Categories
News

PILP Files Lawsuit Against DOC Officials on Behalf of Transgender Woman

PILP Files Lawsuit Against DOC Officials on Behalf of Transgender Woman Denied Healthcare, Surgery

Contact: Donald (Dawn) Guthrie #MQ7942 SCI Mahanoy

Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, PA Institutional Law Project, (412) 434-6175 amorgan-kurtz@pailp.org

On December 15, 2020 The Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dawn Guthrie, a transgender woman who says she is being denied vital healthcare, including gender affirmation surgery by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). The lawsuit alleges that plaintiff, a 46-year-old transgender woman currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy, has suffered extreme distress and suicide ideation, including instances of self harm, since her diagnosis of gender dysphoria in 1998.

“It’s well known that transgender individuals are at a greater risk of harm in prisons,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, Managing Attorney of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “That risk only becomes greater when DOC officials continue to deny them the essential healthcare they need.”

The plaintiff has lived fully as a woman since 2016, and she has been on hormone therapy since May of 2017. However, she still experiences severe gender dysphoria related distress and requires additional treatment through, among other accommodations, gender affirmation surgery. Medical and psychology personnel in the DOC have consistently approved and recommended the plaintiff’s gender affirmation surgery but a central office committee has denied it.

“The DOC’s actions of denying my surgery without medical reason, it’s inexcusable. I think about suicide a lot,” said Dawn Guthrie. “I’ve had doctors who have said my gender dysphoria will not be relieved without surgery, but the DOC’s panel without any medical experience have just ignored that. Every day is a struggle living with gender dysphoria. The simplest daily chore such as showering or undressing causes severe emotional pain. Not all transgender individuals suffer from (GD) but those who do will tell you that it is not a choice to have this condition. This condition causes emotional pain that no person should wish on anyone.”

Dawn Guthrie, April ’21

According to the suit the DOC has violated her Eighth Amendment rights by refusing to provide adequate healthcare for her gender dysphoria, including gender affirming surgery, despite recommendations from their medical staff. The DOC’s refusal to provide her with this medically necessary care has caused her severe pain and anguish and places her at a substantial risk of future injury.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Secretary John Wetzel, Dr. Paul Noel, Dr. Arlene Seid and Dr. Paluki Reddy. The plaintiff is represented by Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz and Amy Ernst of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. Case number 1:20-CV-2351

Categories
News

Daughters Magazine

Daughters is a new magazine edited by Sarita Miller in collaboration with Let’s Get Free. The first issue was published in December of 2020. Due to printing and shipping troubles our community on the inside just started receiving their copies last month. It’s a wild success!

You can download the first issue here.

Message from the Editor 

God bless you everyone!  Hello, my name is Sarita Miller. I’m so humbled that you are reading our very first issue of Daughters, and when I say ours I mean every incarcerated woman who is enduring the hardships and the oppression of being imprisoned. Whether it be the brig of our minds or our bodies held in confinement, the number of women coming into the penal system is staggering. What are our issues? What are our struggles? How are we perceived as women serving time? Are we being identified by the meaning of re-formation and strength or by our circumstantial vulnerabilities at the time of our crimes?

Sarita shares experiences from the inside.

Serving this life sentence for 17 years has given me a priceless experience and a sound perspective on the multicultural epidemic of women being incarcerated. Almighty God has given me the vision to believe in the power our written voices will  have on those who can and want to make a difference in our lives. I believe Daughters can be that outreach for us. Throughout my time, I have heard a multitude of complaints from my peers relating to gender bias within the criminal justice system and the Department of Corrections. Most incarcerated women have expressed concerns that our needs within the DOC are not being met, but are instead overlooked or just plainly ignored. 

Compared to our male counterparts, our medical needs are different.  Our housing issues are different as well, especially when it comes to dealing with male officers who work on our housing units. Our psychological and mental health issues are distinct since a lot of women coming into the prison system are mothers dealing with the traumas of sexual abuse, battering and drug addiction. Even our nutritional issues are different.  As women age in prison, going through the change of life, this is only scratching the surface of the challenges we face being incarcerated. So ladies I invite and implore you to make your needs and concerns heard through Daughters. Teamwork makes the dream work!! 

Finally a publication just for us!  Much love and appreciation for the awesome support from Let’s Get Free! etta, thank you for believing in Daughters and stepping out in faith with me. I’d also like to send out my appreciation and gratitude to the wonderful ladies who have helped to make the first issue of Daughters a reality. God bless you Heather Lavelle, Nahesa Gray, Trisha Dippery, and Angela Hellman.  To Stephanie M and Andrea Dusha for their amazing artwork and for designing the cover of Daughters.  Without your willing participation, Daughters would not be a reality

Giant shout-outs to our men who are also enduring the vicissitudes of incarceration. You are also invited to write to Daughters.  Thank you to our soldiers who have paved the way. God bless you!

Sarita Miller, #OJ3158, SCI Muncy

Contact: Daughters ℅ Let’s Get Free 460 Melwood Ave #300 Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Categories
News

Reentry Revelations

RE-ENTRY REVELATIONS

by AVIS LEE

Avis stretching her wings on the first real day out of prison after 14 days of Quarantine.

Friday, February 12, 2021 was by far the happiest day of my adult life. I left prison after serving 40-1/2 years, and 12 days of a Life Sentence with no parole (LWOP).

As I traveled down the interstate I felt ecstatic, elated, overjoyed, jubilant and relieved. It was happening I was on my way home … to Pittsburgh. The ride was smooth but I got a little queasy about halfway; it took about 2-1/2 hours to get here.

I’m at Pittsburgh CCC (Community Correction Center).

The day arrived I did intake, met the center director and my counselor; was given a new mask, gave a urine and went to quarantine to await my Covid 19 test lab results.

I’m supposed to be here for one year. I’m allowed out Monday-Friday for work and also for two 4-hour segments of Free Time. (Update: Free Time is now 6 hours twice a week), I work part time for Let’s Get Free the Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee. Due to Covid 19 restrictions I had to go in quarantine until my lab results came back. I was able to go shopping the day after I got out of quarantine Note: that was one of my 4-hour free times.

GENERAL RULES:

·       Fill out weekly schedule for free time, work, community service, and outpatient treatment.

·       Get a job.

TIP–Local fast food restaurants hire you on the spot or within one or two days!!!

·       Due to Covid you must wear a mask when out of your room and stay in your cohort

·       You buy and cook your own food but you can cook and share with your roommates

·       NOTE: The CCC does have a pantry that we use until we’re able to buy groceries.

·       NO FOOD ALLOWED UPSTAIRS EVER!!!

·       There are coin-operated washers and dryers for $1 each (you must use quarters only; they will give them to you one time if your new but you have to ask for them). You’ll be given 3 combination locks; one for your closet, one for your refrigerated food bin, and one for your dry foods locker. You’ll  also get a bin (like the gray bin on commissary) for clothes, papers etc.

·       You have total control over your cash. You can have cash, credit cards, debit cards, and bank accounts. You do not pay rent at CCC. You can have and you need a cell phone because you have to call downstairs before you can leave to go anywhere. You can get food stamps and a medical card because within days of your arrival you will have to choose a PCP (which is a doctor) called a Primary Care Physician and a Health Plan.

·       You can have bus passes.

·       There are “real” mattresses with built-in box springs, carpeted rooms with air conditioners but there aren’t any TV’s in them and you cannot bring yours. You can have your tablet and headphones there are no kiosks.

·       No visitors permitted right now because of Covid but friends and family can drop off a cell phone, groceries, clothing, and cosmetics – TIP Dollar Tree (not Dollar General), sells everything for $1.

·       If you ask you’ll be given a voucher for $14 for the thrift store.

·       You cannot wear any prison clothing including brown sweats. If you arrive in them you will either be given clothing or sent to the thrift store to get clothing. the Red White and Blue Thrift Store has great deals. I bought Tommy Hilfinger sandals for $4.99 and Coach slip-ons for $14.

Overall the CCC is nice, the staff are very helpful. Secretary Wetzel and Dr. Conti came to see me just to check in with me and see how it’s doing.

It’s been about 65 days now since I’ve been released. I saw a parole agent on Thursday she came from New Castle, PA to talk to me about preparing to see the Parole Board in October. She gave me a parole booklet to read and told me to call her once a week so she could get to know me better because she will not be my field agent (a.k.a. P.O.), but she will be putting in a recommendation to the Parole Board prior to my interview with them in October. If your wondering why I have to see the parole board if my sentence was commuted … it’s because as long as we’re at the Center we are considered furlough status; once we actually see the Parole Board, are paroled and assigned a permanent P.O. we are able to move out of the center and live at our own place on parole.

Basically she asked me a lot of questions about how my reentry is going and what my goals are moving forward. I told her that I work for Let’s Get Free the Women and Trans Defense Committee part-time and that I am currently in a 6-week pre-apprenticeship program with Reimagine Reentry. This program prepares you for jobs in the construction trades. Some of you may remember that SCI Muncy offered a Construction & Maintenance program with Mr. Lou Capaldi; that is where I learned carpentry. I told her that my short term goal was to get my Learner’s Permit (received it on 4-13-21), and my long term goal (by Fall), is to get my PA driver’s license and possibly enroll in a 4-year carpentry apprenticeship and that part of the requirement is that I must have a driver’s license and reliable transportation to get to the various job sites.

Housing Tip: In addition to going to a Center if you can find a home/furlough plan with family or friends I would do that because finding “affordable” housing in the city is difficult; all of the waiting lists are 12- 18 months long at least!!! Most of the housing applications that you’ll fill out ask if you have been convicted of a felony in the past 7 years … which for the many of us is no BUT I tell them up front NO but I have a conviction stemming from a crime committed in 1979; have received Executive Clemency from the PA governor and I am 60 years old and on parole for the rest of my life. I do this because I believe it’s just best to be honest and if you live in an apartment building that has a security intercom system your P.O. has to have the access code, so your landlord would find out you are on parole anyway; also if a landlord would refuse to rent to you because you’re on parole why would you want to live somewhere where your not wanted anyway? That’s how I see that. I’m happy to be associated and spend my hard earned money with people who believe in giving people second chances.

All in all reentry is a beautiful thing. I highly recommend it. PLEASE CONTINUE TO FIGHT EVERYONE WE ARE OUT HERE SUPPORTING YOUR EFFORTS IN MANY WAYS. YOU ARE DEFINITELY NOT ALONE. I KNOW SOMETIMES IT FEELS LIKE IT BUT JUST TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THIS Y-O-U ARE NOT ALONE. It’s a lot of work. I’ve had a lot of victories and a lot of frustrations; mostly with wanting things to happen quickly. For example: I wanted to start looking for and purchase a car on Friday after only having my Learner’s Permit for 4 days. I figured I could just park it and once I had my license it would already be there.

Reality Check – a title can’t be transferred to someone who only has a Learner’s Permit and not  an actual PA driver’s license without a co-signer and tons of paperwork.

LOL Rookie Mistakes:

Putting lid upside down on takeout coffee is not a good idea or a good look.

Freezing precut-bagged salad and then running warm water over the bag = soggy salad.

Buying a monthly bus pass at Giant Eagle for $97.50 and finding out from your roommate the following day that you could’ve gotten it for $30 elsewhere.

Beautifully colored slushies at Primanti’s  are alcoholic; they’re adults only slushies. Who would have thought? Always ask what’s in anything you’re thinking about ordering as a beverage. Good thing I asked!

Categories
Art & Storytelling Events

Call for Artists: Empathy is the Seed 

Let’s Get Free’s 5th Annual Art Show 
Featuring artists on both sides of the walls

Call for Art and Poems 

This art show is open to people currently in prison and people on the outside.This year’s show will have both online and in person elements. Select pieces will be shown in the physical gallery. All entries will be entered into the contest. 

This year’s theme: Empathy is the Seed, Truth is the Water, Solidarity is the Bloomage 

This is a recipe we think is crucial to shifting our world from the paradigm of punishment to that of healing. 

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Truth: the quality or state of being in accordance with fact or reality Solidarity: unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group. Bloomage: The blossoms or bloom of a plant or area taken collectively.

Submissions: 
We love receiving artwork connected to the theme.

Visual Art: All mediums welcome, no size restrictions. Illustrations, collage, paintings, sculpture, charcoal, textiles, cross stitch, sculpture, blankets…   

Poetry: We’re adding poetry to our art show this year! This is a new addition to our annual art show so our process is unfolding. We welcome your poems. 

Deadline to Submit Art: August 30, 2021
Art Show Sign Up Form

The show will open in mid November and have in person and online elements. Feel free to reach out if you can’t make the deadline. 

Send Art and Poems To: Let’s Get Free: 460 Melwood Ave #300, Pittsburgh, PA, 15213:

Please include: Title, Medium and artists statement 

Digital Only pieces will not be accepted this year, If you are an outside digital artist please send us a physical copy of your art to be considered in the contest. 

Let’s Get Free’s 5th Annual Art Show is a fundraiser. By submitting art or poems to the show you are consenting for your art to be auctioned and sold to raise money to support Let’s Get Free. 

This is a contest. Like last year, there will be two contest categories: Artists on the Inside and Artists on the Outside.The contest categories and prizes will be a little different this year than last year if you participated in that show.

Prizes for Artists/Poets on the Inside

Visual Art Prizes
Piece that best expresses Empathy: $100
Piece that best expresses Solidarity: $100
Piece that best expresses Truth: $100
Piece that best ties the theme all together: $100
Best use of materials $100
Best Textile: $100
People’s Choice Award: $100

Poetry Prizes

Poem that best ties the theme all together: $100
People’s Choice Award: $100

Prizes for Artists/Poets on the Outside

Visual Artists in Solidarity Prizes

Piece that best ties the theme all together: $100
People’s Choice Award: $100

Poets in Solidarity Prizes

Poem that best ties the theme all together: $100
People’s Choice Award: $100

Scholarships for Art Supplies: If you are incarcerated and participated in our contest last year or any of our previous art shows, you are eligible for an art supply scholarship if you are planning to participate in this year’s show. Please write for more details. There is a limited number of scholarships with priority to women and trans prisoners. 

T H A N K Y O U

Deadline to Submit Art: August 30, 2021
Art Show Sign Up Form

Categories
Commutation

Commutation Kit 2021

Avis Lee says, “You got this!” Here she is on her 1st day of work
Avis is the 4th woman to receive commutation in Pennsylvania in 30 years.

Let’s Get Free! has updated our COMMUTATION support Kit

New Updates & Friendly Reminders as of March 2021

Download the 2021 Commutation Kit

These tips are written for people sentenced to life without parole but anyone filing for commutation can benefit from them. The process is open to anyone who has been convicted of anything.

  • Your filing Date & Patience. This process requires a lot of patience! After you send in your application it will be officially “filed.” This means the DOC submitted it to the Board of Pardons; once received and reviewed, you should receive correspondence from the Board that has your Filing Date. From that point, it can take up to two years from your filing date to get through the commutation process.  With the Board’s goal of getting the time line reduced to 1-year, this target has not yet been reached due to several factors: COVID; increased number of applications; and limited Prison and Board capacity.
  • Naomi Blount, a Commutation Specialist working for the Lt. Governor, advises: “Stick to the questions asked on the application form. Don’t go into what happened in the courts. Make your application clear, so readers do not have to guess as to what you may mean. Most importantly… TELL THE TRUTH!!!!”  Remember, excluding information or facts will be viewed as being untruthful.
  • Character Statements – letters from family and friends demonstrating support for your release and speaking on your character.  The Board will accept these letters of support when you send in your application or anytime after.  Find more information about writing letters on Pages 6-7
  • Reentry Support Letters. The reentry support letters are the most important; these are letters about home plans, jobs, financial support – any tangible support to facilitate your successful reentry.  It is strongly advised that these letters be sent once you get your official filing date, or later, because they can become outdated or no longer accurate.  
  • Home plans are important! It’s ok to have more than one home plan but having a home plan that is located in PA is essential.  When your sentence is commuted you must reside in Pennsylvania for one year [12 full months]—no wiggle room on this requirement; this is the law.  You are technically on Furlough for a year—this means your assignment to a Community Corrections Center [CCC] can be modified so that you will be permitted to spend extended periods of time at your home plan location. You will be able to do this once your home plan is approved. Remember a home plan is simply a promise of a place to stay; you will be able to modify the plan, if needed, once you are living in the CCC.
  • Interview with DOC Secretary John Wetzel: It has long been thought that Secretary Wetzel interviews each applicant as part of the prison review process; this is not always the case. We have learned not everyone will have a video interview with the Secretary.  However, if you get scheduled to meet with him, it is very common for him to postpone these scheduled interviews and as a result, delay your application process.   

Changes Are ‘Comin

  • Innocent Claims and Wrongfully Convicted – The Innocence Project is collaborating with the Board of Pardons to create an addendum that will be used specifically by those who have a claim of wrongful conviction will include questions specific to these issues . This additional form is being finalized; and should be available by the end of 2021. The commutation process is not designed to address or resolve actual innocence claims so unless you can prove it, keep guilt or innocence out of the application. Focus on compassion, mercy and your accomplishments/prison record. If the PA Innocence Project supports your innocence claims, they will write a letter on your behalf to include with your application. [PA Innocence Project – 1515 Market St, Suite 300 Philadelphia, PA 19102 Pittsburgh PA – 914 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219]
  • Digital Application Coming Soon – The application process is hoped to become completely digital no later than February, 2022. When this happens, each applicant will have their own account – applicants and their support people can help file the application, make modifications and check on status of the application. There should an identified location in each prison where one will be able to use the technology.

Application Stage

  • As of January 2020 you need to use the newly revised application. People in prison can get a copy of the application by going through a counselor or at the Law Library.  People on the outside can also send an application by downloading it through the Board of Pardons website. As of 2019 there are on longer fees associated with this application. https://www.bop.pa.gov/application-process/  There aren’t any major changes for lifers, so no new information is required but you are required to submit the latest version of the application. Nothing to sweat here! You can request an application by writing to Board of Pardons 333 Market Street. 15th Floor. Harrisburg, PA 17126. It takes 3 weeks. Include your name and DOC number. Your counselor should also be able to give you an application
    • For questions about the application contact John Johnson, Pardons Case Specialist Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050. Phone: 717-728-0386 johjohnson@pa.gov  You can also try Brandon Flood at bflood@pa.gov 717-409-3913
    • Application Status Update (717) 787-2596 (From BOP website) All phone calls are taken between 11:00 am and 4:30 pm (Eastern Time).
    • Supporters can now email letters of recommendation to the board of pardons. Contact Brandon Flood – Bflood@pa.gov He will distribute the letter to the board and put it in the applicants packet. It’s always important to send a paper copy to your person filing the application.
    • Please write to us if you want a completed sample application of Naomi Blount. This application is from 2016 so it is not exactly the same as the 2020 ones but close. We are trying to get a more updated sample.
    • Take a look at the DOC policy on commutation at your law library: 11.4.1
    • Mail your application to: Pardons Case Specialist/Parole Manager Bureau of Standards and Accreditation Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole 1920 Technology Parkway Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
    •  
    • It is very important to have someone proofread your application before submission.

Tips for writing a commutation application

Ellen Melchiondo, The Women’s Lifer Resume Project with help from etta, naomi, elaine

The new commutation application is free and there is no filing fee. The application is available on the BOP website and in the prison library. The application includes supplemental pages and you must use them. Do not write “see attachment” in spaces where information continues. There is a box at the end of each section where you indicate if you will be including supplemental information. Information that you want to provide such as resume or published work should just be sent along with the application.

If you are not in prison and assisting an applicant what I do is download the application pdf.  I save it to my desktop and a text box automatically appears. I also get rid of the text lines, and select white to make the background solid. This makes it easier to read.  

Here’s a rundown on each section for people with life sentences:

Section 1 Type of Clemency: Check “Commute Life Sentence to Life on Parole” and do your best to remember each time you previously applied. 

Section 2 Applicant Information: Just the facts. If using the DOC-Parole for representation click the box, the address is below. If using someone else, give that information. 

Section 3 Convictions for Which Clemency is Requested:  Less information is asked here: “place, role and caught.” Use a supplemental page if needed. Do not minimize role. Don’t add dialogue. Don’t make excuses. Minimize details, you’re not writing a memoir or screenplay. 

Section 4 Additional Criminal Information: Fill out Section 4 to the best of your ability because parole provides the rap sheet to the DOC commutation office. No one is expected to pay for their criminal history report.

Section 5 Optional Personal Statement: is totally optional. No more checking boxes to address reasons for applying. One page is usually enough.  In Section 5 write what life was like before the crime and tie that in to describe how your life changed and improved directly.  For people who didn’t actually kill someone but were at the scene acknowledge that decisions made or behaviors resulted in being a suspect and ultimately convicted and sentenced. Wanting family members know how sorry you are should be an apology letter sent to the apology bank or Office of Victim Advocate, not in a commutation application.

I think now, less is more in Section 5. An explanation about your life circumstances before and during serving time is good. Accomplishments in list form. Home plan if you have one.  You can list your supporters and how they will help you.  Be sincere, humble and realistic about your goals. 

Section 6: Sign and date. Keep a copy for yourself!

Tips for writing about your crime

One of the most challenging aspects for those who are pursuing commutation is to explain the role they played in the crime. Again,it is very important to have someone proofread your application before submission. When writing about the details of your crime, it is important to be both detailed and concise. Do not leave any information out, but also try to be straight to the point.  One challenge is knowing how much to share about what led up to the crime. For women in general, this cannot be omitted or separated. Since the Board of Pardons doesn’t tell us what swayed them to vote for or against an applicant, a 360 degree perspective is owed to the process. It really is up to women lifers to educate the board of the unique crimes that they find themselves convicted of. It’s a balancing act. You want to provide context for your situation without excusing or diminishing your role.

You no longer have to admit to things you didn’t do as was the thought under the old commutation process. Before, your story had to match that of the State. Now you can tell your truth but it is important to take responsibility for your role. If you are wrongfully convicted – you are still convicted in the eyes of the state. So it is basically a plea for mercy. Because this isn’t re-litigation it’s not a retrial – the most you might do is point out some evidence that they could see. This process isn’t set up for the wrongfully convicted – write Lt. Gov John Fetterman about this. 


Filing Date and Staffing Stage

After you submit your application is officially filed – this can take awhile from the time that you send it in. And each applicant gets “staffed” by their prison. This “staffing” is also called The Special Review Committee and is generally one or two deputy superintendents, a Major of Unit Management, or a Corrections Classification Program Manager or whoever is designated by the superintendent. A person can also request a supportive staff person to be included too.

Current staff may not write letters of support.  They may submit an email to the respective Unit Manager to be included in the staffing packet.

 

Merit Review Stage

For updates on merit review contact Brandon Flood Bflood@pa.gov 717-480-0793 – Let it be known that there is most often incorrect information about who is going up for Merit Review – even if one of the BOP people tell us who is going up. Several times they have listed peoples names and several times they were not on the list.  Try to call the week before the scheduled merit review to obtain the most accurate info. You can also try John Johnson.

Before your merit review you will be interviewed by Wetzel: Secretary Wetzel instituted the policy of interviewing applicants before the merit review. There is nothing in policy mandating the Secretary to conduct video interviews with people in prison.  This is his policy and this could be discontinued by the next secretary one day. The secretary makes the ultimate decision by the Department of Corrections to recommend or not recommend an applicant for commutation. Not everyone will have an interview with Wetzel.

To pass merit review you need a 3-2 majority. You can now appeal a negative outcome during the Merit Review phase.  You have 30 days to submit a Letter of Reconsideration along with a form you can find on DOC website, this letter of reconsideration is attached below. George Trudell, Naomi Blount and Farouq Wideman were denied at merit review stage, filed the reconsideration letter and are now released!

Hearing Phase

After a person passes the merit review, you will be scheduled for an in-person or virtual interview a few days before the hearings. This may be at Camphill or at Central Office in Mechanicsburg. The prison staff person who supports the applicant at the public hearing will be attending the in-person interview. Even during COVID these in person interviews happened.

A recent change in the process is that the DOC Office of Pardons Specialists will not be representing lifers at public hearings. This job falls to a staff person at the prison and was Wetzel’s idea. The idea is that Staff here at Central Office will never know the people as well as the institutional staff. Applicants are not permitted to select the designated facility staff person.  This is the decision of the superintendent.  They are still free to appoint someone else to represent you such as an attorney, friend or family member however, Mr. Johnson would not recommend since the representatives don’t have to speak as much and prepare long presentations as was the case in the past. But the representative must know the case inside and out and now how to prep the supporters in presentation.

Encourage your supporters to reach out to us if they have questions or just want some moral support. If they want to know what to expect, they can find a video on youtube of the full day of public hearings in May by searching: PA Board of Pardons, May 30, 2019. There is a shorter video highlighting Naomi and Cynthia’s hearing of the same day. Search youtube: PA Board of Pardons Hearing for Cynthia Gonzalez and Naomi Blount. Perhaps your counselors can pull it up for you as it is public and pertains directly to your situation.


2021 Board of Pardons Schedule
Merit Review  & Public Hearing Sessions:

Thursday, May 6, 2021 – Merit Review Session – Skype Session 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021 – Public Hearing – Zoom Meeting

Thursday, June 24, 2021 – Public Hearing – Zoom Meeting

Friday, June 25, 2021 – Public Hearing – Zoom Meeting


Thursday, August 5, 2021 – Merit Review Session – Skype Session 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021 – Public Hearing – Zoom Meeting

Thursday, September 23, 2021 – Public Hearing – Zoom Meeting

Friday, September 24, 2021 – Public Hearing – Zoom Meeting


Thursday, October 28, 2021 Merit Review Session – Skype Session 3:00 p.m.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021 – Public Hearing – Zoom Meeting

Wednesday, December 1, 2021 – Public Hearing – Zoom Meeting
Thursday, December 2, 2021 – Public Hearing – Zoom Meeting


Friends and Family can get conference call numbers from merit review and zoom link for public hearings at: https://www.bop.pa.gov

Letters of Reentry Support and Letters of Recommendation are Important!

A Reentry Support  Letter shows real support coming home: housing, money, job, transportation, clothes, etc… The best time to file these letters is when your commutation application is officially filed. The concern there is that the tangible support will become outdated because the process takes so long so if you can send the letters when you get your filing date they should be good. So wait to hear from the DOC and the BOP that your application has been filed.

A letter of Recommendation explains why a person believes you are no longer a threat to public safety and have been rehabilitated. They can express other things like looking forward to spending time with you, showing you how to navigate the free world, etc.. You can file these letters any time!

Reminder: Supporters can now email letters to the board of pardons. Brandon Flood – Bflood@pa.gov He will distribute the letter to the board and place in the applicant’s packet.

Keep in mind if you are writing to organizations for support letters and they don’t know you personally it is hard for them to write you a letter. Try building a relationship first.

Asking Friends and Family for Letters

 Support your friends in supporting you!

Here is a sample letter people in prison can use to mobilize family and friends to write letters:

Dear

I am working on my commutation application. I would like to know if you would be interested in writing a letter of support, a character witness letter to the board of pardons on my behalf. If you are open to this the letter should be addressed to The Board of Pardons 333 Market St, Harrisburg, PA 17126 and include the following

RE: (commutation applicant’s name) Commutation of Life Sentence, letter writer’s return address and phone number.

The letter should state the following:

1. Briefly touch on who you are, your background, employment, degrees, etc.

2. Include Commutation Applicant’s Name, DOC Number and Prison

3. How we came in contact with each other.

4. Your thoughts on my maturity and rehabilitation.

5. Your thoughts on my remorse for the offense I am convicted of.

6. Your thoughts on my chances for successful reentry into society, employment and participation in society upon my release.

7. Any willingness you would have in assisting in my reentry to society i.e. references, referrals, etc. when I am released.

When you are finished with the letter please send the original back to me. Please also keep a copy for yourself. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

XXyour nameX

Download the 2021 Commutation Kit

Categories
Art & Storytelling Take Action

Monthly Donor Drive and Print Sale

Our goal is to sign up 25 new monthly donors in the month of December. Whaddya say? Can you chip in a little a month to support people in prison in PA.

Monthly sustainers are a critical part of community organizing and help us gather unrestricted funds. This money is used for: direct assistance to people in prison and returning citizens (hard to write a grant for that) stamps, printing newsletters and commutation kits, speaker stipends as well as transportation costs to visit prisons, the state capitol and faraway meetings and conferences. 

As of December 2020 we have 34 persistent givers making everything we do possible!!
They are donating at levels of $5 up to $30 a month!

Your $5 a month becomes $60 over the year.
Your $10 a month becomes $120 over the year.
Your $20 a month becomes $240 over the year.
Your $25 a month becomes $300 over the year.
Your $30 a month becomes $360 over the year.

If you sign up to be a monthly sustainer giving at least $10 a month in December, you can get a free print! If you are already a sustainer and want to up your giving by $5 a month you get a print too! After you sign up, we will email you to get your print order and shipping or Pittsburgh pick up details. You can view all the print options by looking at the print sale website below.

Categories
Take Action

It’s been over 30 days, Governor Wolf sign on!

It’s time to put some pressure on Governor Tom Wolf to sign the commutation orders that were recommended to him on September 4th. 

Please take a few moments to call ☎️ his office (717-787-2500 ) and contact him via his online form

You can write your own message or use the script below. We need to flood his office with requests so our people are returned to us ASAP!

Dear Governor Wolf,

Please Sign the Commutation orders for Avis Lee, Mildred Strickland, Henrietta Harris, Kevin Butler, Daniel Cummings, Reid Evans, Wyatt Evans, Francisco Mojica and Gregory Stover.

These nine commutation applicants went through a rigorous screening process over the last 3 years and were recommended by your appointed board. A month may not seem like a long time to you but, after serving 30 to 40 years, every additional minute is an eternity.

The risk to these people of being exposed to covid-19 is extremely high in the state correctional institutions and they would be much safer once released. It would be truly tragic to become infected while waiting for your approval.

Please sign the orders today!
✏️ Your name and any credential or PA town etc.

[Image Description: Governor Wolf is seated at a desk in the bottom right hand corner of the graphic looking down as he is writing. White letters in a hand written font state,” Dear Governor Wolf, Please sign the commutation orders that were approved last September 4th. Thanks! Love with a little heart, me”]

Categories
Take Action

Life After Life: Spare Room Solidarity Project

Friends, Comrades & Pittsburgalista’s,

Let’s Get Free is excited to announce our new initiative called Let’s Go Home! We have people in our network coming home, and hope to have more coming soon. We are cooking up many different ways to secure housing for our growing Pittsburgh community. So far, our motto is “Buy us a house or give us one or let us manage your property” 🙂 Yes our ideas are lofty!! But we are gonna bring them to fruition with your support! 

Our first effort is called the Spare Room Solidarity Project. Do you have a spare room or rooms that you could make available to an amazing person returning from incarceration?

We were really inspired when we read about  Impact Justice’s Homecoming project and also because we have reached out to the Pgh community before for solidarity housing and the response was overwhelmingly positive. 

We are looking for people who can make a commitment for at least six months, preferably a year. Members of Let’s Get Free have provided this type of housing and support in the past, and we are creating an information session and webinar explaining  what it means to sign up for a project like this. 

Please sign up here if you are interested in learning more about our new Spare Room Solidarity Project. We are planning to do our first orientation in October.

Most presently our friend Amy needs a homeplan – a promise of a place to live

A member of our LGF Prison Advisory Board- Amy Pencille is currently working her way through the extensive Commutation Process and is in need of a Home Plan. Amy has been a part of our network for 3 years! This means providing a promise of a place to live after she is released. (Which could be years away)

The catch is because everything with the courts is so nebulous we simply need you to promise her a space and then as time goes on we can find an additional homeplan if something changes in your life. A home plan is simply a promise in the form of a letter sent to the person in prison.

With solidarity and spare room in our hearts,

etta cetera and alan lewandowski

Categories
News

Overview of the Public Hearing Outcomes

The first week of September saw the first ever virtual hearings of the Board of Pardons. The hearings took place on zoom with hearing participants sent a special link. The public was able to watch a live stream of the zoom on the BOP website. A schedule was sent out weeks before listing over 200 cases to be heard, most of them pardons. The pardons cases are all people who are not in prison.

There were technical problems throughout the process resulting in the postponement of many of the pardon cases. It was a relief that the board chose to continue with the commutation cases.
 
Henrietta Harris, Avis Lee, Mildred Strickland, Gregory Stover, Francisco Mojica, Reid Evans, Wyatt Evans, Daniel Cummings and Kevin Butler were all recommended to the Governor.
 
Dennis Horton, Lee Horton and Eric Eisen were held under advisement. (They do this when the board has unanswered questions that would impact their decision.)
 
Edwin Dejesus, Harry Jeffries, Richard Marra, Michael Rinaldi, Felix Rosado, David Sloughenhoupt, Joseph Spinks and James Strapple were denied.
 
Here are some stats for the 22 that were up for commutation from our beloved data diva Elaine Selan:
 
Prisons: Phoenix  7 Chester 6 Benner 1 Dallas 2 Albion 1 Muncy 1
Cambridge Springs 2 Mahanoy 1 Somerset 1       
 
1st Degree = 7 * 2nd Degree = 11 * Robbery = 1  * Murder = 2
21 with LWOP * 1 longtimer
 
AGE – Avg. 55 Oldest = 83 Youngest=43
 
RACE –  B=10 H=3 W=9
 
YEARS SERVED – Avg= 37.1 Longest=41 Shortest=24    
 
COUNTY  Phila – 11 Allegheny – 2  Berks – 1 Bucks – 1 Delaware – 1 Lancaster – 1 Mercer – 1 Westmoreland – 1          
 
RESULTS                  
Recommended          9          1st D- 2/2nd D-6/Robbery -1
Not Recommend        8          1st D-1/2nd D-7
Under Advisement    3          2nd D-3
Case Not Heard         1          Murder
Continued      1          Murder
Not Continued           0         
Reconsideration        N/A    
Revocation     1
 
Board Members Vote Tally: 
 
Grayson (Victim Advocate) – Y=10  N=8
Gubernick (Criminal Justice ‘Expert’) Y=10  N=8
Williams (Psychiatrist) Y=10  N=8
Shapiro (Attorney General) Y=11  N=7
Fetterman (Lt. Governor) Y=12  N=6          

We uploaded some of the hearings on our youtube channel:

Felix Rosado’s Hearing – with surprising testimony from Jennifer Storm head of the Office of the Victims Advocate.

Henrietta Harris and Mike Rinaldi –  these videos clip the beginning of Henrietta’s and the end of Mike’s You can still get the feel.

Avis Lee’s Hearing – After all of the anticipation the hearing lasted about 3 minutes.

The next Merit Review is scheduled for November 5th at 3pm.
The next Public Hearings are scheduled for the second week in December 9-11th.

Debrief with us!
The hearings were a lot!

On September 17th at 6pm, join Let’s Get Free and Amistad Law Project in debriefing what happened at the public hearings, reflecting on our wins, our losses and the road ahead.   You can expect a breakdown of what happened at the hearings last week from organizers at Let’s Get Free and Amistad, space to express your feelings, observations, and questions about the hearings, and time to imagine the changes we want to see at the Board.

The event will take place on Zoom.
Register Here
Facebook Event Here

Categories
News Take Action

Success for 3 Women in PA

[Image description: Black and white headshot of Avis Lee who is smiling surrounded by flowers and the words Avis Lee 5 Yes Votes  She is coming Home]

YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. Avis Lee is coming home!!
Let us all rejoice in her homecoming. It is with great pleasure we share the news of her unanimous vote for commutation from the PA Board of Pardons.

All the women who went before the board last week had favorable reviews! Mildred Strickland at the age of 75 will be returning to Philadelphia to be with her grandchildren. Henrietta Harris whose case was held under advisement last year was commuted of her life sentence and given a hit of 12 months for an escape. 

The Amistad Law Project wrote this overview of last weeks decisions which you can read here. 9 longtimers out of 22 were recommended to the governor. There is still a long way to go but considering there were essentially no commutations for a period of 30 years in PA, we are feeling the joy!

Avis said yesterday was the best day of her life. Like a giant weight has been lifted from her shoulders. She sends gratitude for each prayer, each sign, each painting, each email, each letter, each raised voice for freedom and all the acts of love and support so many have offered her over the years.

We now await the governor to sign on to her application which could take 30 days to 6 months. The governor is not obligated to any time frame.WE ARE SPEAKING 30 DAYS INTO EXISTENCE.

Please consider chipping into her Decarceration Fund. Let’s Get Free is more than proud that Avis will be our first official employee!!