quickly moved towards collective action, and the Q&A focused on strategies to combat the blanket discrimination and overall affordable housing crisis in American cities. VOTE is committed to helping organizations across the country launch campaigns to change the criminal background policies that exclude whole families.
The meals provided by FICPFM were held outside in the beautiful weather, at large tables where people from around the nation could meet new people, exchanging contact info along with stories about their kids and their campaigns. Additional panels on voting rights, employment, political prisoners, the drug war, political prisoners, youth, and more led us ultimately to an inspiring closing plenary of formerly incarcerated women. If anyone in attendance was unsure about their place in the world, or whether they had the energy to continue the fight, the impassioned words of wisdom from these women surely breathed new life and confidence back into them.
While the second day closed out with the #SchoolsNotPrisons concert tour stop, people continued to mingle and build this coalition. VOTE served as an anchor organization to help in the giving a foundation for the nation to build upon, yet we certainly happily helped ourselves in the getting of knowledge, networking, support, and wisdom. We will continue to follow up in a way that furthers our collective power on a local and national scale.
Stay tuned for additional media and stories that came from this historic gathering.