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It’s been over 30 days, Governor Wolf sign on!

It’s time to put some pressure on Governor Tom Wolf to sign the commutation orders that were recommended to him on September 4th. 

Please take a few moments to call ☎️ his office (717-787-2500 ) and contact him via his online form

You can write your own message or use the script below. We need to flood his office with requests so our people are returned to us ASAP!

Dear Governor Wolf,

Please Sign the Commutation orders for Avis Lee, Mildred Strickland, Henrietta Harris, Kevin Butler, Daniel Cummings, Reid Evans, Wyatt Evans, Francisco Mojica and Gregory Stover.

These nine commutation applicants went through a rigorous screening process over the last 3 years and were recommended by your appointed board. A month may not seem like a long time to you but, after serving 30 to 40 years, every additional minute is an eternity.

The risk to these people of being exposed to covid-19 is extremely high in the state correctional institutions and they would be much safer once released. It would be truly tragic to become infected while waiting for your approval.

Please sign the orders today!
✏️ Your name and any credential or PA town etc.

[Image Description: Governor Wolf is seated at a desk in the bottom right hand corner of the graphic looking down as he is writing. White letters in a hand written font state,” Dear Governor Wolf, Please sign the commutation orders that were approved last September 4th. Thanks! Love with a little heart, me”]

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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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News Take Action

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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Art & Storytelling Events Take Action

Yes on Commutation! Week Of Events

Week of Events to Support Fair Commutation and People in Prison
Virtual Gallery Tours of the End Death by Incarceration Art Contest:
Sundays in August August 23 and 30th
at 11am, 12pm & 1pm EST – 30 minutes

Zoom Link for gallery tour at Our Link Tree

Contact to set up ASL or plan a specific group tour that fits your schedule. [letsgetfreepa@gmail.com]


Write letters of support to the 22 Commutation Applicants
Tuesday August 24 – 9am

This Tuesday morning, Letters from Home will be dedicated to sending messages of support to the people waiting for their hearings on September 4th. You can try to imagine how emotionally full this time of waiting can be. If you can’t make the 9am zoom gathering you can access the spreadsheet here. You can find a tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet that says “commutation”. Zoom Link for Letters from Home at our Link Tree


The Final August Premiere of the Life Cycles Toward Freedom Films featuring Stanley Mitchell and Saleem Holbrook
Tuesday August 25th from 7 – 8:30 EST.
Register here.

Featuring 3 new short films and special guests Stanley Mitchell and Robert Saleem Holbrook. If you have already seen the films tune in around 7:45 to see the 10 minute film about the Unger Ruling in Maryland which led to the release of 260 aging people with life sentences in 2012. Stanley was one of the people released 12 years ago.

If you don’t want to register and enter our zoom room, the events will be live streamed on our youtube channel


Yes on Commutation Rally
Thursday August 27th 9am City County Bldg – Pittsburgh

Join members of Let’s Get Free and the Dignity Act Now!Collective Pittsburgh in supporting applicants coming before the PA board of pardons on September 4th. Avis Lee, co creator of Let’s Get Free, is finally coming before the Board of Pardons after 40 years in prison. This is her 6th attempt at commutation! Because of COVID 19 these hearings will be held virtually and we will be unable to show the court support in the way we would ordinarily if allowed to enter the hearing.


Outside Film Screening and Social Distance Hang
Sunday August 30th – 7 – 8:30pm
Register Here (not necessary but helpful)
We are gonna social distance and wear masks 🙂

400 Roup Ave. In the parklet behind the Aldi in friendship.

Bring your own chair. Bring your own food 🙂 We will have fresh juice and beverages and snacks and bug spray! We will also have t-shirts for sale! We will screen the life cycles movies and more. Movies start at 8:30. Katina, a good friend of Tameka Flowers is coming all the way from Greensburg to talk about Tameka who is featured in one of the films. Rain date the following Sunday – September 6th.

Yay! Facebook Event


More action steps to take on the Life Cycles Toward Freedom Website

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Take Action

Marie ‘Mechie’ Scott Turns 67 #LetGrandmaGo

Happy Birthday Mechie!! Marie Scott is a grandmother who is turning 67 years old today. Shout out grandson DaShawn! She is known for her creative writing, journalism and legislative bill writing. Mechie dreams of owning a food truck serving tacos. 

After all this time she should be free to be with her family, especially now that the Coronavirus poses such a threat to her health while in prison. 

The photos used in the above picture were taken by Howard Zehr 25 years apart.

Mechie’s crime occurred in Philadelphia in 1973 at the age of 19. She has spent 47 years in prison! Her codefendant was a juvenile lifer and was released this Spring. Marie has so much guilt and remorse that rarely does she make a decision without thinking of her victim. Marie was charged with 1st degree murder even tho she didn’t pull the trigger. Her charge should have been Felony in the 2nd degree but Rizzo was the Police Chief at the time and their victim was white. 

She applied for commutation and was denied a public hearing in 2019, she can reapply next year. She has applied about 5 times.

We are calling on Governor Tom Wolf Lt. Gov. John FettermanAttorney General Josh Shapiro to reschedule the Public Hearings that were postponed in June. Expedite commutations for people with life sentences who make up the aging population. Use your power to #ReleaseAgingPeopleFromPrison and #LetGrandmaGo

And another thing power holders of Pennsylvania, take a page out Maryland’s playbook and mass release aging people from prison. Check out this 10 minute video:

This film by Wide Angle Youth Media introduces us to the Ungers – geriatric lifers released under the 2012 Maryland Court of Appeals ruling, Unger v. Maryland. This examines the issues of long term sentences, geriatric parole and what it means to be a part of this unique case study in geriatric reentry. The film also interviews key reform experts including Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais and JPI’s State Based Strategist, Keith Wallington. To learn more, you can go to our website: http://bit.ly/2B8f0FZ

Supporters are asked to please sign our petition if you haven’t yet: https://www.change.org/p/governor-tom-wolf-release-of-aging…

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Events

Transform Commutation! A People’s Response: Register Here

TRANSFORM COMMUTATION

Transform Commutation! A People’s Response: Envisioning Release in the time of CoVid and Beyond


The commutation process is broken. Intended as a means to reduce sentences for incarcerated individuals, increasing politicization has reduced commutation to a shadow process instead of a meaningful pathway to release.

In April, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman announced that the Board of Pardons will indefinitely delay the commutation hearing set to take place on June 4th. At this hearing, dozens of applicants would have had the opportunity to have their cases reviewed to determine their potential for release, thus permitting them to escape the life-threatening conditions of prisons in the era of COVID-19. There is no excuse to delay commutation hearings.

If the concern is about commutation applicants not receiving in-person interviews, that question should be left up to the applicant to decide. Some applicants we have spoken with would rather have a video interview than for the hearing date to be in perpetual postponement.

Because Pennsylvania is one of only five states that excludes lifers from parole consideration, commutation serves as the only option for release for individuals serving death by incarceration. Yet since 1980, commutation has become virtually unattainable: the number of life sentences commuted dropped from ~28 per year before 1980 to ~1 per year after. Beyond lifers, commutation is also a vital system for individuals serving long-term sentences.

In the time of COVID-19, where a prison sentence is a death sentence for the elderly and immunocompromised, commutation should be bolstered as a tool to bring more people home.

We mourn the lives already lost to COVID-19 in state correctional facilities. How many of these deaths could have been prevented if our justice system prioritized community healing over retribution?

On June 4th, please join us for The People’s Response, a space for the community to voice our demands for commutation transformation. First, we will hear from individuals who will speak from personal experience about the failures of the commutation process. Next, we will collectively envision what commutation could like if it were transformed to put our communities first. Speakers include Laura Whitehorn, Jose Hamza Saldana, William L. Goldsby, Mageline Stewart, Doug Hollis, Terri Minor Spencer, and Ricky Olds.

Please join this community conversation by registering here . Together we will urge the Board of Pardons to #FreeTheVulnerable and meet our demands.

SPEAKERS:

Laura Whitehorn: A lifelong anti-war and civil rights activist, Laura Whitehorn spent the 70s and 80s organizing against the Vietnam war, white supremacist violence, and U.S. imperialist terrorism abroad. She eventually served 14 years in federal prison as a political prisoner. During her time in prison and since her release, she has focused her efforts on advocating for the release of political prisoners of the black liberation and anti-imperialist solidarity movements. She is the cofounder of Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), an organization that advocates for the release of older and aging people, lifers, and long-termers as a way to undermine a key pillar of the racist prison system: the paradigm of permanent punishment and death by incarceration.

Jose Hamza Saldana is Director of RAPP. Jose was released from NYS prison in January 2018 after 38 years and four Parole Board denials. While in prison, Jose earned an Associate’s Degree and founded several important restorative justice and victim awareness programs. He mentored hundreds of men during his years inside and continues to inspire all of us with his energy, commitment, and leadership.

William L. Goldsby: Born in a cotton field, raise in Selma, Alabama and incarcerated for two violent offenses, both during the Jim Crow era, one in Selma, Alabama and the other one while serving in the US Military.  Attended Miles College an HBC in Birmingham, Alabama and graduated from Western Washington University with a B.A in Education. Two terns in Central America with the Peace Corp where responsibilities were with Youth Development and “Women-In-Transition”. Travelled to Southern Africa and interviewed members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Founder and the past Chair of Reconstruction Incorporated, a 30-year old community capacity building grass root organization. Architect of the History and Reconstruction Project funded by Pew Charitable Trust that explored Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome which impacts the behavior of society at large and specifically African Americans. Designed and teaches Situation Management as a method in order to realize a new justice paradigm. Co-authored Reconstructing Rage, Transformative Reentry in the Age of mass Incarceration with Professor Townsand Price-Spratlan.  Philosophy is that we must access our organic intelligence, manage our own perceptions and liberate our imagination.

Mageline Stewart: Sentenced to life without parole, Maggie Stewart had her sentence commuted by the Governor last December after receiving a unanimous vote in support of her release by the Board of Pardons. She will speak to her experiences undergoing the commutation process and coming home, as well as tell us about the other lifers who are still behind bars.

Doug Hollis: Doug Hollis knows first-hand how broken the commutation process is. A former juvenile lifer, Mr. Hollis was released in 2017 due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision deeming automatic life terms for minors unconstitutional. But before 2017, Mr. Hollis underwent the commutation process six times, even winning the recommendation of the Board of Pardons in 1992, only to be denied release by the Governor.

Moderators:

Terri Minor Spencer: Ms. Spencer, a visionary community activist based in Pittsburgh, founded a grass-roots nonprofit dedicated to addressing community needs, serves as the Director of Community Engagement at the White Lily Baptist Church, and even holds a seat on the Democratic committee for Pittsburgh Ward 20. Having served 16 years at SCI Muncy, including 17 days in solitary confinement, Ms. Spencer is an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform.

Ricky Olds: Public Speaker.Community Educator. Formerly Incarcerated individual. Wrongfully convicted of murder, Ricky served close to four decades before being released in 2017.

***

This event is hosted by the Campaign To Restore Meaningful Commutation and #FreeTheVulnerable campaign, a collective of organizers from the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) Lets Get Free: Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI), Abolitionist Law Center, and Amistad Law Project among others. We are advocating for the release of older and immunocompromised folks from PA prisons in the time of COVID-19 and beyond.

###

Categories
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

Screen Shot 2020-05-20 at 6.09.36 PM

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.

Categories
News

Show Mercy Josh Shapiro

Screen Shot 2020-02-27 at 3.45.10 PM

Over 50 people gathered in Pittsburgh and hundreds in Philadelphia on Tuesday the 25th, encouraging Attorney General Josh Shapiro to show mercy for people sentenced to life who have proven themselves to be deserving a second chance.

“We are seeing political opportunism from Shapiro,” said A’Brianna Morgan, an organizer with Reclaim Philadelphia. “He claims to want more rehabilitated and innocent people to have a chance to come home, but he has condemned more people to die in prison than any other Board member.”

The Board of Pardons is chaired by Lt. Governor Fetterman, who has made reforming Pennsylvania’s clemency system a priority. This has given hope to thousands serving life without parole sentences seeking a second chance. Those hopes were dashed when Shapiro moved to deny many exemplary candidates for commutation at the December Board of Pardons hearing. Rally-goers are asking that Shapiro vote with Lt. Governor Fetterman when he votes in favor of recommending a candidate for commutation

“When it comes to commutation, Josh Shapiro has the opportunity to recognize a concept of justice that believes in mercy, and send the message that people are capable of transformation,” said Kempis Songster, communications lead at Amistad Law Project. “That kind of hope is foundational to our humanity. There is no healing for our communities without it.”

Read articles covering the rally in the Philly Inquirer, Pittsburgh City Paper, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

IMG_2767

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Commutation Resources

Updated Tips for Commutation Application – Pennsylvania

Update February 25, 2020:

We were recently informed by J. Johnson that the PA Board of Pardons (PABOP) no longer wants support letters before the applicant passes Merit Review and that then, they will only take letters that offer tangible reentry support. (housing, jobs etc)

Several of us agree, that letters of support are still important and there was a time in the not so distant past that you had to have them. It was reported that Brandon Flood and Naomi Blount told women at Muncy last month that nobody don’t read the letters.  Again we think it’s a good idea to gather the letters and have them ready for when you pass the merit review.

These tips are tailored for people serving death by incarceration sentences and updated January 30, 2020 including 2020 Board of Pardon Dates.

Note for Long Termers -People sentenced to 20- 40 years etc. The only difference in the commutation application for longtermers is that you only need 3 out of 5 votes to be recommended to the Governor – whereas lifers need a unanimous 5. In addition you may not have a personal interview with the board of pardons before your public hearing.

Let’s Get Free! Commutation Support Kit – Printable Pdf Version – includes Tips, plus DOC flow chart, BOP Factors for Release, Letter of Reconsideration – 12 double sided pages – 6 pieces of paper

More easily printable resources at bottom of post.

Application Stage

  • It is very important to have someone proofread your application before submission.
  • As of January 2020 you need to use the newly revised application. People in prison can get a copy of the application by going through a counselor or at the Law Library.  People on the outside can also send an application by downloading it through the Board of Pardons website. As of 2019 there are on longer fees associated with this application There aren’t any major changes for lifers, so no new information is required but you are required to submit the latest version of the application. Nothing to sweat here! You can request an application by writing to Board of Pardons 333 Market Street. 15th Floor. Harrisburg, PA 17126. It takes 3 weeks. Include your name and DOC number.
  • For questions about the application contact John Johnson, Pardons Case Specialist Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050. Phone: 717-728-0386 johjohnson@pa.gov  You can also try Brandon Flood at bflood@pa.gov.
  • Application Status Update (717) 787-2596 (From BOP website) All phone calls are taken between 11:00 am and 4:30 pm (Eastern Time).
  • Supporters can now email letters of recommendation to the board of pardons. Contact Brandon Flood – Bflood@pa.gov He will distribute the letter to the board and put it in the applicants packet. It’s always important to send a paper copy to your person filing the application.
  • Take a look at the DOC policy on commutation at your law library: 11.4.1

Tips for writing a commutation application

Updated January 2020 Ellen Melchiondo, The Women’s Lifer Resume Project

The new commutation application is free and there is no filing fee. The application is available on the BOP website and in the prison library. The application includes supplemental pages and you must use them. Do not write “see attachment” in spaces where information continues. There is a box at the end of each section where you indicate if you will be including supplemental information. Information that you want to provide such as resume or published work should just be sent along with the application.

If you are not in prison and assisting an applicant what I do is download the application pdf.  I save it to my desktop and a text box automatically appears. I also get rid of the text lines, and select white to make the background solid. This makes it easier to read.

Here’s a rundown on each section for people with life sentences:

Section 1 Type of Clemency: Check “Commute Life Sentence to Life on Parole” and do your best to remember each time you previously applied.

Section 2 Applicant Information: Just the facts. If using the DOC-Parole for representation click the box, the address is below. If using someone else, give that information.

Section 3 Convictions for Which Clemency is Requested:  Less information is asked here: “place, role and caught.” Use a supplemental page if needed. Do not minimize role. Don’t add dialogue. Don’t make excuses. Minimize details, you’re not writing a memoir or screenplay.

Section 4 Additional Criminal Information: Fill out Section 4 to the best of your ability because parole provides the rap sheet to the DOC commutation office. No one is expected to pay for their criminal history report.

Section 5 Optional Personal Statement: is totally optional. No more checking boxes to address reasons for applying. One page is usually enough.

I think now, less is more in Section 5. An explanation about your life circumstances before and during serving time is good. Accomplishments in list form. Home plan if you have one.  You can list your supporters and how they will help you. Be sincere, humble and realistic about your goals.

Section 6: Sign and date.Mail your application to: Pardons Case Specialist/Parole Manager Bureau of Standards and Accreditation Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole 1920 Technology Parkway Mechanicsburg, PA 17050  Keep a copy for yourself!

Tips for writing about your crime

One of the most challenging aspects for those who are pursuing commutation is to explain the role they played in the crime. Again,it is very important to have someone proofread your application before submission. When writing about the details of your crime, it is important to be both detailed and concise. Do not leave any information out, but also try to be straight to the point.  One challenge is knowing how much to share about what led up to the crime. For women in general, this cannot be omitted or separated. Since the Board of Pardons doesn’t tell us what swayed them to vote for or against an applicant, a 360 degree perspective is owed to the process. It really is up to women lifers to educate the board of the unique crimes that they find themselves convicted of. It’s a balancing act. You want to provide context for your situation without excusing or diminishing your role.

You no longer have to admit to things you didn’t do as was the thought under the old commutation process. Before, your story had to match that of the State. Now you can tell your truth but it is important to take responsibility for your role. If you are wrongfully convicted – you are still convicted in the eyes of the state. So it is basically a plea for mercy. Because this isn’t re-litigation it’s not a retrial – the most you might do is point out some evidence that they could see. This process isn’t set up for the wrongfully convicted – write Lt. Gov John Fetterman about this.

Staffing Stage

After you submit your application each applicant gets “staffed” by their prison. This “staffing” is also called The Special Review Committee and is generally one or two deputy superintendents, a Major of Unit Management, or a Corrections Classification Program Manager or whoever is designated by the superintendent. A person can also request a supportive staff person to be included too.

Current staff may not write letters of support.  They may submit an email to the respective Unit Manager to be included in the staffing packet.

Merit Review Stage

For updates on merit review contact Brandon Flood Bflood@pa.gov 717-480-0793 – Let it be known that there is most often incorrect information about who is going up for Merit Review – even if one of the BOP people tell us who is going up. Several times they have listed peoples names and several times they were not on the list.  Try to call the week before the scheduled merit review to obtain the most accurate info. You can also try John Johnson.

Before your merit review you will be interviewed by Wetzel: Secretary Wetzel instituted the policy of interviewing applicants before the merit review. There is nothing in policy mandating the Secretary to conduct video interviews with people in prison.  This is his policy and this could be discontinued by the next secretary one day. The secretary makes the ultimate decision by the Department of Corrections to recommend or not recommend an applicant for commutation. Your application will not get to the merit review until this interview happens.

You can now appeal a negative outcome during the Merit Review phase.  You have 30 days to submit a Letter of Reconsideration along with a form you can find on DOC website, this letter of reconsideration is attached below. George Trudell, Naomi Blount and Farouq Wideman were denied at merit review stage, filed the reconsideration letter and are now released!

Hearing Phase

After a person passes the merit review, they are moved to SCI Camp Hill for an in-person interview a few days before the hearings. One last noted change is that the prison staff person who supports the applicant at the public hearing will be attending the in-person interview at Camp Hill.

A recent change in the process is that the DOC Office of Pardons Specialists will not be representing lifers at public hearings. This job falls to a staff person at the prison and was Wetzel’s idea. The idea is that Staff here at Central Office will never know the people as well as the institutional staff. Applicants are not permitted to select the designated facility staff person.  This is the decision of the superintendent. They are still free to appoint someone else to represent you such as an attorney, friend or family member however, Mr. Johnson would not recommend since the representatives don’t have to speak as much and prepare long presentations as was the case in the past. But the representative must know the case inside and out and now how to prep the supporters in presentation.

Encourage your supporters to reach out to us if they have questions or just want some moral support. If they want to know what to expect, they can find a video on youtube of the full day of public hearings in May by searching: PA Board of Pardons, May 30, 2019. There is a shorter video highlighting Naomi and Cynthia’s hearing of the same day. Search youtube: PA Board of Pardons Hearing for Cynthia Gonzalez and Naomi Blount. Perhaps your counselors can pull it up for you as it is public and pertains directly to your situation.

2020 Board of Pardons Schedule

Merit Review Session:

Senate Hearing Room 8A East Wing at 3:00 p.m. (Telephone Conference Call)

Thursday February 6, 2020. Thursday, May 7, 2020 Thursday, August 6, 2020 Thursday, November 5, 2020

Public Hearing Sessions:

  • Wednesday March 4, 2020. Thursday March 5, 2020, (If Needed) Friday March 6, 2020(If Needed) *March Public Hearing Sessions will be held in the Supreme Court Courtroom, Main Capitol Building, Capitol Rotunda, Room 437
  • Wednesday, June 3, 2020 Thursday, June 4, 2020,Friday, June 5, 2020 (If Needed) * June Public Hearing Sessions will be held in the Supreme Court Courtroom, Main Capitol Building, Capitol Rotunda, Room 437
  • Wednesday, September 2, 2020, Thursday, September 3, 2020, Friday, September 4, 2020 (If Needed) *September Public Hearing Sessions will be held in the Supreme Court Courtroom, Main Capitol Building, Capitol Rotunda, Room 437
  • Wednesday, December 9, 2020 Thursday, December 10, 2020 Friday, December 11, 2020  (If Needed) *December Public Hearing Sessions will be held in Senate Hearing Room 1

Letters of Support and Letters of Recommendation are Important!

A Support Letter shows real support while on parole: housing, money, job, transportation, clothes, etc…

A letter of Recommendation explains why a person believes you are no longer a threat to public safety and have been rehabilitated. They can express other things like looking forward to spending time with you, showing you how to navigate the free world, etc..

Reminder: Supporters can now email letters to the board of pardons. Brandon Flood – Bflood@pa.gov He will distribute the letter to the board and place in the applicant’s packet.

Keep in mind if you are writing to organizations for support letters and they don’t know you personally it is hard for them to write you a letter of support. Try building a relationship first.

Asking Friends and Family for Letters

Support your friends in supporting you!

Here is a sample letter people in prison can use to mobilize family and friends to write letters:

Re: (Your name) Commutation Support Letter

Dear

I am working on my commutation application. I would like to know if you would be interested in writing a letter of support, a character witness letter to the board of pardons on my behalf. If you are open to this the letter should be addressed to The Board of Pardons 333 Market St, Harrisburg, PA 17126 and include the following – RE: (commutation applicant’s name) Commutation of Life Sentence, letter writer’s return address and phone number.

The letter should state the following:

  1. Briefly touch on who you are, your background, employment, degrees, etc.
  2. Include Commutation Applicant’s Name, DOC Number and Prison
  3. How we came in contact with each other.
  4. Your thoughts on my maturity and rehabilitation.
  5. Your thoughts on my remorse for the offense I am convicted of.
  6. Your thoughts on my chances for successful reentry into society, employment and participation in society upon my release.
  7. Any willingness you would have in assisting in my reentry to society i.e. references, referrals, etc. when I am released.

When you are finished with the letter please send the original back to me. Please also keep a copy for yourself. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Xyour nameX


Other helpful documents:

Let’s Get Free! Commutation Support Kit – Printable Pdf Version – includes Tips, plus DOC flow chart, BOP Factors for Release, Letter of Reconsideration – 12 double sided pages – 6 pieces of paper

Let’s Get Free! Commutation Support Kit plus Sample Application – printable PDF version includes all of the above plus Naomi’s Application – 23 pages – 12 pieces of paper

Naomi Blount’s Commutation Application – Many people request a sample application.

Letter of Reconsideration –  if denied Merit Review

The Board of Pardons Filing Packet Packets Include Application:

  • Know Your Options (1 page)
  • Filing Instructions (3 pages)
  • Factors Sheet (2 pages)
  • Combined Application (7 pages)
  • Need More Space – Supplemental page instructions (1 page)
  • Supplemental Pages (4 pages)
      • Section 3 – Additional Cases – Convictions For Which Clemency Is Requested
      • Section 3 – Additional Offenses, Sentences, & Facts of Incident
      • Section 4 – Additional Criminal Information & Driver History
      • Section 5 – Additional Personal Statement

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Photo from October 2019 Rally to End Death By Incarceration sponsored by CADBI. Many people here are holding signs supporting the cause. Picture by NateArt