Correction to The Fire Inside Spring 2011 Issue

In the Spring 2011 Issue of The Fire Inside newsletter (#44) we proudly reported on Suzy Mellen (VSPW) being honored with the Southern California Mediation Association?s Peacemaker Award during VSPW?s October 2, 2010 Peace-Day. We quickly heard from Suzy and from the people (Laurel Kaufer and Doug Noll) who had gone into the prison to conduct the mediation training, that Suzy Mellen was only one of 15 women at VSPW who participated in the training and received this prestigious award.
The full list of 15 Peacemaker award winners is: Barbara Chavez, Breanne Eldridge, Penny Greer, Shelbi Harris, Anna Humiston, Sara Jackson-Reynolds, Christine Loyd, Candace MacDonald, Mianta McKnight, Suzy Mellen, Betty Mills, Jan Ritchey, Susan Russo, Robyn Sotelo, and Marta Ulen.
We apologize for not listing all of those honored in our original article, but this gives us the opportunity to tell you more about this important program and the amazing efforts of the women inside VSPW committed to making significant changes in their own lives and in their entire community.
Through efforts initiated by women inside, a mediation training program was begun in Spring 2010 under the auspices of Prison of Peace (, the project created by professional mediators Laurel Kaufer, Esq. and Douglas E. Noll, Esq. at the request of lifers and long termers at VSPW. The training included 84 hours of classroom time, reading and writing assignments, and putting these new skills to work out in the prison yards and cellblocks. The topics covered include basic communication skills, restorative justice, peace circles, and mediation. People were trained to listen to what another is saying and then acknowledge what the speaker said by repeating it back. This lets the other person know that she or he is being heard, a basic part of respecting someone. Those trained are slowly reducing the conflict and violence within the prison. Rather than using pepper spray to break up a potentially violent situation, the prison guards can call on a trained ?peace maker? to help mediate the problem.
Some of the first peace makers are completing an additional 56 hours of training to become trainers themselves and are committed to training 500 more women before the end of the year.
Anyone who is currently doing or has done time, or loves someone inside, knows what a huge accomplishment it is to make a commitment to training and to changing themselves while living in such overcrowded and difficult conditions in prison. We congratulate each of you again– Barbara, Breanne, Penny, Shelbi, Anna, Sara, Christine, Candace, Mianta, Suzy, Betty, Jan, Susan, Robyn, and Marta- -and thank you for all of your work in transforming yourselves and the community on both sides of the prison walls.

Focus on Parole

Companeras Talk About Parole
I taught myself English when I came to prison. During my sentencing I wasn?t
able to ask questions, so I would just go with what the interpreter said. I wanted
to have the advantage of knowing English for my parole hearings, because it
all depends on having the right words. Many people from the Latino Community
are naïve about prison. Many times people don?t have the English vocabulary to know about things like Marsy?s law. I try to educate them. Being in prison, there is so much shame,guilt and embarrassment. Often we English as Second Language Speakers just agree, nod, but the reality is we don?t understand the consequences. Language creates a huge barrier. Some take it as a game?they don?t want to ask questions because they have their pride. I am proud of my accomplishments. Prison has been an education for me. It is what you make it.
When you go to the board, you better have your GED. It took me 5 years to
get mine. I taught myself and studied on my own. I kept having to re-take
exam because I would run out of time; being ESL it just took me longer. ESL
classes were the first to get cut.
Parole Board has gotten tougher. People in my situation must now have
parole plans in their country of origin too, even if they are not being deported.
It didn?t used to be that way. We need support in connecting with
the consuls of our home countries. We need to express the importance of support when people go to board when we are being deported. It doesn?t work if your plan is just ?Call us when you get here.? We need to have specific parole
People can be vindictive in here. When you get things on your record like absences in programming, that goes into your c-file even if it?s not your fault. That affects your chances of getting out. When something like that happens because of the cruelty of others, it means that I look worse when I go before the board, even though I?m trying so hard to turn myself around. I first came in when she was young. I used to act out a lot. haven?t done that for years but I still have a bad reputation for it.
The board has denied me 4 times. Three times for two years each, and
the last time for five years. I don?t have any disciplinary write-ups on my
record or prior convictions. I think the main reason I have been denied is because of my crime, and because I don?t grovel at their feet and overflow with
shame and remorse. They want you to say that you?re guilty. I have a C-file
full of great Chronos (science class, anger management, parenting?even
though my kids are grown?and on). I have a job lined up on the outside,
family support and detailed parole plans laid out both in the US and my
country of origin. I?ve been here for 15 years and feel that I have paid for my
crime because I didn?t even directly hurt anyone. I just feel so hopeless.
If officers don?t like you, they?ll provoke you. Some officers don?t want people to speak Spanish, so they?ll hold it against you. I remember someone was speaking Spanish in the classroom, and the teacher said, ?This is America, you speak English.? Some other people stood up for her and they all got 115s. Also, when people make hooch or whatever in your cell, you can?t tell. If you don?t tell you might just get a 115. If you do tell, you get a 115 and you get your ass kicked. Every 115 adds 180 days (6 months) to one?s sentence.
I grew up in Mexico City and had a hard life financially. My parents were
educated and were professionals but could not find work. We came to the
United States but they could not find professional work because of the language
I am in prison because I took justice into my own hands. In my culture that
is more acceptable than in this culture. Prison is more trauma after trauma. I
didn?t know about resources to help women who experience domestic
violence. When paroled, you either go to [an immigration] holding tank or you get deported. People are being released into violent countries with human rights abuses. People have such apprehensions. They don?t know the laws. How do we protect ourselves? We are so vulnerable.
A lot has changed outside. People need guidance when they are paroled. I face many detriments: financially; I am female; I am Hispanic; I?m a felon. Being in prison is a disability, a handicap. Many organizations that help people transition are motivated by religion. I don?t want that.

Parole Beat

Precious Releases?
Norma Cumpian succeeded on appeal
Patricia Joellen Johnson
Pending Release
Romarilyn Baker is waiting for the Attorney General to show cause and for the court to rule against reversal.
Cynthia Feagin was found suitable for parole, and is awaiting the Governor?s ruling.
We invite our readers to send us information about your own release dates or denials.

Human Rights Lawyer Imprisoned

In 2002, human rights attorney Lynne Stewart was arrested and charged with aiding terrorism because she issued a press release on behalf of client Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian Muslim cleric. In October 2006, Lynne was first convicted and sentenced to 28 months. On July 15, 2010, she was re-sentenced at the age of 71 to ten years in prison because of pressure
from the U.S. government.
Lynne?s conviction and 10 year sentence are the U.S. government?s attempt to silence radical defense lawyers, especially those who represent Arabs and Muslims
You can write to Lynne at:
Lynne Stewart #53504-054
Unit 2N, FMC Carswell
P.O. Box 27137
Ft. Worth, TX 76127

Pursuit for my Pardon

by Rose Parker aka Dr. Rose Parker-Sterling
In 1996, I officially submitted a request for a ?Pardon? from then Gov. Pete Wilson. I sent a certified letter every two weeks and was also appealing my ?initial? parole hearing (a three-year denial). I won my initial parole hearing (2 ½ years later). I continued writing Gov. Gray Davis, his wife, Sharon, and everybody I could think of, even President Bill Clinton.
I always believed I would be pardoned. They approved my parole March 2000. I was happy, but it wasn?t a pardon. I paroled 12.7.00 but appealed the five-year parole and continued petitioning the Governor for a pardon. With the help of supporters, we were able to submit thousands of signatures to the Governor?s office in 2002. In 2004, I received a letter from Gov. Schwarzenegger?s office requesting a ?new application?.
As I continued to share of my dreams of a pardon, in 2010 I asked God why I didn?t get it, He said He didn?t change, I did. So I pressed on and drove to San
Francisco on the Sept. 9th and Sacramento on the10th. We rallied and prayed on the West Steps of the Capitol. I handed in another Formal Application (suggested in 2004).
I received a call on Sunday, January 2, 2011 from a reporter requesting an interview and found out that Gov. Schwarzenegger pardoned me on December 31st, his last day in office. PRAISE THE LORD. I?ve given a detailed account on purpose. Do not give up your fight. Your first fight is to be a better YOU, and continue to fight for what you believe, using God?s guidance.
It?s been nearly 25 years I fought to clear my name, so be encouraged. A special shout out to Dana Robinson, I love you and have not forgotten you. Special love to volunteers Pastor Richard Rugnao and Elder Edmond Mouton, who both passed to heaven in January 2011.
You can write to Rose at:
P.O. Box 756, Rialto, CA 92377