A brief post today with a really important message from a high security prison in California. This isn’t just a feel-good story to start the year, it has a good deal to say about US incarceration, private prisons and alternatives to both, plus new opportunities to ensure we win in GA. Please share this post.
If you haven’t taken the 2021 Legislative Priorities Survey, take 5-10 minutes to do so. We are nearing 900 responses and would like to double that before the session begins. Raise Your Voice. Take the Survey. Click here.
Also, tomorrow, we will post Roxanne’s and my first KSFR radio show of 2021, our reflections on some of the silver linings in a very dark year and thoughts on 2021. 30 minutes. We will post it tomorrow morning, but it will air on KSFR, 101.1 FM or stream from KSFR.org at 8:30 Saturday. Happy New Year. Read On!
As Always, We Have Georgia on Our Minds: We start with a note from NM Democratic Party Secretary, Pamelya Herndon offering new opportunities to support Dems in their Senate Runoff. We have no new polling today, and likely won’t until Monday, but we do have a CNN report that describes deep concern among GOP operatives due to the strong early turnout in Democrat districts. From CNN:
“According to the current analysis we are running even or ahead of where we were in 2020 November election, but we know that this is just the beginning we still have to get to Election Day and I don’t count anything until it’s done,” Stacey Abrams said. “But we are incredibly enthusiastic not only about African American turnout, but we have seen increases among Latino and API voters.”From CNN: “Democratic early vote turnout concerns GOP in Georgia runoff”
From Pamelya Herndon:
As you celebrate this long New Year weekend, and make your New Year’s Resolutions, there is one resolution we would like you to make. Please make a resolution to join our campaign to help Democrats regain the Senate majority and ensure that President-elect Biden can pass a progressive agenda. We are counting on folks from New Mexico, like you, to join a phone bank to call Democrats in Georgia before the January 5th Special Election and remind them to turn in their absentee ballots or have a plan to vote in person at their registered polling location on Tuesday.
Join one of the phone bank options below and help us win the fight for the Soul of our Nation’s Democracy.
Phone bank for both Ossoff & Warnock:
Text bank for the Georgia Runoff:
Multiple phone banks, some focusing on absentee ballot chasing (verifying /reminding to return ASAP with voters who requested) w reclaim our vote,
This is a resolution we know you can keep. We are depending on you to help, and bring friends with you.
Pamelya Herndon, Secretary, Democratic Party of New Mexico
A Feel Good Story to Start the Year:
A high school student needed help with tuition, so an unlikely group stepped up: Prison inmates
“Shortly before Sy Newson Green’s sophomore year in high school, a family health crisis ate up the money that would have paid his tuition at the private Catholic school he’d been attending for a year. His father needed a heart transplant, his mother lost vision when a softball hit her eye and both parents lost their jobs.”From The Washington Post: “A high school student needed help with tuition, so an unlikely group stepped up: Prison inmates“
The Post story goes on to describe how Sy was the beneficiary of a Palma High School group that had launched a prison-school book group: “Exercises in Empathy” at Soledad Prison in California. Five years before Sy entered Palma High, Palma students launched a program, Exercises in Empathy, through which studentss came to the prison and met in small groups to discuss books with themes related to empathy.
The Post goes on to outline how those group meetings morphed into a prison wide effort to support Sy, with fully, 1/3 of the 2000 Soledad inmates donate twice a year to a scholarship fund. Given that inmates are paid 8 cents an hour for most work, making any kind of contribution is remarkable, but they have raised the $12,000 a year needed to underwrite Sy’s education.
One former inmate whose 20 years to life sentence for armed robbery was commuted by Governor Newsome due to Bryant’s leadership of this scholarship effort and other social programs within the prison commented:
““I think that inherently most people, even those of us who have made the worst decision in our lives, want to be a part of something good,” said Bryant, 41, who earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees remotely while in prison. “This idea when we started was just so good: We can help some young man get a head start that a lot of us didn’t have.”From The Washington Post: “A high school student needed help with tuition, so an unlikely group stepped up: Prison inmates“
While in prison, Bryant earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. There is much more to this story and I can’t think of a more uplifting way to spend your New Year’s morning. Click here to read the full post.
Retake doesn’t publish many ‘feel good,’ human interest stories. Perhaps we should. But my reason for focusing on this is two fold.
First, yesterday Retake published a piece about how American political culture demonizes sharing and socialism, a political philosophy predicated on sharing. If you missed the piece, I highly recommend you check it out. It lays out how, as a people, we’ve been brought up with the idea that you need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and that any form of support from others only weakens the character of the person receiving the support. During the Reagan era, the false narrative of the “welfare mom” who had babies just to get “free stuff,” became a racist stereotype accepted as truth by far too many Americans. In the post yesterday, I cited VP Pence and his comment about how all Democrats want to do is “make rich people less rich just to make poor people more comfortable.” I couldn’t help ask: what is so wrong with that?
Yet at a high security prison in California about 1/3 of the prison population shared the little they had, to help one kid get through high school. Do you really feel Sy’s character has been eroded because of the support he received? More likely, he learned something about human nature and that perhaps we would be better served by not judging a man or woman on the basis of the worst decision they had made in their life.
Which brings me to my second point. For far too long America has used incarceration and punishment whenever people, often desperate people, make a bad decision. I don’t want to minimize the consequences of those decisions as often those mistakes ended or ruined the lives of innocent people. But once that bad decision is made and once those consequences have resulted, we have an option, as a society as to how we respond.
The chart below compares incarceration rates among NATO nations. You don’t really need the numbers to understand where the US stands, but to underscore this point, the US today has over 2.2 million Americans in prison, often in privately owned and operated prisons that have a financial incentive to grow their numbers and keep people imprisoned. They also have a financial incentive to minimize all costs to maximize profit.
In a future post we will write more about private prisons in NM and the legislative effort to eliminate them. But for now, I want to end with this. Restorative justice is an approach to criminal justice that does not focus on incarceration and punishment, but instead facilitates contact between victim and perpetrator. It is something we will explore more deeply in the future.
I hope one New Year’s Day take-away from this piece, is that we could do better as a country in how we respond to people who make terrible mistakes. I hope another take-away is that a nation predicated on sharing could be a far more livable society than the one we have accepted as “normal,” one where the strong do well, the weak suffer and that is considered justice.
Please do read the full article on the Soledad scholarship effort. It is a very good way to start the new year and, as always, we encourage your comments below.
Happy new year friends and allies!
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne
Categories: Criminal Justice