Latest News from Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI)

The last weekend of January was full of activity across the nation and in Philly. Trump had just announced the travel ban that Friday evening, and people all over the country were flocking to airports to speak up, sit in, and support Muslim travelers from the seven named countries who were being detained. Philadelphia was no different. Several of the 50 attendees of the state-wide strategy meeting of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI) cut out at lunch to legal observe and participate in the resilient and spirited uprising. This energy infused our meeting space; several signs were hung declaring solidarity with Muslim people and denouncing deportations.

The bulk of the eight-hour strategy meeting was spent divided into break-out groups developing goals for the year. The Membership group strategized around sustaining, supporting, and recruiting new members. Ideas generated from this session included creating a resource sharing tool kit for family members, developing a formal orientation, and having parties to bring people together. A dinner honoring family members of lifers is already on the calendar for March 25th.

The Media group talked tactics on messaging, writing op-ed’s, developing workshops, and creating one-page talking points that would be supportive of different audiences.

Next we had the Statewide Coalition crew and the Legislative crew. There are many overlapping ideas here centering our goal of passing HB 135—the parole expansion for lifers bill, also called the Dawkin’s bill.  We talked about reaching out to the rural communities and outlying counties where our campaign is underrepresented. A power mapping initiative is already underway, and once the priorities are articulated, we can call on our incarcerated comrades to locate people and potential constituents in those regions. In other words, we need lifers from the rural regions to get their families involved so their representatives will listen to us when we say “Liberation In Our Lifetime!”

We plan to host three trips to Harrisburg to build momentum and lobby, as well as a lot of traveling around the state with community dialogues, townhalls, and meetings with lawmakers. This post was reprinted from the Global Network to Free Maroon‘s March Newsletter.

How we gonna bring our people home alive? Gonna Pass HB- 135

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.

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!

 

Mariposa & the Saint: From Solitary Confinement, a Play Through Letters

Saturday April 2, 2016
7 -9pm in East Liberty at Repair the World 6022 Broad Street 15206
$10-15 Sliding Scale – No one turned away for lack of funds,
formerly incarcerated come for free.
In 2012, Mariposa was sentenced to fifteen months in solitary confinement. Through letters with longtime friend and current collaborator, Julia Steele Allen, Mariposa brings her experience to the stage.

 

Every performance followed by a dialogue with Prison Justice advocates.

Partner organizations for Pittsburgh show are Decarcerate PA and Let’s Get Free

Darlene Williams from the Women Lifer Resume Project as well as Amber Sloan from MADE IT will be sharing some words with us.
Mariposa‘s story is one I now carry with me in a visceral and alive place. This is a must-see, and a must-share. And it will stir a must-respond from all who encounter it.”
– Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program
National Religious Campaign Against TortureClick here for Facebook Event

Letter Mailing Party for Commutation Campaign Launch

letterpartycommutation

Help the Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation tell our Legislatures that we need Parole Reform in Pa Now!

Join us for a Letter Mailing Party.  Learn about the Campaign.  Get Involved.

March 29, 2016   6 – 8pm Tuesday Pittsburgh Theological Center 616 N Highland Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

Room 216 in Long Hall 

Childcare Available on Request – Text or Call etta – 443-603-6964 to arrange childcare or email letsgetfreepa@gmail.com

Let’s Get Free is a part of the statewide Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration

Currently, more than 5,000 people in Pennsylvania are serving life without parole, a full 10% of the imprisoned population, a higher percentage than any other state. As people in prison age the cost of incarcerating them goes up while simultaneously their likelihood of recidivism decreases. Many of these people are deeply remorseful about the situations that brought them to prison and want to be able to give back to their communities by sharing their wisdom with today’s youth to keep them from making similar mistakes., many of whom are now senior citizens. Restoring Meaningful Commutation is one way to help deserving lifers get a 2nd Chance.

 

 

Life Means Death for Thousands of PA Prisoners

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Death in prison is not rare.

In Pennsylvania, one in 10 inmates is sentenced to life in prison. Because state law gives them no possibility of parole, nearly all of more than 5,300 inmates serving life terms will eventually die inside prison walls.

“They have no choice but to age and die in place,” said Julia Hall, a criminal justice professor and gerontologist at Drexel University.

In the Laurel Highlands prison, seven rooms are the final stop for some of the state’s sickest and oldest inmates. With breathing tubes and IVs, the mostly gray-haired inmates wait for their bodies to fail.

When their vital signs slip and they struggle for breath, other inmates hold vigil so they won’t die alone.

Sometimes death is sudden. Other times, volunteers like Christian, a 32-year-old inmate from Philadelphia, watch as life slowly slips away.

“They get to the point that they can’t talk no more,” he said. “That last breath of air they’re taking — and you’re really there holding their hands.”

Christian, along with four other inmate volunteers, was describing his work at the hospice unit at State Correctional Institution – Laurel Highlands, a former state mental hospital that was converted in 1996 to a prison hospital for male inmates.

The facility has had a full-time hospice service for two years with room for seven inmates at a time. Previously, the hospital had a less formal system where the nursing staff tried to make inmates comfortable as they neared death.

PublicSource was granted access in August under an agreement that the last names of inmates would not be used.

Life means life

Only Florida has more inmates serving life without parole than Pennsylvania, according to a nationwide ranking of 2012 numbers by the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C.

State law mandates life in prison for defendants convicted of first and second-degree murder.

Accomplices to murder are treated the same as a killer, even if they themselves did not cause the death. First-degree murderers can also be sentenced to death.

Repeat violent offenders can also be sentenced to life under Pennsylvania’s three-strikes law, and other inmates serve de-facto life sentences with minimums so lengthy that they will almost certainly die before release.

From 2009 through 2013, 144 lifers died in Pennsylvania, according to state statistics. Over the same period, only four inmates had life sentences commuted by the governor after unanimous recommendation by the Board of Pardons.

Since 2010, just six inmates have been granted compassionate release, which is available to inmates nearing death who meet strict criteria, according to the Department of Corrections.

‘Nobody dies alone’

At SCI – Laurel Highlands, volunteers like Christian visit patients several hours each week, playing games, helping them write letters and sometimes just keeping them company.

“Those guys need help. They don’t have no family coming to visit,” said Elvis, an inmate volunteer from Venango County.

In the seven rooms for dedicated hospice care referred to as cubes, the focus is on reducing pain, providing comfort and helping them reach out to family members.

The program is based in part on a hospice unit in California where Laurel Highlands’ former superintendent sent Annette Kowalewski, a corrections healthcare administrator, and Paula Sroka, a quality improvement nurse.

In August, the hospice rooms were full until a 68-year-old inmate died after declining treatment for liver disease and lung cancer.

Medical staff are responsible for all the patients’ health care, while inmates provide companionship and physical help such as lifting patients out of bed.

Terminal illness strikes young inmates too, and a life term is not a prerequisite to dying in prison.

Special arrangements are made so family members can visit — sometimes for hours at a time — and the prison ensures that they’ll have access when the patient is dying.

If family doesn’t come, the inmates are there.

“Nobody dies alone,” Kowalewski said. “That’s our primary concern.”

Care across the state?

Christopher Oppman, director of the Bureau of Health Care Services for the Department of Corrections, said the state has adequate resources to ensure prisoners can get hospice care in infirmaries across the prison system.

But dedicated rooms for hospice care are less common outside of Laurel Highlands, so inmates at many facilities die in open wards.

“We would not be able to operate hospice on the scale that Laurel Highlands would,” Oppman said.

Staff at some facilities lack expertise in pain and symptom management, said Phyllis Taylor, a nurse and hospice expert who has previously worked as a consultant for the department.

In other words, not every prison gives the same quality of care.

“Some of the places maybe,” she said, “but not across the board.”

Taylor assisted researchers from Penn State University in a pilot program with the department to improve end-of-life care at six prisons that have high populations of aging inmates or lifers.

Staff at those prisons received specialized training to improve and standardize end-of-life care.

Currently, the corrections department is establishing best practices for prison hospice care statewide, Oppman said.

Paying until death

In Pennsylvania, inmates are classified as geriatric at 55. Common health problems are diabetes, cancer, liver disease and heart problems. Kowalewski said that an inmate who is 40 might look several decades older.

Of the roughly 5,300 geriatric inmates in Pennsylvania prisons, about 1,500 are serving life terms.

Because parole is not possible for lifers, Hall argues that the state is committed to a geriatric prison system.

“You’re going to keep paying until they die,” she said.

The state spent more than $35,000 for each inmate in the 2012-’13 fiscal year. The state does not keep numbers on the specific cost for inmates over 55, but costs increase as more medical care is needed.

The prison system is among the most expensive institutions in Pennsylvania, costing the state more than $2 billion this fiscal year.

At the end of September, 19 of the state’s 26 correctional institutions were at or above capacity, according to the most recent population numbers available.

Laurel Highlands, which was at 99.4 percent of capacity, costs $75 million to operate for the year.

Mark Bergstrom, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, compared parts of the facility to a nursing home.

“When you see someone who’s on oxygen or in very poor health, we’re spending a lot of money to have that person in a prison,” Bergstrom said.

The state acknowledges that the risk of reoffending drops off with age.

The department’s 2013 recidivism report said released inmates under 21 are more than twice as likely to reoffend within three years as inmates over 50. Age has a “strong negative correlation” on recidivism, the report said.

Few ways out

Rather than paying costs indefinitely, Hall advocates for more compassionate release, criticizing a system with requirements so strict that it’s almost never used.

Politicians, she said, consider compassionate release “going easy” on offenders guilty of heinous crimes.

“It’s such a joke,” Hall said.

The state’s compassionate release rules were updated as part of a broader prison reform in 2008.

Under the law, a sentencing judge has the power to release inmates only if they are near death, have a nursing or hospice facility that will take them and have shown that their needs aren’t met in prison.

Rarely do inmates qualify.

Taylor, who has assisted prisoners seeking compassionate release, said an inmate needs to be immobile and essentially “on death’s doorstep” before a discharge is considered.

Victims and prosecutors get to weigh in, and the risk to public safety is considered.

“If they’re lifers, it doesn’t happen,” Taylor said. “That’s been my experience.”

For others, paperwork may take so long that an inmate dies before a decision is made.

Taylor said the state needs a method to evaluate whether inmates should be released if they are many years into a life term and have demonstrated that they’re not a threat.

Movement to change sentencing laws for lifers has been slow, Bergstrom said, though interest in Harrisburg is greater now than 10 years ago.

But lawmakers knew about the issue then.

In 2002, a Senate resolution directed the Joint State Government Commission to form a bipartisan task force and advisory committee to study the state’s handling of geriatric and seriously-ill prisoners. The group delivered a report in 2005 about the high-cost of an aging prison population and offered potential fixes, including the possibility of parole for lifers.

Hall, who was a member of the committee, said lawmakers ignored their suggestions and made compassionate release more difficult, not less.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole are unconstitutional for juveniles. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that ruling does not apply to inmates already serving time, and the federal Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

However, Bergstrom said the Supreme Court ruling might give inmates already sentenced to life as juveniles traction with the state Board of Pardons.

Decades ago, commutations were common, meaning inmates serving life without parole would be given a lesser sentence by the governor. In the 1970s, for instance, Gov. Milton Shapp commuted 251 life sentences.

But commutations have become rare since, and under a 1997 amendment to the state constitution, the state’s Board of Pardons must unanimously recommend commutation before the governor can act.

Since the rule change, Gov. Mark Schweiker commuted one sentence and Gov. Ed Rendell commuted five.

Gov. Tom Corbett has commuted none.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Don’t want him to go’

With few ways out, sick inmates live their last days in facilities like Laurel Highlands.

The prison looks like a hospital, but with razor wire out front and vertical bars in the hallways. Patients sit in wheelchairs, breathing bottled oxygen and numbly stare into the distance.

Watching prisoners die has given the inmate volunteers perspective on their own lives and made them think about what it would mean to live the rest of their days — and die — in prison.

“I don’t think that people on the outside really understand what it’s like for a person to die in prison,” said Travis, a volunteer who was at Laurel Highlands and is now out on parole.

Among the men in hospice care at Laurel Highlands is a 96-year-old inmate named Simon — the oldest inmate in the Pennsylvania prison system.

He’s built relatPublicSource-logo-square-REDionships with the volunteers, and they’ve watched his health slip as he moved into hospice care.

“I don’t want him to go,” Elvis said. “He’s like a grandpa to me.”

Reach Jeffrey Benzing at 412-315-0265 or at jbenzing@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @jabenzing.

Reposted with permission from Public Source. Link to original article here.

5 Minute Action Today for a Mother in Prison!

characters-bgPlease take 5 minutes to tweek this letter. Sign it  Print it out and MAIL  the letters to June Maxam –Box 408 Chestertown, NY 12817! Today is THURSDAY THE 7TH.

Tanika Dickson was the victim of racial violence then blamed for the attack and separated from her children. She has already done over 15 years in prison. Tanika who was featured in the Mothers of Bedford will see the parole board on January 12th.

 

Address the letter to: New York State Department of Corrections Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYSDCCS) Board of Parole
1220 Washington Ave Building 2 Albany, NY 12226

IT WILL ONLY TAKE 10 MINUTES OF YOUR TIME TO PERFORM THIS SMALL ACT OF SOLIDARITY THAT COULD HAVE A MEANINGFUL IMPACT – WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT

To Hear Tanika Dickson tell the story in her own words see the movie The Mothers of Bedford.

Background on Tanika’s Case –

Tanika Dickson pled guilty to the Murder of David Gallup. Accounts from witnesses indicated David Gallup, the brother of a Glenville police officer was in Casey’s Bar in Schenectady, NY, drinking for approximately 12 hours prior to the instant offense. He was severely intoxicated, and made some other patrons in the bar uncomfortable from acting strangely. Several witnesses knew this victim and indicated that on the day the crime was committed, he had been fired from his job at Wal-Mart for making racially offensive remarks. It was verified through police reports, the victim had a history of domestic violence against women and alcohol-related offenses.

The instant offense involved Ms. Dickson stabbing David Gallup in the neck while trying to exit the bar resulting in his death. Several disturbing things took place prior to the stabbing that led up to this event. A verbal altercation took place at the bar where David Gallup referred to Tanika as a “n*#%!r slut bitch.” At this time, the parties were separated by the bar’s security. David Gallup should have been escorted out of the bar due to the fact that he had been in the bar for at least 12 hours and was clearly in an intoxicated state. The bar continued to serve him alcohol.

Tanika tried to leave the bar peacefully. She recalls Mr. Gallup blocking her exit to the street. Out of fear, she reacted and stabbed Mr. Gallup. She was charged with Murder in the second degree. A plea was negotiated within 12 hours of the instant offense. Ms. Dickson was intoxicated at the time of the instant offense.

Because Tanika entered a plea waiving her right to appeal, she has limited legal remedies available to her. All post-conviction remedies pursued have failed.

During preparation of Tanika’s clemency packet, Tanika was evaluated by a psychologist who stated:

“From a record review and direct observation of Tanika Dickson, this examiner opines there is a mitigating factor of extreme emotional disturbance that contributed to the instant matter. Tanika was extremely intoxicated at the time of the crime after drinking that evening. The blood alcohol level probably present in Tanika would have diminished her control as well as diminished her capacity for rational thought. Secondly, Tanika felt threatened by the victim. His face was angry and he was saying threatening things. Tanika stated, “I was scared…I didn’t know what he was capable of doing to me.”

He continued:

“Tanika had a history of being raped as well as being physically abused. These strong memories also affected her emotional state in that she saw herself as a potential victim with no sense of being helped or anyone else as she approached the victim who suddenly blocked her exit from the bar.”

He further indicated:

“It is this examiner’s opinion that when Tanika refers to being blacked out that she is referring to an emotional black out caused by her extreme emotional disturbance and fear. This was not an alcoholic black out.”

The psychologist concluded:

“Tanika’s behavior was motivated by an understandable fear that she would be physically harmed and killed by the victim. He had threatened her verbally and non-verbally to a significant degree enough that the staff felt compelled to make him go to the other end of the bar.”

Tips : Do not say anything like “it was a mistake”

Do highlight remorse .