Let’s Get Free Our Year in Review

Looking back on this year, Let’s Get Free has done a lot of work, made solid connections, grown in community, and has been supported and built by so many amazing folks. In 2016, we officially launched our Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation, hosted a legislator call-in day to begin laying tracks for future commutation reform, lobbied in Harrisburg and held a press conference in support of HB2135 and commutation reform. We sent our first newsletter, organized ongoing support for Juvenile Lifer cases in PA, began fundraising in earnest to be able to realize our goals for mobilizing and organizing across the state, and lobbied again with CADBI on October 18 to end Death By Incarceration.

The last 6 months have felt big, working to ride on the crest of the wave stirred up by our rally and lobbying efforts in June and October, and the introduction of HB2135–legislation for Parole Expansion for Lifers. We have been successfully fostering and growing relationships with PA state representatives who support HB2135, and have begun working with representatives in SW PA to craft a strategic approach to statewide campaigning for this legislation. We had the opportunity to participate in a historic Lifer’s Retreat at SCI Graterford, making incredible connections and community with others in the struggle across the state, and are collaborating to expand a scholarship fund. We hosted a deeply moving listening event with Samantha Broun, who has produced a singularly important radio piece about violence, harm, healing, and commutation. Our statewide collaboration and networking with other justice groups across the state has been growing stronger, and we have successfully started to expand our working group. Building our house up so we can invite more people in to keep on in 2017!

Please download our January 2017 Newsletter

The Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation has gathered a Commutation Support Kit. It includes tips from Ellen, a copy of an application that ended up winning freedom for a lifer, and sample letters to write to family and friends to help them support you in this process.

Freedom on the Horizon for Paulette Carrington

paulettePA’s first female serving JLWOP was resentenced!

Reports compiled by Ellen Melchiondo from the Women’s Lifers Resume Project

Ellen Melchiondo writes: The hearing lasted about half an hour.

Before the hearing began, the assistant to lawyer Susan Ricci of the Philadelphia Defenders Association, took the names of the people who came in support of Paulette:  four members of Paulette’s family, two women from The First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, Pastor Collins and Richard “Tut” Carter of the Church of The Overcomers, Paul Mack, Ellen Melchiondo,Mike Lyons, Yvonne Newkirk and 3 others from CADBI, FFL, PA Prison Society and The Redemption Project, Susan Beard-Nole, wife of Freddie Nole a juvenile lifer, Cecilia Velasquez, sister of Ben who is a lifer and who spent some time at Muncy. (All of the names were submitted to the court for the record and some names were read by Ricci during her presentation.) A card was signed by everyone to be given to Paulette.

Paulette’s family provided her with new clothes to wear. Paulette looked at everyone as she was seated upon entering. Susan Ricci frequently had her arm on Paulette’s back and arm.

The ADA said little, except to verify the plea deal and supported it. 35 to life.  Paulette served 38 years. There was no opposition.

Susan Ricci explained Paulette’s life before the incident and the training, work and programs that Paulette completed while in prison. Paulette spoke as she struggled with tears as she expressed her remorse and wishes to help young people avoid her situation.

The judge, Katheryn Streeter Lewis, read about the crime, the GED and HS Diploma that Paulette achieved. The judge said she was aware that Paulette is the first female juvenile lifer in PA to get this far. The judge expressed her confidence in Paulette’s ability to be successful after prison.She also expressed her desire to see that children like Paulette get the support they need to avoid tragedy and that the system had failed them.

Paulette agreed with all of legal limitations that she pled to. The supporters applauded at the end and Paulette was escorted out by the sheriff, who sat by her the entire time. No hugs allowed.

Paulette will return to SCI Cambridge Springs to work out parole arrangements and within three months she will return to Philadelphia to live in a transitional home for six months before joining family.

From Cecilia Velasquez whose brother Ben is serving LWOP for decades:  As Paulette begin to talk about her crime, she choked back tears as she expressed her remorse for the life she had taken. The audience felt her pain as tears rolled down many in the audience.  I, Cecilia, met Paulette many years ago, over 36 years ago. At that time, she was a young teen even young for her age, yet, there was already a sense of a heavy laden burden from the sentenced she had been given.

Yesterday I met the woman she had become despite all she had experience in those 38 years, the people she had lost, the oblivious suffering and pain written on her face. Paulette had overcome her situation and circumstances to develop, grow, improve herself and help those around her.

As I sat in the audience I couldn’t help feel Peachies’ presence and the ground work with her life!Paulette is truly a testament to all of us on how to live in spite of our Circumstances.  I felt honored to be part of this history making event to change the destiny of juvenile women lifers.  Paulette,  Thank you.

From Susan Beard-Nole whose husband Freddie has been serving JLWOP for 47 years:

It brought great sorrow to hear that Paulette lost her only child to violence. Just a reminder of the harm done to children who are separated from their mothers/fathers due to prison. Despite that sadness, Paulette continued on to help the young women who crossed her path.

From Susan Ricci, Paulette’s attorney at the Defender’s Association of Philadelphia:

I agree that Paulette’s story is a very powerful one and I too thought the court staff and the judge were moved by it.  Of course it is terrible what happened to the deceased in this case, but Paulette was truly a victim in all this as well.  A life sentence was so incredibly unjust.  Judge Lewis has now handled a number of resentencing hearings in juvenile lifer cases but this was the first time I have heard her question out loud who is responsible for all the trauma inflicted on the children who then went on to act out in a way that ended so tragically.  Paulette is such a strong woman.  I am grateful to have been assigned her case so that I got the opportunity to know her.  And I am very thankful you and the others were there to support her.  It meant so much to her.

Nov. 29 – We Stand with Fight for $15

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Please join members of Let’s Get Free on this National Day of action for Economic Justice and Living Wages for all. Meet up with us at 4pm at the Federal Building in Downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday November 29th.

Find out more about the National Action Here

Pittsburgh Facebook Event Here

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Fight for 15 plans ‘most disruptive’ wage protest and strike after Thanksgiving

Thousands of low-wage airport and fast-food workers across US plan to protest on fourth anniversary of first major action in light of Trump’s election victory…More from the Guardian Here

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Life Sentence, Victims, Offenders and My Mother – This Saturday – 5pm

a-life-sentence-poster-1Saturday October 29, from 5pm – 7pm at the Dance Alloy Studios in East Liberty – 5300 Penn Avenue  $ 5 – 25 Sliding Scale. Pay what you can. We want you here.

The event will involve listening to the piece together followed by a community discussion. The discussion afterwards would be led by producer Samantha Broun and former lifer, Tyrone Werts. We will be joined by Representative Ed Gainey, Co-Sponsor of HB 2135, the new bill that would expand parole eligibility for lifers. Darlene Williams and Donna Hill will be present as well, both of them mothers of a daughter serving life without parole.

In 1994, Jeremy Broun was 55 years old and living alone in Nyack, New York.  On the evening of September 21st a stranger came into her backyard. The stranger attacked her from behind. Five hours later, he left her lying on her bed. Hands and feet bound with tape. Alive. She survived.  

As told by Jeremy’s daughter, Samantha Broun, “A Life Sentence” is the story of this terrible crime and everything that followed. It looks at the acute and long-lasting impact the crime had on Jeremy and her family, as well as the societal and political impact, felt most acutely in Pennsylvania where the offender was from. It changed the outcome of a Governor’s race and altered the state constitution.

Twenty years later, Samantha teamed up with Jay Allison, Peabody Award Winner and public radio producer, to make this documentary, which was two and half years in production.

Email – letsgetfreepa@gmail.com or call 443-603-6964

200 Sing to Abolish Death by Incarceration

Local Harrisburg 21 News Coverage

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On October 18th, over 200 people traveled to the State Capitol to demand an end to Death By Incarceration and support House Bill 2135, which would make people serving life sentences parole-eligible after 15 years. Thank you so much to all who participated in this powerful action! #AbolishDBI

Photo Credit: Joe Piette, Emily McGrew, Patricia Vickers


Coalition To Abolish Death by Incarceration
https://www.facebook.com/CADBIphilly
 

Let’s Get Free is a local affiliate with the Coalition! Link with us!  Get involved. We need you!
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October 18th – Harrisburg – Rally and Lobby Day – Come With…

oct18There are over 5000 people serving Life Without Parole sentences in Pennsylvania. In PA, ‘life’ means your entire life, which is why many instead call it Death By Incarceration (DBI). This harsh sentencing does not improve public safety and disproportionately impacts poor people and people of color.

We believe that denying people the right to transformation and redemption is an affront to everyone’s humanity. Join the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI) and our allies from across the state as we converge at the state capitol to ask our legislators to end Death By Incarceration in Pennsylvania.

There is now a bill in the PA House that would make people serving DBI eligible for parole after 15 years. The bill is HB2135 and was introduced by Rep. Dawkins. But we need mass public pressure in order to move the bill forward.

Make your voice heard!

Want to come? Need a ride? Have a ride to give?  CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FROM PITTSBURGH. or fill out form below

Coming From Philly? CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FROM PHILLY

If coming from Pittsburgh Area Fill our from below!

 

Report back from Harrisburg Mobilization

The Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation Hits the Capitol

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Group with Jason Dawkins and Ed Gainey by Traisaun Leake

On Thursday, June 23, the Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation hit the Capitol pushing a 12 point platform that would change regulations and practices of the barely functional commutation process.  About 25 people traveled to Harrisburg from Pittsburgh and 10 more from Philly.  Upon arrival from Pittsburgh a devoted crew raced up to the office of Jason Dawkins, co-author of HB 2135, where he met them with open arms. House Bill 2135 was introduced on June 9, and has the ambition to Expand Parole Eligibility for Life Sentences. This bill would make people eligible for parole after 15 years served, and as Jason said in our press conference, “This bill would abolish life without parole.” Can you believe a State Rep said those words?!

Rep Ed Gainey from Pittsburgh gave a rousing speech at our rally in support of the bill. This is extra powerful because, tragically, his sister was murdered just a month ago. Additional surprise speakers included: Rep Joanna E. McClinton from Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, who was extremely encouraging and really applauded our efforts, and Rep Patty Kim of Dauphin County, who also stepped to the mic, talking about an impactful meeting she had with women at Muncy.

Some of our speakers included Mae Hadley and Donna Pfender, who spoke on behalf of their daughters who are serving life. Lauren Stuparitz spoke from the perspective of a victim – being the survivor of a brutal attack in Pittsburgh – she believes people deserve a second chance.

Reforms to the Commutation process we were pushing included: Rescinding the Unanimous Vote by the Board of Pardons in case of Life Sentences, Video interviews with lifer applicants before merit review hearing, and Written Reason for Denial of lifer commutation applications. And last but not least, HB 2135 Parole Eligibility for Lifers.

We scheduled meetings with legislators we thought could be potential allies, but were impressed with how many of them had visited prisons and met people serving Life. This included Republican Rep Tom Murt from Philadelphia, who deeply cares about veterans, and spoke of a friend of his who is a Vietnam war vet incarcerated since the 70’s. Tom wants to organize a public hearing in the Human services committee about LWOP, relating how LWOP affects the elderly, veterans, and its connections to mental health and addiction.

On the Senate side of things, Art Haywood, Shirley Kitchen and Greenleaf’s offices were encouraging, informative and uplifting.  Liana, the amazing legislative assistant of Mr. Haywood’s staff, said they were interested in aging prisoners, and the idea of having a public hearing was talked about in several meetings from several perspectives. Rep.Vanessa Brown, another ally, had just visited Muncy and saw a lot of elderly women who she thought should be at home with their families. One of our lobby groups randomly met up with Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York, who committed to co-sponsoring bill HB 2135 and gave group a tour of the House. What support!

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photo by Traisaun

Anne Gingrich Cornick, the legal advisor for the Board of Pardons, was present in the Governor’s meeting. Ann read our whole platform in front of us and said that most of our points on our platform would require constitutional amendments. Constitutional Amendments require a 2/3’s majority vote – they need to pass through the House and Senate twice before being put to referendum – a public vote. All regulatory changes for the Board of Pardons must go through the Independent Regulatory Review Commission. (IRCC)

We learned the Victim’s Advocate position of the Board of Pardons was filled by a Pittsburgh resident named Marsha Grayson. For those of you in Pittsburgh, it is her family that started the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center in the Hill district. Senator Greenleaf’s aid told us she is appropriate for the position not only because she has the victim’s perspective, having lost her son, but that also, coming from the Black community, she understands the impact of incarceration on families and neighborhoods and seems to embrace many perspectives.

One official advised that our biggest obstacle was the District Attorney’s Lobby. It was said they have great authority and do not stand with us.

And so, where does this leave us? There is a to do list a mile long including writing op eds, meeting with lawmakers locally, coordinating statewide efforts to push HB 2135 and commutation reform, following up about public hearings, and building alliances with victims rights organizations. Leaving the Capitol we felt very excited and hopeful.  We also felt the realness of the difficulty that lay before us. There is a long hard road ahead.

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