Fighting for dignity, opportunity, and freedom for people affected by incarceration
“Freedom doesn’t start when you walk out the gate, it starts when you begin putting your life back together.”
— Dorsey Nunn
Dorsey Nunn has experienced and witnessed firsthand how completing a prison sentence does not guarantee the end of restrictions to freedom, especially for people of color and low-wage workers. For the one in five Californians who have a criminal record, finding employment and housing can be a struggle. These barriers are often made worse by racial discrimination and can significantly impact a person’s ability to get back on their feet, build community, and integrate into society. Nunn has manifested the weight of these injustices into decades of advocacy for people during and after incarceration, as well as their families. Since 2011, he has led Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), which aims to improve conditions for those who are incarcerated and enhance opportunities for people to rebuild their lives after release. Nunn founded its policy advocacy arm, All of Us Or None (AOUON) in 2003. AOUON works as a vehicle for people who have been incarcerated to shape policies that affect them, fueling a civil rights movement for this constituency. By centering the voices and lived experiences of system-impacted people, LSPC and AOUON’s organizing and advocacy has successfully changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians by ending long-term solitary confinements, improving conditions in correctional facilities, expanding access to housing and employment, and restoring voting rights to people on parole and probation.
We are in an amazing position to continue our campaigns to Abolish Bondage Collectively, to remove structural discrimination in employment and housing, and to expand visiting rights for families.” -Dorsey Nunn
Abolish Bondage Collectively (ABC) is a grassroots campaign, organized by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, working to eradicate structural racism and erase vestiges of slavery in California. Our goal is to strike the “exception clause” from Article 1, Section 6 of the California Constitution, which currently makes involuntary servitude — forced labor with abominably low pay — legal in California prisons.
“My name is John Cannon. I was arrested at 16 years old and charged as an adult for stealing pizza and a money pouch from a pizza delivery man. Upon arrival at the Department of Corrections, I was strip-searched and immediately assigned a job position (yard labor). At the time, I needed soap, food, deodorant, etc. and I didn’t have family support or any money coming in. I was looking forward to working and making some money that I could use for commissary, until I found out from an older guy that was in there with me that I wasn’t going to be making any money. He told me that our labor is either for free or we would only receive pennies an hour. I told him that I wouldn’t work for free and how that wasn’t even legal. That’s when he informed me that if I refused to work I would be punished for refusing. He also explained to me that the Constitution still allows involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. For 8 years I worked for next to nothing. Sweating in the warehouses, laboring in the sun, and working almost until collapsing on a mountain fighting wildfires. While fighting those wildfires, we worked alongside firefighters who weren’t incarcerated. I remember our crew working just as hard, if not harder than the hotshot crews. Yet, they were making more money in an hour than we made in a month.”
The Family Unity Bill recognizes that frequent contact through visits and phone calls preserves family bonds during incarceration, providing family structure for the children and spouses left behind, supporting the mental health of the incarcerated, and reducing recidivism after incarcerated people reenter our communities.
“My grandmother was the only family member who could visit me because my other relatives had convictions. She lived out of state and it cost her $1000 to come for a 2 hour visit.”
“When I walked into the visiting room at California Correctional Center and my son ran into my arms, it was an awesome feeling! But it cost my partner about 4650 for one weekend visit.”
“After the right to visits was repealed in 1996 visiting hours were cut and visits became overcrowded, so you’d never know if your visit would be cancelled without notice or terminated early.”
“Families spend a lot of time and money preparing ‘visitation bags’ with clothes they hope will be acceptable to guards. My 5 year old was still turned away and ordered to change.”
The Fair Chance Housing Ordinance (FCH) addresses homelessness and structural racism in housing access faced by formerly incarcerated residents. The FCH proposal will ban all landlords, private and public, from using criminal background checks when considering tenants in Alameda County unincorporated areas.
Taqwaa Bonner, a formerly incarcerated individual who served 30 years in prison and a member of All of Us or None, shared his experience of the impact of Fair Chance Housing in jurisdictions that passed it. “I applied directly for housing. I filled out an application and on the application it asked me, ‘Have I been convicted of a felony?’ and I marked the box ‘Yes’ not realizing I screened myself out. I was sleeping in my car until the Wilma Chan Fair Chance Housing ordinance was passed in Berkeley. Due to that being passed, I was able to obtain a lease of my own. For the first time in my life in 50 years, I have a lease.”
The FCH effort has been a multiyear campaign by the Fair Chance Housing Coalition organized by racial justice and human rights organizations, Just Cities and All of Us or None. Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of All of Us or None, explains, “People who have survived mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex return home only to confront the “no” when trying to rent. They can’t even live with family members without putting that person’s housing at risk. We are facing structural discrimination on par with redlining, but instead of racist convenents and purchase agreements, now criminal background checks are the barrier. Fair Chance Housing removes the albatross of one’s past and allows people access to the housing we and our families need.”