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Episode 3: Mission Possible
It was a snowy weekend in Albany at the Black & Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus. Busloads of prison families and criminal justice advocates made the icy journey to schmooze with politicians hoping to get something done. Milk Not Jails spent the weekend running after Senator Gallivan, the Republican leader of the Crime Committee, whose staffers gave vague, polite answers and no commitments. At a luncheon later that day we met Anne, who lives just down the road from the new Cobleskill dairy plant. At lunch, Milk Not Jails announced an upcoming action to demand passage of the SAFE Parole Act, a bill that would stop the parole board from repeatedly denying people’s parole applications due to the nature of their crime, something they cannot change. Anne approached us quietly afterwards. We exchanged information just before running to our separate buses.
Anne joined us the following week on a planning call but did not say much. Our plan was this: each group on the call would organize an event or action on the same day but in a different district to demand passage of the SAFE Parole Act. She didn’t have a political or support group to work with in her town, but she was interested in doing an event at her church. She joined us, and we spent the next month making flyers, press releases and installations of letters from people in prison that groups would use at their local events.
Two days before the action, Anne called to say that the local NPR affiliate had gotten her press release and invited her to do a radio segment. She was nervous and we scrambled around to give her a media training so that she would feel prepared. We tuned in and listened nervously to the interview. We shouldn’t have worried, Anne was passionate and articulate.
Later that spring, Milk Not Jails members met up with Anne again in person. This time, she was speaking at a rally about the parole system outside of Governor Cuomo’s office. It was thrilling to hear how much louder her voice had gotten in just a few short months.
Anne is now a central figure in this political process. In October, she did the impossible. She got a meeting with Senator Patrick Gallivan.
Anne wrote, “I originally set up an appointment with him about my significant other, Bill, who is incarcerated in his district. I ended up spending an hour with Senator Gallivan who was sympathetic and willing to listen. I think we could win the SAFE Parole Act soon if we had more people like me across the state visit with him. I asked him if I could meet with him again, and he agreed to meet in January 2015. Who else do we need to bring to the meeting to turn his sympathy into commitment?”
This year, we joined with Anne and many other people for a long, hard battle to pass the SAFE Parole Act this year. We did not win passage of the bill— largely due to the Senate Republicans’ unwillingness to hear our concerns. We have been collaborating with our allies to re-strategize for next year. In 2015, Milk Not Jails will launch a statewide campaign for the SAFE Parole Act, which will include an educational video series, a touring advocacy training for prison families, and a series of escalating actions.
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