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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

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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

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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!

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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.

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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!!

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News

Public Hearings This Week

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.

There will be more information on the BOP website. The link to view the hearings is https://pacast.com/live/bophearing

The Amistad Law Project will be live tweeting from the hearings. Follow along here


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

Wednesday September 2
11 – Henrietta Harris- Hearing
2pm – Avis Lee, Mildred Strickland, Richie Marra, Horton Bros. – 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.

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Events News

May Update: 5 Yes votes for Avis & Commutation Hearings Postponed

Avis Lee received a unanimous 5 yes votes at the May 7th merit review hearing.

This is the farthest she has ever made it in the lengthy commutation process of which she has applied 6 times. Just two more steps to go. The next is the public hearing, including a personal interview with the board, in which she will need the same unanimous 5 yes votes and finally a signature from the governor.  8 out of 13 people sentenced to ‘Death by Incarceration’ were granted public hearings including Mildred Strickland and Phil Rosato.


Commutation Hearings have been postponed due to Covid. 

The Board of Pardons is postponing the public hearings scheduled for June 4th. They claim that they have security concerns due to technology and said LT. Governor Fetterman expressed that having a video interviews rather than in-person interviews would be unfair to the applicant. We think the applicant should be given a choice wether they want to proceed with a video interview. Cambridge Springs has said they have all the technology they need to conduct video interviews and in this day and age the technology concerns are unfounded.

The board will be hearing some pardon cases that don’t involve violence or sexual assault. Board secretary, Brandon Flood said that depending on COVID, the board could have the public hearings before the next scheduled hearing date which is in September.


Save the Date: June 4th → 6 – 8 pm→

Transform Commutation! The People’s Response: Envisioning Release in the Time of Covid and Beyond

On the day the commutation hearings were to take place, Let’s Get Free and the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration are planning a people’s response! Hear from people who have been commuted, people who have lived along side those seeking commutation, demand reform and dream of a new way of holding justice.  What can you envision? Dream with us!  One of our beloved movement fathers, Dr. William Goldsby will be present!


Commutation Application Status

Many prisoners are curious about the status of thier submitted applications. For all those who have already submitted their applications, they are in que just as before. (It is always hard to get information about exactly where you are in the que.) While the DOC Board of Pardons website states that the board is not taking new applications at this time – that’s not all the way true. Brandon Flood assures us that the board is not rejecting or denying any applications they receive. The reason the board is asking people not to submit is because there are quite a few clerk of courts that are not open, so people are submitting incomplete applications.  Depending where the applicant is coming from they may not be able to complete their applications because they may not have access to all the forms. If your clerk of courts is open and you have all your documents you can submit your applications.


Covid in the PA DOC Update: 

SCI-Huntingdon remains the current hot spot within the DOC reporting 143 positive cases among prisoners and 44 positive cases among guards. Just today we learn that 2 people died at Huntington, including the passing of a widely beloved elder, Bumpy Johnson who died from covid at the age of 76. SCI Phoenix is claiming 35 positive cases with 3 deaths reported among the prison population. Camphill, Chester and Fayette are all reporting one positive among prisoners. People on the outside can check for daily covid updates here. It’s hard to tell what’s real because there is limited testing everywhere. Out of the 5 deaths reported 3 of them were people with life sentences.

Additionally, Governor Wolf has still not signed the 3 commutation applications on his desk. This is a simple ask – they have been vetted by the board. This demand was articulated to Governor Wolf in a joint letter from the ACLU, Abolitionist Law Center and Amistad Law Project. The letter demands Covid relief to the over 4,000 people in prison over the age of 60 and 12,000 people in prison who are medically vulnerable.

You can hear from PA  prisoners directly regarding Covid this Thursday, May 21st 6 – 8pm  at the virtual town hall: Voices From the Inside: Pennsylvania Prisoners Speak Out –  Register Here 


Rest in Peace Eliza Medley

Eliza Medley passed away on Sunday May 10th. She did receive a medical release and went to live with her sister on April 27. Sentenced to life at the age of 21, Eliza served 44 years succumbing to liver cancer at the age of 65. Eliza is remembered as being down to earth, bubbly, always with a smile and treating others equally. It is both a relief and heart wrenching that she had just two weeks home. Love to all of her friends and inner circles on both sides of the walls.


Let’s Get Free was invited to host:

Cocktails with a Conscience: Art and Activism Thursday, May 21st, 7:00-9:00PM

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Repair the World Pittsburgh is partnering with The Kelly Strayhorn Theatre for a Zoom social hour. Guest speakers, including folks from Let’s Get Free, who will discuss the ways by which art can be used for activism. Grab a drink, log on, and learn with us!

Artists James Yaya Hough, Morgan Overton, Todd “Hyung-Rae” Tarselli and etta cetera will discuss their own creative endeavors with a special video from TR who is currently incarcerated speaking about being an artist in prison. Yaya has collaborated with Let’s Get Free years before his release and is now the resident artist for the Philadelphia District Attorney. Let’s Get Free is just beginning a collaboration with Morgan for our latest endeavor to uplift the stories of women sentenced to death by incarceration. Learn more on Thursday!

Register for the zoom room HERE!


Zoomed out? Tune into a few noteable quotes from some national Zoom Room’s we have entered.

“Despair is a tool of our enemies.” — Audre Lorde

“I insist! We have power.” –Mariame Kaba leading abolitionist from Chicago founded Project Nia

“Prisons are a pre-existing condition.” Monica Crosby- recently released New Yorker speaking from her new apartment.

“Individual fingers can be easily broken but together they make a mighty fist.” —Sitting Bull

“Recognizing the brilliance of ourselves, of our people, the diamonds polished by years of oppression, war and struggle and survival among our ancestors and today as we face a pandemic.But also remembering that sometimes it was us who were not only the oppressed, the marginalized but we were the queens, the leaders, the shamans, the witches, the wise ones, the council.
We are not only shaped by our oppression and the hardness of endurance.
We are shaped by our creativity, our love, our legacies, our history, our families of birth and chosen, our beautiful cultures, our music, our food, our poetry, the land that we once belonged to and sometimes still do. The things that we have intact and not only those things broken…
Who we are and what we are come from this alchemy of struggle and life force”
-Mimi Kim on abolitionist feminists

cydsavethedate

15 minutes to Celebrate 65 years of Cyd!
This! Saturday May 23, 12:00-12:15pm, Zoom party

As Cyd turns 65, she has served 40 years of a life sentence. We want to lift her up on this day, because she has lifted up so many others, and to shine a light on aging prisoners who should be freed during this crisis!  We have 75 people signed up – wonder if we can get a 100 people to wish Cyd a happy day?

To participate, please register here. We can text remind you!! Please bring a bell AND something colorful to wave in the zoom, bright fabric, a happy birthday sign, streamers. All of our research has said it’s really hard to sing happy bday together on zoom – so Naomi Blount will lead us in song and we can ring bells. Paulette Carrington will also be present sharing the importance of birthday celebrations on the inside.

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News

Free Black Mama’s – Dignity Act Now PA

IMG-5772
4 women and two young ones stand with facemasks behind a banner that says Dignity Act Now PA

The Pittsburgh arm of the Dignity Act Now Collective and community members of Allegheny County held a car action and press conference outside of the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) on May 12, 2020. Our goal was to bring awareness of the conditions at the jail and the harm that it is causing the black women and caregivers who are held there. We have seen the ACJ:

  • Hold a 20-year-old Black woman, Kimberly Andrews, in solitary confinement for over 70 days;

  • Continually place Black Trans Women in male facilities;

  • Leave our community warehoused with no hot water as temperatures dropped to 45 degrees;

  • Place our community members in solitary confinement as a result of behavior which are common symptoms of their mental health conditions.

This was before COVID19. This was before we recognized racism as a public health crisis in Allegheny County. This was before we know that Pittsburgh is the worst place in the US for a Black Woman to Live. Recognizing the medical apartheid state that Black Women in Pittsburgh already have to survive in, in addition to being locked in the Allegheny County Jail in this current COVID-19 pandemic; we know that their conditions will not improve without us calling truth to power. In light of these harms, we demand the courts:

  1. Lift detainers

  2. End cash bail

  3. Prioritize the release of Black Mammas from the ACJ.

Carmen Alexander of New Voices and Brandi Fisher of Alliance for Police Accountability can be seen speaking below in front of the ACJ. Check out the Pgh City Paper’s coverage here.

 

 

 

The Dignity Act Now Collective was founded by Mary’s Daughter and comprised of  Z’akayiah House, Alliance for Police Accountability, Let’s Get Free, New Voices for Reproductive Justice and the Radical Youth Collective.

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Betty Heron turns 80 in a PA prison this week; Let’s Get Free joins national demands for immediate release of aging and vulnerable people in Pennsylvania prisons at risk of COVID-19

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For Immediate Release: Betty Heron turns 80 in a PA prison this week; Let’s Get Free joins national demands for immediate release of aging and vulnerable people in Pennsylvania prisons at risk of COVID-19

CONTACT: Alan Lewandowski, alanlewandowski67@gmail.com

On Wednesday, April 8, 2020 Let’s Get Free: The Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee will join national demands to release aging people in prison in light of the current coronavirus pandemic.  Pennsylanian Betty Heron, for whom Wednesday is her 80th birthday, has served 38 years at SCI-Cambridge Springs. Heron was convicted of killing her abusive husband in 1982 and sentenced to life without parole. “He systematically and continuously abused me, mentally, physically, and emotionally. It was going to be one or the other,” she states. According to Survived and Punished, the majority of people serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) in women’s prisons, are survivors of abuse, including intimate partner battering, childhood abuse, sexual violence and trafficking.

Let’s Get Free is joining the national call from groups like New York-based Release Aging People from Prison demanding that governors address this problem of aging behind bars that has been around long before the novel coronavirus.

This is how the numbers break down in PA:

  • There  are 62 Pennsylvania women over the age of 60 serving life without parole.

  • Six of those 62 women are in their 80’s, with Alice Green, the oldest woman in a Pennsylvania prison, turning 90 in August.

  • In total, there are 1,297 people over the age of 60 serving LWOP, also known as death by incarceration.

  • On average, it costs $60,000 to $100,000 a year to house an aging prisoner while the public safety risk of releasing them is extremely low

“Ms. Betty’s incarceration gives no benefit to society, but instead deprives society and her family of big-hearted leadership.  In the United States, in a state with a forward-minded governor, no family or community should be deprived of their grandmas, aunties and other elders.  This is a moment of crisis! Betty and so many others are not a threat to society; but now due to close confinement during a pandemic, considering her age, she is very much at risk,” says Alan Lewandowski, board member of Let’s Get Free.

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Supporters and friends of Let’s Get Free are encouraged to partake in this day of digital action imploring Governor Wolf, Lt. Governor Fetterman, and PA legislators to use their power to free Betty and other aging and vulnerable people in PA prisons. Additionally, there is an online petition to gather signatures in support.

Sample messaging and graphics for this digital action can be found here on Let’s Get Free’s website soon: https://letsgetfree.info and social channels: @womeninprison on Instagram, @vivamarilynbuck on Twitter, and @LetsGetFreePA on Facebook.