Last week, the Abolitionist Law Center dropped a new report called From Victim to Victor: An Inquiry into Incarceration, Gender and Resistance in PA. This was the first-ever report to examine the gendered experience of Death by Incarceration in Pennsylvania from the direct perspectives of those living it.
Abolitionist writer, Victoria Law covered the unveiling of this mammoth 107 page report in Truthout. Her article starts like this:
When she was 20 years old, Sheená King was sentenced to life without parole. Two years earlier, King’s boyfriend had coerced her into fatally shooting another woman, threatening to kill her and her family if she refused. She was convicted of murder, which, in Pennsylvania, mandates life without parole.
It’s a sentence that King, now age 50, and other advocates call “death by incarceration.”
“Freedom is ensured when my ashes are shipped to my daughter in a cardboard box,” she explained in a newly released report on women and trans people serving similar sentences.
Friday July 29, 2022 6:00-9:00 pm Campaign Launch 9:00-11:00 pm After Party
5120 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA
Donations to benefit Let’s Get Free
Campaign Launch 6-9pm
Learn about the Let Grandma Go Campaign, Sign postcards to lawmakers, Reserve limited edition museum quality print featuring a new original portrait of Cyd Berger created by Mary Dewitt, Film screening of Wide Open 7 minute short, Refreshments, Buy LGF shirts, etc.
After party is 9-11pm
Dancing and Adult Beverages DJ- Mary Mack Bands- Grow Light, Close Prisons
Access Notes: Masks Up! There is an outside courtyard. We are checking about wheel chair access. The bathroom is for sure down stairs. Access questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let Grandma Go is a public awareness campaign to make visible aging women in prison, pass laws that would liberate the elderly in prison and bring our friends home.
As time wears on, people who were sentenced to Death By Incarceration and other long sentences in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are getting older inside prisons. Their bodies are wearing out. They’ve become fundamentally different people than they were at the time of their arrest. Often, they use their skills as talented mentors, teachers, and peer educators to make a difference in the lives of younger incarcerated people and improve the world around them. We know that the punishment-driven system that keeps them incarcerated is oppressive, inhumane, and unjust. And equally, we know our communities will be stronger with these elders and mentors home.
As part of the fight to free our elders, Let’s Get Free and CADBI (Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration) are sending monthly postcards to PA state legislators and DAs. The postcards highlight the stories of incarcerated women elders and urge politicians to support bills in the PA General Assembly.
April 22nd was Jennifer Rhodes’ birthday! Jennifer has spent the last 31 years in prison during which she has earned an Associates degree in Business, certification as an Optician, and soon will hold certification as a Braille Transcriber. She is also a role model and counselor to other incarcerated women. She has a daughter, who was just six years old when she was sentenced to Life Without Parole. At 64, she currently suffers from myeloid leukemia, Graves’ disease, degenerative joint disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Support Medical and Geriatric Parole Reform in Pennsylvania Pass SB 835 and HB 2347
SB 835 and HB 2347 are identical companion bills. If passed, they would create a mechanism for certain ill and/or aging incarcerated people in Pa. state correctional institutions (SCIs) to petition the Pa. Parole Board for release. The bills also require Pa. Dept. of Corrections staff to help incarcerated people with petitions for release, provide relevant records, notify families of their incarcerated loved one’s terminal medical diagnosis, facilitate quick visitation after a terminal diagnosis, and track statistics about medical and geriatric parole and other items for the legislature to review yearly
Let’s Get Free is raising a whopping $40,000 to amplify the message that ‘Life Sentences are Death Sentences’ in Pennsylvania. PA has one of the largest populations of people sentenced to die in prison in the US–5,300. We need to build public awareness to strengthen our movement to bring our people home. We need to push our cause outside of our committed justice bubbles. We want lawmakers and residents across PA to see a few of the faces who have been sentenced to die.
Help us reach the unthinkable!! One billboard on the turnpike for 2 months can make 1 million impressions. Millions of people who have never thought about this issue will be exposed.
The billboards will be launched in conjunction with each of the four sessions of merit review and public hearings in 2021. These hearings are important stages in the commutation process, one of the only ways for people with life sentences to be released from prison.
Each billboard lease for 2 months is : $3000 3 billboards for 2 months : $9000
Multiplied by 4 equals $36,000 to rent for billboards for the whole year. Total cost of printing 3 boards: $3,900
This totals: $39.900
We have already raised $7000 for the billboard campaign. All the remaining money that does not go to billboards will go to ads on city bus shelters and public buses.
We have been working to transform the amazing art we received from our art contest into public service announcements. Don’t you want to see this art and messaging raising awareness about Death by Incarceration on buses all across the state? We do!!
If 2,000 people donate $20 bucks – We got this! If 1,000 people donate $40 bucks- We got this! If 500 people donate $80 bucks -We got this! If 250 people donate $160 bucks– We got this!
The women featured on this image are Tameka Flowers, Charmaine Pfender and Sarita Miller. Their images will not be posted on billboards without their consent. This graphic was designed by the People’s Paper Coop and the stills are from footage shot by Tusko films.
GRATITUDE ACROSS THE LATITUDES Community!!
With your contribution, this messaging will truly be an effort of the grass roots! Help us shift the punishment paradigm and bring our loved ones home.
[Image Description of Billboard: This graphic is rectangular and has an orange pink sherbert back ground. Featured on the right of the image are photographs of three faces: Tameka, Charmaine and Sarita. Tameka is a Black woman with her hair pulled back in a neat pile on top of her head. She has a cross necklace. Char is a white person that appears gender neutral with a round face and short hair. Sarita is Black woman with straight hair that frames her face and ends at her shoulders. All the faces are wearing expressions as if in conversation. In big letters on the left the words: 5300 people in PA are sentenced to die in prison. To the bottom right are the words yellow: End Death by Incarceration. Underneath in white: letsgetfree.info]
The photo above shows advocates on August 27th holding signs at the City County Bldg in Pittsburgh. The signs read “We believe in second chances. Yes on Commutation – Reunite Communities. Commute deserving Lifers. Commutation is a legal process to reduce a sentence. commutation is a second chance” Rallies held in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg a week before the hearings were meant to demonstrate physical support for people coming before the Board of Pardons.
This spreadsheet shares the schedules for this weeks first ever virtual public hearing. Over 200 cases will be heard the vast majority are people seeking pardons from marijuana related charges. 22 people seeking commutation from life and long term sentences will be heard. The spreadsheet is much easier to read if you download it onto your computer.
The applicants have an interview with the board of pardons the day before their hearings. They will be virtual as well and no public is allowed to attend. The applicants are not allowed to attend their own public hearings – even virtually.
The following info tracks people in the extended CADBI network who are coming before the board.
Tuesday September 1: 2pm Henrietta Harris – Interview
Thursday September 3 11 – Avis Lee, Mildred Strickland- Hearing 12 – Richie Marra, Horton Brothers – Hearing 2pm – Felix Rosado, Kevin Butler – Interview
Friday September 4 10 – Felix Rosado, Kevin Butler – Hearing 12 – Votes heard for all cases probably in Alphabetical Order like the merit review.
According to the BOP spreadsheet, the Board’s vote on all cases [pardons and commutations—all 202] will be made on Friday, 9/4 at 12pm. In other words, voting will not take place on the same day as the hearings, with the exception of those cases heard on Friday morning.
If the applicant receives 5 yes votes (we will rejoice) and will then wait for the governor to sign on to the application. Once signed, the person will be transported to their Community Corrections Center by the DOC.
Photos below depict the Harrisburg rally from last Thursday where 200 photos of people supporting commutation applicants were displayed on the steps of the Harrisburg Capital building. Each poster has brightly colored words stating “Yes to Commutation. Reunite Communities” with a color photograph of a different friends, family members and supporters holding signs of support for release. Read more on this coverage from the Pennsylvania Capital Star.
Week of Events to Support Fair Commutation and People in Prison Virtual Gallery Tours of the End Death by Incarceration Art Contest: Sundays in August August 23 and 30th at 11am, 12pm & 1pm EST – 30 minutes
Write letters of support to the 22 Commutation Applicants Tuesday August 24 – 9am
This Tuesday morning, Letters from Home will be dedicated to sending messages of support to the people waiting for their hearings on September 4th. You can try to imagine how emotionally full this time of waiting can be. If you can’t make the 9am zoom gathering you can access the spreadsheet here. You can find a tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet that says “commutation”. Zoom Link for Letters from Home at our Link Tree
The Final August Premiere of the Life Cycles Toward Freedom Films featuring Stanley Mitchell and Saleem Holbrook Tuesday August 25th from 7 – 8:30 EST. Register here.
Featuring 3 new short films and special guests Stanley Mitchell and Robert Saleem Holbrook. If you have already seen the films tune in around 7:45 to see the 10 minute film about the Unger Ruling in Maryland which led to the release of 260 aging people with life sentences in 2012. Stanley was one of the people released 12 years ago.
If you don’t want to register and enter our zoom room, the events will be live streamed on our youtube channel
Yes on Commutation Rally Thursday August 27th 9am City County Bldg – Pittsburgh
Join members of Let’s Get Free and the Dignity Act Now!Collective Pittsburgh in supporting applicants coming before the PA board of pardons on September 4th. Avis Lee, co creator of Let’s Get Free, is finally coming before the Board of Pardons after 40 years in prison. This is her 6th attempt at commutation! Because of COVID 19 these hearings will be held virtually and we will be unable to show the court support in the way we would ordinarily if allowed to enter the hearing.
Outside Film Screening and Social Distance Hang Sunday August 30th – 7 – 8:30pm Register Here (not necessary but helpful) We are gonna social distance and wear masks 🙂
400 Roup Ave. In the parklet behind the Aldi in friendship.
Bring your own chair. Bring your own food 🙂 We will have fresh juice and beverages and snacks and bug spray! We will also have t-shirts for sale! We will screen the life cycles movies and more. Movies start at 8:30. Katina, a good friend of Tameka Flowers is coming all the way from Greensburg to talk about Tameka who is featured in one of the films. Rain date the following Sunday – September 6th.
Happy Birthday Mechie!! Marie Scott is a grandmother who is turning 67 years old today. Shout out grandson DaShawn! She is known for her creative writing, journalism and legislative bill writing. Mechie dreams of owning a food truck serving tacos.
After all this time she should be free to be with her family, especially now that the Coronavirus poses such a threat to her health while in prison.
Mechie’s crime occurred in Philadelphia in 1973 at the age of 19. She has spent 47 years in prison! Her codefendant was a juvenile lifer and was released this Spring. Marie has so much guilt and remorse that rarely does she make a decision without thinking of her victim. Marie was charged with 1st degree murder even tho she didn’t pull the trigger. Her charge should have been Felony in the 2nd degree but Rizzo was the Police Chief at the time and their victim was white.
She applied for commutation and was denied a public hearing in 2019, she can reapply next year. She has applied about 5 times.
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
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!
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
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.
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.”
This was written geared to people in prison in mid December by Ellen Melchiando with input from etta cetera.
There has been a lot of media and excitement surrounding the changes made to the commutation process over the past year by Lt. Governor John Fetterman. November saw a historic number (21) of public hearings of people with life sentences. For the last 30 years it felt promising if there were 6 life sentence cases up for merit review a year, let alone more than 2 for public hearings total! Naomi Blount and George Trudell, both recently commuted from life sentences were hired by the Lt Governor as commutation specialists. Brandon Flood, a returning citizen, was hired as the Secretary of the Board of Pardons and according to friends and family members, he’s doing a great job! There is talk of changing the unanimous vote at the public hearing stage from 5 to 4 votes. People are coming home!
Despite the progress, which is unquestionably important and exciting, the outcomes of merit reviews and public hearings for women seeking commutation has been disappointing.
In 2018, the previous makeup of the board of pardons resulted in the votes for recommending Tina Brosius and she made it successfully with Governor Wolf’s signature. She was the first woman in PA to receive commutation in 30 years.
This year we have had 6 women make it to the public hearing stage. The current members of the BOP have commuted two: Naomi Blount and Magaleen Stewart. As you know both Henrietta Harris and Cynthia Gonzalez’s applications have been resting in the mysterious “reconsideration” pause pile. Naomi was recommended in May and released in July. Magaleen and Naomi are now both in Philly at the same facility. They are allowed to sign out from 7am – 7pm and need permission to leave the city. They are very strict about people spending the night out though they made exceptions for this recent holiday – for Naomi.
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. This doubly places the importance in having the institution’s recommendation. We witnessed these changes to the process at Magaleen Stewart and Terri Harper’s public hearing. SCI Muncy’s Deputy Frantz spoke to the board in support of Terri’s release. SCI Muncy’s Superintendent Wendy Nicholas spoke in support of Magaleen Stewart.
What if a staff person supports the applicant but the institution as a whole doesn’t? Will they break from their superiors and support this person at a public hearing? This scenario is possible. What if the culture within a prison doesn’t support a second chance for lifers and long-termers?
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. The Facility Managers at Muncy and Cambridge Springs are Superintendents Wendy Nicholas and Lonnie Oliver respectively. A person can also request a supportive staff person to be included too.
A note about the video interviews with Wetzel before the Merit Review: 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.
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.
Take a look at the DOC policy on commutation at your law library: 11.4.1
At the September hearings, there was a surprise break from protocol, the Lieutenant Governor spotted Naomi Blount in the audience and asked her to speak on behalf of Magaleen! She did this by walking up to the members on the dais and spoke lovingly of Maggie. Then at the end of the hearing, the Attorney General rushed down from the dais to give Naomi a hug along with wishes for her continued success! This was indeed surprising and proves that things can change. It also demonstrates how much power people have- it turns out you can just call someone you see in the audience to testify!
One of the most challenging aspects for women lifers (and men, too) who are pursuing commutation is to explain the role they played in the crime. It is very important to have someone proofread your application before submission. The other challenges are knowing how much to share about what led up to the crime. For women in general, this cannot be omitted or separated. That’s my opinion. 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.
Currently we are tracking outcomes of staffing, merit reviews and public hearings based on the generalization of the type of criminal convictions of women: battered women, arson, infanticide, trafficking, mental illness, law enforcement, 2nd degrees, DNA conflicts, the family, as well as time served, institutional support or lack of, and “escapes.”
The application was recently revamped again. All applications in 2020 must use this new one. 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! Get the application at the law library.
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 or check the law library. Don’t forget this: if you have a negative outcome at the merit review, submit the official Reconsideration form within 30 days.
To make sure your application gets reviewed by the current Board of Pardons who will be presiding until 2022, we are ESTIMATING that you try to get your applications in by July of 2020 at the latest. This is us guessing. You should technically be able to be heard if you submit up until December 2020 but you know how things go. Everything is always getting pushed back. Thereis a rumor that they are creating 6 – 9 new dates for public hearings, currently there are 4 dates a year. This would help with the increased number of applications and give you a better chance to go before this board.
What kind of support do your family and close friends need to prepare for the public hearing? Let us know. Encourage them to reach out to us if they have questions or just want some moral support. We want to be there for you. This is a link to the full day of public hearings in May This at least lets you know what to expect. Below is a shorter video highlighting Naomi Blount’s hearing of the same day.
Update: During the December 20th hearings of those sentenced with LWOP – 2 were recommended for commutation, 3 were held under advisement, 12 were not recommended, 1 was continued under advisement and 1 case was not heard and continued. Of the two recommended – Oliver Macklin, 63 years old, served 33 years of a 2nd degree charge. Fred Butler, 72 years old, served 49 years on a 1st degree charge. The longest sentence 49 years and shortest sentence 23 years. We were very disappointed that many deserving applicants were denied including both Sheena King and Henrietta Harris.
A Bill’s Path to Law, An Update on the PA Lifers Bill by Jane Hein
Two bills exist that deal with parole for Lifers: HB135 and SB942. The bills are exactly the same but HB135 is a house bill and SB942 is a senate bill. Advocates are choosing to focus on the senate bill, SB942, because the senate is smaller than the house (50 Senators vs 435 Representatives) and it will be an easier task to convince less elected officials at first.
To become law, a bill must be voted on and passed by a committee. In the case of SB942, that would be the Senate Judiciary Committee. Fourteen senators serve on this committee, (vs 25 representatives on the House Judiciary) nine republicans and five democrats. It is up to the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Lisa Baker, to decide to hold a vote on any bill before her committee. But a vote should not be called for until enough members of the committee favor the bill. When a vote is held and the bill is passed by the committee, the bill would then go before the whole senate for a vote and if passed by the senate, the bill would go to the house for a vote. Only after passing the committee, senate and house does the bill go to the Governor for signature and only then does it become law.
The legislative branches, Senate and House of Representatives, have two year terms. This means that with each election, every two years, bills have to be re-submitted to wherever the bill is in the process (committee, senate, or house) in order to continue on the path to becoming law. SB942 was quietly re-submitted to the senate judiciary committee on November 12, 2019. It has until January of 2021 to make headway before it will need to be re-submitted again.
The bill essentially changes the parole board statues to allow the parole board to consider parole for life sentences. By PA statue, a sentence cannot be changed, but the PA statues do not say that life sentences cannot be paroled. So if a life sentenced is paroled, the parolee would have to be on parole for life.
Changes were made to SB942 when it was re-submitted last month. In a nut shell, Lifers convicted of first degree murder could be paroled after 35 years. Lifers convicted of second degree murder could be paroled after 25 years. Lifers convicted of killing a cop in the first degree would not be eligible for parole.
So here’s the deal. Advocates will continue to fight for the passage of this bill while continuing to advocate for earlier parole eligibility, say 15 years as the bill was previously submitted. The path to becoming law is a long one and there will be plenty of opportunities to advocate for changing the bill. The path to law is long and hard but do not be discouraged. Five years ago we had no bill! Change is happening because we are putting pressure on politicians, supporting pro-reform candidates in elections, and rallying in Harrisburg! WE WILL NOT STOP!
Report Back from Rally to End Death by Incarceration and Heal Our Communities – October 23, 2019 by etta cetera
This now-annual fall gathering in support of legislation changing the laws for lifers has the feeling of reunion for many. Recently released connect with old friends from the inside and people across the state who don’t see each other on the day to day get to hug, commiserate and rejuvenate. This year we brought back singing. After the usual impassioned and insightful speeches by lawmakers, returning citizens, family members, etc. at the podium, surrounded by hundreds of supporters with colorful signs, we lifted our voices harmonizing for redemption throughout the halls. The capitol building’s grand structure creates acoustics that bounce off the high ceilings and reverberate through our bodies. It’s quite moving. This coming together of like-hearted souls singing into the suit-wearing faces at the capitol. We wound back to the steps where an altar had been set up for anyone who had lost someone to violence to place a flower. This rally is a great place for someone who is looking to start participating in our movement to come. You feel the power of the collective. You feel less alone. In addition to all the good it does for the legislation, rallies like this keep us, on the outside, fighting another day. Accolades to the Philly coalition for all their stalwart efforts in pulling this off every year.
Please watch this new 18 minute documentary produced by Real Stories featuring women in prison at SCI-Muncy. It’s called Dying Outloud.
This film features Diane Metzger who passed away this month in prison. We send our deepest condolences out to her family both in and outside of prison. Diane was 69 years old at the time of her death. Her crime, not turning in her husband who killed his ex-wife, is explained in the video. In 1989 Diane received approval from the Board of Pardons for a commutation of her life sentence, but was then denied by Governor Bob Casey.
All women featured in the documentary did not commit the murders they are serving life sentences for. They were in the car, the other room, took a plea, etc. Below are two quotes by professionals attempting to understand why the system comes down harder on women than men. (Please pardon the binary)
“There is more tolerance for male violence than there is for female violence because female violence is so rare.” – Brian O’Neil, criminologist
“There is a long standing assumption that men commit crime because they are bad or in economic need. For women, the idea that women would commit a crime is a violation of their feminine nature … that they are deviant by virtue for violating a larger cultural norm about femininity.”
–Dr. Jill McCorkel, PHD