“It is a great honor to be the first Charisse Shumate fellow. I promise to do her name justice!“
CCWP is thrilled to announce that Laverne Dejohnette will be the inaugural fellow. We are starting this fellowship program to honor the life and legacy of Charisse Shumate, one of our incarcerated founding members. Charisse was a lead plaintiff in the 1995 lawsuit Shumate v. Wilson, which challenged the abusive, inhumane health care in California’s women’s prisons, amounting to cruel and unusual punishment. In the very first issue of The Fire Inside newsletter, which she helped start, she wrote, “If walls could talk, we would not have to beg for help.” She was a survivor who was punished with a life sentence for defending herself against domestic violence. Charisse pushed forward the conversation about the criminalization of women who resisted and embodied the phrase that she used repeatedly, “It’s not a me thing, it’s a we thing.” Charisse died in August 2001 of complications of sickle cell anemia that was never treated adequately inside prison. The Charisse Shumate Fellowship carries on her powerful spirit.
Dejohnette was released from prison in June 2019 after serving 26 years of a Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentence. When Dejohnette first came to prison, Charisse was one of the elders who helped to educate her about the need to stand up for the rights of everyone inside. After years of being resigned to her LWOP sentence, Dej began to actively advocate for commutations for herself and others inside. Right before Dejohnette was due to be released from prison, she worked with Brandi Taliano to create the quilt with CCWP’s logo that she is holding in the picture above. Dejohnette wants to use the fellowship to speak and advocate for people in women’s prisons and inspire others to be Fearless, Together and Unified. Dejohnette says, “It is a great honor to be the first Charisse Shumate fellow. I promise to do her name justice!“
Charisse repping The Fire Inside