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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

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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.

Categories
News

Let’s Get Free Spring Newsletter

The Spring 2021 Newsletter has been published and is hitting mailboxes. You can download it here.

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