Outtakes from the Josh Wall Vote

0908_h_WALL-300x160Parole Board Chair Josh Wall was confirmed to be a judge in Massachusetts yesterday. It was a 5-3 vote, certainly not an overwhelming sign of approval by the Governor’s Council, and certainly, for many of us—community activists, lawyers, families of parolees, incarcerated men and women, and educators— disappointing (see my columns below). Here are some of the things I heard councilors say, many of which were powerful and many, infuriating, and some, just plain wrong, as they told why they were or were not voting for Josh Wall. Included are also some details not reported in the press.

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It was interesting that Governor Patrick was there for this vote, in the antechamber outside his office where votes are held around a round table, crowded with onlookers, and in this case, reporters. In fact he made an entrance, as if this was a big deal. Usually it is the Lieutenant Governor, and Tim Murray, who resigned in 2013, and would have been a tiebreaker in any 4-4 vote. But the Governor does not vote, and who knows if he was showing up just to make sure all went well for his friend? Who knows if the reason he asked Oliver Cipollini to give the opening prayer was so that Cipollini might look good before the assembly after the Boston Herald article from that day? In that article, Howie Carr, intimated that since Cipollini was defeated in his reelection as councilor, he would get payback if he voted for Wall; he asked: “Now that the voters have spoken, are you looking for a soft landing in the hackerama?” There was also more about this on Fox news last night.

But it was business as usual, as Cipollini vigorously denied these allegations, exasperated and squirming in his chair—a new one Governor Patrick had just provided for him and fellow councilor Marilyn Devaney. The prayer he gave asked the Council to reflect on public safety and how the council plays its role in such. Hmmmmmm, I thought. That’s a prayer? Then before the usual order of business, there was the pledge of allegiance.

Two other judges before Wall were put forth to be voted on first, and Councilor Bob Jubinville, who had been vigorous in his disapproval of Wall, said ironically both times when it came up to approve the other judges, “I congratulate the Governor on his nominees, I didn’t hear one objection from any source, defense lawyer or prosecutor, about his character, his fairness, or his integrity on these nominees.”

Terrence Kennedy put forth Josh Wall to be judge. Christopher Iannella seconded. Thus everyone knew: two Yeses. The Governor then asked for comments.

The first to speak against him was Jubinville who said that what he heard in three days of hearings from Wall’s handling of all his work had convinced him to vote no. He cited Brady v Maryland as a decision on exculpatory evidence, the Willy Davis issues where Wall went behind the judge’s back to find out the criminal records of the jury leading to a trial in his favor, the patterns of Josh Wall’s behavior as a prosecutor including some attacks of him as racist, and as Parole Board chair, the overwhelming support against him. Someone must have suggested that this was a “conspiracy” because Jubinville said to suggest so was foolishness. He ended by citing the Carr newspaper report and saying that Wall does not have the temperament to be a superior court judge. His vote was No.

Next up was Jennie Caissie who said, “The opposition to this nominee is historic.” She said that it is not just the number of people who showed up but “the magnitude of opposition to this nominee.The spectrum of people who showed up cannot be understated.”  Again she noted the conspiracy theory that someone (Wall? the Governor?) had floated. Her concern included the Woodmans, victims whom she believed when they talked about treatment from Josh Wall. She said she had been contacted by former colleagues from the Suffolk District Attorney’s office, and one of them even used the word “God complex” in talking about Wall.

“I voted for Josh Wall twice,” Cassie said, but I think it takes a completely different set of skills to be a judge. “These are not disgruntled defendants or prisoner rights people,” but a variety of people “all drawing the same conclusion,” she said. She ended with probably the best quote of the day: “We keep coming back to the word arrogance. And once you put a black robe on a person, they don’t become less arrogant.” Her vote was No.

Eileen Duff managed to get facts wrong as she explained why she was voting Yes for Wall. She said that she had gone back and listened to tapes of the three-day hearing—this she said, is how she makes her decisions— and listened “to what the folks who came in said against Wall. And in listening to Patricia Garin’s testimony, I was really struck by two things.” Here is where Duff totally screwed up her understandings. She twisted Patty Garin’s words, absurdly saying Garin supported Cinelli’s release (Maybe she had said  he looked good at the time on paper, Ms. Duff? Parole is a man-made system, Ms Duff, and there will be mistakes, see my article here. The whole Board voted to release him). Wall based new systems on his Cinelli clean-up, yes, because Patrick was under fire. But no, Ms. Duff, you don’t know this: “If the parole rules Josh Wall had in place today, Cinelli never would have happened.” And she obviously did not hold much weight in the repercussions of the system that has been put in place by Wall and affected many parolees: Lifers wait months for decisions; our lifer paroling rate has gone down and this is against public safety. It was pretty clear that Duff didn’t believe the White Paper on Parole which laid out Josh Wall’s disastrous record, or did she believe any of the facts about the seven month delays in hearings getting word to parolees. Her vote was a resounding ring of support for Wall but maybe as much for Patrick. He did wish her Happy Birthday at the end of the hearing.

Marilyn Devaney’s testimony went on and on and on, and frankly she sounded as if she had been coached. Of course it is possible that she managed to research and believe all of the glowing things witnesses said about Wall and to disbelieve all of the witnesses against him. Her big phrase of the day was “character assassination” of which she spoke on and on, accusing all those who testified against Wall of lying: parolee Donald Perry, Reverend Jason Lydon, a law student — all lied. Since Wall also felt they lied, she seemed to be echoing his words. She also defended Wall on the accusation by esteemed attorney Willy Davis who felt Wall’s getting jury backgrounds was a “win at all cost” attitude. She said she was grateful for all those who contacted her in opposition and she tried to contact them back– but I tried and know of many others whose calls she did not return. She voted Yes. Cipollini voted Yes. 

Michael Albano had sent a letter in last week to the Governor indicating he could not support the nomination of Josh Wall. He did not give a speech.

It was amazing that a man who generated this much opposition–hearings that went on for weeks–after his nomination in July, stands as a superior court judge, confirmed in a bit less than a 2/3 vote, which is what a parolee in Massachusetts must get to be released. But whereas Wall feels unanimous decisions are good for the Parole Board, I am certain he was glad he didn’t have to have a unanimous decision here.

I would suggest letting your councilors know how you feel about their vote on Josh Wall. I, for one, will be working against my governor’s councilor (Duff) when her term comes up. It is important to follow some of these races because now there are many judges (13?) who still will need to be approved (or not) before the Governor leaves office.

The best news story is reporter David Boeri’s from WBUR http://jeantrounstine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/news_1015_josh-wall-confirmed.mp3

But even that report doesn’t get into the impact this decision will have on our courts. Let’s hope for the sake of thousands of men and women who will come before him, that Josh Wall’s life from here on out tries to prove those who do not believe he will be a fair judge–wrong.

#ejpsymposium Day 2

Day 2 of the Education Justice Project symposium began with a session on the Politics & Ethics of Higher Education in Prison. The moderator of the panel was Earl Walker, an alum of EJP, and he said that higher education in prison truly is “the new civil rights movement.”

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Erin Castro, up first, talked about working with scholars on the inside (pictured above with her students on the screen) and said that she presents her scholarship at national conferences and has a manuscript under review, an ms. completed with those same students. Nationally, she noted, we are not so advanced and said that only 6% of such potential scholars have access to post secondary education. But the surprise is, such education not only reduces recidivism, it is transformative education, per Paulo Freire. We cannot leave out the voices of the people inside.

After Erin, Ed Wiltse asked if prison education can return the university to core values? He said that from teaching behind bars with a mix of university and incarcerated students, the lessons he’s learned include: 1) who’s classroom, our classroom; 2) voice and authority means everyone’s 3) who’s text, our text. He then turned to Dewey: The community’s purpose is to educate and move forward.

James Kilgore (pictured above on the left) said his commitment to mass incarceration comes from his heart, and from being incarcerated as well as an educator. So when he began to cry, he moved us all. Then Wham: “I was an educator before I went to prison.” When he was in prison he wanted to teach other prisoners but the person who ran education in prison said only if you sit people in their race groups. He refused – this was a man who had been to South Africa and fought against Apartheid– so he said to that teacher, “I will get them to agree.” And the men did. From this and from his own amazing experience with EJP, he concluded: the movement of the oppressed must be lead by these who are oppressed.

Carl Walker said in some ways he felt incarcerated in higher education with a program called “college to careers.” An audience member responded to the racial segregation so enforced in prison by saying that educators need to turn to their students inside because, “We know how to navigate that space.”

In a session on peer instruction in the prison classroom, professor Jennifer Drew, mentioned that a Spanish language instruction program at BU was begun by Jose Duval, formerly incarcerated student, who spoke by phone at the conference from the Dominican Republic. One of the difficulties of being a peer tutor in the prison classroom is not being seen as a cop. But knowing the subject , he said, was not always as difficult as knowing how to convey the message. Then, Jennifer Drew, who used to run BU higher ed, was supposed to be the prof but she had students teach Spanish because they knew the language. An interesting moment for Jose was when some of the guys wanted him to tell them some of the answers on the test. But they eventually, were able to see that the tutors were serious.

Augie who was a peer instructor in an EJP carceral setting and was in an ESL program called Language Partners,  said it was initiated by a person behind bars. He felt that there was stress on his “free partners” who had to find online resources for them, because as peer teachers inside, they were not allowed resources available on the outside.  He read a paper by Elfuego Nunez who teaches, i.e. is a peer tutor, on the inside. Nunez said that he had a lot of desire to help men speak English because they wanted the power to talk to their doctors, read to their kids, and learn. For him, teaching was a honor, and while the work was voluntary and not eligible for good time, it was worth it.

The last session of the day that I went to was on Literature, and it included Sarah Higinbottom and Bill Taft from the Common Good program in Atlanta. Discussions of students gaining from making their own books, engaging in challenges such as Milton and Shakespeare are up my alley. I talked about the work I did at Framingham Women’s Prison, directing plays, showed a clip of Merchant of Venice and then poured my heart out about Changing Lives Through Literature. What a day.

#ejpsymposium first day

I have decided to write about the Education Justice Symposium which is taking place this weekend in Champaign Illinois. I will be tweeting chunks of the conference as we go along so you can get a sense of what folks from all over the country are talking about when they talk about higher Ed in prison.

From last night, here is Susan Burton from A New Way of Life who really has imaginative ideas about reentry because she began with experience. Here son was shot “accidentally” by a cop in LA and that led to years of drugs and alcohol and incarceration. But eventually she developed this program that has offered home to 750 women coming out of prison, A New Way of Life, featured here. Here she is:

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First speaker, Friday, October 10, is Rob Granite, a formerly incarcerated person, who told a moving story about watching a mother bird giving birth to babies. He saw a bird struggling after it fell out of the nest, and Rob never got to know what happened to him. He searched, wondered, discovered it had flown away. He tells the story because he identifies with building a nest inside of a precarious place. Rob said that often times, in prison, guys try to ignore that need but others get it. He said that you don’t really attach yourselves to people but he got attached to learning.

The Education Justice Program(EJP) promotes learning in a circle. The circle diffuses the power, he said, discussing his experience in prison with EJP. He has been out only weeks. Also said that in terms of those of us who teach behind bars: No way can the focus be to save people. Being conscious of what perspective a person brings to prison teaching is important. A person is the audience commented that “Everybody has a vibration rate,” and after years in a California prison realizes he needed to understand that and slow down his vibration rate.

Session Two: An incarcerated person from prison said that being an educator is activism. His words came to us through tape and audio. His name is Kemuyah and he feels he has had things withheld because of security. He said “I am unaware of any research” that goes against DOC, indicating that research and education should allowed to him. But it is. This makes it impossible for educational Justice to really exist. Most important info from him talks about how fraternization, punishment, fear, the prison reality that compromises the educational environment. “Educating incarcerated students is serious business.” And prison officials should not be able to use security to resist education or free exchange of ideas. Security must be detrimental I.e. Let’s take the shackles off educators.

When we were able to go into Danville Prison that evening, where papers were given to and by prisoners in the program. I quoted Angela Davis’s words to Kemuyah: “Prisons are an incubator of outdated ideologies,” I said, and asked him to comment on that in relationship to his paper and to all the barriers he had experienced. Isn’t that common, to be expected, I wondered? A discussion ensued where the most interesting comment came from another prisoner  who said that it was up to prisoners to open up those barriers and essentially be the change: “As citizens we need to update outdated measures.” It was an incredibly powerful moment that showed more than any other to me what EJP fostered in its program.

I was also impressed earlier in the day by Haneed Shakur, a former student who told us the impact on himself in taking the program where he was in school in prison from 8:30am to 2:30pm. He said education gave him power; and he learned to write. He began reacting to quotes that made sense to him: Ghandi, Martin Luther King Etc. and these he  was exposed to first by a teacher when he was in Cook County Jail. Most crucial for him about EJP is that he never felt like an incarcerated person but always was treated as a student.

EJP also presented Barbara Lawrence who was a former prosecutor and police officer—not your average combination to become an activist. She teaches CJ students and said “We are talking about cops, courts, and corrections.”  The standard low level criminal pursued by cops, in the so-called War on Drugs, she gradually got to know was false. But financial incentive to arrest and only arresting people of color did exist. She uses the Michelle Alexander discussion to point out why police do not go to rich neighborhoods to get drug users there. When she questioned things, she was transferred. Ultimately she became a prosecutor and hated the fact that she didn’t believe in some of the laws that she had to convict people of breaking. Then she became a public defender and now teaches in a community and Justice program at Guillford College. She left us asking us to think about what is going on in all aspects of this system. And lie Susan Burton, the night before said that the next big fight will be against police brutality.

Today, I’ll leave  you with the words of Michael Brawn, another student from EJP who said “Humanities-based education can help us to be better men.” It wasn’t until freedom was taken away that he realized the freedom in education.” While there is a weekend of resistance in Ferguson Missouri, where the name “Michael Brown” resonated for me as I looked at so many of the men of color who live at Danville, it was almost appalling to think they were safer growing up with an EJP education than to grow up on the streets.