by Dorsey Nunn
Of the millions of people imprisoned in the U.S., most will return home someday – but to what? Barriers to finding a place to live or earning a living – or merely surviving – surround formerly incarcerated people like prison walls. We’re organizing The Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People and Families Movement 1st National Conference in Oakland to come together and find ways to break down those walls.
The conference begins at 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 9, at the Hilton, 1 Hegenberger Road in Oakland, and ends with a Justice Fair, wrapping up at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10. Register at http://2016ficpfm.eventbrite.com; free registration is available here, or contact Aaliyah Muhammad at All of Us or None toll-free at 844-953-8368 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
We are at a unique moment in our struggle. The public discourse is filled with talk about ending mass incarceration – by elected officials, academics, correctional officials and funders. We are organizing this conference to specifically strengthen the voices of formerly incarcerated people and our families and to ensure that our ideas are included in the discourse.
As the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People and Families Movement, we have made real progress since our first meeting in Selma in 2011. As a movement, we need the opportunity to collectively discuss the progress that we have made. We also need the opportunity and space to determine where we should be going during the next presidential administration.
In the past year, we have conducted several regional meetings where we presented expert panels of formerly incarcerated people and our family members. This national conference will be an opportunity to explore our best practices and see what is being done across the country. We strongly encourage you to join us for networking, sharing of resources, tabling and organizing opportunities, and we guarantee that you will meet some of the most interesting activists and people from our community.
We have been contacted by people from over 35 states and they should start arriving on Sept. 8 for the two-day conference. We will be bringing legal support to the community, community based organizations and attempt to help people clean up their records. We will attempt to teach other organizers how to fight back. This kind of organizing has always been needed, but since everyone seems to be talking about ending mass incarceration, what do people like us – who’ve been there – have to say about it.
As the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People and Families Movement, we have made real progress since our first meeting in Selma in 2011. As a movement, we need the opportunity to collectively discuss the progress that we have made.
When the police kill people like us, the first thing they break out is someone’s conviction history as if that was the evidence that justified the need to kill someone. When our families are grieving and they cry out in grief about taking the innocent child, the one that did everything right, and what does that say about people like us? Do we not merit protection from killer pigs? We need to find a way to look at this stuff.
We are hoping that 500 people attend the first day, and we have over 300 people applying for scholarships from all over the country. Our inspiration has always been the people and the struggle, and over the last several years a number of us thought we should encourage as many formerly incarcerated people as possible to gather in the same space so we could adopt a common agenda.
We see the tides of public opinion shifting, but it seems that most announcements about the restoration of our civil and human rights are being made in rooms where there are very few formerly incarcerated people – even though some of us know we are in part responsible for the shift.
When Eric Holder stated that the federal government should do something about our voting rights, he made the announcement to attorneys and not the people whose rights they were attempting to advance. This in part is what inspired many of us to start focusing on getting the government to address us directly. We wanted to set our own agenda and speak in our own voice.
Our inspiration has always been the people and the struggle, and over the last several years a number of us thought we should encourage as many formerly incarcerated people as possible to gather in the same space so we could adopt a common agenda.
During this same period of time, one of the primary campaigns of All of Us or None had started to catch fire. The Ban the Box Campaign has result in over 24 states banning the box. We started to push for meetings with the Justice Department and the White House and surprisingly met with both. In fact, President Obama started to talk about banning the box and took executive action regarding employment opportunities with the federal government.
In 2011 we met in Los Angeles and we established a 14-plank platform. Most of the people who attended that meeting got tired and went back to what they were doing, but a number of us kept fighting. We never got a chance to report back and let the community know that we had made progress on the issues of employment, education, housing and in some states even voting rights.
We need to talk with our community and let them set the priorities for the next things we should be working on. We want to set our national agenda to focus on the next occupant of the White House.
Some of the breakout sessions will include topics like these: ban the box, employment, housing, women’s issues, political prisoners, voting rights and do our records justify killing us? We face barriers that will not allow us to truly re-enter society. The language used to refer to us very seldom reflects that we are human. Those are some of the issues we need to talk about.
Join us! Organize, organize, organize. Struggle as hard as you can for what you believe in.
Dorsey Nunn, who was himself formerly incarcerated, is executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a founder of All of Us or None, an activist organization of formerly incarcerated people. He can be reached at email@example.com or at LSPC, 1540 Market St., Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94102, 415-255-7036.