Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prison Law Project

Back in August, a day or two after my friend Carlos passed away, Ian Head from the Prison Mail Program reached out to me.  Besides being a local dance legend, Carlos had volunteered for quite some time, devoting countless hours to making things run smoothly.  Perhaps some of you remember me writing about this in the past?  I'll link back later (although for now you may want to look at the posting I linked above, which includes amazing memories from many people- including Ian- in the comment section.  Please don't be offended by the stories about Carlos back in the days before he was sober...  Just part of the wonderful package, people.).

About the program, Ian wrote:

I began the prison mail program in late 2005 / 2006, as a volunteer run program through the national lawyers guild distributing the jailhouse lawyers handbook ( which is a self-help legal guide to defending your constitutional rights in prison (that's the simple definition). I would stay after work every thursday and answer the 80-120 letters we got a week from prisoners, most requesting the book, with volunteers I found both on and through local law school chapters of the Guild. FYI, the book is published by both the NLG and the center for constitutional rights (CCR) who up until recently, had run their own volunteer programs and distributed the handbook in different ways.

Back then, I told Ian I'd love to be involved with the program.  Yet the last couple of months have been hectic- both with working and having Anevay back in school.  I think now, however, our schedules are somewhat defined, and I'm ready to throw myself in to the mix.

I wrote Alissa, saying that in addition to wanting to carry on a bit of the good work Carlos was doing, I've been a close family member who used to be incarcerated, and feel very strongly about the rights of prisoners.  "We are all condemned to freedom," wrote Sartre.  This is just about my favorite quote ever- you've probably read other things I've written including it.  They are important words to keep in mind when regarding the rights and lives- both interior and exterior- of the incarcerated.

Omitting some of the things that Alissa wrote about Carlos (as I haven't asked for her permission), I don't think she'll mind me include some of the general information she wrote in regards to volunteering for the Prison Law Project at the National Lawyers Guild:

I can give you some of the details of the program: The Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook helps inmates file claims against their prison where they're incarcerated for violations of their constitutional rights (things like medical care, abuse from staff, living conditions, religious practice).

We start at 6:45pm on Thursdays. We don't require a minimum volunteer commitment so as many or as few times you can help is great. Depending on the number of people who show up on Thursdays, the session can last anywhere between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. I give a full set of instructions on the night of the mailing, but the basics are that we have funding to send about 100 handbooks per month but receive 90-110 letters per week. We read through the letters and send handbooks to those that we
can and an informational letter to the those that do not receive the handbook. Also, on the first Thursday of every month, we team up with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and have a joint mailing session with them, but I send out emails to remind everyone about that meeting when it's approaching.

Our weekly mailings are at the NLG National Office is located at 132 Nassau Street on the 9th Floor. The closest subway station is on Fulton Street or Broadway/Lafayette; the A/C/2/3/4/5/J/M/Z all run through those stations.

Perhaps some of you might also be interested in volunteering?  It's a good way, I think, to keep Carlos' spirit with us. 

(Just a little aside...  Ian made a great 'Mixtape' in Carlos' memory, and wrote some great liner-notes.  Check it out, if you like, here.)

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