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News

Teach-In Guaranteed Basic Income

Solid light blue background with yellow title text on a pink background that reads: Guaranteed Basic Income: A Teach-In Fundraiser. Tuesday, September 27th from 6:30-7:30 pm ET. The Let’s Get Free logo is to the right of the description: Let's Get Free is hosting a virtual teach-in as a fundraiser for the softer landing fund, which is a guaranteed basic income program for people coming home from long-term prison sentences. Registration and donation link: bit.ly/fundgbi. Screenshot of softer landing fund go fund me page is in the lower left corner next to headshots and titles of the guests: Brittany Pope, Evan Casper-Futterman and Richard Wallace.

Guaranteed Basic Income Teach-In & Fundraiser

Tuesday September 27
6:30-7:30pm
Virtual Zoom Teach In

Access Update: ASL/English Interpreters and auto generated captions

Register Here

Join Let’s Get Free in learning about Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) with some organizations that are already trying it out! This one hour virtual teach-in is a fundraiser for A Softer Landing Fund, a new initiative to support people who have served long sentences coming home from prison. Panelists Brittany Pope (Bread for the City – DC) and Richard Wallace (EAT -Chicago) have both implemented GBI programs for formerly incarcerated people. Participants will hear an overview of their projects including success and challenges and have the opportunity to ask questions. Evan Casper-Futterman (Economic Democracy Learning Center – Bronx) will help us discern the nuances between mutual aid, guaranteed basic income and situate projects like these in a broader economic context.

Collectively we have raised $13,000 (!OMG! THANKS EVERYONE) so far but are still a long way from reaching our goal of $50,000. Sit with us for an hour, think about economic solidarity and kick down for the cause. Any amount is a great amount.

This event is organized by Dustin Gibson, kai koehler and etta cetera, the working group for A Softer Landing Fund.

Ways to Donate:

Venmo: @Lets-GetFree
Cashapp: $letsgetgreepgh
Check: Let’s Get Free 460 Melwood Ave #300 Pittsburgh, PA 15213



What is “A Softer Landing Fund”

A Softer Landing Fund is a guaranteed income initiative that will distribute recurring, cash payments with no strings attached to a number of formerly incarcerated people who are connected with Let’s Get Free. This pilot initiative will last one year and prioritize women returning from long sentences.We named our project A Softer Landing because even if you have a lot of support coming home from prison it is still very hard. There is the idea that often when you leave prison you enter into “financial incarceration”. You have to pay to be on parole, pay for unnecessary urine tests, face employment and housing barriers from felony status, are ordered to pay court and restitution fees, exclusion from social welfare programs, and more.

Wisdom Sharing by:

Brittany Pope serves as Economic Security Supervisor at Bread for the City, a non-profit organization in Washington, DC, which provides comprehensive services to DC residents living with low incomes, while also striving to help them develop power to determine the future of their own communities. She leads the Economic Security team, which focuses on coordinating, supporting, and advocating for guaranteed income projects and policy change. Brittany holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Catholic University, with a concentration in Social Justice and Change. Born and raised in Washington, DC, Brittany believes in uplifting its community and striving for a just society for all.

Image of Brittany Pope, a darkskin person with braids and purple ends, smiling in the headshot.
Image of Richard Wallace, a black man with a mustache and goatee + medium length locs looking directly into the camera.

Richard Wallace is a diversely talented artist & director with extensive experience developing effective campaigns to engage and empower working-class Chicagoans. Knack for effective coalition building and fundraising lends to a unique ability to align organizational goals with mission, practice, and desire to make a difference. Driven by a passion for racial equity; empowering working-class Chicagoans in the fight against anti-black racism in the US and abroad; and building strategic coalitions and networks that reinforce a social mission through the betterment of the community. Wallace currently serves as the Founding Executive Director of Equity and Transformation (EAT)

Evan Casper-Futterman, PhD is a 3rd generation New Yorker. He is the Program Director of the Economic Democracy Learning Center for the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative. He earned a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans in 2011He received his PhD at the Bloustein School of Urban Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, studying economic democracy and development. He has taught undergraduate courses at the Macaulay Honors College at City College (CUNY) and in the Geography department at Vassar College, as well as graduate courses at Hunter College and the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. He is a co-founder and former board treasurer of the Cooperative Economics Alliance of NYC and is the Secretary of the board for the Bronx Community Land Trust.

Image of Evan Casper-Futterman - a white person wearing a blue and read plaid flannel smiling directly at the camera.
Categories
News

Tips for Support Letters for Commutation

LETTERS OF REENTRY SUPPORT AND LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION ARE IMPORTANT!

A Reentry Tangible 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. You can always send an updated letter of support if your application is taking a long time.

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!

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.

Where to send your letter

Supporters can now email letters to the Secretary of the Board of Pardons currently Celeste Trusty – ctrusty@pa.gov and DOC Commutation point person Johnny Johnson – Johjohnson@pa.gov They will distribute the letter to the board and place it in the applicant’s packet.

Handwritten letters can be sent to: The Board of Pardons 333 Market St, Harrisburg, PA 17126

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 Friend/Family,

I am working on my commutation application. I would like to know if you would be interested in writing a letter of support 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 make sure to send me a copy too. You can also email it to the secretary of the Board of Pardons currently Celeste Trusty ctrusty@pa.gov and DOC Commutation point person Johnny Johnson Johjohnson@pa.gov

For example:

RE: Jane Doe #BS2345

Dear Board of Pardons,

  1. I am writing in support of Jane Doe’s commutation application. I believe her life sentence should be commuted.
  2. Briefly touch on who you are, your background, employment, degrees, etc.
  3. How you came in contact with each other.
  4. Your thoughts on maturity, rehabilitation, accomplishments.
  5. Your thoughts on remorse for the convicted offense.
  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, homeplan, job 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,

Xyour nameX


Categories
Events News

Let Grandma Go Campaign Launch

Let Grandma Go! Campaign Launch

Friday July 29, 2022
6:00-9:00 pm Campaign Launch
9:00-11:00 pm After Party

5120 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA

Donations to benefit Let’s Get Free

Campaign Launch 6-9pm 

Learn about the Let Grandma Go Campaign, Sign postcards to lawmakers, Reserve limited edition museum quality print featuring a new original portrait of Cyd Berger created by Mary Dewitt, Film screening of Wide Open 7 minute short, Refreshments, Buy LGF shirts, etc.

After party is 9-11pm

Dancing and Adult Beverages
DJ- Mary Mack
Bands- Grow Light, Close Prisons

Access Notes: Masks Up! There is an outside courtyard. We are checking about wheel chair access. The bathroom is for sure down stairs. Access questions: letsgetfreepa@gmail.com 


Bright color blocks of purples, pinks and blues depict the faces of 8 aging women serving life. The faces are quilted together to create the backdrop of this card. Text across the top reads"We are calling on PA state legislators, district attorneys & the board of pardons to:”  In a large cross stitch font large across the front it states" Let Grandma Go". A banner across the bottom states: “ It's time to release aging people from prison.”

Let Grandma Go is a public awareness campaign to make visible aging women in prison, pass laws that would liberate the elderly in prison and bring our friends home.

As time wears on, people who were sentenced to Death By Incarceration and other long sentences in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are getting older inside prisons. Their bodies are wearing out. They’ve become fundamentally different people than they were at the time of their arrest. Often, they use their skills as talented mentors, teachers, and peer educators to make a difference in the lives of younger incarcerated people and improve the world around them. We know that the punishment-driven system that keeps them incarcerated is oppressive,  inhumane, and unjust. And equally, we know our communities will be stronger with these elders and mentors home.

As part of the fight to free our elders, Let’s Get Free and CADBI (Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration) are sending monthly postcards to PA state legislators and DAs. The postcards highlight the stories of incarcerated women elders and urge politicians to support bills in the PA General Assembly.

Jennifer Rhodes’ card has a vibrant, patterned orange background and a cross-stitch-like design around the outer border. There are two photographs of Jennifer, a Black woman, at different stages of adulthood; she is looking at the camera and smiling in both. There is also a bright pink stylized silhouette of a bird with a flower in its beak. Text over the image reads, “It’s Jennifer’s 64th birthday. Give the gift of compassion and mercy. Let Grandma Go!” The following images have text that’s written out above.
Jennifer Rhodes is featured in the second post card.

April 22nd was Jennifer Rhodes’ birthday! Jennifer has spent the last 31 years in prison during which she has earned an Associates degree in Business, certification as an Optician, and soon will hold certification as a Braille Transcriber. She is also a role model and counselor to other incarcerated women. She has a daughter, who was just six years old when she was sentenced to Life Without Parole. At 64, she currently suffers from myeloid leukemia, Graves’ disease, degenerative joint disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Support Medical and Geriatric Parole Reform in Pennsylvania Pass SB 835 and HB 2347


SB 835 and HB 2347 are identical companion bills. If passed, they would create a mechanism for certain ill and/or aging incarcerated people in Pa. state correctional institutions (SCIs) to petition the Pa. Parole Board for release. The bills also require Pa. Dept. of Corrections staff to help incarcerated people with petitions for release, provide relevant records, notify families of their incarcerated loved one’s terminal medical diagnosis, facilitate quick visitation after a terminal diagnosis, and track statistics about medical and geriatric parole and other items for the legislature to review yearly

Read the FAMM’s Full Bill Summary

Categories
News

Support Guaranteed Basic Income for Interdependence Day!

Today is a day to celebrate interdependence and embrace the truth that no one truly does anything alone. Welcome to the beginning of our new Guaranteed Basic Income initiative – a Softer Landing Fund. 

What is a Softer Landing Fund?

A Softer Landing Fund is a guaranteed income initiative that will distribute recurring cash payments with no strings attached to 10 formerly incarcerated people who are connected with Let’s Get Free. This pilot initiative will last one year and prioritize women returning from long sentences. The initial cohort will be invited to participate by Let’s Get Free’s board and volunteers.

We want to join with the 80 programs across the US in this international practice of distributing cash – no strings attached – to people who need it most.

This project was inspired by the Community Love Fund in Massachusetts led by The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and Families for Justice as Healing. We unite with their motivation, “The program is intentionally designed to challenge the racial and economic injustice plaguing families affected by the criminal legal system.”

Why?

We named our project A Softer Landing because even if you have a lot of support coming home from prison it is still very hard. There is the idea that often when you leave prison you enter into “financial incarceration”. You have to pay to be on parole, pay for unnecessary urine tests, face employment and housing barriers from felony status, you may be ordered to pay court and restitution fees and experience exclusion from social welfare programs, and more.

On top of financial obstacles and fees there is the unquantifiable cost of what prison does and the cost of living your life under surveillance. For example, having to get permission to leave the county, having to relive your crime every time you apply for a job or try to rent an apartment. This creates a lot of stress which impacts the health of the body and the mind.

Help us raise $50,000 – our largest community fundraising effort to date!

Against a tan background, a monochrome image is in orange of a Black woman with her hands outstretched and smiling is in the right hand corner. Below her, three Black women in monochrome red are smiling and hugging each other and below that is the face of a Black woman with twists and hoop earrings. She is looking into the distance thoughtfully. The text reads, "Softer Landing Fund. A guaranteed basic income for people coming home from prison. Let's Get Free." On the bottom left there is a thermometer with $50k at the top and green and an arrow pointing to it. The word "donate" and "bit.ly/landsoft" are on the right.

Organizers hope to raise $50,000 for this inaugural fund, distributing a total of $4,320 to 10 people over 1 year in monthly payments of $365.

It costs people in Pennsylvania roughly $30 a month to be on parole – that’s $1 a day for the general supervision charge. We are using this number symbolically as the amount participants will receive and will give an extra $365 on top of the year to spite the accrued annual fee!

May a thousand basic income programs bloom until income is no longer needed to live!

Graphic adapted from original artwork by  Tomie Arai made in collaboration with The People’s Paper Co-op as part of their annual Free Our Mothers Campaign

Categories
News

Women Survivors of Injustice: Formerly Incarcerated Women Speak Out at Rowen University

Report by Debbie Davis

Debbie Davis, Cynthia Alvarado, Gladys Scott and Paulette Carrington pictured on March 23, 2022 at Rowan University

On March 23, 2022, New Jersey’s Rowan University hosted by Professor Sandra Joy invited four formerly Incarcerated women, in honor of International Women’s Day, to speak on a panel sharing their stories of “Family and incarceration.” Cynthia Alvarado, Gladys Scott ( the Scott sisters of Mississippi) Paulette Carrington (juvenile Lifer) and Debbie, one of the MOVE 9. These women each told their story of the complexities, fear and rippling effects that incarceration has on families and the long lasting scars it carries. They each also expressed their personal interest in reaching back and doing whatever they can do within their means to help their extended “families”that are still incarcerated. Although scarred themselves they still managed to fill the room with laughter and hope. 

Editors Note: Having not heard of the Scott Sisters before just looked them up on Wikipedia and this is what we found: 

Jamie and Gladys Scott, often referred to as the Scott sisters, are two African-American sisters who were convicted of orchestrating a 1993 armed robbery in Forest, Mississippi, after accomplices made a plea deal. Each sister received double life sentences, This sentence has been criticized as too severe by a number of civil rights activists and prominent commentators on the grounds that the sisters had no previous criminal record and the robbery netted no more than eleven dollars.Their convictions were upheld by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 1996. The U.S. Supreme Court denied both their petition for appeal in 1997 and an appeal to vacate the conviction in 1998. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour denied a petition for clemency in 2006. On December 29, 2010, Governor Barbour suspended their sentence on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to her ailing sister, who was suffering kidney failure and required dialysis. The two women were released from prison on January 7, 2011. They moved to Pensacola, Florida. It is anticipated that they will remain on parole and pay a supervision fee to the state of Florida for the rest of their lives.

Look for this book they wrote called:

The Scott Sisters: Revealing The Truth, Exposing Injustice, and Trusting God (2016)

Categories
News

Pennsylvania Prisoners’ at SCI-Phoenix File A Lawsuit Seeking Parole Eligibility of Life Sentences

by Kevin S. Mines

Mines, K. et al. v. Wolf, T. et al. Docket No. 102 MD 2022
(Filed, March 15, 2022).

Kevin, a black man stands smiling and holding a microphone to his mouth and one hand and papers. He is wearing a white sweatshirt and maroon sweats. There is a table and cymbols behind him.
Kevin Mines, speaking at an event at SCI- Graterford.

Eight (8) Pennsylvania State prisoners at SCI-Phoenix, Kevin S. Mines, Lonnie Wright, James Brown, Charles Sheppard, Kevin Evans, Brian Thompson, Thomas Davis II, and Joel Muir – Petitioners, filed a Petition for Review In the Nature of A Complaint in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Seeking Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief on Monday, March 14, 2022, against six (6) Pennsylvania State government officials, Respondents: Tom Wolf, Governor, Josh Shapiro, Attorney General, Theodore W. Johnson, Secretary PA Board of Probation and Parole, George M. Little, Secretary PA Department of Corrections, Jamie Sorber, Superintendent SCI-Phoenix, and Kim Nixon, Supervisor of Inmates Records at SCI-Phoenix.

The lawsuit alleges that each Respondent played an essential role in the prohibition and outright denial of any opportunity for parole eligibility review and consideration of the Petitioners, who are convicted of first degree and second degree murder and sentenced to life. The Petitioners contend in the lawsuit that a judicially imposed, mandatory life sentence, without the possibility of parole (LWOP), is a defacto death sentence (DDS). It violates the Pennsylvania Constitution against cruel punishment, as well as, the United States Constitution and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Articles.

The Petitioners were sentenced to a term of life, that did not explicitly state “Without-the-Possibility-of-Parole.” Each of the Petitioners filed an application for parole eligibility review and consideration and the Respondents mechanically denied each application for parole, simply stating: “Upon review of your application for parole and the Department of Corrections records of your sentencing, it appears that you are serving a life sentence and are therefore not eligible for parole consideration based upon 61Pa.C.S. § 6137(a).”

Petitioners contends that although 61 Pa.C.S. § 6137(a) contains a provision excepting an inmate condemned to death or serving life imprisonment from parole review, it nevertheless violates Ex Post Facto law and is unconstitutional as it applies to each of the Petitioners because they were never given “fair warning” that their judicially imposed life sentence meant LWOP i.e., DDS. Petitioners further argues that LWOP i.e., DDS is in addition to being cruel punishment, is inhumane.

It deprives Petitioners of all hope, strips them of their rights to redemption, and essentially says that they are incorrigible or incapable of positive transformation and rehabilitation, a judgment made without any consideration of review of the Petitioners individualized circumstances.

Each Petitioner, has empirical proof of their positive transformation and rehabilitation. Each Petitioner is thoroughly rehabilitated. The Petitioners also alleges that the Respondents lack authority to detain them since Respondents do not have legitimate court authorized DC300B Judicial Commitment Form nor Sentencing Order authorizing Petitioners legal detention in state prison. The Respondents are violating the State and Federal Constitution by keeping the Petitioners imprisoned without proper judicial authority. The Respondents did not follow proper procedures and protocol for committing Petitioners to a state prison.

The DC300B form that Respondents used to commit Petitioners into their state prison, were not created by the Judicial Court System, as required by law, but rather, the DC300B form used by the Respondents were created by the Respondents, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Scribner(s), and therefore, carries no weight of authority.

The lawsuit is filed on behalf of all similarly situated prisoners in Pennsylvania state prisons serving LWOP, i.e., DDS. The Respondents actions are such that no civilized society can tolerate.

Categories
News

Empathy Art Show Opens November 19th

beneath the arteries. A yellow sunflower with healthy green leaves is growing up from the center of the heart. Tan roots emanate from the bottom of the heart stretching down. Blood drips from the main artery and some of the roots. The painting background is black with a white and grayish oval under laying the image of heart-brain-flower. TEXT Reads “ Let’s Get Free’s 5th annual art show for Abolition. Empathy is the seed, truth is the water, solidarity is the bloomage,. Featuring artist on both sides of the prison walls. November 19 through December 19. Brew House 711 S. 21st St. Pgh, PA 15203 creative-resistance.org”

We are enthusiastic to announce Let’s Get Free’s 5th annual art show featuring artists and poets in and outside of prison. This year’s show is themed EMPATHY is the seed, TRUTH is the water, SOLIDARITY is the bloomage, and will be presented in person at the Brew House Gallery as well as on-line. The show will open Friday November 19 from 6:00-9:00 pm, and will run through December 19.

Harmony by Marilyn Dobrolenski

This year’s show features 34 artists in prison and 29 artists in solidarity expressing a range of media, from watercolor to cross stitch to sculpture. First-time participant Marilyn Dobrolenski submitted a beautiful piece entitled “Harmony,” which features a lush and verdant wetland scene with water lilies, done in acrylic paint. Marilyn turned 69 this year and is one of over 70 women serving a life sentence over the age of 65. #LetGrandmaGo

A painting of a multifaceted device with parts that exist in two different environments, one above ground and one below ground. Above ground has a blue-gray background and shows a circular antenna with a plaque that reads “Truth single and eternal alive in glory”. Below ground, which has a brown and green background, the device is made up of wires, pipes, and two hearts with gears. Water passes in a cycle between the two hearts. Two plaques read: “One heart pumps the other”, and “And the vital many”.
Elena House-Hay

Elena House-Hay submitted a thought provoking piece of a mechanized device that is exploring ideas about “truth.” Elena shares: “Being an artist in prison functions to make art my hard earned salvation. It is restorative, unshakable hope. If my art can be free – of prison, depression, and fear – so can I. And that is the promise, the lure, and the most ambitious expression I can seek.”

A large transgender symbol fading from light blue to pink and outlined in blue is on top of a bright background of crisp rainbow stripes (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple). Inside of the transgender symbol are stylized cartoon images of 12 different people’s faces and torsos, most of whom are black but representing a range of skin tones. The people show a range of gender presentations and styles.
Tranzcending by Kal – El

Kal-El, one of 5 transgender artists participating from prison,  shares a vibrant painting that celebrates the existence of many genders. The experience of trans people in prison is often left out of conversations about mass incarceration. In our efforts to create less distance between the prison walls, Empathy is the Seed uplifts marginalized voices who can teach a lot about what is needed to build a more just world. Kal-El, currently serving a life sentence, discusses his experience of being an artist: “I see color when I listen to music or feel emotions. I thought everyone had this ability. I never knew that I could put those colors on to a canvas and people could see what I was feeling that day. Sharing these feelings verbally is difficult. A painting, to me, is like telling someone when I’m sad, mad, etc..” 

Alongside our virtual art show, this is our first year including poetry. Over 40 poets from the inside have sent in poems! Look forward to at least one poetry reading during the show. Other events include: 

  • Art Opening and Auction Begins! Friday November 19, 6:00-9:00 pm – Brew House, 711 21st Street, South Side of Pittsburgh
  • Gallery Hours: November 19 – December 19, Thursdays 2:00-7:00 pm, Fridays & Saturdays 11:00-4:00 pm at the Brew House
  • The Sacred Ground Collective transformative justice event series: Thursdays December 2, 9, & 16th, Three virtual workshops including an intro to transformative justice practice 
  • Holiday Market: Saturday and Sunday December 18 and 19, 11 – 3 pm
On the left is a series of six pieces of featured in the show. The top left has a colorful depiction of mechanized hearts with pipes and steam, a watercolor of two people watching the video and the light of the video projector is casing a ray, then the face of an aging man painted with coffee, next is a papercut of a crab carrying a sea urchin, then an agave plant growing behind the prison fence, and a watercolor of a woman wearing glasses and a rainbow colored mask and earrings holding a bouquet of flowers. TEXT READS: “Let’s get free presents empathy is the seed, truth is the water, Solidarity is the Bloomage Art show opening. Friday November 19 6 to 9 PM Brew House 711 S. 21st St. southside. Auction begins, DJ, art sale, please mask up”

Full list of Events, Auction/Contest Info and Online Gallery will be available at creative-resistance.org

The Art Auction begins on opening night and runs through December 10th. People can bid in person at the gallery or online. Winners will be able to pick up their art on December 19th or schedule pick up at a later time. All money raised supports the work of Let’s Get Free. Money will be used in printing and shipping for our newsletter and Daughter’s magazine, copious postage needs, direct support for people coming home, like driving lessons and art supply scholarships for people on the inside. There will be a series of limited edition prints available to people who sign up to become monthly sustainers. 

Art as a tool for liberation has been a central element of Let’s Get Free’s work since its inception, and its annual art shows have steadily built advocacy for the release of deserving individuals from Pennsylvania state prisons and have created conversations and collaborations that invite meaningful reciprocity between the prison walls. 

Two large open hands are cupped holding some seeds in their palms. The seeds are brown with white stripes defining them. The word “Empathy” is spelled out across the seeds, one letter on a seed. The skin tone of these hands are a bit ambiguous; the palms could be a person of any race though the highlighting around the edges suggest someone of African descent. The background is a deep dark blue and in the right corner is a yellow signature of the artist “Van 21” TEXT READS: Gallery hours. Brew House 711 S. 21st St. southside. November 20 to December 19. Thursday 2 to 7 PM Friday and Saturday 11 to4 PM
Painting by Darrell Van Mastrigt

###

Contact: etta cetera: letstgetfreepa(at)gmail.com

Website: creative-resistance.org and letsgetfree.info

Categories
Commutation News

Commutation Update: Act 59

The PA Board of Pardons has adopted Act 59 a new policy that impact scheduling of commutation applicants, it states:

Due to applicable provisions of Act 59 of 2021, any clemency applicant that has a victim or the surviving kin of a victim registered with either the Office of Victim Advocate (OVA), the Department of Corrections, or the Board of Pardons ( or if their whereabouts are otherwise known), cannot be scheduled for a public hearing until at least sixty (60) days has elapsed since the date of their merit review hearing.

In addition, any clemency applicant serving a sentence of Life Without Parole (LWOP), or who was previously convicted for a crime of violence or any other offense resulting in death or serious bodily injury (regardless of whether their victim or the surviving kin is registered with any the aforementioned agencies), will not be scheduled for a public hearing until at least sixty (60) days has elapsed since the date of their merit review hearing.

In the past, if everything was on time, an applicant would pass merit and then be scheduled for their public hearing in the same session a month later. Because of this none of the people who passed Merit Review in August will be heard at the September public hearings and will be pushed to December. However, the board added an additional merit review this Wed, September 22nd at 6:15 pm which will judge the merit of 6 people with LWOP sentences. The Merit Review applicants is the very last agenda item for 9/22 and the individuals are not listed.

Docket for Wednesday Merit

This page should have the zoom link/conference number to call on the day of the hearings.

Upcoming Dates:

October 2021 Merit Review Session:

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

November 2021 Hearing Sessions:

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

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

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

Categories
News

Merit Reviews and Commutation Update

Merit Review Today! If you are interested in listening to the Merit Review you can call into the Board’s Skype phone line—you will be automatically muted.

Phone: 267-332-8737

Conference Pin: 4500553373

People are called in alphabetical order with their numbers. See the entire docket here.

23. Erin D. Canady (LIFE) (3)
24. Amir K. Cartair (LIFE) (3)
46. Anthony G. Eberhardt (LIFE) (3)
49. Ralph C. Fegley Jr. (LIFE) (3)
61. Wade D. Hairston (LIFE) (3)
77. Stephen D. Knight (LIFE) (3)
79. Gary A. Kyles (LIFE) (3)
94. Melvin C. Mitchell Jr. (LIFE) (3)
104. Matthew J. Nichols (LIFE) (3)
120. David A. Richardson (LIFE) (3)
132. Edward C. Silvis Sr. (LIFE) (3)
142. Gregory A. Thomas (LIFE)
154. Jeffrey L. Watson (LIFE) (3)
156. Nathaniel J. West (LIFE) (3)
158. Doris D. Williamson (LIFE) (3)

Phoebe Tomasek [life] and Felix Ocasio [min] are up for reconsideration.

Elaine Selan writes:

This Thursday [8/5] the Board of Pardons will hold their quarterly Merit Review – this is where the Board rapidly votes on both those applicants for both pardons and commutations—this time there are about 167 applicants, of which 15 are commutations [14 men and 1 woman]. 

There is no discussion of any of the cases—just voting.  The entire review takes about 1 hour. 

Pardon – an applicant who has completed their sentence and for the most part, has, for a number of years, been successful in their community re-integration.  Some have been convicted of relatively minor offenses [i.e., marijuana possession, DUI] while others, more serious crimes [i.e., assault, robbery, drug dealing, vehicular homicide]  The Parole/Probation Board does their inspection of these applicants and the Board often relies on their endorsement [or not] in rendering their Merit Review vote.  Pardon applicants only need a 2-3 vote to move forward to the Public Hearing. 

Commutation – is reserved for those currently incarcerated for life sentences, “virtual life sentences” and other felony sentences.  The scrutinizing of each applicant is conducted by the prison where the applicant is located and here too, the Board often relies on the prisons’ support [or not] in rendering their votes.  A vote of at least 3-2 must be attained in order for the applicant to move forward to the Public Hearing. 

For the most part during the Merit Review, the Board is focused on what the applicant has done to improve their life situation—their accomplishments and contributions—since being sentenced and/or being released. 

The Public Hearings will be held on September 22nd, 23rd and 24th.  Typically, the commutation hearings are held on Thursday afternoon—however, we won’t know the schedule until 1-2 weeks before the hearing.  Posting of the zoom link, along with the Open Hearing schedule, will be posted to this list about one week before.  Watching the pardon hearings can be very informative in learning more about how the Board conducts their review, the role each Board member plays, and the impact of all the voices heard during the hearings [i.e., applicant, supporters, victims and victim’s loved ones]. 

Commutation Hearings Report June 2021 by Elaine Selan 

There were six individuals who had open hearings for their application of commutation on June 24th.  Decisions were announced the following day.  To note, one of the six applicants is not serving a life sentence—Andre Davis is serving what is called a “virtual life sentence”; that is, a term sentence that would typically exceed one’s natural life [i.e., 50-100 years].  Because he is not serving a life without parole sentence:

1.     His request for commutation means he is seeking to have his minimum sentence commuted;

2.     He only needs a 3-2 vote from the Board in order to be recommended for commutation; and,

3.     If and when the Governor signs his commutation, Andre will have the additional hurdle of meeting the Parole Board’s approval; a process that can take a number of months.  He will remain incarcerated until this Board’s approval.  However, he is not required to reside in a halfway house for one year; he can transition to his home plan immediately upon his paroled release. 

Three men were recommended for commutation: Andre Davis, Jamie Faust, and James Miller; together, they have served 116 years of confinement.  Two applicants were denied: Denise Crump and Wayne Covington.  Denise had received a unanimous [5-0] Merit Review vote; it was thought that she would receive the same outcome in the open hearing.  Instead she only received one affirmative vote from the Board’s Chair, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. Denise has served 33 years in prison. Wayne Covington was also denied with the same voting outcome [1-4]; he has served 51 years. In both those cases, family members of the victim spoke at the hearing in opposing commutation. It is thought this was a compelling reason for the Board’s vote. 

The final applicant, Kennard Scott, had his case held under advisement so that health related concerns could be further evaluated.

Three individuals scheduled for the Board’s reconsideration of their unsuccessful application for commutation failed to get beyond the initial motion stage that is required before the Board determines if they will entertain the individual’s request. Edwin DeJesus, Richard Marra, and Felix [Phill] Rosado all lost their appeals. 

Cynthia Gonzalez, who is serving a life sentence, has had her application held under advisement for about two years. She has served 36 years. In their final vote on this hearing day, the Board voted 2-3 to deny her application for commutation.  

We Need More From the Board of Pardons by the Amistad Law Project

Today, the Board of Pardons voted to recommend three out of six commutation applications to Governor Wolf for his approval. We are elated for Amistad Law Project client Andre Davis, as well as lifers Jesse Faust and James Miller. Governor Wolf should sign their applications with haste so that they can be reunited with their families after decades of incarceration and our communities can benefit from their presence. Each person’s freedom represents a step in the right direction.

While we celebrate those who are bound for freedom, we are deeply troubled by the Board’s decision to deny Denise Crump and Wayne Covington’s applications for commutation, as well as Richie Marra’s application for reconsideration. All three of these candidates were unequivocally supported by the administrations of the prisons in which they have been incarcerated for decades. In each of these cases, the Board blocked the applicant’s release because family members of the victim opposed their release. Family members of victims deserve a safe place to express themselves, and abundant resources to navigate their grief. However, the question of whether someone is rehabilitated and should be released is necessarily separate from affirming a victim’s pain. The Board’s role is to answer the question of rehabilitation. In the cases of Denise Crump, Wayne Covington, and Richie Marra, the Board absolutely failed in its duty, ignoring the current realities of the applicant’s life and their transformative journey over the course of decades.

The Board has also completely failed in regard to Felix Rosado’s application. Mr. Rosado is an exemplary person who, after being sentenced to life without parole when he was eighteen years old, has earned a bachelor’s degree from Villanova and co-founded a restorative justice program. He is deeply remorseful for his crime and a community leader both inside and outside of prison. Many have spoken up about the positive impact that Mr. Rosado will have in our communities as a mentor upon his release. Mr. Rosado’s continued incarceration is simply devastating for many of us on the outside as well as the communities to which he could offer positive contributions. 

At its core, commutation is about mercy. It exists in response to the basic truth that all people are capable of change, and that over the course of time, many people reflect and grow and want to make up for the harm they have caused. Our movements are continuing to carve out a righteous path forward towards a Pennsylvania where people are not judged by the worst mistake they have made, and the architects of mass incarceration aren’t stealing the resources and reformed mentors our communities need to be safe, healthy, and thriving. We need Board of Pardons members who believe in this vision. As of now they are failing on most counts, but we will continue to hold them accountable and push this process forward. Our humanity and the future of our communities depend upon it.

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Let’s Get Free Spring Newsletter

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