From the January 2006 Idaho Observer:
It’s time to get our people out!
Depending upon the day you check the current numbers, this nation is warehousing between 2.1 million and 2.3 million live human beings in state and federal prisons. The U.S. Department of Justice Statistics figures state that half of those behind bars were convicted of violent crimes, the other half were convicted of non-violent, victimless or consensual crimes. Various prisoners from institutions throughout the country stated their independent observations that about 10 percent of those with whom they are doing time are totally innocent of the charges for which they were convicted and imprisoned.
The problem is so huge that one in 138 Americans are currently behind bars and about one in 32 are either imprisoned, out on probation or out on parole; crime and punishment is no longer the sole responsibility of government, it is now a for-profit industry and private companies managing prisons are publicly traded on Wall Street.
We believe that about a million American men and women who have been thrust into government cages do not belong in them. The evidence abounds. Dozens of well-intended prisoner advocacy organizations have come into existence and are busy trying to help everyone they can but the compassion in their hearts is greater than the resources at their disposal.
It is time to change all that. Our nation is in crisis on a multitude of fronts. Our people need all the help we can get from each other and it should be our priority to release our wrongfully-imprisoned countrymen so they can be of service to their communities when the you-know-what begins hitting the fan. Plus, and not to be unnecessarily alarmist, but prisoners—innocent or not—will not fare well in a time of extended national emergency.
Much can be learned about the rapidly-expanding penal colony in America online; a large amount of prisoner advocacy activism is happening in cyberspace. However, there is a lot that can be done through letter writing and simple acts of human kindness.
Listed below are a handful of prisoner advocacy organizations that are, to the best of our knowledge, doing good work. Contribute to them; work with them to elevate this existing national emergency to the prominence it deserves and help us to free the good people locked up in government cages.
PrisonerLife.com is "an open and uncensored forum networking prisons, prisoners and the world."
With nearly 3 million unique visitors per year, PrisonerLife.com is one of the most active electronic gateways for United States prisoners and ex-offenders to communicate with Internet users and expand their networks of support. Prison journalists posting on the site provide a clear window into the American prison system and the two million people it holds. The site also hosts a comprehensive prisoner penpal program and provides prisoner stories and profiles.
Those who want to make an "investment" in their time as prisoner advocates should consider acquiring some prisoner art—a genre that will likely become very collectible when America’s prison era finally comes to an end. PrisonerLife.com posts the work of a few prison artists and is looking to post more prisoner art.
PrisonerLife.com, P.O. Box 1664 Voorhees, New Jersey 08043
Formed in 1997 to end the government’s phony war on drugs, the November Coalition has an extensive and extremely informative website and publishes a quarterly newspaper called "The Razorwire." Not just fighting the drug war any more, the November Coalition is a full-fledged prisoner advocacy that reports on issues that affect prisoner rights and prisoner health and safety. We at The IO are a little partial to the folks at the November Coalition because we know them and have the utmost respect for who they are and what they do. One of the most admirable services they provide is support for just released prisoners in an effort to help them transition back into society and avoid being violated back into prison. You can find the November Coalition online at www.november.org or at 282 West Astor, Colville, WA 99114. You can call the November Coalition at (509) 685-1550. Tell them The IO sentcha.
Last August 13, Ingri and Don participated in the nationwide "2 million too many" demonstration held in Washington, D.C., by traveling to Seattle to attend a sister demonstration sponsored by Justice Works. What these people are doing could be used as a model for the nation. Justice Works is a group of volunteers who began preparing primarily black prisoners imprisoned for drugs for transition back into society before their release and are there, 24-7 to do everything in their power to keep their people from violating back into prison once they get out. Justice Works also hopes to take the profit motive out of incarceration for petty offenses and compel justice system accountability. We urge prisoner advocates in larger cities where large parolee and probationer populations exist to contact Justice Works and benefit from its experience to provide critical support for the newly released. Go to www.justice works.info; email email@example.com; PO Box 1489 Lake Stevens, WA 98258; (206) 309-2087
The Western Prison Project exists to coordinate a progressive response to the criminal justice system, and to build a grassroots, multi-racial movement that achieves criminal justice reform and reduces the over-reliance on incarceration in the western states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada: PO Box 40085, Portland, OR 97240 (503) 335-8449
"Because my claim of innocence and constitutional rights violations has been before 8 different courts, with no addressing of the merits, I created ‘Innocence Denied.’ There is no watchdog of the judicial system, although there definitely should be. Innocence Denied (in the "Factual Background" section) will tell the world about my, and others similarly situated, attempts to prove innocence. The world will know that the courts refuse to do their job and uphold the Constitution." ~Darrell Van Mastrigt
Van Mastrigt is a prisoner doing time (17 years now) in Graterford, PA. Under his direction, Innocence Denied has grown into a comprehensive website hosting the stories of many innocent prisoners and resources for them and their supporters on the outside. The website also has a section called "Salvation Through the Arts" (under construction) which plans to feature poetry, prose and artwork by prisoners. Contact Innocence Denied at P.O. Box 18477 Pittsburgh, PA 15236, visit its website at www.innocencedenied.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Innocence Denied also publishes a bi-monthly newsletter available to both actual and virtual prisoners.
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