By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – The stories of formerly incarcerated people—some wrongly convicted and others turning their lives around after getting caught up in the system—were on full display last week during an awards ceremony hosted by non-profits helping the formerly incarcerated.
The event was co-hosted by Carl Robinson of Black Zebra Charity as well as Leslie Robinson (no relation) of Trance4mation Nation who created Recharge to facilitate former incarcerated people to help them reconnect with their family and friends through ice breaker questions.
The Life After Time Video Series “provides an authentic and intimate window into the experience of life lived behind bars, and the human toll this experience exacts on human beings, while offering a solution to heal the wounds of incarceration for those impacted.
“This series asks questions from the Recharge Beyond the Bars Communication game, (www.rechargethegame.com) presently utilized in 90 prisons and jails, and numerous community organizations, as well as amongst friends and family. Recharge is portable, inexpensive, and easily facilitated and utilized by people directly impacted, with minimal to no training. Outcomes have proven decreased feelings of isolation, increased communication and social skills, understanding and processing of trauma and life experiences, more trust in others, connection, and much more.
“Millions of individuals and family members have been deeply impacted by incarceration, with no way to process or to heal these traumatic experiences, or to bridge gaps with one another. We are offering a proven resource, presently utilized by thousands of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, through which ‘each one can heal one.’ Let us bring healing to the invisible wounds borne by tens of millions of our brothers and sisters.”
Among the performers was Archie Williams, who was wrongly convicted and spent 37 years in prison before getting exonerated. Williams, now a performer, was featured on America’s Got Talent.
Jeffrey Deskovic, who was wrongly convicted and incarcerated from age 17 to 32 before being proven innocent through DNA testing, is now an attorney and working to free the innocent through the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice.
Deskovic presented the awards to nine people—each of them with their own amazing stories.
“For tonight’s purpose, I’m so proud to partner with Leslie Robinson,” he said. “Leslie created the Recharge beyond the bars re-entry game. And I partnered with her on it as far as financing that as my way of giving back.”
He said that “while I was wrongfully incarcerated, I was helped in various ways by people who were rightly convicted.”
The first group awarded was the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, “which works to end mass incarceration in California to ensure communities are safe, healthy, and whole ARC empowers formerly and currently incarcerated people to thrive by providing a support network, comprehensive re-entry services and opportunities to advocate for policy change.”
Raeshone Robinson in receiving the award noted, “ARC has been a tremendous help in my life.”
Raeshone spent 22 years in prison and it was ARC that helped her when she got out to reconnect to the community and even get simple things like a cell phone and the like.
“I got all three of my jobs through ARC,” she said and, importantly, she is giving back now, as a life coach for ARC.
“ARC is an organization that is run by a bunch of famous people that want to see formerly incarcerated folks win in life,” she said. “And that believe in second chances.
“I want to thank all of you guys for wanting to see us move beyond the stigma of incarcerated people and how they are and the way we live our lives,” she added.
She added that “we are not those criminals or those bad people that you see or that you see on the news. We are just actually normal. Just want to live our life.”
The next group awarded was the Young Women’s Freedom Center.
“They empower, inspire, assist and train young women, trains young men and gender expansive young people who’ve been disproportionately impacted by incarceration, racist and sexist policies, juvenile criminal justice systems and the underground street economy to create positive change in their lives and communities.”
April Grayson who also works at ARC as a life coach, in receiving the award noted that the day was Juneteenth where they celebrate the end of slavery, “but honestly I don’t think we should be celebrating because it’s not like we have really obtained victory yet.”
Grayson explained, “Today I was at the Capitol, I’m on the coalition and a co-sponsor of ACA3, the bill that will put the abolishment of slavery on the Constitution. So we’re going to bring that to the people… California will be a free state.”
“It’s not a free state right now,” she said. “As long as people are incarcerated, give free labor in California. We are not free.”
For her, “I’m also a criminalized survivor. So all the protections awarded to people who are victims of crime weren’t awarded to me. They sent me to prison and did not penalize or put the person in jail who actually was the person who committed the crime.”
But now she has been home for six years out of prison.
She said that they fight for survivors and “people have done some shit, we fight for them too. We fight for everybody because everybody deserves to be humanized.”
The organization honored was Pops the Club represented by Amy Friedman, the executive director.
“They are transforming shame and stigma caused by the experiences with the carceral system into hope and dignity, to support shared experiences and a loving community that encourages self-expression.”
Amy co-founded Pops the Club with her husband Dennis Danziger.
She explained that 28 years ago she was a newspaper columnist who went into a prison to learn about how it worked and met and fell in love with a man who was in prison, they got married and helped to raise his two daughters who were very young when they came to live with her.
They are since divorced, but she explained that “what I learned first of all, was what prison was, what prison did to people and what prison did to people’s families who were incarcerated and most of all to the kids who have loved ones who are in prisons.”
She explained that her girls “really haven’t ever healed from that.”
After she married her new husband, who was a high school teacher, she would talk to students and learn that many of their parents were in prison as well.
“One in 14 children in the United States has a parent who is, or has been incarcerated. We work with kids who have parents, siblings, other loved ones. So it’s a massive issue,” she explained.
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