#MeToo Behind Bars Rally

On Wednesday October 30th, over sixty people rallied in front of the CDCr office building in Sacramento to demand an end to the sexual and gender-based violence that has targeted trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people in California’s prisons. The spirited gathering marched, chanted and listened as many formerly incarcerated people denounced the sexual and physical abuse they endured while inside prison.  Stacy Rojas, lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the CDCr about the assaults, described their efforts to document incidents of guard abuse which led to a brutal attack against them and several other people in 2015.  Another speaker explained that “we are only asking for them to be held accountable. The (prison) system is designed to hurt people who don’t conform. When you speak out about that, you become endangered.” 

The rally was a powerful expression of outrage at repeated experiences of harassment and violence.  It also demonstrated a fierce determination to work to ensure changes for those who remain behind bars. Demands included an end to the assaults and targeting of TGNC people in prison; a strict process to hold guards and staff accountable for abusive actions; and an end to retaliation against whistleblowers who report abuses.  Plans are underway to hold a statewide Peoples Hearing in 2020 that can clearly expose what’s going on in prisons in California and all over the country and mobilize broad grassroots support for demands for change. 

Dejohnette is CCWP’s Inaugural Charisse Shumate Fellow!

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

Brown grants 73 More Commutations for People with LWOP!

 

CCWP is so happy to share the news that on December 24, 2018 Governor Brown granted 73 more commutations for people with Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentences.  13 of these are for people in women’s prisons most of whom CCWP has supported with their commutation process.  60 are for people in men’s prisons. Brown also granted 58 commutations for people with other sentences and 143 pardons. Copies of the gubernatorial commutations and pardons can be found at:

 https://www.gov.ca.gov/2018/12/24/governor-brown-grants-executive-clemency-4/

Through his unprecedented number of  LWOP commutations Brown is recognizing the injustice of LWOP and other forms of extreme sentencing.  Thank you to all who have supported the DROP LWOP campaign in so many ways!

Let’s build the momentum in 2019 with Governor-elect Newsom to win commutations for all 5,000+ people with LWOP sentences and end LWOP and all forms of extreme sentencing!

CCWP Victories in 2018

“You encouraged me to tell my story, then you actually listened. You made others listen.  You CARED.”

-Laverne Dejohnette, LWOP sentence commuted by Gov. Brown on 8/17/18

Dear CCWP Community,

2018 has been a year of important victories and significant growth for CCWP. We are especially thrilled that our DROP LWOP campaign has contributed to an unprecedented number of commutations for people with LWOP (Life Without Parole) sentences by Governor Brown. So far, 17 people in women’s  prisons and 55 people in men’s prisons received commutations dropping their LWOP sentences!! Governor Brown has commuted an additional 80 people from life or long-term sentences. Several women formerly sentenced to LWOP who we work closely with have now been released after their successful Parole Board hearings. They now add their powerful leadership, commitment and experience to work outside prison.

We have been able to build the campaign with the critical leadership of many formerly incarcerated people, family members, advocates and organizations. Most crucially we have progressed with the full participation of people in the women’s prisons in all aspects of the campaign. See The Fire Inside #58 for more details.

We Will Continue to Expand DROP LWOP in 2019 With Your Help!

Some of our plans for DROP LWOP in 2019 include:

  • Reaching out to Governor-elect Newsom to urge him to commute the sentences of all 5,200+ people currently serving LWOP in California, and ultimately to eliminate LWOP from the California Penal code.
  • Planning a statewide strategy session about the elimination of LWOP sentencing with representatives from organizations doing similar work in other states.
  • Hiring a dedicated staff person to anchor the campaign.

    More Highlights of Our Work in 2018

    • Co-sponsorship and advocacy for important legislation signed into law including SB 1437, BESTT Practices Act, which changes CA’s felony murder law and will bring sentencing relief for a significant population of people in women’s prisons; AB 2533, Dignity and Care Act, improving access to basic needs for prisoners in poverty; SB 1393, Fair & Just Sentencing Reform Act, to end the mandatory application of the 5-year sentence enhancement for serious priors; SB 960, Annual Reporting on Suicides, requiring CDCR reporting on suicides and suicide attempts and improving suicide prevention practices; AB 2845, Pardon & Commutation Reform Act, increasing transparency and accessibility in the pardon and commutation process.
    • Building the #MeToo Behind Bars lawsuit and campaign which challenges a pattern of brutal physical and sexual assault against trans, gender non-conforming and queer people in the women’s prisons.
    • Growing a strong, vital chapter in Los Angeles which includes a formerly incarcerated CCWP program fellow, expanded prison visiting teams to CIW, and monthly prison correspondence gatherings. The L.A. chapter held a very successful Benefit Art Auction in August, a major energizer for CCWP’s grassroots fundraising efforts.
    • Participation in a number of major national conferences, including the FreeHer conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Sept. 2018; the FICPFM conference in Orlando, Florida, Sept. 2018; and the National Women’s Studies Association conference, Atlanta, Georgia, Nov. 2018.
    • Moving our office to the new Freedom and Movement Center building in Oakland, purchased by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, home to LSPC, All of Us or None, CCWP and more.

    All of this crucial work requires resources

    • Salaries for our expanding staff and fellows.
    • Expenses for prison visits including car rentals, gas and food for the people we visit.
    • Stipends for the formerly incarcerated members of our Spitfire Speakers’ Bureau.
    • Printing and mailing costs for The Fire Inside newsletter.

    Please accept our invitation to be part of this work in 2019 by becoming a monthly sustainer. If this isn’t possible, please make a generous year-end donation now. Please also consider planning a legacy gift for the future through a bequest, a living trust or a beneficiary designation.

    All donations of $100 or more will receive a packet of hand-crafted cards, created by former political prisoner Linda Evans, as a thank you for your generous support.

     

    Please help us build on our successes of 2019 which have moved forward our core commitment to decarceration and advanced the building of community across prison walls based on justice and love.