A shift in the national criminal justice landscape will happen on November 2nd. It may be slight, as though sitting up in a chair, or it may be like tectonic plates creating an earthquake… but a shift will occur nonetheless. Hundreds of people with first experience living under the control of government agencies will gather to launch a national platform, share knowledge, and develop skills in the arena of prison reform and abolition. The Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement unites the convicted, the family members, and the communities across America to provide a compass for what has become a vast and meandering behemoth: those who rehabilitate, prevent, and/or fight the criminal justice industry.
If those who oppose prisons as we know them are to be successful, they need to be more powerful than those who see cages, slavery, and discrimination as an economic engine- one that converts tax dollars into jobs and profits for a limited class of people; one that has no tangible, positive result. There are people who do not want to lose the benefits that caged people bring them, and they must be exposed, not coddled.
The gathering’s theme is “Strengthening Our Actions & Voices Through Unity,” in direct opposition to “divide and conquer” tactics that have always been used against the 99% of people with no stake in mass oppression. Registration begins at 8:30 am, followed by workshop sessions on juvenile incarceration, voting rights and participation, impacts of mass incarceration on families and communities, and “Ban the Box” (employment discrimination) campaigns. Lunch is followed by a process for adopting the National Platform, and steps moving forward. Registration is still available at https://unprison.com/register-for-la/.
Many on the East Coast, Midwest, and South have expressed their dismay at not being able to travel to Los Angeles for this unique network building opportunity. Fortunately there are those who are able to piggy-back the FICPM gathering with the Drug Policy Alliance conference starting the next day, November 3rd, through the weekend. DPA has been an ally and supporter of the directly affected people in America, as can be seen through Tony Papa, author of “15 to Life” and a senior staffer focused on communications. Among DPA’s panel discussions will be Saturday’s final session: “Ban the Box: Ending Attacks on Civil Rights in Employment and Beyond.” All four presenters are formerly incarcerated, including Daryl Atkinson (who went to law school and became a lawyer after prison), Linda Evans (an organizer, and former political prisoner), LaResse Harvey (a policy director playing a key role in recent Ban the Box and Marijuana Decriminalization victories), and myself (an organizer, consultant, and current law student).
Most of America (and those struggling under the police and prison effects) hail from small towns and small cities. We are not blessed with a critical mass of activists and organizations that exist in places such as San Francisco or New York City. This is why we need to seize the opportunities that large gatherings present. It is difficult to say where I would be today if not for attending DPA’s last Reform conference, Critical Resistance 10, US Social Forum, and the Allied Media Conference. Every time, in every city, I gained a new perspective on what is possible for myself and my community. And just as importantly, I connected with new experts, mentors, and colleagues who did not flinch at my past experience in prison.
There are millions of people who have been incarcerated, millions more who have been on probation, and countless with a loved one trying to negotiate the lifetime of punishment and second class status that often attaches for life. When these voices step out of the shadows to be heard a shift in consciousness occurs. We are not statistics in a report, not clients needing services; we are neighbors and families who are needed as fully participating members, if not leaders, in our communities.
- An Open Letter to Our Allies (unprison.com)