The August IAHR Newsletter features our upcoming “3rd Annual Human Rights at the Prison Door (please rsvp!),” Excerpts of an interview with Helenia Bragg who is a returning citizen, an update on parole in DC, an essay by Marqui Clardy called “Arrested Development,” the date of the next pen pal orientation, and a report from the Prison Policy Initiative how incarceration imperils the health of the incarcerated as well as their loved ones.
3rd Annual Human Rights at the Prison Doors
Interview with Helenia Bragg
Does Any DC Political Leader Care about Parole?
Letter from Prison: "Arrested Development"
Pen Pal Orientation: August 31
Prison Policy Initiative: Shortened Life Expectancies
Keynote Speaker: Marcus Bullock
Presentation of Human Rights Heroes Awards to Walter Lomax, John Horejsi, and the Honorable Karl Racine and the office of the District Attorney of Washington, DC.
Presentation of the Suzanne O'Hatnick Award to Gay Gardner.
Honoring Murphy & McGonigle, Arnold & Porter, and Rights Behind Bars for providing pro bono legal services.
This month we feature an interview with Helenia Bragg who is a returning citizen.
Helenia Bragg, was born in Alexandria, Va. She is a returning citizen and a recovering addict. Helenia was released from Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Virginia in 2016 after serving nine years and six months. While incarcerated, Helenia received an Associate degree. To prepare for her reentry, Helenia also received certifications in HVAC, Building maintenance, Printing, and Industrial Sewing. Even with these certifications, Helenia had a hard time getting a job, so she went back to college. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 2019 in Social Work. Today Helenia works as a Peer Recovery Specialist. Helenia is also in the process of starting a nonprofit for female returning citizens. The name is S.H.E. solution. S.H.E.’s mission is to connect female returning citizens, who have prepared for release by obtaining a vocational trade. Helenia’s vision includes connecting returning women with companies that will give them a career opportunity, not a job.
Gay Gardner, IAHR’s Special Advisor on Virginia, is the interviewer.
Both Mayor Bowser and the DC Council have turned their backs on bringing the parole authority back to the District of Columbia. Our political leaders continue to squander an opportunity to create a parole authority that has the potential to be a model for the rest of the nation. The Mayor put a token amount of money in the budget for parole. The money at the most could be used for another study.
But we don’t need another study. The New Visions Committee of ReThink Justice under the leadership of Malcolm Young has studied the issue and has prepared a series of papers which outline the principles that should guide a new parole authority, the policies by which the parole authority should act, and the details of staffing. These papers can be found on the ReThink Justice website. Please take the time to read these essays. In addition, the Washington Post published online an excellent news article on parole in the District.
I have sent the following letter in response to a letter that the Mayor sent to every resident in the District.
Dear Mayor Bowser: Kudos for asking why the Federal Court System has such a backlog of cases and how this undermines the criminal justice system and the pursuit of justice. However, I also noted that you failed to make any mention of the opportunity the District has of taking on the parole authority from the United States Parole Commission (USPC). You seek a justice system in which everyone can be held accountable. The USPC is accountable really to no one in the District and most likely to no one at the Justice Department. The USPC can be capricious and cruel in its decisions regarding the cases of DC residents. We have the opportunity to take control of parole and turn it into a model system for the rest of the country. By taking back parole, the District would signal how ready it is to become the 51st state. Yet, you have not spoken publicly about taking back parole nor have you provided for a parole authority in your budget with any significant funding. If the District fails to act on parole, then the Congress will most likely maintain the present system thereby continuing to cause great suffering to DC residents and their loved ones.
Sincerely, Rabbi Charles Feinberg
Editor's Note: Mayor Bowser's Executive Director did answer my letter assuring me that the Mayor and her staff have every intention in taking on the parole authority. It is unclear, however, when that will happen.
Right now, as I'm writing this, I'm standing at the door inside my cell, looking into the dayroom at the other offenders in my housing unit. At a table about twelve feet away from my cell, there's a group of guys yelling, laughing, and arguing over a card game they're playing. At the tables directly behind them are other guys playing games of Monopoly, Scrabble, and Dungeons-N-Dragons. Scattered about the dayroom in groups of different sizes are guys horse playing, rapping, debating about tonight's NBA Finals game, and just hanging out on the tiers lollygagging. As I stand here, all I can think is, "These are all adults I'm observing, but none of this is adult behavior." Adults don't hang around, playing games and doing nothing all day. So why is this what I'm seeing in prison? Why does everyone I'm observing seem to have regressed to a child-like state of being, reminiscent of the Lost Boys of Neverland from the Peter Pan story? Is there something unique about the prison experience that is impeding our "normal" adult development?
Researchers estimate that 27 percent of offenders were 11 to 20 years old when they were incarcerated, and 34 percent were between the ages of 21 and 30. This means a large portion of us were still juveniles/adolescents and young adults at the time we left society and entered prison - a notoriously cutthroat environment with its own set of rules and standards of conduct. Adjusting to this environment is a double-edged sword: while it is vital to our survival, it is in a lot of ways the antithesis to normal adult maturation. It does not properly prepare a person to re-enter society; it makes them institutionalized (defined as the re-socializing of a person to a state where their habitual thoughts and behaviors are based on the needs, structure, and dictates of the institution they have become part of). None of the primary characteristics of institutionalization - laziness, submissiveness, and passiveness - reflect the behavior of mature adults in society who have responsibilities. Placing juveniles/adolescents and young adults in prison effectively stagnates the natural path toward growth and maturity they might have otherwise experienced in the free world.
Marqui Clardy, Sr. is serving a 33 year sentence in a Virginia prison for a series of robberies that were committed in 2008.
If you would like to get to know someone in prison, if you like to write, if you want to know more about criminal justice in the United States, we urge you to sign up for IAHR’s Pen Pal Project. Approximately 250 people are writing to a similar number of incarcerated people in the federal Bureau of Prisons. Most but not all the incarcerated people are originally from the District of Columbia. They have been convicted of either federal crimes or of DC code violations.
We ask our pen pals to write at least once a month for a year. Most of our pen pals have been writing to their correspondent for more than a year. Most have developed very good relations with their pen pal and have learned a lot about the person, the operations of the Bureau of Prisons, and the criminal justice system.
We ask everyone interested in becoming a pen pal to attend an online orientation that lasts about an hour. The next orientation is on Tuesday, August 31 at 7:30 p.m. If you are interested, please contact John List who is the project chair.
New data: People with incarcerated loved ones have shorter life expectancies and poorer health
by Emily Widra, July 12, 2021
Locking up the most medically vulnerable people in our society has created a public health crisis not just inside prison walls, but in the outside community and across the country: The health of individuals, families, and entire communities is clearly associated with incarceration.
That’s according to a recent study from a team of researchers from the University of California – Los Angeles, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, Yale School of Medicine, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Duke University, and Washington University in St. Louis, which reveals how strongly incarceration is associated with family member health and well-being, as well as with racial disparities in health and mortality.
In the study, Exposure to family member incarceration and adult well-being in the United States, researchers found that people who have an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated family member consistently rate their health and well-being lower than those without a family history of incarceration, and have an estimated 2.6 years shorter life expectancy than those with no incarcerated family members, even when adjusted for demographic characteristics like race, household income, gender, and age.
This groundbreaking study was based on a nationally representative sample of individuals who rated their own physical health, mental health, social well-being, and spiritual well-being on a scale from zero to ten. Their responses were then scored to categorize the respondents as “thriving,” “surviving,” or “suffering” in each area, as well as in a comprehensive and holistic category of “overall well-being.” Based on the health differences reported by people with and without incarcerated family members, the researchers then estimated the changes in life expectancy associated with family member incarceration.