Statements by VAPJN Prisoner Leaders for the Jan. 16 ‘Not One More Death!” car caravan

HASSAN SHABAZZ

Co-Founder & Steering Committee Member, Virginia Prison Justice Network – Augusta Correctional Center,Augusta County, Virginia

Peace and Solidarity to the Unified family:

First, I would like to thank everyone who has worked long and hard to make this event a reality and have braved the current conditions of Covid-19 to participate in this 4th annual Prison Justice Rally. When I look at the past 4 years there have been so many people who have advocated, supported, and dedicated their time and energy to the goal of progressive prison and criminal justice reform, and to all of you I would like to express my gratitude.

2020 was a year filled with many accomplishments mirrored by many losses. For the first time in 26 years in Virginia, prison reform laws were passed for Fishback, Juvenile Parole, and Good Time Credits, but at the same time we saw people take to the streets demanding justice in honor of those forever lost to the struggle such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery amongst many others too numerous to name. We continue to watch the fire of Covid-19 tear through our world, international and domestic, and while the hope of vaccines have shown some light at the end of the tunnel, it is still a tunnel we must go through, and undoubtedly it will be a long hard journey.

With all that is going on today, some may not see prison or criminal justice reform as something significant, but the truth is that we are all tied together in the struggle to escape oppression, in whatever form it may appear. Covid-19 has shown us that “No man is an island unto himself.” It doesn’t care about your race, nationality or status. I have seen the virus affect my own family and ravage the Reentry Community where I reside infecting men (including myself) that only have a few weeks to months left to serve and who are afraid that they may not make it home. I have seen men taken out on gurneys never to return. There is no parole for the majority of the population, so many of them are hoping for an early release through the Covid release plan or a vaccine. Covid-19 has shown just how ill prepared the DOC is to deal with a pandemic and more oversight is needed for the safety of those under their care.

As we continue to endure the pandemic we proceed to have thoughts of freedom, justice, and equality. We must not be satisfied with the accomplishments that we’ve made thus far and we cannot rest until justice prevails. From the issues of No-Knock Warrants and Community Policing, to Parole and Good Time Credits, we must press on. Let us not be discouraged when we do not succeed right away, rather, we must understand as I always say, “There are no microwavable solutions to problems that require an oven of activism.” Thank you for your time and participation, and with that, I leave you as I came, in peace and solidarity.

CHANELL BURNETTE

Virginia Prison Justice Network Steering Committee Member, Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, Troy, Virginia

First and foremost, I would sincerely like to thank each and every one of you for coming out to support us on our mission. It is greatly appreciated!

If I may speak on the effects of COVID-19 for those of us on the inside, I must also offer a solution. For the attempts made at precautionary measures which are transpiring here at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, I can say, are simply not enough. The administration continues to prove itself inept at containing the virus. This is the only medical facility for women [in prison] in the state of Virginia, yet one [that] has repeatedly failed to provide adequate healthcare. And as conditions worsen with the spread of this deadly virus, the obvious need for outside oversight is nothing short of critical for our survival.

Vaccinations must be prioritized logistically, beginning with the elderly population of 65 years of age and older and those inmates suffering from terminal illnesses. Next in line should be those inmates who, if contracted the virus in addition to preexisting health conditions, would be at greater risk of deteriorating health or fatality. And lastly, vaccinations should be made available for anyone else who chose to receive one.

But even more importantly, we must focus on creating more space within these correctional institutions. The smaller the population, the less the susceptibility rate of contracting the virus. There are more ways to reduce the prison population than the slothful Inmate Early Release Plan.

In addition to such [a] plan, what about putting HB 5148 into effect immediately? Or consideration of the release of long-term inmates who have exemplary institutional records and have served their sentences wisely? Also to be cogitated, making an amendment to the Inmate Early Release Plan to allow those who meet all said criteria, but have more than 12 months left to serve on their sentences to be considered for early release as well.

There is much to be done, yet not enough actually being done. We need less talk and more action! If we are ever to begin to enact positive changes, the time is now! Thank you for your time.”

ASKARI DANSO

Co-founder, Prisoner of Conscience & the Virginia Prison Justice Network, North River Correctional Center, Independence, Virginia

This is the fourth annual prison justice rally organized by the Virginia Prison Justice Network. The Network was organized in an effort to bring all of the criminal justice organizations fighting to bring equity to the Virginia’s prison system under one umbrella. The vision was that we’d be able to share resources namely information and ideas. 

Over the last four years we’ve seen a few positive reforms to state policy, but nothing of any real significance in repairing the constant racial injustice employed by this system. Now today after the BLM movement here in Virginia demanded changes to the criminal justice system, state leaders have co-opted the message and limited that demand to “police reform.” As a result, there’s been an enormous focus on police violence, abuse, and ultimately lack of accountability by state lawmakers. The solution has been to limit the force police can use, create civilian oversight mechanisms, and list those police officers with a history of abuse in a statewide database. 

I want to be clear that, while many of us politically active prisoners applaud those changes, the fact is we’re left to wonder when will the state finally atone for and address its racist and unjust prison system? Here in Virginia, Black prisoners from urban areas are in rural prisons typically run by majority-white staff, causing significant cultural tension that often leads to abuse since the power dynamic between the groups is so disproportionate. Not to mention many of the highest ranking officials in administrative positions throughout VDOC started at prisons known for abuse and torture. Thus, Excessive Force, Retaliation, Breach of Duty, and so forth have become very much a part of the VDOC culture. 

During the pandemic, these problems have been exacerbated. The entire state prison system has been on a “modified” lockdown since March, with visitation, transfers and all education, religious and treatment programs suspended. Prisoners have been stressed and there’s been superficial actions taken by the agency giving the appearance that they are addressing the enormous mental health crisis that’s developed in here, but those measures are largely ineffective. 

With limited education, coping skills, and drug addiction histories, many prisoners tend to cope with the stress using antisocial mechanisms. The result is oftentimes confrontations with guards where corrections officers end up using disproportionate force to remedy what is essentially a mental health crisis. Remember, despite the legislative actions taken at the August special session, prison guards can still use choke holds, physical force during mental health crises, retaliatory searches and ransackings of our cells and so much more. 

Add to that, prison environments themselves increase the risk of not only contracting the virus but also suffering complications as a result because of our poor diets, ventilation, hygiene & sanitation, dirty & contaminated water systems, chronic stress, etc. that lead to immunosuppression and many other health defects. For example there’s been a diabetes pandemic in VDOC for decades!! 

That said, We are here to assert that Gov. Northam’s one-year early release program due to the Emergency Declaration (resulting from prisoners filing suit forcing a settlement agreement) doesn’t begin to address the enormous need to release many prisoners early who will be leaving in the next five years or less. 

Lastly, all these problems make clear why we prisoners must be vaccinated immediately. There’s poor PPE in here, absolutely no way for us to social distance or self-isolate in prison and we’re oftentimes under the care of staff who don’t take the contagion seriously! 

One thing this pandemic has done is highlight exactly how cruel and inefficient this prison system has been and continues to be. Please, on behalf of all Virginia prisoners I implore you, demand that your state treats its citizens better by embracing our requests! We want the state to create civilian review boards that have power to hold VDOC officials accountable to the law. We want a more diverse Board of Corrections with enough members to represent many communities with more power to create and enforce administrative policy. We want a more efficient early-release program that expands the time for eligibility to five years or less remaining. And lastly, We want prisoners to be recognized as the vulnerable population we are and prioritized for vaccination.

Defying fear, VAPJN caravan demands COVID-19 protection for Va. prisoners

Staff Report – The Virginia Defender – https://virginiadefender.org

RICHMOND, VA, Jan. 17 — Three days before the presidential inauguration in nearby Washington, D.C., a state of emergency has been declared in Virginia. The FBI has warned of possible attacks this weekend on all 50 state capitols, including in Richmond. There was a bomb threat yesterday at the Virginia Supreme Court. And thousands of angry “gun rights” activists are expected to converge on the city tomorrow. Tensions are so high that even some county “militias” are saying they’re skipping that event out of safety concerns.

And yet none of that prevented nearly 50 cars from joining the “Not One More Death!” caravan that drove through downtown Richmond yesterday to demand protection for the state’s prisoners from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organized by the prisoner-led Virginia Prison Justice Network, the mobilization attracted former prisoners and family members from around the Greater Richmond area and as far away as Stafford to the north and Suffolk to the south.

Led by the Richmond organizations Community Unity In Action and Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, the mobilization was joined by members of Incarcerated Lives Matter VA, Bridging the Gap Virginia, Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged & Disenfranchised (RIHD), Richmond For All, New Virginia Majority and anti-eviction activists, among others.

While people gathered in the parking lot of the Black-owned Supreme Flea Market in Henrico County, VAPJN organizer Lynetta Thompson explained the caravan demands:

1 – Outside oversight of the state’s prisons and jails by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or a similar agency.

2 – Classification of prisoners on the same level as residents of nursing homes for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

3 – Rapid expansion of the state’s early-release program to include a much wider pool of eligible prisoners.

Thompson and Defender Charles Brown then read statements from the three VAPJN prisoner leaders: Hassan Shabazz, incarcerated at the Augusta Correctional Center in Augusta County; Chanell Burnette, from the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy; and Askari Danso, at River North in Independence. (The statements are posted on the VAPJN website: https://vapjn.wordpress.com.)

Defender Phil Wilayto then went over the logistics of the day and the ground rules for participants. (Richmond For All video of the presentations is here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CKHX67LlxRs – To view, cut and paste onto your browser.)

After drivers taped posters to their vehicles, the caravan set off, headlights on and blinkers flashing – a militant, defiant funeral procession paying homage to the 51 Virginia prisoners who have died from COVID-19, along with two prison staff members. Altogether, nearly one-third of the state’s 25,000 prisoners have contracted the disease. Many also have died in local and regional jails.

Once the caravan reached downtown Richmond, it turned north and made two swings by the Richmond city jail, which did not begin testing inmates until four months after the pandemic had hit Virginia, and then only after multiple protests by local prisoner advocates. By that time, one out of every eight inmates had been infected, with 90 percent showing no symptoms.

“The most impressive part for me was when we circled twice in front of the city jail and we all could see how many of us there were,” Thompson told the Defender. “And by the time we went around the second time you could see faces in the jail windows.”

Then it was back onto Broad Street and past the State Capitol, which has been shut down and fenced off, with plywood covering its windows. This is where the VAPJN has held rallies of hundreds for the past three years. The caravan continued through the Broad Street shopping area, the arts district and Virginia Commonwealth University campus, and finally past the Science Museum of Virginia, where the state legislature’s senate is meeting during the current General Assembly session. (The House of Delegates is meeting virtually.)

“The reaction from the people on the street, reading the signs, ‘Not One More Death!’ – it was amazing,” Thompson said. “We got a lot of fists up and ‘yeahs,’ and the cars just kept coming with their lights flashing – it was very impressive.”

“Despite the tensions, it was really important to be out on the streets,” Wilayto said. “We’ve been planning this since well before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and to have called it off or postponed it would have sent a very bad signal about the strength and determination of the progressive movement in Virginia. We considered all the possible dangers, prepared our security accordingly, and are very happy with the results.”

Editor’s Note: The Defenders put out $120.00 for a van rental and $150.00 for posters and route maps. To make a donation to help cover the costs, please log onto https://defendersfje.blogspot.com and click the “Donate” button on the right side of the home page. 

“NOT ONE MORE DEATH!”JAN. 16 CAR CARAVAN TO SUPPORT VIRGINIA PRISONERS!

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a life-and-death crisis in Virginia’s prisons and jails. Nearly one out of every four incarcerated Virginians have come down with the disease, due to overcrowding, poor health care, lack of outside oversight and many other factors.

In response, the VIRGINIA PRISON JUSTICE NETWORK will be holding a “NOT ONE MORE DEATH! CAR CARAVAN” on SATURDAY, JAN. 16.

We will be raising three demands:

1 – Outside oversight of the state’s prisons and jails by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or a similar agency.

2 – Classification of prisoners on the same level as residents of nursing homes for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

3 – Rapid expansion of the state’s early release program to include a much wider pool of eligible prisoners.

WE WILL GATHER AT NOON ON SATURDAY, JAN. 16, in the very large parking lot of the Black-owned Supreme Flea Market at 3302 Williamsburg Road, Richmond, about seven miles from Capitol Square. We will then caravan downtown where we will circle the State Capitol. We will then return to the parking lot.

The caravan itself will take the form of a defiant funeral procession under the slogan “NOT ONE MORE DEATH!” with signs, banners and a portable sound system.

NOTE: This will be an outdoor, socially distanced event at which everyone will be strongly encouraged to wear a face mask out of concern for each other’s health.

BACKGROUND:

Every January for the past three years, hundreds of former prisoners, family members and supporters have gathered at Capitol Square in Richmond for the VIRGINIA PRISON JUSTICE RALLY.

This annual event, the largest of its kind in Virginia, is sponsored by the VIRGINIA PRISON JUSTICE NETWORK, a prisoner-led alliance of more than 20 advocacy organizations that works to create a greater voice for incarcerated individuals and their family members who remain victimized by unjust laws and policies.

Each year the rally features statements from Virginia prisoners, remarks by former prisoners and family members and representatives from prisoner advocacy organizations. The goal is to call attention to the many injustices that exist within prisons, jails and the criminal justice system in the Commonwealth of Virginia and build support for bills to be presented to the 2021 session of the Virginia General Assembly that would correct these long-overdue inequities.

This year, because of restrictions the state is putting on events held at the Capitol, we will be holding a car caravan and posting prisoner and supporter statements online. (https://vapjn.wordpress.com)

YOU CAN HELP BY SHARING THIS INFORMATION AND INVITING YOUR FRIENDS TO THE EVENTS.

For more information, see:

Website: vapjn.wordpress.com

On Facebook: 4th Annual Virginia Prison Justice Rally

Email (for the caravan): DefendersFJE@hotmail.comEmail for general VAPJN information): vapjn1@gmail.com

Let’s Build!

From Hassan Shabazz: Peace and Solidarity to the Unified family:

First, I would like to thank everyone who has worked long and hard to make this event a reality and have braved the current conditions of Covid-19 to participate in this 4th annual Prison Justice Rally. When I look at the past 4 years there have been so many people who have advocated, supported, and dedicated their time and energy to the goal of progressive prison and criminal justice reform, and to all of you I would like to express my gratitude.

2020 was a year filled with many accomplishments mirrored by many losts. For the first time in 26 years in Virginia, prison reform laws were passed for Fishback, Juvenile Parole, and Good Time Credits, but at the same time we saw people take to the streets demanding justice in honor of those forever lost to the struggle such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery amongst many others too numerous to name. We continue to watch the fire of Covid-19 tear through our world, international and domestic, and while the hope of vaccines have shown some light at the end of the tunnel, it is still a tunnel we must go through, and undoubtedly it will be a long hard journey.

With all that is going on today, some may not see prison or criminal justice reform as something significant, but the truth is that we are all tied together in the struggle to escape oppression, in whatever form it may appear. Covid-19 has shown us that “No man is an island unto himself.” It doesn’t care about your race, nationality or status. I have seen the virus affect my own family and ravage the Reentry Community where I reside infecting men (including myself) that only have a few weeks to months left to serve and who are afraid that they may not make it home. I have seen men taken out on gurneys never to return. There is no parole for the majority of the population, so many of them are hoping for an early release through the Covid release plan or a vaccine. Covid-19 has shown just how ill prepared the DOC is to deal with a pandemic and more oversight is needed for the safety of those under their care.

As we continue to endure the pandemic we proceed to have thoughts of freedom, justice, and equality. We must not be satisfied with the accomplishments that we’ve made thus far and we cannot rest until justice prevails. From the issues of No-Knock Warrants and Community Policing, to Parole and Good Time Credits, we must press on. Let us not be discouraged when we do not succeed right away, rather, we must understand as I always say, “There are no microwavable solutions to problems that require an oven of activism.” Thank you for your time and participation, and with that, I leave you as I came, in peace and solidarity.
Hassan Shabazz, VAPJN

THE COVID-19 RICHMOND JAIL CRISIS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED

By Phil Wilayto

for The Virginia Defender

RICHMOND, VA, Sept. 8 — “Some terrible mistake was made along the way.”

That was how a federal judge described the recent massive COVID-19 outbreak at a private immigrant detention center in Farmville, Va., the result of officials transferring a large number of detainees from Arizona and Florida without first quarantining them.

The same words could describe the coronavirus crisis at the Richmond city jail, where one out of every eight inmates now has the disease.

Back on April 27, Sheriff Antionette Irving told this reporter that no inmates at the jail yet had been tested for COVID-19. By that date, Virginia already had reported 13,535 cases, with 2,066 people hospitalized and 458 deaths.

Irving explained that her policy was to test any inmate who showed symptoms of the disease or who asked to be tested. But it is well-known that people infected with COVID-19 can show no symptoms and yet still pass the disease to others, especially in confined spaces such as nursing homes, jails and prisons. 

Irving also stated that she didn’t have any COVID-19 test kits at the time.

In response, this reporter and other advocates on May 11 wrote to Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico County health departments, urging him to make test kits available to the jail administration.

Dr. Avula responded on May 15, stating, “To date, the Richmond City Justice Center has no confirmed cases, and as a result, we have not considered widespread testing.” 

He added that his department had provided test kits to the jail “so that testing can be conducted on any inmates or staff who exhibit symptoms, and a PPS [representative testing] would be considered and likely recommended if COVID-19 was identified.”

In late July, the Defender sent a list of questions to the sheriff under the Freedom of Information Act asking for an update on the COVID-19 situation in the jail. Sheriff Irving’s office quickly responded, stating that 503 out of about 644 inmates had volunteered to be tested, with 340 being tested on July 7, 21 and 27. Of the 340, 12 were found to be infected, with four showing no symptoms. 

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the first case of COVID-19 in Richmond was confirmed on March 18 – nearly four months before this first mass testing in the jail.

Later, in response to a second FOIA request, the sheriff stated that, by Sept. 2, a total of 119 inmates had tested positive at the jail, with 109 – more than 90 percent – displaying no symptoms. By that date, there still were a total of 81 active cases among 675 inmates, meaning that 12 percent – one out of every eight inmates – had the disease. 

Jail officials say they follow all guidelines recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including “wearing masks, social distancing within the facility, and courts, hand washing/sanitizing, daily temperature checks, and increased janitorial cleaning throughout the day at the facility.”

The jail can house 1,132 inmates, including in the medical clinic and solitary confinement, so there should be room for isolating inmates with active or suspected cases.

Asked what happens if an inmate declines to be tested, the sheriff told the Defender, “They are quarantined and asked daily if they would like to test, and are educated in regards to COVID-19, and continuously assessed by the nursing staff to monitor if there are any signs or symptoms.”

And are inmates tested before they are released back into the community? 

“No,” the sheriff responded, “but they are provided with resources and education in addition to VDH [Virginia Department of Health] contact person.”

So inmates who may have declined to be tested for COVID-19 and who have the disease but are not showing symptoms can be released back into the community, without being tested. 

Unlike in prisons, most people confined in local jails are there for relatively short periods. According to a study by the General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Health Care, the average time an inmate spent in a local jail in 2017 was just 17 days.

And active cases aren’t limited to inmates.

Also by Sept. 2, according to the sheriff, 22 jail employees and/or contractors had tested positive – with none of them showing symptoms at the time they were tested. Staff and outside contractors, who pass in and out of the jail, would seem to be the most likely carriers of the disease. It is not known how many people in the community the infected but asymptomatic staff members or contractors may have infected.

Local activists have charged that one Richmond inmate has died from COVID-19, something Sheriff Irving has publicly denied. In response to a question submitted under FOIA, the sheriff told the Defender that by Sept. 2 no inmate had died from the disease, and no inmate who had the disease has died from what was determined to be other causes. 

Meanwhile, by mid-June, officials at nearby Chesterfield County Jail had tested all inmates, resulting in positive tests for 41, of whom 31 were asymptomatic. The 41 represented about 20 percent of the more than 200 inmates. No employees tested positive at that time.

As of Sept. 1, the Chesterfield jail was reporting no active cases among inmates in the previous month.

Unlike in Richmond or Henrico County, the Chesterfield jail posts updated information about active COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths on its website, as does the Virginia Department of Corrections. 

The tragedy is that if all Richmond city jail inmates and staff had been tested back in April – or earlier – the present outbreak in the jail may have been avoided.

One problem may have been the lack of outside pressure. Except for The Virginia Defender and the Richmond Free Press, there was little media coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in the city jail until 11 young activists were brutally arrested Sept. 1 during a protest outside the jail, resulting in wide media attention.

And, to the best of our knowledge, the Richmond and Henrico County health departments have not sought to make the crisis a public issue.

As of Sept. 2, the sheriff’s office stated that that jail had both testing kits and PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], adding, “We are always excepting [sic] more cleaning supplies PPE and testing kits for the appropriate outside escorts.”

Advocates including the Richmond Legal Justice Center, Richmond Community Bail Fund, Richmond Public Defender Tracy Paner, S.O.N.G, American Civil Liberties Union, Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality have been calling on jails to release more inmates because of the coronavirus pandemic. As of Sept. 2, 675 women and men were being held in the jail, a decline of 12.2 percent from the average of 769 held in January of this year.

Editor’s note: The formal name of the Richmond city jail is the Richmond City Justice Center. It is the policy of The Virginia Defender to use the more accurate term, “Richmond city jail.”) 

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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