Editorial: STOP the School-to-Prison Pipeline!

by the CCWP Fire Inside Collective
Since the mid 1990?s, schools across the United States have seen an increase in security guards and surveillance. In 2004 alone, the U.S. government put 60 million dollars toward hiring police and security personnel for public schools, primarily in communities of color and poor communities.
Under the guise of making schools safer the state has created the ?school-to-prison-pipeline.? Zero tolerance discipline, school-based arrests, disciplinary alternative schools, and secured detention further marginalize young people and deny them access to education?in effect preparing them for a lifetime of incarceration.
With the increased criminalization of young people of color and poor young people through gang-related sentencing enhancements and harsher sentencing laws, the educational system has truly become a part of the prison industrial complex. Public schools are shutting down for lack of resources and educational programs within schools are becoming more and more depleted while the only funds being cut from prison budgets are the educational and vocational programs. The communities most dramatically and directly impacted by these intertwining social issues are poor people and people of color.
The ?school to prison pipeline? has already had an extreme impact on America, especially on poor people and people of color, and many of our own members in CCWP. Increasing numbers of youth are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) in the United States. There are currently 2,484 people in the U.S. serving LWOP sentences who were convicted as juveniles. On a national average, youth of color are ten times more likely to be serving these LWOP sentences than white youth. The U.S. is the only country in the world that still sentences youth to LWOP.
In this issue youth caught in this pipeline speak of their experience and hopes. Many are innocent of the crimes they were accused of, others were caught in the wrong place, convicted of an act committed by, for example, an abusive boyfriend.
They write, ?I feel as though I?ve been sentenced to die a slow miserable death. They say prison is a place to be rehabilitated, yet there is no rehabilitation behind these walls. I can?t go to college or get the requirements that the Parole Board asks for. This is not rehabilitation, this is just pure punishment. I need help, not a life-long punishment for a mistake I made as a child.?
?At 17 I was convicted of murder and sentenced to 38 years to life. Yet I too have been a victim, a victim of society. From childhood, society molded me, an average child in poverty. I?m not justifying my wrongdoings, because I know I?ve made many mistakes. But murder was not one of them. None of my mistakes are deserving of my whole life in the penitentiary. That?s why I sit here today still feeling hurt, full of agony, pleading my cause. Not for pity, not for mercy, I?m asking for justice. I?m asking that you give me a chance to become the productive person I wish to be. Don?t send me to rot behind bars for the rest of my life, please.?
A society that discards a high proportion of its youth discards its future. Giving all people a chance to grow is necessary for the continued development of humanity. What future is there otherwise?

Youth Organizing Resources

Center for Young Women?s Development
832 Folsom Street, Suite #700
San Francisco, CA 94107
Ph: 415-703-8800/ Fax: 415-703-8818 www.cywd.org
Founded in 1993 by a coalition of service providers working with young and adult women in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The guiding principle then and now is that young women are the experts on issues impacting their lives and they should be involved in running and directing the programs that serve them.
H.O.M.E.Y.?Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth
1337 Mission St, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
Ph: 415-861-1600 / Fax: 415-861-3791
The mission of HOMEY is to transform the lives of [at-risk] youth and grassroots community members to inspire them to not only choose a path of education, self-sufficiency and non-violence, but to also strive towards stability in their physical, mental and emotional health in the Mission District of San Francisco.
Youth Justice Coalition
1137 E. Redondo Blvd.
Los Angeles, Ca. 90302
Ph: 323 235-4243
Youth Justice Coalition is a youth-led movement challenging race, gender, and class inequality in the Los Angeles County juvenile injustice system. Youth utilize direct action organizing, advocacy, political education and activist arts to demand and create change.
Families and Friends of Louisiana?s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)
FFLIC New Orleans Office
1600 Oretha C. Haley Blvd.
New Orleans, LA 70113
Ph: (504) 522-5437/ Fax: (504) 522-5430
FFLIC is a statewide membership-based organization that fights for a better life for all of Louisiana?s youth, especially those involved in or targeted by the juvenile justice system. Based on principles of racial justice, human rights, and full participation, FFLIC uses education, community building, and leadership development advocacy in a fight for justice for youth. FFLIC has successfully campaigned for changes in youth incarceration policy.
National Center for Youth Law
405 14th Street, 15th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612
Ph(510) 835-8098/ Fax: (510) 835-8099
email: info@youthlaw.org/ website: http://www.youthlaw.org/
National Center for Juvenile Justice
3700 South Water St., Suite 200
Pittsburgh, PA
Ph: (412) 227-6950/ Fax: 412-227-6955tree
Human Rights Watch
Los Angeles Office:
11500 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 441
Los Angeles, CA 90064 USA
Ph: (310) 477-5540/ Fax: (310)477-4622
E-mail: hrwlasb@hrw.org
San Francisco Office:
100 Bush Street, Suite 1812
San Francisco, CA 94104 USA
Ph: (415) 362-3250/ Fax: (415) 362-3255
E-mail: hrwsf@hrw.org
Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project/ Transgender in Prison Committee
1095 Market St. Suite 308
San Francisco, CA 94103
Ph: (415) 252-1444 www.tgijp.org
Send legal mail to the above address, c/o Dani Williams, Attorney at Law
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
322 8th Avenue, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10001
Transgender Law Center
870 Market Street, Room 823
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 865-0176
ACLU of Northern California
Attn: A. Cleghorn or T. Lange
39 Drumm Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 621-2493
Lambda Legal Defense
3325 Wilshire Blvd, Ste. 1300
Los Angeles, CA 90010-1729
(213) 382-7600
1-877-YOUTHLINE (1-877-968-8454)
National hotline answered by youth offering crisis counseling, information and referrals.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1 (800) 784-2433
24 hours a day / 7 days a week
1 (415) 781- 0500 International www.sfsuicide.org
Al-Anon (Alateen for Younger Members)
A twelve-step program for friends and families of people with alcohol addiction
1 (888) 425-2666
Monday – Friday 8 AM – 6 PM
Nar-Anon (for those affeced by someone else?s addiction)
22527 Crenshaw Blvd. #200B
Torrence, Ca. 90505
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1 (800) 799-7233
1 (800) 787-3224 TTY
National Gay & Lesbian Youth Hotline
1 (800) 347-8336
Hours: Monday through Friday
6:30 PM – 9:00 PM
Saturday: 12:00 Noon – 5:00 PM (Pacific Time)
1(888) HIV-4911
Post-Exposure Prevention (PEP)
A 28-day cycle of drug treatment believed to be 80% effective in preventing an HIV negative person from becoming positive after exposure to HIV.

Many Thanks to Yanet Herrera and All Who Submitted Writings

Many thanks to CCWP member Yanet Herrera, CCWF, for making the ?Speaking for Ourselves: Lifers Sentenced as Juveniles? column possible.
Thanks also to all who wrote about being sentenced to Life sentences as juveniles. We received many, many submissions and updates from prisoners working to organize around this issue inside, and regret that we could not publish them all.
We will keep our readers updated as the movement to end juvenile Life sentences grows.

No Quiero Morir en Prision!

Me arrestaron cuando tenia 17 anos y me dieron cargos de adulto. Me encarcelaron por un crimen que no comiti. Me pusieron la conviccion de 1 grado de matanza solo porque tuve una associacion con un novio que fue parte de una pandilla y le mataron. Pero el dia que le mataron yo estaba en la escula. Mi maestro tenia una prueva de contar las personas en el cuarto y que estaba en la clase cada hora al dia y tambien les dijo que tipo de estudiante soy. Cuando me arrestaron, 2 meses pasardon y me cargaron como adulto y me dijeron que tenia un co-defendant, una muchacha de la pandilla de mi novio, y ella me attaco y me amenazaro. Ella me empujo decir que comiti esa crimen para que ella puede ser libre pero porque no lo hice, ella manda amenazas a mi abogado.
? ? ?
Estaba encarcelada desde cuando tenia 16 anos. Tengo un sentence de 2 a 25 anos por robar un carro, un secuestro, pandering y violacion.
Cado uno se equivoca. Pero no hice todas las cosas que estan diciendo que hice. Puedo ser honesta y quiero que escuchen mi voz en este caso! No quiero sentir que mi vida no vale la pena.
Tenia una vida bastante dificil y estaba cuidando a mi misma desde que tenia 12 anos. Quiero estar libre. No quiero morir aqui en prision.
? ? ?
Tenia 16 anos cuando me arrestaron y tengo 25 a vida por un crimen que no comiti. Fue presente [quando paso el crimen], y hoy la sociedad dice que si es presente es culpable. En una manera, es verdad. Pero a decir eso a un persona que tiene 16 anos que no esta pensando claro en la situacion que occuio el crimen. Y diles que su vida pasara atras de las barras y que nunca tendra la opportunidad de vivir libre otra vez. Soy yo. Que typo de humanidad es? No es justicia.
Espero que tendra un futuro major y quiero que alguien escucha a los jovenes. Si nos arrancarnos, arrancan nuestra futura y el suyo.

Free Alex Sanchez!

Alex Sanchez, founder and executive director of Homies Unidos, was arrested on June 24 on federal racketeering charges as part of a wider indictment against members of the MS-13 street gang. Sanchez, alleged of involvement in a 2006 conspiracy to murder a Mara Salvatrucha member in El Salvador, had once been involved in gang activities in his youth, but the 37 year old Salvadoran native left the life more than ten years ago to form the community-based Homies Unidos, whose mission is ?end violence and promote peace in our communities through gang intervention.?
Homies Unidos released this statement: ?The Homies Unidos Board stands united in full support, behind our executive director, Alex Sanchez and his family. For the past 11 years, Alex has been committed to helping bring about change in his community. He is an exemplary leader, respected colleague and dedicated husband and father. Just as we are confident in Alex?s innocence, we are confident that Los Angeles and the nation will remember that an indictment is an allegation only.?
Alex was denied bail on June 30, despite strong community support, including hundreds of support letters submitted to the court and demonstrations at the courthouse the day of his bail hearing demanding his release. For more information about support for Alex, visit WeAreAlex.org
For more information about Homies Unidos:
1625 W Olympic Blvd # 706
Los Angeles, CA 90015-3811
Taken from: ?Why Was Alex Sanchez Arrested??, published June 26, 2009. Uprisingradio.org.

Take Me As I Am

by Sable
take me as I am.
the arch of my back as I stand upright.
the boldness in my face
the smooth touch of every curve
take me as I am.
with every imperfection to my acknowledgement
& even those I can?t admit
take me as I am
embrace my individuality, my wisdom, my youth,
& divine spirituality
take me as I am.
no need to curve my tongue, I make my mistakes?
for I am still young
take me as I am.
only my god is the judge of me
for I am what I set myself to be
take me as I am.
watch how i grow,
the things I accept, the things i know?
I am only one person?true to myself
never the need to hide
for I am what I am, and who I am is me?
never duplicated; one of a kind
as you can surely see
take me as I am.

What Happened?

by Hakim
The bus was late and a I had no clue so was my fate
I still had time to smoke some weed to start off my day
All the sudden cops all over the place like somebody called ?um
Though I had dreams and aspirations Allah chose to stall?um
Before I knew it I was beaten and confused
I chose my ?homeboy? to confide to ?bout my blues
We went to Sacramento to start a life anew
In a months? time you?ll never believe the things I got into
The thing that strikes me the most which I?ll never forget
Is when a man nearly lost his life ? this I truly regret
My hands were covered with blood and what was I to do
I prayed to Jesus cause at the time he was the only God I knew
To my surprise there was a greater God whom I didn?t know
He saw the hurt , wrath , and silence which I couldn?t show
My prayer answered, but there was still something very wrong
Every night I dreamed of my death and blackened songs
Three years later I found imprisoned
I was told I?d get out in eight years but fate didn?t listen
Another life lost , my grandma , how come I didn?t see it
May she rest in peace ,but it should have been me to go , I mean it
So the question of , ?what did I do wrong?? kills my Mom inside
Cause it was me not her an Allah know that I?ll never know why
I chose to take my anger out on someone else
And now I?ve hit the corner and I?ve ran into myself
Though I had dreams and aspirations Allah chose to stall?um
All the sudden cops all over the place like somebody called ?um.

Surviving the System

by Suzy Mellen
When the judge sentenced me, I thought he said 25-to-Life. After a few months of being in prison, one of my roommates read my face sheet. She said to me, Mellen, you were sentenced to LIFE WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE. I said, What does that mean?? She explained to me that I would never go home. That I would die in prison. I was in a state of shock then, just as I was throughout my trial.
I could have become bitter, paralyzed, and powerless to the point of being crippled because of the shock of getting convicted of a horrible crime with which I had no connection. The suffering and pain attacked me emotionally. How could this have happened to me? I was desperate for an answer.  That is when God became so real to me. When I was stripped from my life, my family and my home and left with NOTHING, I realized that God was all I needed. It’s been one long journey and a very painful one. The tendency is to want to give up especially when your thoughts are, I cant do it anymore!
That’s when I started learning about myself. My spirit within gave me strength, and yes, even JOY to keep going. Something inside moved me. I became motivated to turn everything negative into something positive and powerful. Prison wanted to break me. That is when I embraced the life system that tried to destroy me. I made my life sentence my friend, as opposed to my enemy.
In my wildest dreams, I could never imagine God would use me in such a way. I might be in prison, but prison is NOT in me! We only have one journey in this life, so I want to make it count and make a difference to help others that are facing life sentences!
Written for my lifer’s group