George Floyd, A Prisoner’s Perspective

Peace! I go by the name Righteous Arvel and I will like to thank everyone who’s taking this pandemic seriously by doing their part to save lives. I also want to say “thank you” to all the protesters out there for showing the world what unity can really do, because numbers don’t lie. Fighting for justice is the only way WE can respectfully honor the death of George Floyd who has become the successor for all those who were ever victimized by Police Brutality, and the Criminal (Slavery) Injustice System. My sentiments are heavy with understanding and grief, because I also had to experience my friend being shot to death by a Richmond, VA Police Officer. Before that, I was a victim of police brutality twice, but there was no cameras. So I understand the nature of violence that can be used to detain a suspect. I admit I resisted a few times, but they still applied excessive force to subdue me. I still ask myself, am I lucky or did they use “NECESSARY” force to arrest me?

My point is, Police Officers do not need any additional training to justify their negligence. Every Police Officer who wears that badge are professionally trained to handle hostile and non hostile situations. Therefore, if an Officer uses unnecessary (excessive) force to apprehend an unarmed suspect it is an act of malice with the intention to do harm or in some cases kill. They are Officers of the Law, which means they’re sworn with the responsibility to protect and serve “The People”. In other words, they must “Protect” the Life, Liberty, and Property of every citizen equally, because Constitutionally we’re All innocent until proven guilty. They also must “Serve” justice on anyone who violates the Life, Liberty, and Property of every citizen protected by the Constitution. With that being said, why isn’t the Constitution protecting the Life, Liberty, and Property of Black People?

I’ll tell you why — because the Constitution was written during slavery which kept us psychologically oppressed for over 400 years. The dehumanization of being called 3/5ths of a person remains engraved in our minds which caused us to be less than average compared to the Majority. Therefore, freedom cost us our lives. Abe Lincoln was not so honest when he so-called Emancipated us, because Emancipation is not Liberation. Liberation is absolute Freedom, Justice, and Equality. Emancipate comes from a Latin word which means to be Free from ones chains, but not from ones hands. The 13th Amendment only “Emancipated” us from one Plantation to Another (Prison), using the Criminal Justice System as a slave ship. Why do you think this Amendment still uses the language “except”? Except what, if we free?

It’s time America abide by their own creed which is Freedom and Justice for all. However, it’s up to Us to make that happen, because like the weather change comes in degrees. The first degree is to break the psychological chains of slavery by recognizing there is a problem and the problem is racism. The second degree is to understand that the problem is not Us, it’s anyone who believes it’s Us. The third degree or solution is to change the language of the Constitution that has enforced and endorsed Structural, Systemic, Statistical, Institutional, and In your face racism to All minorities in America. Who ever denies that Racism has plagued and divided this country are either color blind or hiding behind white privilege. Racism was the nature of chattel slavery which they used as a measuring stick to build this country. Our blood, sweat, tears, and lives are the foundation of America’s Freedom as well as our economical and industrial wealth? WE are “The People” of the United States of America which means WE have the power to change the laws and the future of the next generation. So WE have to BE the change WE want to see.

The Bible says it’s a time and season for everything. Therefore, it’s our time to kneel and keep one knee on the necks of injustice until WE see change. Change in our Communities, our Police Department, our Educational System, our Economical System, and our Criminal Justice System. Our progress is the only way WE can honor the lives of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor and too many others who paid the price for being Black in America. The time is Now to confront, indict, and convict the real criminals who promote and support racial discrimination. In other words, if you can’t empathize don’t criticize (Drew Brees).
We might be hurt, but one thing we’ll never be is broken. Our spirit has always been the heart beat of our resilience. Especially our black women who have sacrificed their mind, bodies, and souls to raise and save every generations of our people. Our Black Love got us through everything which is why WE could never practice the hatred of racism. Racism is based on the concept of Superiority.
Superiority is when a group of people or race believe that their race is Superior or Supreme over another race with the intentions to divide and conquer.


However, in order to supplant Superiority the other race have to adopt an Inferiority Complex out of fear and perpetual indoctrination, which gives the Superior Race the opportunity and power to implement their own Ideology Hegemony (Institutionalization) as law. This is why WE must educate (involve) ourselves in the political affairs of this Nation, because Everything they do affects Us too! When I say “They” I mean White Supremes, not White People. Once WE recognize the difference, UNI can end racial discrimination. There’s no Unity without UNI, so together WE can change the narrative of OUR future.


Thank You From, Cavonza Teasley #1129038 go to (Jpay.com)

COVID-19 and Mass Incarceration

By: Hassan Shabazz, VAPOC/VAPJN/CFJ
Senior Liaison/Mentor in the Augusta
Pre-Rentry “Self Governing” Community

The COVID-19 virus has altered all of our lives for the foreseeable future, and as a prisoner of conscience I see the both the negative and the positive that has come from this calamity. While many people have been stuck inside, the earth has seen a decrease in carbon emissions and temperatures over the cities. Animals have appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and the earth is somewhat resetting itself. Unfortunately, many people have lost their lives, but for those of us who have seen enough in life, we know that calamity can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. We just have to find what that is.

Everything inside has changed so drastically. The heightened anxiety towards wanting to be free for fear of COVID-19 manifests itself in many ways. Men try to find ways to self medicate or escape in any way that they can. Coping mechanisms such as over use of phones take place which causes disputes and quarrels. There is absolutely no outlet such as social media for prisoners besides an outdated media device. There is no surfing the net, or face time. We deal with being caged in with 63 other men in housing units, and up to 99 other men in dormitories. Everyday we hear of social distancing which is impossible for us. We all know that we are only one asymptomatic guard or counselor away from becoming a hot spot. We do our best everyday to make the best out of it all, but we know that it is only so long before it touches us, if it already hasn’t.

Our circumstance finds its origin with Truth in Sentencing (“TIS”). As a victim of TIS having been convicted after 1995 (1999) and sentenced to a total of 26 years for Robbery and Use of a Firearm, I have experienced the most punitive form of corrections whereas I was made to do 85% of my sentence with no possibility for parole (parole was abolished under TIS). Over the years I have walked with others who have committed the same crime as me but did significantly less time because they were able to make parole. Now, I am not stating this fact for the purpose of inciting some type of sympathy of mercy from anyone, I simply want to show how the desire to be tough on crime and see no hope for reform or rehabilitation has made the current state of corrections a breeding ground for a disease like COVID-19.

TIS resulted in a severe overcrowding of the DOC. As it turns out, the need for social distancing cannot be provided for in prison because of overcrowding which was caused by TIS. For years advocates have stated that mass incarceration is a problem and there must be a solution, but Virginia has not listened. The unwillingness of the DOC to bend has set the stage for the chickens to home to roost. Now, since the advent of COVID-19, the state of emergency and need for social distancing has brought about the need for space that the prison system just doesn’t have. We are left with the only thing that we can do now…, react.

On 4/22/2020 the General Assembly approved Amendment 21 to the budget which allows for the DOC to review and release prisoners who have 1 year or less as long as they don’t have a Class One Felony or a Violent Sexual Offense. This will initially release approximately 2,500 prisoners and will last until June 10, 2020 and can be extended up to July of 2021. For a population that has grown from 18,000 in 1995 to almost 40,000 present day, this does not in any way solve the overcrowding issue. There are about 7,900 individuals waiting in jails to go to the DOC so the release order may assist with the jail overcrowding, but the DOC will still face issues as those in jails empty into the system.

The most logical solution to this problem is a mass release order much like that which occurred in California after the decision of Brown v. Plata in 2011. California released 60,000 prisoners due to its overcrowding problem and the fact that they could not provide proper medical and mental health care. This is not unlike Virginia. The DOC healthcare is known to be inadequate and COVID-19 is sure to further reveal that inadequacy. When you only have in some cases 1 doctor for 1300 prisoners what do you expect? 2,500 prisoners is a start, but it is only a band aid over an open wound that needs stitches. (Honestly, I believe that this number has been stated to appease activists and advocates. There have only been 100 cases reviewed with 62 people released). We must get ahead of the inevitable and get as many of those who have shown that they are ready for release out of the system.

After a mass release then it should be the reinstatement of parole for everyone. The reinstatement of parole will allow for the parole board to evaluate the prospective candidates for release and this will open the door for those who may have more than a few years left but have done what is necessary to reform themselves and prepare for life as a productive citizen. The next thing is housing. There is a problem as can be seen with the release of current parolees. The failure of Virginia to provide a reasonable expectation of release for those who have done decades in prison, but have shown all the characteristics of rehabilitation, has left many men with no one to go home to and thus no home plan. This has led to no vacancies in halfway houses and transition homes due to the amount of guys who have lost so many loved ones along the way.

At the present time I know of at least 5 men who have made parole but because they have been kept for so many years, all of their families are deceased, and the Transition homes are full due to this State of Emergency. It is for his reason that we need not only advocates for release, but we also need advocates for post release housing. The number of Halfway Houses and Transition Homes in Virginia cannot possibly handle the influx of men/women who are making parole. This means that some of these individuals may have their paroles rescinded. To this I would ask, “What good is an order to expedite parole if that order does not include a plan for housing some of these men who have been kept so long that they have no one to go home to?”

I believe that the Coronavirus has exposed just how flawed the system of Corrections is here in Virginia. We have to proceed to push for more progressive reform. Here in the Re-entry Community we say that, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We know that if you keep a problem from occurring you don’t have to solve it. Virginia, in contrast, has created the very problem which it is now having trouble finding a solution for. The true solution is that we have to save ourselves (as best we can…, if we can). We cannot continue to depend on a failed leadership to guide us to the proverbial “promised land.” If this virus has shown us anything it is that as it stands those in society have more in common with those in prison than they think, and mass incarceration doesn’t just exist behind the wall.

COVID19 in Prisons & Jails in Virginia

Follow our Facebook page to get updates on inmates/staff who have tested positive for COVID19.  Click here.

04/08/2020:  UPDATE:   In an inquiry about the death of an inmate at Sussex 2, Jae Davenport, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, responded today in an email saying: “There are no COVID-19 related deaths at any of the facilities at this time. VADOC works very closely with VDH on these cases and it will continue to provide daily updates to the public.”  There are 5 inmates in hospital, 2 from Sussex 2 and three from Virginia Correctional Center for Women.

Organizations within the Virginia Prison Justice Network are amplifying the voices of those in detention so that their concerns are addressed during this pandemic.  We are also rallying to call on the Governor to early release those who are:  geriatric and/or  medically fragile; within one year of their release date; already parole eligible; have a conditional pardon; are release eligible via parole through HB35, juvenile parole bill; and those who are release eligible via parole through HB33, Fishback prisoners.  As long as these prisoners have a home plan in place, a health care plan, and pose no threat to society, they should be afforded an opportunity for early release for their safety and well being.

An Open Letter to Delegate Jeffrey Campbell from a Prisoner of Conscience

To the Honorable Delegate Jeffrey Campbell:

My name is Hassan Shabazz and I am the Senior Liaison of the Augusta Pre-Reentry “Self-Governing Community.” I was present when the 6th District Delegation visited us here at the facility. I spoke with Senator Emmett Hanger and Delegate Steve Landes but I
was rushed into the cell for count time. I have since been in correspondence with Senator Hanger about rehabilitation and the progress that we are making all on our own. A large part of the reason why we are successful is due to the incentives that are provided as a part of the program. What I have come to learn in my over 20 years of experience behind the walls is that there is no better incentive than good time.
Your bill (HB1370) provides some good time but does nothing to change the current rate for violent offenders. This is bewildering, for those are the offenders who should be provided more incentive to change not less. Delegate Don Scott’s Bill (HB1532) addresses this concern by providing a way for a person to work his way through a tiered system to a maximum of 30 credits for every 30 days served after 5 years of being charge free (which is hard if your not reformed). It is for this reason that we, the Pre-Reentry Self-Governing Community, are requesting that you withdraw your bill, and please support HB1532 as we are the evidence of what incentives can do no matter what charge you may have.

Thank you for your time.
Hassan Shabazz, Senior Liaison, Augusta Pre-Reentry “Self-Governing” Community

The 3rd Annual Virginia Prison Justice Rally on January 11

January 11, 2020, 1:00-2:00 PM, the Bell Tower at the Capitol (Richmond, VA)

Hundreds of former prisoners, their family members and supporters attended the 3rd Annual Virginia Prison Justice Rally on Saturday, Jan. 11, from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Bell Tower on Richmond’s Capitol Square. This event was a statewide collaboration of the many organizations that have joined together through the Virginia Prison Justice Network to create a greater voice for incarcerated individuals and their family members who remain victimized by unjust laws and policies. The rally featured statements from Virginia prisoners, remarks by former prisoners and family members and representatives from prisoner advocacy organizations. The goals were to call attention to the many injustices that exist within prisons and the criminal justice system in the Commonwealth of Virginia and to garner support for bills to be presented to the 2020 session of the Virginia General Assembly that would correct these long-overdue inequities. The rally is sponsored by  the Virginia Prison Justice Network.

Full video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh7nZyPZwkg

Free Jermaine Doss

From the front page of the Dec. 1, 2019 Richmond Times-Dispatch by Patrick Wilson.

“Believing their loved one is innocent of a murder-for-hire, the family of Jermaine Doss submitted a pardon request to then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe in May 2014.  More than five years later, they still don’t have an answer. Virginia’s governors have the power to grant several types of pardons, at their prerogative. Requests are reviewed by the Virginia Parole Board and eventually the governor in a secret process. It’s not publicly known how many requests for a pardon from the governor are pending.  Gov. Ralph Northam won’t provide information on the status of Doss’ request or any other, or even say how many staffers are tasked with investigating pardon requests.  Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act doesn’t require any records to be made public.  “We don’t provide any status updates or specific details about pending pardon petitions, so I don’t have anything I can share with you at this time,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson said by email in October when asked about the status of Doss’ request.
Doss was convicted in 2000 in the shooting death in Norfolk of James Webb and was sentenced to life plus 38 years. The confessed shooter, Nathaniel McGee, was sentenced to 17 years for the killing, plus 10 years on related charges, but he later recanted his testimony.  One of the Norfolk detectives involved in the case, Robert Glenn Ford, was convicted of taking bribes from criminals and lying to the FBI about it and in 2011 was sentenced to 12 ½ years in federal prison.  Doss has “always maintained his innocence,” said Phil Wilayto, a civil rights activist in Richmond and editor of The Virginia Defender newspaper.  In July, Doss filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus asking a court that he be freed or granted a new hearing.  Webb was found fatally shot in his home in March 1998. Two days earlier, Webb had gone to Doss’ business, armed with a gun, and threatened him, according to federal court records. The two were in a dispute over cocaine Doss sold to Webb.  In court, McGee testified that Doss drove him to Webb’s home and told him to kill Webb, saying he would pay him.  At one point, a charge of capital murder for hire and related charges against Doss were dropped because a judge found McGee’s confession was unreliable, according to court records.  Norfolk prosecutors took the death penalty off the table for McGee and he testified against Doss, who was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges related to the killing.  About six months later, in October 2000, McGee wrote Doss a letter that said: “I had no choice but to lie and say that you hired me to kill Webb because the prosecutor and the detectives kept wanting me to say. I know you did not know what I was planning on doing to Webb but I had to use you to get the plea or they would have killed me.”
But was his new statement credible?
A Norfolk judge found in 2006 that it was not — that the statement was motivated by a desire to help Doss, fear of Doss, and fear of being known as a “snitch” in prison, according to court records.  Doss has continued to fight in court. In March 2018 he received a letter from the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project saying they were unable to help him at that time, following a long investigation.
Virginia abolished parole in 1995.  Wilayto questions why the governor’s office even has a pardon process if years pass without decisions being made.  “It raises hopes for prisoners who are at the end of the appeals process. It raises hopes for families,” he said. “This family has gone five years and five months without a response. This is crazy.”
If there’s a need for more personnel to review cases, let’s fund them, he said.
Doss’ family and supporters held a news conference near the Martin Luther King Monument in Norfolk in September to raise awareness.  Felicia Dixon-Bray of Virginia Beach, Doss’ sister, is among family members who regularly visit him at Sussex II State Prison.  “We know our family member is not gone, but it always feels like there’s one person missing,” she said. She added: “It’s like we’re locked up with him, too.”
When their mother got her house redone, Doss mapped out what walls she should take out. If he was ever released from prison he wants to open a juice bar, his sister said. He’s very intelligent like that, she said, with a mind for business.  She tries to steer their conversations toward family and uplifting things, she said, but “for some reason, he will always bring up the case.”

 

 

STATEWIDE NETWORK RALLIES HUNDREDS FOR PRISON JUSTICE IN VIRGINIA

By Phil Wilayto

Braving temperatures just above freezing and dire forecasts of a life-threatening winter storm, more than 200 people rallied Jan. 12 at the Virginia State Capitol to demand justice for the state’s prisoners and changes in its criminal justice system.

It was the second year in a row that the prisoner-led Virginia Prison Justice Network had organized a rally to draw public attention to issues in the state’s prisons and the need for criminal justice reform. With nearly 38,000 state prisoners in 38 facilities, Virginia has the 14th highest rate of incarceration in the country,

PRISONERS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

While last year’s rally featured representatives from advocacy organizations, this year’s focused on the voices of prisoners themselves, with co-chairs Lynetta Thompson and Joseph Rogers of VAPJN-Richmond reading statements sent in from prisons across the state. Half the statements were from women, who make up the fastest growing segment of the state’s prisoners.

J. Blake wrote that, unlike in men’s prisons, the cells in the women’s prisons at Fluvanna and Goochland County do not have toilets. When nature calls, the women have to use an intercom to call a guard to be let out to use a bathroom. She said the guards don’t always cooperate, and as a result, “I have been forced to defecate in a trash bag in lieu of using an actual toilet more times than I can count. It has been the most degrading, humiliating and dehumanizing experience of my life! The [Virginia Department of Corrections] currently has no policy in place to address this issue, nor is there any such law to prevent this from happening.”

“Mass-incarceration is not a catch-all solution,” wrote Julie Calahan. “Each individual has a different need that needs to be addressed, not looked over like week-old produce.” Chanell Burnett described having to choose between feeding her children or breaking the law. Another woman, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote about how she wound up in prison as a result of postpartum depression.

Several men wrote how, while still teenagers, they got drunk or high and committed crimes that resulted in decades-long sentences, with no chance of earning an early release because Virginia is one of 16 states that have abolished parole. Terence, at Nottoway Correctional Center, pleaded for more re-entry programs. Others, also from Nottoway, about serious injuries being dismissed by medical staff.

Read by his godmother, Henrietta Trotter, was a statement from Jermaine Doss at Sussex II, 18 years into a life-plus-38-year sentence after being framed by a crooked cop now doing time for extorting defendants.

Also presenting in person or by written statements were VAPJN co-founders Margaret Breslau of the Coalition for Justice in Blacksburg; Askari Danso of Prisoner of Conscience, now at the notorious Red Onion “supermax” prison in Wise County; Hassan Shabazz, also of VAPOC, at the Augusta Correctional Center in Buckingham County; Lillie “Ms. K” Branch-Kennedy, Executive Director of Resource, Information, Help for the Disadvantaged & Disenfranchised (RIHD), along with Willie S. Brown, recently released after 40 years confinement; and Ashna Khanna, the legislative director for the Virginia ACLU.

HOW IT WAS BUILT

The driving force behind turnout at the rally was Virginia prisoners themselves. At Buckingham Correctional Center, with a population of just over 1,000, prisoners mailed some 300 letters to friends and family members urging them to attend the rally. A notice was posted on a bulletin board at Sussex II. Prisoners at Augusta, Nottaway, River North,  and Red Onion were enthusiastically promoting the event. Meanwhile, more than 1,200 people had indicated interest on the event’s Facebook page.

In the end, weather conditions undoubtedly hurt the turnout. News reports warned people not to drive, with good reason: by the next morning, hundreds of accidents had been reported in the Greater Richmond area, with three fatalities, while some 9,000 people had lost power in their homes. Under those conditions, the turnout of 200 was a strong indication of much broader support.

THE NEXT STEPS

Following the rally, about 30 organizers and attendees gathered at historically Black Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church to strategize on promoting prison and criminal justice bills in the 2019 Virginia General Assembly.

The emphasis was on three issues: restoration of parole; an end to the use of solitary confinement; and addressing the situation of hundreds of prisoners sentenced between 1995 and 2000 when juries were not allowed to be told that parole had been abolished and so recommended long sentences under the false impression that the prisoners would not serve their full time. (These are the so-called Fishback cases, named for the court case that finally ended this practice.)

The next steps: VAPJN affiliates RIHD and Bridging the Gap Virginia, along with the Virginia ACLU, are keeping people informed about General Assembly committee meetings that need to be packed with reform supporters. Discussions also are taking place about holding more local town hall-type meetings, called Prison Justice Speak-Outs, along with efforts to strengthen the network’s infrastructure.

SOLIDARITY

The day’s watch word was Solidarity. When rally organizers learned that an important Richmond Women’s March and Expo was being planned for the same day, they contacted the organizers and moved the rally’s starting time so people could attend both events, promoted the women’s actions along with their own and joined the morning march. For their part, the expo organizers invited the network to have a table at the expo, invited longtime prisoner rights advocate Janet “Queen Nzinga” Taylor to speak at the expo rally and urged people at that event to also show up at the prison justice rally.

At Capitol Square, recently released prisoners of all races were joined by family members and supporters. Despite the near-freezing weather, spirits were strong, and several hundred dollars were donated to help support the network’s newsletter.

BIRTH OF THE VAPJN

Last January 20 saw Virginia’s first major rally for prison justice in memory. That gathering, also held at the state’s capitol, was initiated by the prisoner organization Prisoners of Conscience and organized by the Coalition for Justice in Blacksburg and the Richmond-based Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice Equality. Seeing the need to link up prisoners, ex-prisoners, families and advocacy groups, the three organizations launched the Virginia Prison Justice Network, which now has 15 affiliated organizations.

In 2018 the network created a website and Facebook page; started a monthly newsletter now read by prisoners in half the state’s facilities; and held three local Prison Justice Speak-Outs, in Hampton, Roanoke and Richmond, where ex-prisoners and family members exposed the ongoing inhumane conditions overseen by the state’s Department of Corrections.

The network now has three major focuses:

Service – responding to inquiries and posting updates on the status of criminal justice reform legislation; publishing the monthly newsletter (this work is handled by the Coalition for Justice); responding to letters from prisoners and taking action on grievances; and publishing a blog of prisoners’ writings.

Legislative – Promoting and sometimes creating state bills dealing with prison and criminal justice reform; and mobilizing people to attend committee meetings held by the state legislature. This work is led by RIHD and Bridging the Gap Virginia, along with the state ACLU.

Mass Organizing – Local public meetings, protests and the now-annual Prison Justice Rally, organized by the Virginia Defenders.

With national interest in prison and criminal justice issues on the rise, especially with the recent bipartisan efforts on sentencing reform, the time is ripe for an intensified campaign here in Virginia.

For more information and to offer your support, contact: Virginia Prison Justice Network at VAPJN1@gmail.com. On the web at vapjn.wordpress.com.

A video of the rally can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbcTuWzIaWQ.
———-
Phil Wilayto is editor of The Virginia Defender and was lead organizer for the Jan. 12 Prison Justice rally. He can be reached at DefendersFJE@hotmail.com.

Hundreds to attend the 2nd Annual Virginia Prison Reform Rally

Sat., Jan. 12, at Richmond’s Capitol Square

Hundreds of people including former prisoners, their family members and supporters are expected to attend the 2nd Annual Virginia Prison Reform Rally scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 12, from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Bell Tower on Richmond’s Capitol Square. As of Jan. 7, more than 1,200 people have indicated interest on the Facebook event page. (“2nd Annual Virginia Prison Reform Rally”)

This event is a statewide collaboration of the many organizations that have joined together through the Virginia Prison Justice Network to create a greater voice for incarcerated individuals and their family members who still remain victimized by unjust laws and policies. The rally will feature statements from Virginia prisoners and remarks by former prisoners and family members. Also speaking will be representatives of the ACLU of Virginia and the prisoner advocacy organization R.I.H.D. The rally will be interpreted for the deaf.

The first goal of the rally is to call attention to the many injustices that exist within prisons and the criminal justice system in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The second goal is to garner support for bills to be presented to the 2019 session of the Virginia General Assembly which would correct these long-overdue inequities.

The major areas of concern include:

Restoring Parole – Virginia ended it in 1995, one of just 16 states to do so.

Abolishing Solitary Confinement – The Virginia Department of Corrections denies that it still uses this barbaric practice, but in fact it has just reclassified it as “restrictive housing.”

Addressing the “Fishback” cases – Starting in 1995, Virginia juries were not told that parole had been abolished and so continued to impose long sentences, thinking they would later be reduced. The practice continued until 2000, when the courts issued the Richard Fishback v. Commonwealth decision. Today some 300 prisoners sentenced between 1995 and 2000 remain caught in this sentencing trap.

The Jan. 12 rally was initiated by the Virginia Prison Justice Network and has been endorsed by the following organizations:

American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia  –  Bridging the Gap in Virginia  –  Coalition for Justice (Blacksburg)  – House of Dreams Outreach & ReEntry of Hampton Roads  –  Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR)  – Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged & Disenfranchised (RIHD)  –  Roanoke Jail Solidarity – Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality  –  Virginia Prisoner of Conscience  –  Virginia Prisons Accountability Committee

For more information, contact the Virginia Prison Justice Network at: vapjn1@gmail.com

 The Virginia Prison Justice Network is a prisoner-led network that grew out of the first Prison & Justice Reform Rally attended by more than 300 people on Jan. 20, 2018, at Richmond’s Capitol Square. The VAPJN now has a website (https://vapjn.wordpress.com) and a printed newsletter that reaches hundreds of Virginia prisoners. It has sponsored local Speak-Outs for Prison Justice in Hampton, Richmond and Roanoke, supported prisoner-activists facing repression for their activism and developed a coordinated plan to address legislation in the 2019 Virginia General Assembly.

Federal Prison Reform and the State

Hassan Shabazz, VAPOC, Augusta Correctional Center

Recently Congress passed a prison reform bill attacking harsh sentences in a bipartisan effort to address injustices within the system which have resulted in mass incarceration. Many people are under the impression that this also applies to the states. What must be understood is that this is only for the Federal Prison System. In order for any type of prison reform to take place in Virginia, the General Assembly has to pass it through legislation first. I have had to explain this to so many of those that I am incarcerated with as they have all been hyped under the misconception that Virginia is too following the Federal legislation.

In striving to educate them about the process I let them know that even though the legislation does not apply in the states, the fact that Congress acknowledged the need for prison reform lends credence towards the fact that the state should be doing the same. If the Republicans and Democrats in Congress are willing to address this issue then why not the Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly of Virginia?

So how do we use this to our advantage in Virginia? Well, we as prisoners do not have the right to vote, but our families and friends do. We have to galvanize our families and friends to vote for whichever candidate that we endorse, and what we are saying is that if that candidate does not have prison and criminal justice reform as a part their campaign then they will not receive our votes. This type of civic engagement has worked in many other states, we are just behind the curb here in Virginia.

As free citizens our families and friends are taxpayers which means that they have a say so in where their tax dollars are going. The biggest way to ensure that your dollars go where you want and need them to go is to engage your representatives and hold them accountable. Let us work in unison to bring about the changes that we seek, and let us not get discouraged because those changes don’t come about instantly. There are no microwavable solutions for problems that require an oven of activism, so let’s keep on baking.

The 13th Amendment & Mass Incarceration

By Hassan Shabazz

As we explore the 13th Amendment and its application as well as the fallback which has resulted in mass incarceration (modern day slavery), we must also delve into how this Amendment to the Constitution is in violation of every citizens Universal Human Rights, especially the so called “American Negro” who through chattel slavery were freed into conditions of poverty and disenfranchisement which caused many of them to be placed back into slavery/involuntary servitude, and still does today.

The 13th Amendment states:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the person shall have been duly convicted shall exist within the United States or any place subject to its jurisdiction.”

This Amendment has been the subject of many conversations pertaining to mass incarceration and the prison labor industry, but was not been addressed is how this amendment of the U.S. Constitution is in direct conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I will expound on this conflict, but first a little history.

On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Following this Historic Act the Assembly called upon all member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, and read and expounded principally is schools and other educational institutions without distinction based on political status of countries or territories.”

Now, for anyone who has never rear the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it is incumbent as a sentient being that you do so to be aware of the rights which are universally accepted and recognized by human beings all over the planet. This sets the stage for you incorporation into the international and cosmopolitan community. The Preamble to his document explains the purpose of such a Declaration, and the 30 articles that follow address a wide array of subjects, all necessary to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

For those who are defendants of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade (Black Holocaust) where over 100 million Blacks died via this crime against humanity, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds a very species dial place in the pursuit of our total and complete liberation. In my previous article entitled “Behind Poverty Lines” I address how the 13th Amendment is connected to modern day slavery in the form of the prison labor industry, and how the criminalization of poverty out o chattel slavery has led to the state of mass incarceration that we face today. This only scratches the surface, for we are human beings before anything else, therefore our rights as such must be enforced that we may enjoy the liberties which should be granted to all human beings on the planet earth.

As human beings a prisoner deserves even the most basic human rights, and since slavery is one of the most debased things that one human being can force upon another, the status of prisoners under the 13th Amendment must be scrutinized. For those who opposed slavery, abolitionists never talked of reforming slavery. Freedom fighters never talked of reforming Jim Crow. They fought to abolish these things. Well the truth is that the 13th Amendment did in fact reform slavery as it was abolished “except as a punishment for crime.” This means that it has not been completely abolished and in order to do so we would have to abolish prisons, (but more on that later).

As member of the United Nations General Assembly, the United States of America ha pledged to uphold and enforce the articles given within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but America has been and proceeds to be in violation of the very declaration that the country has sworn to uphold through its ratification of the 13th Amendment. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall prohibited in all their forms.”

Because the United States allows slavery by way of the 13th Amendment which states that slavery shall be abolished except as a punishment for a crime whereof the person shall have been duly convicted, it is in direct violation of “Article 4” of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So how can the United States both enforce the Constitution (namely the 13th Amendment) and also be a member of the United Nations General Assembly when its proclamation condemns the very act of slavery which is sanctioned by the constitution?

There is no doubt that the Human Rights Declaration outright prohibits atrocities such as the Black Holocaust, but somehow the 13th Amendment which supposedly put an end to that crime against humanity, that actually reformed slavery, has flown under the radar. So what is the solution?