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ChangeLawyer Part II My parents were incarcerated when I was a baby. Now Iâm a lawyer working to fix the system.
The following editorial was written by Chesa Boudin, a public defender in San Francisco.
My freshman year at Yale I got a letter from my biological father with unwelcome news. He had a new neighbor, my childhood friend Lorenzo. They were on the same cell block in maximum-security prison. Lorenzoâs imprisonment felt like fate. We came from different worlds: He was poor, black and an immigrant, while I was upper middle class, white and U.S.-born. As a black man, he had a 1 in 3 chance of serving time at some point in his life. What we had in common, however, was a significant risk factor for incarceration: Lorenzo and I became friends over many years of visiting our mothers behind bars. For him the odds played out.
I was luckier, if you can call this luck: Steel gates, correctional officer uniforms, guard towers and razor wire were details I was far too young to remember the first time I navigated them. Prisons have been inscribed in my consciousness like the indelible ink stamped on my hand before entering the visiting room. Iâve always been one of the more than half of Americans with an immediate family member currently or formerly incarcerated.
In 1981, my parents, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, were arrested for their role in a radicalsâ plot to rob an armored car. Three men were tragically killed. I was just 14 months old. I had been dropped at the babysitter. My mother and father, who drove a getaway car in the robbery, wrongly assumed no one would get hurt; they planned to return to pick me up in the evening. Eventually, I was adopted into a new family, winning two big brothers in the process.
My father chose to represent himself and, after a jury trial â much of which he did not attend â a judge sentenced him to 75 years to life. After extensive litigation with excellent lawyers on her side, my mother pleaded guilty; the judge sentenced her to 20 years to life. Our laws offer such vast discretion and disparate outcomes that my parents, who played virtually identical roles in their crime, ended up with a 55-year difference in their minimum sentences. Meanwhile, Lorenzoâs mother, a casualty of the war on drugs, served nearly two decades for possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
Our system of mass incarceration wreaks havoc on the families and communities left behind: Economic, social and psychological, the costs are impossible to fully quantify. Growing up, I grappled with developmental challenges and traumas common among children with incarcerated parents. When I didnât learn to read until I was 9, my mother urged me to be more like Lorenzo, who excelled in school. When I had a temper tantrum on a prison visit, sometimes it was Lorenzo who talked me down.
Yet I had opportunities and privileges not available to Lorenzo and the other mostly brown and black kids filling prison visiting rooms across the country. My grandparents helped pay for tutors and child behavior specialists; Lorenzoâs family didnât have the money to hire an immigration lawyer when he needed one.
With the vast support of family and friends I overcame the challenges and stigma of parental incarceration; I learned to channel the hurt into productive outlets. I chose to side with underdogs and took injustices around me, however slight, as personal affronts. My role models were lawyers dedicated to social justice and extending the benefits of the rule of law to traditionally excluded communities.
Read the story on LA Times
More of This How to fix the hijacking of the Supreme Court
The following editorial was written by Jay Willis, an aspiring lawyer and writer for GQ
As of February 12, 2016, Barack Obama was in the White House, reality television star Donald Trump had just shocked the world by winning an actual Republican presidential primary, and the nine justices of the Supreme Court happened to be a relatively well-balanced bunch. John Roberts, the chief justice, helmed a four-justice conservative bloc with Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor comprised a four-justice liberal bloc. Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee with intermittent liberal sympathies, acted as the groupâs occasional tie-breaking swing vote.
Scaliaâs unexpected death the next morning, however, threatened to upend this delicate power dynamic. Overnight, President Obama found himself on the precipice of establishing the strongest liberal majority since the civil rights-era Warren Court some 50 years earlierâan accomplishment that would not be lost on a former constitutional law professor.
From there, things did not proceed as he hoped. Hours after Scaliaâs death, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell declared that his Republican-controlled chamber would not vote on any nominee until after the 2016 electionâan unprecedented escalation of Supreme Court politicking. Thereafter, Trump began sprinkling his wall-building pledges with promises to still-wary Republican voters that heâd protect the open seat from falling into liberal clutches. âIf Hillary Clinton gets to put hard-leaning left judges on the Supreme Court, number one, your Second Amendment will be gone,â he warned at a rally in August. âOur country will never ever be the same.â In early 2017, he made good on that promise by tapping conservative appellate judge Neil Gorusch to take Scaliaâs place, and Senate confirmed Gorsuch, 54-45. Later, McConnell would later call this stunt âthe most consequential thing Iâve ever done.â
Then, in summer 2018, Kennedy announced his retirement, offering Trump the sudden opportunity to create a solid conservative majority. His choice was D.C. appellate judge Brett Kavanaugh, a longtime GOP operative who had a troubling, complicated relationship with the truth well before Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were high school students. Kavanaugh responded by begging his fellow Republicans for help and publicly excoriating Democrats who would dare question his right to the job to which he felt entitled. In the end, he was confirmed, 50-48, the closest margin in Senate history.
Over the past three years, thanks to this combination of shameless procedural shenanigans and a cynical embrace of judicial partisanship, the Republican Party has stocked the nationâs highest courtâa purportedly neutral adjudicatory bodyâwith justices empowered to spend the next few decades advancing conservative ideology. This is the hard-earned result of decades of careful planning by the Federalist Society, a well-financed organization of conservative judges and lawyers who sought to commandeer the federal judiciary on behalf of their agenda. And since the Constitution bestows life tenure on Supreme Court justices, unless Gorsuch or Kavanaugh were to murder a litigant during oral argument, there is no easy mechanism by which Democrats could unseat either man in order to counteract the injustices of their respective confirmations.
What Democrats could do, however, is dilute the practical impact of Gorsuchâs and Kavanaughâs presence on the benchâby adding a few more seats to it. Such proposals, which have become popular among progressives alarmed at the right-wingâs successful efforts to hijack the federal judiciary, are known as âcourt-packing.â
Read the story on GQ
Even More of This Progressive prosecutors should cut their own budgets to enshrine their legacies
What will be Larry Krasnerâs legacy? The nationally recognized progressive prosecutor has already made his mark in Philadelphia. On Wednesday, Krasner shared his accomplishments with City Council during a two-hour budget hearing. Making his case, he talked to progressive supporters by highlighting the social justice aspect of his reforms, to opponents by emphasizing the declining violent crime rate and efforts to investigate cold cases, and to City Council by noting the tremendous cost savings that are associated with less incarceration.
Krasner asked City Council for an additional $3 million â a 7 percent budget increase â that would go primarily toward continued efforts to recruit high-quality hires, DNA testing to solve cold cases and ensure the integrity of old convictions, and an economic crimes unit. âThe savings that are generated by simply doing the job better and being really surgical about how you do it are astronomical,â Krasner told Council.
Speaking to Council, Krasner said: âI realize that the work that Iâm trying to do is not going to be done before I am gone.â Thatâs true, and we canât work under the assumption that Krasnerâs successor will be like-minded. Krasner is one gut-wrenching violent crime away a few weeks or months before election from getting the boot. And while Krasner has plenty of time left in his term, it is never too early to prepare for that possibility.
Krasnerâs reforms are not set in stone â they are written in policy memos. And just as Krasner took over the office, fired a bunch of prosecutors, and quickly changed policy, a zealot tough-on-crime prosecutor could shred those memos and take the city back in time.
But the progressive-lefty DA can enshrine his reforms by looking at the legacy of a conservative icon â President Ronald Reagan.
From his first days in office in 1981, Reagan started his push to cut taxes and slash social programs. And while Reagan was a self-proclaimed champion of smaller government and reduced government spending, what he really championed was a dramatic shift in priorities and what America spends money on. Donna Murch, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University, told me that although Reagan cut social programs, he gave more money to defense and law enforcement. Since the late 1960s, the federal focus on crime and order â based in racist politics as a pushback to the successes of the Civil Rights Movement â started redefining issues. Murch explains, âthings that were thought of as problems of the social, become problems of the criminal.â
Take for example the Community Development Block Grant, a program established under President Gerald Ford in 1974 in order to provide funding for local solutions to social problems. When Reagan took office, the programâs budget was the equivalent of $15 billion in 2016 dollars. When Reagan left office, the CDBG program was slashed to less than $6 billion. Similar trends could be traced in other programs. At the same time, the Justice Departmentâs budget nearly doubled. CDBG never recovered. Currently its budget is $3.4 billion.
Cutting social services and funneling money to law enforcement didnât end with Reagan. Republican and Democrat administrations continued this trend. Once budgets are cut, they are really hard to restore. Money gets allocated elsewhere, and lawmakers learn that the program is not sacred, which opens the path for more cuts.
There is a lesson here for Krasner: One of the ways to ensure that a tough-on-crime prosecutor doesnât reverse his efforts in the future is by slashing the budget of the District Attorneyâs Office. Reaganâs budget cuts harmed the poor and people of color. Krasnerâs cuts could promote long-lasting justice.
Read the story on Philly.com
Less of This How corporations are turning public prisons into big profits
When the Bellamy Creek correctional facilityâs longtime kitchen officer decided to leave in 2014, David Angel requested the position. Angel, who was nearing retirement, had worked at prisons all over Michigan, including stints at three maximum-security facilities. âI wanted a permanent position for my last few years in the department. I had a lot of respect among the prisoner and officer staff, and I thought I could do the job and keep people safe,â he said. âUmâ¦ I was wrong.â
The Bellamy Creek kitchen is typical for a Michigan prison. Sixty incarcerated men staff it, doing everything from slicing potatoes with tethered knives to working the dish tank. Angelâs job was to provide security while six or seven outside employees oversaw the operations. The employees were new hires by Aramark, a food-service company recently contracted by the state to run its prison kitchens.
âIt was a constant daily struggle,â Angel recalled. At first, it was the little things: Food was spilled but never cleaned up. Meals were served late, or the kitchen would run out of food and the staff would have to swap ingredients. âI saw peanut butter substituted for a hamburger patty more times than I care to count.â
Then came the day that he noticed spoiled bananas being unloaded from the supplierâs truck. He told the driver to take the bananas back but was refused. That day, he decided to wheel the bananas over to a dumpster. But trucks kept arriving with more bad food: âI threw out 700 pounds of rotten potatoes once.â Nevertheless, the spoiled food made its way into the kitchen, or fresh food would become spoiled because of Aramarkâs poor storage practices, Angel said. He grew concerned about the safety of the food. âThatâs when I saw maggots under the big commercial mixer.â He alerted his supervisor.
Angel laid the blame squarely on Aramark, and he wasnât alone. Michiganâs switch to a privatized prison-food system was supposed to save the state moneyâ$16 million, or more than 20 percent of what Michigan had been paying to feed the 44,000 people held in its prisons. But in order to make the numbers work, Aramarkâs three-year, $145 million contract required the company to slash costs to an average of $1.29 per meal. One of the ways large companies like Aramark can do this is by taking advantage of economies of scale to get better prices on ingredients; they can also reduce quantities and serve lower-quality, less nutritious food. Probably the most effective way is to slash the payroll. In Michigan, unionized corrections workers earned $15 to $25 an hour, but the Aramark employees who replaced them were paid as little as $11 an hour.
As the months passed, stories like Angelâs began cropping up at prisons around the state. At the G. Robert Cotton facility, a prisoner spotted maggots on a vegetable slicer. At a neighboring facility, 30 people fell ill with foodborne illness after fly larvae were found crawling around the food-service line. At a prison farther north, an Aramark employee was caught serving meatballs fished out of a trash can. The state fined Aramark $200,000 for unsanitary food preparation, substituting nutritionally inferior ingredients, and routinely shorting prisoners on calories. In 2014, protests erupted throughout the state.
In 2015, Michigan and Aramark terminated their contract, over a year early. But prisoners and guards had little reason to celebrate, because the state quietly replaced Aramark with another prison-food giant, Trinity Services Group. The problems continued under Trinity, and by 2016, a second round of protests had erupted. Most of these were peaceful, but one, in the Upper Peninsula facility of Kinross, led to what the state Department of Corrections acknowledged internally was Michiganâs first prison riot since 1981, though some officials deny this publicly. No one was seriously hurt, but it cost the state nearly $1 million in damage. âIt was a powder keg,â Angel said. (Neither Trinity nor Aramark responded to requests for comment.)
âThis [situation] has created an environment of theft, extortion, and robberyâall in the name of survival,â said Ramone Wilson, who is imprisoned at the Cotton facility. âIf youâre on an empty stomach, then youâre desperate.â
Read the story on The Nation
Less of This Too A trans woman was arrested and harassed for failing to pay a $15 seatbelt fee
On March 28, 2018, Sierra Castle called the police. She wanted to report to the Cobb County Police Department in Georgia that her car had been damaged a week earlier. When she met an officer in the parking lot where the damage had taken place, the officer ran her name to check for warrants and found a bench warrant because she had failed to pay a $15 seatbelt fine.â
She was arrested. Castle recalls telling the arresting officer that she was transgender. But she was brought to a holding cell in the menâs area of the Cobb County Adult Detention Center before being confined in a solitary unit for over 24 hours.
Now, Sierra Castle is suing Cobb County, Sheriff Neil Warren, and Col. Janet Price over her experience at the Cobb County jail. She accuses them of violating her constitutional rights as well as causing intentional emotional distress and discriminating against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the lawsuit, while going through the intake process, a male correction officer informed her that she would be âconsidered male while in jailâ due to her being transgender, as he gave her a pat-down search. Soon after, she was taken to the holding cell.
COs continued to treat Castle as if she were a male detainee. When she asked to make a phone call, they would allow her to use only the male-designated phones. When she refused, she was not allowed to make a phone call at all, the complaint says. She says she was also harassed by other detainees each time she left her cell or as male detainees would peer into her cell as they were walking by. The lawsuit said Castle had to deal with âsexually-degrading, harassing, abusive and threatening comments.â
Dominique Morgan, national director of Black and Pink, which supports LGBTQ people in prison, said the organization hears stories of similar treatment from trans people all over the country.
âEither these women are having to choose to be in solitary confinementâno matter what the system calls it, administrative segregation, itâs separation from general populationâor theyâre being put in spaces where their body is inherently in danger,â Morgan told The Appeal.
Recent lawsuits have exposed and challenged trans discrimination occurring in jails and prisons across the country. In California, Candice Crowder sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation this year after she says she experienced verbal and physical abuse by both prison staff and other prisoners and was isolated in solitary confinement. In Colorado, after Lindsay Saunders-Velez was sexually harassed and assaulted in a male prison, she sued the state Department of Corrections for failing to protect her from cruel and unusual punishment. The ACLU of Pennsylvania sued the stateâs Department of Corrections in 2016 on behalf of Niara Burton, who was transferred to seven male prisons and endured sexual abuse from guards and fellow prisoners. Illinois finally agreed late last year to move Strawberry Hampton, a trans woman who faced abuse and harassment at a menâs prison, to resolve a years-long lawsuit. This month, Illinois also moved Janiah Monroe to a womenâs prison after she filed a lawsuit.
Read the story on The Appeal
Perspective The anxiety of accumulating identities
The following essay was written by Sana Rahim, a diversity & inclusion consultant and friend of ChangeLawyers.
Let me tell you how much can happen in 60 minutes when you look the way I do.
6:05 PM As I descended into a BART station, a homeless man who likely had a mental illness, made direct eye contact with me and yelled passionately, âF*** you n*****.â It happened so quickly I didnât even know how to react. I felt disturbed, vulnerable and unsafe. I also wondered how black people coped and still cope with these shockingly regular, visceral attacks. [person of color]
6:45 PM As I stood in the security line at the airport, a TSA agent began selecting people to go through the metal detector to reduce the wait times for the body scanner. She counted off: â1,2,3â and then paused with uncertainty when she saw me. She then looked at the woman behind me who was coincidentally also Muslim and also wearing the hijab. She said âNot you two because of your headgear.â She casually went on to count off the rest of the people to move. I had been profiled; it was as simple as that. I held in my emotions in to get through security. I knew if I got upset right then, I would risk missing my flight. After getting my head pat down despite no alarm in the bodyscanner, I went and spoke to a supervisor. I calmly explained what had happened, and said the communication and actions clearly indicated profiling. He said he would speak to the agents about this. No apologyâââno recognition for criminalizing me for no reason. [Muslim]
7:00 PM I hastily walked to the gate. I was jittery and nervous. I just wanted to be home. Eerily, I felt a South Asian man make a sudden U turn after passing me. I turned around and saw him approaching me as he smiled invasively. In a chain reaction, I pulled out my phone and began pretending to speak to someone. I have done this before when followed by strange men who think stalking is charming. Serendipitously, my mom called me and I darted towards the bathroom hoping the man would give up and leave. When I came out, he was gone. [woman]
I made it to my gate. Within an hour, I had been emotionally assaulted. I wanted to crawl out of my skin and be invisible for the rest of the journey home.
This is a common feeling for people like me.
Being a Muslim, being a woman, being a person of color means that I experience the world in a complicated way. Separately, these identities pose a variety of challenges. When combined, I feel like I am futilely climbing a hill that only seems to get taller.
It is the accumulation of layered experiences that suddenly feel like a giant weight on my shoulders. It is the wear and tear of existing in the world every day. It is real trauma. Itâs not just in my head.
The world was not designed for me. It is not always safe for me to exist. It is constant work for me to preserve my well being and safety.
This does not mean that I do not have good days, amazing days, where I feel invincible. Days where I feel safe and know that I belong. I am grateful for the abundant privileges I hold. Of course, I know, it could be much worse.
But I know and believe it can be so much better. [human trying to survive]
Read the story on Medium
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