Rebecca Hensley memorial

Author Calvin “Casino” Coleman poses with friend and mentor Rebecca Hensley during a visit. Hensley passed away Nov. 28, 2020. She was a lifelong revolutionary and prison abolitionist.

by Calvin ‘Casino’ Coleman

On Nov. 28, 2020, we received news that Rebecca L. Hensley – my closest friend and most celebrated mentor – passed away. In that terrifying, heart-pounding moment, we realized that our lives would never be the same. 

We are devastated to the point where words cannot accurately express how we feel; the only thing I can equate to the complete emptiness and pain in my heart right now is when I lost my mother back in 1995. Just know that we join you in solidarity as we pay homage to our beloved Rebecca. 

I always thought of our friendship as being one of divine intervention, it was like mom and God were providing me a guardian angel to watch over me during this trying time in my life behind bars. Rebecca was on the front line for us, from building the Louisiana Network for Criminal Justice Transformation together, to providing prison case management services for prisoners and their families, to educating me on a wide range of things by having me read more than a hundred books of her choosing. 

Through our many conversations, she taught me things about Black culture that even I didn’t know. From Carter G. Woodson’s “The Mis-Education of the Negro” to Thomas Aiello’s “Jim Crow’s Last Stand,” Rebecca made sure my education was well-balanced, providing me with the tools and knowledge to speak out against injustice and be a “changeseeker” for the voiceless underdogs of the world.

At the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights march on Aug. 19, 2017, in Washington, D.C., old friends meet up: Rebecca Hensley is flanked by Robert King and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3. Before they were released, she used to visit them at Angola, an 18,000 acre plantation used as a penitentiary with little change from before the Civil War.

Rebecca once stood in front the powers that be, looked the devil in the eye, and told him that one day he was going to have to deal with the wrath of those in his custody who have been the victims of a corrupt system that has exploited the 13th Amendment in order to perpetuate slavery in Louisiana. 

So, in celebration of her proclamation and the inspiration she has given to so many of us, I would like to honor her by dedicating the historic DOJ complaint we recently filed in memory of our dear friend who was, without question, the greatest prison abolitionist I’ve ever known.

In closing, we would like to leave you with our favorite quote, which of course was sent to us by Rebecca. The words exemplify her own beliefs and principles and lend credence to the way she lived her life and the passion she showed as an activist fighting to transform the criminal justice system in Louisiana and beyond.

“Every single minute is a movement, one way or the other. This means we are … the people the world needs, not passive victims of these difficult times, but powerful participants in them. We are mighty coauthors of the story we now find ourselves in, and together we can help write something redemptive that can twist the plot. We each come heavily armed to this endeavor. Our abilities, talents and passions are all forces we bring to bear on [the ‘arc that bends towards justice’] – and so we live intentionally, realizing how pregnant with possibility every second is. 

“There are no inconsequential choices, no ordinary moments, no meaningless days. We are daily waging a war to be present and alive and engaged. As in the pages of a comic book, the bad guys are relentless, so we have to be equally in our convictions now. We need to serve as guardians and stewards of hope and remind the world that no matter how noisily hatred bellows through a bullhorn, love will always have the last, loudest word.” – John Pavlovitz, “Hope and Other Superpowers”

Upward and onward.

In solidarity,

Calvin 

Send our brother some love and light: Calvin Coleman, 00399534, Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola LA 70712.