Amani Sawari awarded a 2019 Roddenberry Fellowship to develop Right2Vote Campaign for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak

by Amani Sawari

Amani Sawari

I’m thrilled to share that I will be joining 19 other activists and changemakers for the 2019 Roddenberry Fellowship! Jailhouse Lawyers Speak’s Right2Vote (R2V) Campaign is being recognized for the direct impact on civil rights in the United States.

The Roddenberry Fellowship supports 20 activists, organizers, leaders and changemakers who are working to make the U.S. a more inclusive and equitable place to live. Fellows’ projects focus on one of four issues:

  • Civil Rights
  • Immigration and Refugee Rights
  • LGBTQIA and Women’s Rights
  • Environmental Protection

To learn more about the fellowship and this year’s cohort, head to our Fellowship website.

Last year, during the time of the National Prison Strike, many shared interest in participating in organizing efforts moving forward. As a follow-up to that request, if you are currently in the process of working on a civil rights related initiative that would support de-incarceration in your state, please let me know as I want to do all that I can to coordinate nationally in support of your efforts through the Roddenberry Fellowship’s support of R2V.

For example, in New Mexico, organizers are successfully promoting a bill to end felon disenfranchisement. Another example is in Michigan, where organizers are advocating for the reinstatement of good time allotment for all prisoners.

At this point in the year, the focus is on collecting the initiatives like the couple listed above that we want on the ballot this year. Some of us are doing this through a petitioning process, like in Michigan, and others, like those in New Mexico, are working through the Legislature directly with representatives.

While organizing efforts are in full swing now, in November at election time, these initiatives will be voted on by people who have no connection to or experience with the criminal justice system. The system has been working effectively to bar prisoners from conversations about the policies that dictate their own lives. This campaign works to bridge that gap by bringing the voices of those most effected to the forefront.

In 2018 there were 10 states that had criminal justice related issues on the ballot. In these states our focus would be on giving prisoners the platform to voice their perspectives on those issues because they are the most intimately involved with the effects of these policies. We would do this by collecting the prisoners’ vote and then relaying those results to the public.

This is a step by step process that will require collaboration over months of communication and campaigning, which is why I’m excited to expand my coordination efforts over the entire year rather than just during the condensed time of the prison strike, like last year. Our success depends on continued collaboration. As we move forward, we will also be collecting data to document our success in preparation for upcoming years.

Please let me know if you are currently working on getting an initiative onto the ballot and if so what it is and in which state. If not, let me know if you are interested in organizing with prisoners in your region or if you have any questions.

Here is where you can read about my selection and the project description: https://roddenberryfoundation.org/blog/fellow/amani-sawari/.

I’m so grateful to everyone I’ve connected to in this work thus far and am excited to have been awarded this fellowship. I look forward to making 2019 a year like no other.

Amani Sawari is the spokesperson for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and coordinated the 2018 National Prison Strike. She can be reached at amanisawari@gmail.com or @Sawarimi or by mail to 14419 Greenwood Ave. N., Ste A #132, Seattle WA 98133. Visit her website, http://sawarimi.org.

2019 Roddenberry Fellows

Amani Sawari, 2019 Roddenberry Fellow

Amani Sawari is a writer and founder of the site sawarimi.org, currently residing in Seattle, Washington. She graduated from the University of Washington with her Bachelor degree in both Media Communication Studies and Law, Economics and Public Policy. She was selected as Jailhouse Lawyers Speaks’ spokesperson for the 2018 National Prison Strike. Her coordination of over 300 endorsing organizations led to the successful participation of incarcerated activists in 17 states and three regions abroad. Her advocacy for prisoners’ human rights has stemmed from her understanding of the negative socio-political effects that stereotypical media portrayals have on Black people.

Amani’s work as an organizer is driven by her vision of a world where prison abolition has allowed for all those suffering from trauma to be served based upon their individual needs rather than thrown into a cage for a life of abuse and exploitation.

Amani is also a poet, experienced in teaching poetry techniques to students incarcerated in King County’s Juvenile Detention Center. She uses her poetry as a form of healing, reflection and protest as well as a tool for educating those with opposing perspectives. While Amani is an advocate and prison abolitionist, she also enjoys singing, writing music and playing guitar.

Project Description

The Right2Vote Campaign is a game changer by engaging incarcerated individuals into the political processes that they’ve been barred from since the erection of our current criminal justice system. A system that was established in order to completely bar formerly enslaved Black people from the benefits of American democracy.

As impoverished communities were targeted by executive forces, the downward spiral that begins at arrest effectively works to completely disenfranchise our caged community members from all aspects of society. This is done under the guise of corrections, as if it were a means to rehabilitate.

This project focuses on dismantling this wall of oppression by attempting to restore the absolutely necessary privilege of citizenship within a democracy, regardless of one’s past offenses. This project aims to restore prisoners’ Right2Vote with an understanding that our criminal justice system can never operate as a rehabilitative or corrective environment without the influence of those who are most affected, the inmates.

Making sure that prisoners’ voices are a part of the conversations about reform is the most important step to accomplishing that goal. The re-enfranchisement of marginalized people’s voices in the political conversation is a critical step to repairing our criminal justice system, ending mass incarceration and restoring the lives of those prisoners and their families who’ve been traumatically impacted by their being pushed into the outskirts of society. The time has ended where those with absolutely no experience with prisons or prisoners make those critical decisions that change the course of millions of lives.

This introduction to Amani Sawari and the project description are reposted from the Roddenberry Foundation website, which explains, “The Roddenberry Foundation was launched to build on Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s legacy and philosophy, to drive social change, and to improve the lives of people around the world.”