Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement Arises!

From an email:

Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement Arises!
Posted on March 21, 2011 by Bruce Reilly

Alabama represents the answer to a clarion call. This is a call that
speaks to us in our own voice; clear, loud and urgent. A voice that
speaks to our identity and emanates from the soul, ringing true both
in the head and the heart. Our objective is a collective one,
continuing in that vein, as we gathered fifty people from across the
nation to engage in a conversation about the need to build a Formerly
Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement. We understand and
declare very clearly: the criminal justice system does NOT work. It
is no more than a destructive force in our communities now and for
future generations.

Fifty formerly incarcerated and convicted organizers came with a
dedication and commitment stating that this was our time. We were not
deterred by our inability to raise the entire budget to fly, feed and
house people in Alabama for three days, nor were the few dozen
supporters who found their own means to be present for this historic
moment. As activists, we have been to our share of conferences and
rallies, yet before many of us left our homes, we knew this invitation
was different. And we readily subsidized our own fight for
restoration of our own civil and human rights.

The first exercise was to introduce ourselves to each other not simply
by our names or the many great struggles that we were currently
engaged in, but by who we embraced as our heroes. We wrote our names
and the name of our hero on a piece of paper and we taped those to the
front of the table where we sat. We were quickly able to see the
right people were in the room. We participated in designing a
historical time line and this practice drew us closer to discovering
our common history, something uniquely ours as incarcerated, formerly
incarcerated and convicted people. Knowing where we came from made it
easier to find our vision. We agreed to accept as our vision “The
Fight for the Full Restoration of Our Civil and Human Rights.”

The concept and construction of a movement requires a vessel large
enough to hold us all, and steering a vessel of this scale requires a
crew of many navigators and leaders. Agreeing on a vision was an
essential and amazing accomplishment in light of the fact that time
was short, and with so many leaders in the room egos could easily have
gotten in the way. We agreed to maintain the structure that propelled
us to this point. However, we needed to enlarge the steering
committee to seriously consider setting a national agenda. Twenty
people volunteered to join the steering committee, providing us
greater diversity in both geography and gender. We decided we would
do regular conference calls to move forward with the agenda and
coordinating the Los Angeles convening.

The Steering Committee planned to kick off the beginning of this
Movement by walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma. Days
before any of us hopped in a plane, bus, train, or car, we were
informed that we would have stay on the sidewalk if we were going to
march across the bridge. Over 247 people called the mayor of Selma
and let him know we were coming to march over the bridge, and not on
the sidewalk. Some of us consciously considered going to jail again,
and some of us even emptied our bank accounts just in case we needed
bail. We didn’t anticipate Mayor George Evans of Selma would ask to
speak with us after our march, or agree to read our statement at the
46-year Jubilee marking Bloody Sunday. Nor did we anticipate that our
march across the bridge would be headlines on one of the largest
papers in Alabama, with over twenty photos online. Our own Tina
Reynolds was photographed carrying a sign proclaiming that “Democracy
Starts At Home.” We should be allowed to vote and exercise our civil
rights regardless of where we live in the United States.

Our visit to the state capital in Montgomery is a testament to the
power of unity. While standing on the stairs of the Capital building
we were introduced to, and had a short conversation with, Alabama
Chief Justice Sue Cobb-Bell. The Chief Justice explained the serious
effort underway to rewrite the criminal code and reduce the prison
population by 3,000. Once inside, we were led into a conference room
where we met Rep. John Rogers, the head of the Alabama Black Caucus.
After a spirited discussion about pressing issues, we were ultimately
promised a community forum of which we would take part in choosing the
community organizations to participate. We were also promised that
key elected officials, including the governor, would be present at the

We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the work and support that
our host organization, The Ordinary People Society (TOPS), put into
our initial organizing. On a side note: TOPS was seriously respected
by prominent members of the Alabama legislature, who pledged their
support to this struggle, and prominent officials in both Selma and
Montgomery. Meanwhile, our Allies were honing their own efforts, such
as supporting those organizations on our side (and inspiring those who
should be), and creating more spaces for our voices to be heard. They
are committed to recognizing our priorities and helping us create the
tools for our organizing efforts.

Last but not least, we want to thank everyone who attended and wrapped
their heads around the bigger picture of Movement and a larger
agenda. As a collective we all committed to something bigger than
each of our own organizations or individual work. We took action and
decided to organize through Regions represented by our expanded
Steering Committee. Regional caucuses will facilitate closer
collaboration in our areas, and we will build a movement on one
accord, as a collective committed to “The Fight for Full Restoration
of our Civil and Human Rights”. Let us keep moving forward, and share
this document with people we believe should know and participate in
our common efforts to build a Movement. Let people know about the
goal to meet in Los Angeles- November 2nd, 2011.

We have recognized these dates/weeks for actions, meetings, and
solidarity. We call on our members to take part in order to raise our
capacity, profile, and build a Movement:
March 29th
April 23rd
May 21st (Riverside Church), May 28th (Solidarity w/ Georgia Prison
June 17th (40th Anniversary of Drug War)
Aug. 21st (40th Anniversary of San Quentin Uprising)
Sept. 29th (40th Anniversary of Attica Rebellion).

On June 23rd-26th is the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. There is
an entire track of workshops focused on the Prison Industrial Complex,
and members of the FICPM will be participating. This is an excellent
opportunity for those who can attend.

Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement Steering Committee

Group of formerly incarcerated people visit area, discuss prison reform

By Scott Johnson • March 3, 2011
Montgomery Advertiser:

They have turned around their own lives, and now they want to turn around the direction of the U.S. prison system.

That is part of the message being presented by a group of formerly incarcerated people from across the country that employs the slogan “serving our country after serving our time.”

Dubbed the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People Movement, the group met Monday through Wednesday in Montgomery and Selma.

It is the first time the group has gathered in one location, and the choice of Montgomery and Selma was no accident.

“It is like our path was cut in the civil rights movement, and we are just bringing it back where it started,” said Dorsey Nunn, a rights advocate and former inmate from San Francisco who helped organize the meeting.

The group met Monday in Montgomery to discuss strategy.

Members marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Tuesday and met with state leaders at the State House on Wednesday.

The Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of Dothan helped organize the gathering. Glasgow is the founder of The Ordinary People Society, an out reach group for inmates and former inmates.

Glasgow said group members Wednesday spoke with legislators, Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Gov. Robert Bentley.

Glasgow said the formerly incarcerated bring a valuable voice to discussions about prison reform.

“When they use us (as a re source), they are talking to experts by experience — those who have been there, done that,” Glasgow said.

Group members emphasize their focus on public service, and they visited an alternative school in Selma on Tuesday as part of a gang- prevention effort.

Glasgow said the group also plans to work with victim rights groups to help make amends for crimes.

They also, however, hope to change some public policy and reform the way the nation’s prison systems operate.

To stress the importance of their cause, members point to issues such as the cost of prison overcrowding and how barriers to re-entering society might make felons more likely to return to crime.

Susan Burton created A New Way of Life, a Los Angeles re-entry program, in 1998. She said her drug and alcohol addictions led to six trips to prison, with her last release in 1996.

Burton said the time has come for like-minded people to unite on the issue of prison reform.

“We have no other way to go but to get together and figure it out,” said Burton, who was named a CNN “Top 10 Hero” for 2010.

Glasgow said he and Nunn have worked for a long time to organize such a gathering.

“It has been a vision for years,” said Glasgow, founder of The Ordinary People Society.

Malik Aziz, founder of the National Exhoodus Council, said the group wants to be an active partner with law enforcement without alienating those who still are incarcerated.

“We want to be a community partner — a legitimate, recognized partner (with law enforcement). We won’t be an informer. That is not what our relation with the police is,” said Aziz, a former gang leader from Philadelphia.

Many of the group members talked about the large numbers of prisoners being released back into society.

More than 700,000 prisoners have been released from state and federal custody each year from 2005 to 2009, the most recent year for which the U.S. Department of Justice has gathered statistics.

Many of those people will return to poor economic conditions on top of the barriers to their re-integration into society, said Eddie Ellis of New York.

“There’s been no real discussion of what to do with those people,” said Ellis, co-founder of the Center for Nu Leadership on Urban Solutions at the City University of New York’s Medgar Evers College.

Gabriel Sayegh, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said prison reform is a non-partisan issue.

Sayegh pointed out that critics on both sides of the political aisle have called for prison reform, including Newt Gingrich and the conservative group Right on Crime.

“There is widespread recognition that what we’ve got has failed,” said Sayegh, who was part of a group of sup porters who joined the gathering but are not formerly incarcerated.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit organization with a stated goal of ending the War on Drugs, helped fund the gathering.

Nunn said the three-day gathering was a success be cause it was the first time it has happened.

He said the next one will be in Los Angeles and will be even bigger as group members recruit other activists.

“It will be double or triple the size of the people we had here,” Nunn said.