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.
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:
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.
[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!!
The photo above shows advocates on August 27th holding signs at the City County Bldg in Pittsburgh. The signs read “We believe in second chances. Yes on Commutation – Reunite Communities. Commute deserving Lifers. Commutation is a legal process to reduce a sentence. commutation is a second chance” Rallies held in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg a week before the hearings were meant to demonstrate physical support for people coming before the Board of Pardons.
This spreadsheet shares the schedules for this weeks first ever virtual public hearing. Over 200 cases will be heard the vast majority are people seeking pardons from marijuana related charges. 22 people seeking commutation from life and long term sentences will be heard. The spreadsheet is much easier to read if you download it onto your computer.
The applicants have an interview with the board of pardons the day before their hearings. They will be virtual as well and no public is allowed to attend. The applicants are not allowed to attend their own public hearings – even virtually.
The following info tracks people in the extended CADBI network who are coming before the board.
Tuesday September 1: 2pm Henrietta Harris – Interview
Thursday September 3 11 – Avis Lee, Mildred Strickland- Hearing 12 – Richie Marra, Horton Brothers – Hearing 2pm – Felix Rosado, Kevin Butler – Interview
Friday September 4 10 – Felix Rosado, Kevin Butler – Hearing 12 – Votes heard for all cases probably in Alphabetical Order like the merit review.
According to the BOP spreadsheet, the Board’s vote on all cases [pardons and commutations—all 202] will be made on Friday, 9/4 at 12pm. In other words, voting will not take place on the same day as the hearings, with the exception of those cases heard on Friday morning.
If the applicant receives 5 yes votes (we will rejoice) and will then wait for the governor to sign on to the application. Once signed, the person will be transported to their Community Corrections Center by the DOC.
Photos below depict the Harrisburg rally from last Thursday where 200 photos of people supporting commutation applicants were displayed on the steps of the Harrisburg Capital building. Each poster has brightly colored words stating “Yes to Commutation. Reunite Communities” with a color photograph of a different friends, family members and supporters holding signs of support for release. Read more on this coverage from the Pennsylvania Capital Star.
Week of Events to Support Fair Commutation and People in Prison Virtual Gallery Tours of the End Death by Incarceration Art Contest: Sundays in August August 23 and 30th at 11am, 12pm & 1pm EST – 30 minutes
Write letters of support to the 22 Commutation Applicants Tuesday August 24 – 9am
This Tuesday morning, Letters from Home will be dedicated to sending messages of support to the people waiting for their hearings on September 4th. You can try to imagine how emotionally full this time of waiting can be. If you can’t make the 9am zoom gathering you can access the spreadsheet here. You can find a tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet that says “commutation”. Zoom Link for Letters from Home at our Link Tree
The Final August Premiere of the Life Cycles Toward Freedom Films featuring Stanley Mitchell and Saleem Holbrook Tuesday August 25th from 7 – 8:30 EST. Register here.
Featuring 3 new short films and special guests Stanley Mitchell and Robert Saleem Holbrook. If you have already seen the films tune in around 7:45 to see the 10 minute film about the Unger Ruling in Maryland which led to the release of 260 aging people with life sentences in 2012. Stanley was one of the people released 12 years ago.
If you don’t want to register and enter our zoom room, the events will be live streamed on our youtube channel
Yes on Commutation Rally Thursday August 27th 9am City County Bldg – Pittsburgh
Join members of Let’s Get Free and the Dignity Act Now!Collective Pittsburgh in supporting applicants coming before the PA board of pardons on September 4th. Avis Lee, co creator of Let’s Get Free, is finally coming before the Board of Pardons after 40 years in prison. This is her 6th attempt at commutation! Because of COVID 19 these hearings will be held virtually and we will be unable to show the court support in the way we would ordinarily if allowed to enter the hearing.
Outside Film Screening and Social Distance Hang Sunday August 30th – 7 – 8:30pm Register Here (not necessary but helpful) We are gonna social distance and wear masks 🙂
400 Roup Ave. In the parklet behind the Aldi in friendship.
Bring your own chair. Bring your own food 🙂 We will have fresh juice and beverages and snacks and bug spray! We will also have t-shirts for sale! We will screen the life cycles movies and more. Movies start at 8:30. Katina, a good friend of Tameka Flowers is coming all the way from Greensburg to talk about Tameka who is featured in one of the films. Rain date the following Sunday – September 6th.
Tuesday August 18th from 7 – 8:30 EST. Featuring 3 new short films and special guests Naomi Blount and Brandon Flood. If you don’t want to register and enter our zoom room, the events will be live streamed on our youtube channel
This Screening is endorsed by: Re/Creation, The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, ALC Courtwatch, Families for Justice as Healing, Three Rivers Community Foundation, Amistad Law Project, End Solitary Santa Cruz County [CA, USA], California Coalition for Women Prisoners, College and Community Fellowship, Human Rights Coalition Fed-Up!, Women of Color Global Women’s Strike, The Philadelphia Justice Project for Women and Girls, Reconstruction Inc, Pittsburghers for Public Transit and Islamic Communication Network.
Virtual Tours of the End Death by Incarceration Art Gallery
Sundays in August August 23rd and 30th at 11am, 12pm & 1pm EST 30 minutes
Take 30 minutes of your day to view some of the 63 pieces of art submitted to our art show including 18 artists creating from prison and 27 artists working in solidarity.
Our 4th annual art show is going virtual!! Please join us for our online opening on August 7th at 7pm. We will take you on a virtual tour of the End Death By Incarceration Art Show which is also a contest!!
There are two categories – Artists in Prison and Artists in Solidarity. 6 prizes for each category! Top prize $500. We need you to vote for these People’s Choice Awards!! So far 17 artists in each category have submitted artwork, which means over 30 new original pieces of ART!!!
In addition to the virtual tour you will hear from participating artists including from one of our long time friends on the inside Todd ‘Hyung Rae’ Tarselli talking about his submission he made from instant coffee – a portrait of a man in solitary confinement.
Virtually Tour the Art Contest! You can vote and leave a message for the artists!
Special Guest: Nicole Fleetwood author of Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration and artist James Yaya Hough
August 11: Tuesday – 7 – 8:30 pm Virtual Film Screening Premier
This evening’s special guest is musician BL Shirelle. BL Shirelle knows many of the women featured in the films and is the Deputy Director of Die Jim Crow Records a non profit record label for currently and formerly incarcerated people. BL will be performing a couple songs from the recently released album – Assata Twoi.
Let’s Get Free and The Women Lifers Resume Project are releasing a multi-media campaign uplifting the stories of women and trans people serving death by incarceration called Life Cycles Toward Freedom. This August, the campaign launch will include a series of virtual film screenings, and in collaboration with Boom Concepts, will host an online art contest. The End Death By Incarceration Art Contest virtually opens on August 7 and runs through the end of October where attendees can take a tour of the art and hear from formerly incarcerated artist James “YaYa” Hough.
The aims of this project are to raise awareness, build support and to spark dialogue that may change the commutation process.
Each film screening will showcase the latest series of short films produced by Tusko which features currently incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. The films offer unique access to maximum security prison SCI Muncy and SCI Cambridge Springs. The films raise a number of pressing law and order issues: Does the commutation process need updating? Is LWOP out of date? Do these women have more to offer society?
On average Pennsylvania spends $42,727 a year per person in prison and this cost jumps to an estimated $52,000 for people over the age of 55. The women featured in the film have served three decades, four decades, and more. Experts agree they represent no threat yet they are left without hope of seeing home again – they are just “dying out loud”.
The film entitled Pennsylvania’s Commutation Process: Naomi Blount’s Experience takes you on one woman’s journey through the lengthy and arduous steps of the commutation process in hope of freedom. Naomi Blount was the second woman to receive commutation in the last 30 years and has been home for one year. Lt. Governor John Fetterman, a leader in PA’s commutation reform, is also featured in this film.
We Are More Than Our Worst Day, is a powerful 12 minute short that radiates resilience and the power to change that is widespread amongst people with death by incarceration sentences. This poignant vignette features the transformative journeys of Tequilla Fields, a leading church figure, and Tameka Flowers, a dancer, who are both seeking commutation.
The idea for the film You Deserve Better Than Prison: Messages to Youth from Women Serving Life was that of Avis Lee, who is currently awaiting a public hearing that will decide her freedom. This short piece offers some words of wisdom from women who are spending their life behind bars and warns people about what it’s like in Pennsylvania’s prison system.
People with life sentences make up the vast majority of the aging prison population, including Alice Green, who will be turning 90 this August. For the many sick and aging individuals in PA prisons, the spread of the Covid virus looms as a threat to life in an environment that is a breeding ground for contagious disease. The commutation process that is supposed to address inappropriate sentencing and offer relief to these individuals has been functionally frozen for more than three decades. This is an immediate crisis inside of the larger crisis of harsh and excessive sentencing; we demand clemency.
The Life Cycles Toward Freedom campaign is made possible by financial support from The Open Society Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Opportunity Fund.
August 2020 Life Cycles Toward Freedom Calendar of Events
August 7: Friday – 7 – 8:30 pm End Death by Incarceration Art Show
Happy Birthday Mechie!! Marie Scott is a grandmother who is turning 67 years old today. Shout out grandson DaShawn! She is known for her creative writing, journalism and legislative bill writing. Mechie dreams of owning a food truck serving tacos.
After all this time she should be free to be with her family, especially now that the Coronavirus poses such a threat to her health while in prison.
Mechie’s crime occurred in Philadelphia in 1973 at the age of 19. She has spent 47 years in prison! Her codefendant was a juvenile lifer and was released this Spring. Marie has so much guilt and remorse that rarely does she make a decision without thinking of her victim. Marie was charged with 1st degree murder even tho she didn’t pull the trigger. Her charge should have been Felony in the 2nd degree but Rizzo was the Police Chief at the time and their victim was white.
She applied for commutation and was denied a public hearing in 2019, she can reapply next year. She has applied about 5 times.
The commutation process is broken. Intended as a means to reduce sentences for incarcerated individuals, increasing politicization has reduced commutation to a shadow process instead of a meaningful pathway to release.
In April, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman announced that the Board of Pardons will indefinitely delay the commutation hearing set to take place on June 4th. At this hearing, dozens of applicants would have had the opportunity to have their cases reviewed to determine their potential for release, thus permitting them to escape the life-threatening conditions of prisons in the era of COVID-19. There is no excuse to delay commutation hearings.
If the concern is about commutation applicants not receiving in-person interviews, that question should be left up to the applicant to decide. Some applicants we have spoken with would rather have a video interview than for the hearing date to be in perpetual postponement.
Because Pennsylvania is one of only five states that excludes lifers from parole consideration, commutation serves as the only option for release for individuals serving death by incarceration. Yet since 1980, commutation has become virtually unattainable: the number of life sentences commuted dropped from ~28 per year before 1980 to ~1 per year after. Beyond lifers, commutation is also a vital system for individuals serving long-term sentences.
In the time of COVID-19, where a prison sentence is a death sentence for the elderly and immunocompromised, commutation should be bolstered as a tool to bring more people home.
We mourn the lives already lost to COVID-19 in state correctional facilities. How many of these deaths could have been prevented if our justice system prioritized community healing over retribution?
On June 4th, please join us for The People’s Response, a space for the community to voice our demands for commutation transformation. First, we will hear from individuals who will speak from personal experience about the failures of the commutation process. Next, we will collectively envision what commutation could like if it were transformed to put our communities first. Speakers include Laura Whitehorn, Jose Hamza Saldana, William L. Goldsby, Mageline Stewart, Doug Hollis, Terri Minor Spencer, and Ricky Olds.
Please join this community conversation by registering here . Together we will urge the Board of Pardons to #FreeTheVulnerable and meet our demands.
Laura Whitehorn: A lifelong anti-war and civil rights activist, Laura Whitehorn spent the 70s and 80s organizing against the Vietnam war, white supremacist violence, and U.S. imperialist terrorism abroad. She eventually served 14 years in federal prison as a political prisoner. During her time in prison and since her release, she has focused her efforts on advocating for the release of political prisoners of the black liberation and anti-imperialist solidarity movements. She is the cofounder of Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), an organization that advocates for the release of older and aging people, lifers, and long-termers as a way to undermine a key pillar of the racist prison system: the paradigm of permanent punishment and death by incarceration.
Jose Hamza Saldana is Director of RAPP. Jose was released from NYS prison in January 2018 after 38 years and four Parole Board denials. While in prison, Jose earned an Associate’s Degree and founded several important restorative justice and victim awareness programs. He mentored hundreds of men during his years inside and continues to inspire all of us with his energy, commitment, and leadership.
William L. Goldsby: Born in a cotton field, raise in Selma, Alabama and incarcerated for two violent offenses, both during the Jim Crow era, one in Selma, Alabama and the other one while serving in the US Military. Attended Miles College an HBC in Birmingham, Alabama and graduated from Western Washington University with a B.A in Education. Two terns in Central America with the Peace Corp where responsibilities were with Youth Development and “Women-In-Transition”. Travelled to Southern Africa and interviewed members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Founder and the past Chair of Reconstruction Incorporated, a 30-year old community capacity building grass root organization. Architect of the History and Reconstruction Project funded by Pew Charitable Trust that explored Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome which impacts the behavior of society at large and specifically African Americans. Designed and teaches Situation Management as a method in order to realize a new justice paradigm. Co-authored Reconstructing Rage, Transformative Reentry in the Age of mass Incarceration with Professor Townsand Price-Spratlan. Philosophy is that we must access our organic intelligence, manage our own perceptions and liberate our imagination.
Mageline Stewart: Sentenced to life without parole, Maggie Stewart had her sentence commuted by the Governor last December after receiving a unanimous vote in support of her release by the Board of Pardons. She will speak to her experiences undergoing the commutation process and coming home, as well as tell us about the other lifers who are still behind bars.
Doug Hollis: Doug Hollis knows first-hand how broken the commutation process is. A former juvenile lifer, Mr. Hollis was released in 2017 due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision deeming automatic life terms for minors unconstitutional. But before 2017, Mr. Hollis underwent the commutation process six times, even winning the recommendation of the Board of Pardons in 1992, only to be denied release by the Governor.
Terri Minor Spencer: Ms. Spencer, a visionary community activist based in Pittsburgh, founded a grass-roots nonprofit dedicated to addressing community needs, serves as the Director of Community Engagement at the White Lily Baptist Church, and even holds a seat on the Democratic committee for Pittsburgh Ward 20. Having served 16 years at SCI Muncy, including 17 days in solitary confinement, Ms. Spencer is an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform.
Ricky Olds: Public Speaker.Community Educator. Formerly Incarcerated individual. Wrongfully convicted of murder, Ricky served close to four decades before being released in 2017.
This event is hosted by the Campaign To Restore Meaningful Commutation and #FreeTheVulnerable campaign, a collective of organizers from the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) Lets Get Free: Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI), Abolitionist Law Center, and Amistad Law Project among others. We are advocating for the release of older and immunocompromised folks from PA prisons in the time of COVID-19 and beyond.