As formerly incarcerated people we have been told on more than one occasion: “You have the right to remain silent!” However, when the suffering becomes too unbearable and negatively impacts all aspects of our personal, professional, family, and community life, we have an obligation to speak up. The need to speak up is especially acute when it appears that this suffering has been designed to outlast our jail or prison sentences.
LSPC’s Policy Academy trains formerly incarcerated people throughout the state of California in basic legislative advocacy skills and then organizes opportunities for them to use their knowledge. The trainings give important background on mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on communities of color, as well as information about legislative advocacy, community organizing and the California legislative process.
We have conducted Policy Academy trainings in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, East Palo Alto, Fresno, and Riverside. LSPC engaged in a series of Policy Academy trainings for youth, held at College of Alameda, Ryse Youth Center in Richmond, and Project WHAT, an organization for youth with incarcerated parents. We have also done a training for Essie’s Justice Group, a support group for women with incarcerated loved ones.
We are witnessing the greatest change in the criminal injustice system in over 50 years. If not now, then when? Our Policy Academy Project has three components:
We monitor state legislative bills, write support/opposition letters, and engage in other advocacy as needed. To ensure the broadest base of support, we build and maintain relationships with supportive state policymakers and policy allies, as well as participating in CURB policy committee and advocacy activities. We also build relationships with allies, and participate in coalitions concerned with reducing mass incarceration.
Since our first training launched with the help of formerly incarcerated Women’s Policy Initiative graduates, we have trained over 100 formerly incarcerated people around the state of California. We mentor participants to be advocates, to provide written comments to legislators and legislative bodies, and to testify in legislative hearings.
As we gain momentum in this work, we will assess policy priorities with trained leaders and develop policy strategy together. Participants in our trainings come up with excellent ideas for legislation – whenever possible, we work to sponsor legislation initiated by formerly incarcerated people and/or family advocates.
Every spring, we organize a large-scale statewide rally day at the California State Capitol with legislative advocacy visits led by formerly incarcerated people and families with incarcerated loved ones. The day also provides an opportunity for all other people of good will to come out and support formerly incarcerated people in our fight for inclusion, and our determination to speak in our own voice.
Our first annual Quest for Democracy Day was in 2013, and drew on Policy Training graduates to mobilize over 200 formerly incarcerated people to the state capitol to learn about policy and advocacy work. Click here for an article in the San Francisco Bay View written by LSPC executive director Dorsey Nunn, describing the launch of the first policy academy, and detailing why communities directly impacted by incarceration need training in policy.
Quest for Democracy Advocacy Day helps incarcerated people speak truth to power, regain our dignity and make California a better, safer place for all Californians. Afterwards we coordinate follow-up and relationship-building between training participants and legislators/staff.