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

Categories
News

Reentry Revelations

RE-ENTRY REVELATIONS

by AVIS LEE

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

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

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

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

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

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

GENERAL RULES:

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

·       Get a job.

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

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

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

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

·       NO FOOD ALLOWED UPSTAIRS EVER!!!

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

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

·       You can have bus passes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOL Rookie Mistakes:

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

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

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

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

Categories
News

Avis Lee is Free

Abolitionist Law Center published this on February 13, 2021: Avis Lee is finally out! At the age of 18, Avis was sentenced to die in prison. She was denied commutation five times during her 41 years in prison. Brilliant organizer and friend who co-founded Lets Get Free with Avis in 2013 is etta cetera. etta reflects, “When Avis learned that she was first denied a merit hearing in 2016, she said, ‘Guess, I’ll start working on my next application, tomorrow.’” 

Unfazed and unrelenting, Avis believed in her own freedom; she is her own liberator.

Don’t get it twisted – Governor Wolf has not “freed” anyone. He did the bare minimum by signing off on commutation applications that sat on his desk for a half-year, and only signed them after the death of Bruce Norris who should be with his family right now.

In other words, Wolf finally did his job as Governor.

There is no praise for Wolf. Only mad love for ALL the organizers, volunteers, friends, families, movement lawyers, movement donors and survivors of state violence who, over many years, have signed countless petitions, created commutation kits, sent letters to Avis, attended rallies, public hearings, and workshops, and litigated on Avis’s behalf, guided by her own vision of emancipation.

Avis is free and you can support her homecoming fund here.

Learn more about Avis, her story and perseverance at the links below:
A Way Out: Abolishing Death By Incarceration in Pennsylvania (2018) Report from Abolitionist Law Center
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Avis Lee (2016)
More from ALC on the fight to Free Avis (2019)
 “AVIS LEE, THEN AND NOW” (2014) video animation by Mary Dewitt

Thank you to everyone who supported Avis’s freedom
over the years in so many ways.

Categories
News

Overview of the Public Hearing Outcomes

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

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

We uploaded some of the hearings on our youtube channel:

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

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

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

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

Debrief with us!
The hearings were a lot!

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

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

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Success for 3 Women in PA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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