Why Mothers for Justice and Equality Matters

From the Mothers for Justice and Equality website, from Day 1 Conference, Oct. 19, 2017

Mothers for Justice and Equality (MJE) held its national conference on October 19th and 20th, and true to its mission, shared the voices and visions of those across the country who came to Boston with messages about the fight against violence.

The video above gives a short summary of the conference and highlights some of the stupendous work of President Monalisa Smith, as well as many other supporters and members of MJE.

According to the MJE website, the organization was founded by mothers who lost children to community violence. What was stressed throughout the conference is that the pain of a mother who has lost a child to death or prison is palatable, tragic, relentless. Such violence is “not okay” and “not acceptable in any child’s life.” To help those left behind who deal with ongoing loss, MJE developed the “You Matter: Personal Leadership Training” in 2013. In 2014, MJE began a Youth Peer Leadership program, and a year later, a Workforce Readiness Initiative. In 2015, they expanded to work with prisoners inside and help those formerly incarcerated men and women coming back to their communities.

 “When my son died, a part of me died,” a woman said in a short video that kicked off the conference, highlighting MJE’s work. Another woman who first dealt with trauma by drinking eventually found MJE, but not before wanting to destroying herself. “To most mothers, justice has never been about getting revenge,” she said.

Reverend Janie Dowdy-Dandridge talked of how she lost her grandson to street violence. “Everybody has a breaking point, ” she said, quoting the story of Rizpah, a mother of murdered sons from the Old Testament, a woman who was like many: “beat down by death, defeat, or discouragement.” But she found her way. Likewise, Victor Santana, who lost his brother in a tragic accident, saw how stress seeped into his daily life, and coped by developing a workshop on resilience. Robin David, from Tennessee, lost her son, and has since become a motivational speaker. “My goal is to help women learn to live in their truth,” she said.

While there were many panels and speakers that gave hope to those who had been victims of violence, there were a variety of participants, indicative of a variety of perspectives. One participant said that she attended because, “I need to learn how to hold on to my son.”  Boston Mayor Marty Walsh addressed the conference and spoke highly of MJE’s work, saying he had now established an Office of Returning Citizens, and is working on hiring more men and women returning home from prison. he said, “Kids need to feel they belong even if they are just coming out of jail.” 


An interesting panel included three young black men talking on race and justice from a youth perspective. When they were asked “What do you think of when you hear the term race and justice?” they gave a variety of answers. Cedric said he thought of young Black males losing their lives, which  “challenges me on a daily basis.” He added that the membership of the police force “doesn’t reflect us or our community.”

Corine asked “What is race and why is it called race?” He pointed out the irony of the word “race” as in running, used as a verb, and implying a “best,” i.e. “Race matters because we are running a race.” And “When I am just walking down my street, why aren’t police officers speaking to me? Would they, if I were white?”

Shaygun said “Race informs justice.” He clarified: “It may not be a definable term, but I know when it exists. I shouldn’t be in the streets demanding something that my grandmother demanded 50 years ago. Justice means resolving issues still plaguing us today.”

They all said that injustice is informed by simple things like busses not coming as frequently in Mattapan as in Brighton. Air pollution is worse in communities of color, they agreed. Cedric said that free time is toxic for him. If he is with friends who hang out on his street, he is constantly harassed. An example he gave was when police assumed that when he gave $3.00 to a friend for “munchies,” it was a drug transaction.Three Young Men at MJEPhoto by MJE 

The title of this conference was “Empowering Women to Action.” And MJE’s operating model, per their website, hinges on two key mechanisms: “1) Education empowers MJE members by providing the leadership tools they need to take action and make change; and 2) Engagement includes public actions and campaigns that challenge the normalization of violence, providing members with opportunities to act as catalysts for change at home and advocates for change in their community.”

This conference is a great tool to both educate and give participants a boost towards action.

US Parole Activists Aim to Overhaul a Failing System

“Prisoner” (Image Courtesy of Ade McOren-Campbell / Flickr

Hey folks, please s
ee my newest article at Truthout. Here’s how it begins:

“The United States has the shameful reputation of being the world’s largest jailer, and as the Prison Policy Initiative reported in March, 2017, 2.3 million people are currently locked up in prisons and jails. This mass incarceration continues in spite of the fact that a Brennan Center for Justice report shows that crime is down and rates remain near historic lows.

Furthermore, our punishment system extends beyond the prison walls and includes destructive parole policies. “Max Out,” a 2014 Pew Charitable Trusts report, details that over the past three decades, those sent to prison have been serving longer sentences. They are less likely to earn parole, the opportunity to finish one’s sentence in the community. This occurs in spite of the fact that research shows that longer sentences do not make us safer and do not prevent people from returning to prison, even as they cost more.

But here’s the good news: Activists across the county are seeking remedies for people impacted by this failing parole system, and in some cases, changing the system itself.” more

Prison Abolition Conference


Rachel and Elly

Please read and share my newest on Truthout: “Abolitionists From Around the World Gather to Plan for the End of Prisons.” It starts like so: “In July 2017 more than 200 people from across the globe met for four days in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which was once home to abolitionist Frederick Douglass and a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Meeting intentionally in a place with such historical significance to the abolition movement, conferees came together to learn more about the relationship between the carceral state and struggles against colonialism and slavery.”

Above is a picture of Massachusetts activists Elly Kaulfis (R) and Rachel Corey (L), not included in the article but there workshop is discussed

ACTION ALERT: July 11/12 calls for Parole Reform!


I am posting this important notice for Massachusetts from the Steering Committee of the Coalition for Effective Public Safety (CEPS).

As many of you know, there have been hearings by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary this summer on many bills that are important to everyone fighting for justice. One area which is crucial, but unfortunately not on everyone’s radar, is parole. The Coalition for Effective Public Safety is writing to urge you to TAKE ACTION TUESDAY-WEDNESDAY THIS WEEK and contact members of the Judiciary Committee to support “An Act Related to Parole,” S.779 (Sen. William Brownsberger) and H.3121 (Rep. Dave Rogers). A Fact Sheet on these parole bills–they are the same–is attached to this email. We have also heard that the Senate will be deciding its priorities on Wednesday, July 12th. Parole reform is crucial if we want to end mass incarceration.

Why we need these bills to become law now

1) They increases Parole Board membership from seven to nine members and requires six members to sit as the full Board for all lifer release hearings. At present, prisoners serving non-life State Prison sentences and House of Correction sentences are not receiving their parole hearings on time.  Some Prisoners’ parole eligibility dates come and go without a parole hearing.  Also, prisoners serving life sentences generally wait between six and eight months for their parole decisions.  Additional Board members will help to correct these serious problems.

These bills also require that at least three members of the Parole Board have at least five years of experience in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work, or the treatment of substance use disorder. They also requires that one member be a licensed mental health professional.   Our Parole Board needs members with more diversity of experience in order to  effectively evaluate the people seeking parole who come before it.  

At presentonly one of six members, Dr. Charlene Bonner, has extensive clinical experience as a forensic psychologist. (There is one vacancy) There is no one on the Board with education and experience in clinical social work, psychiatry, medicine or sociology. The Board’s background is primarily in the area of law enforcement. This is not sufficient for the number of prisoners who have mental health issues, substance abuse issues or both (approximately 70% all prisoners).

Additionally, the Parole Board holds over 10,000 hearings a year, where members travel across the state, and in one, two or three-person panels, hear cases. That number includes 200 hearings with the full board for those serving life sentences eligible for parole. That means our one psychologist has no contact with the vast majority of persons seeking parole.  We need Board members who are better trained to evaluate and predict behavior.  That is what parole is all about and the result will be better informed and fairer decisions . There is currently no mechanism to ensure that our Parole Board has the education and skills necessary for well-informed, fair decisions that promotepublic safety.

2)  The Council of State Government data on Massachusetts confirms that we are paroling prisoners at a very low rate and forcing many parole eligible people to wrap up their sentences and transition home with no help and no oversight: in 2015, only 19% of parole eligible prisoners in our Houses of Correction were released on parole; in that same year, while 46.4% of those serving DOC sentences received positive votes for parole, 18% of that group max out and [were] not released to parole supervision. CSG’s research concluded that we need to reduce our prison population through parole. These bills would help us assure that prisoners would not be judged solely on the underlying offense but on positive program accomplishments, detailed post-release plans, strong evidence of rehabilitation and low risk assessment scores. The bills incentivize good behavior and engagement in educational, vocational, and rehabilitative programming by creating a sense that parole release is the individual’s to lose. The parole rate will improve and Massachusetts will save money $5000 to supervise one parolee vs. $53,000 to house a state prisoner.



Co-Chairs are William Brownsberger (Senate) and Claire Cronin (House). Please call the Senate Contact for the Judiciary Committee (617)-722-1280 and the House Contact (617) 722-2396

Tell them: “As a concerned resident of Massachusetts, I am urging the Judiciary Committee to report out favorably parole bills S.779 and H.3121.” 

If you can make a third phone call, listed below are the members of the Judiciary Committee. Click on the names below and you can get their contact info and the areas they represent. If any committee members are your legislators, it would be helpful for you to contact them too. This is a time sensitive issue so thank you for your ACTION NOW!


Senate Members

William N. Brownsberger 

Sonia Chang-Diaz 
Vice Chair

House Members

Claire D. Cronin 

James M. Cantwell 
Vice Chair


FACT SHEET ON PAROLE BILLS available upon request.