A Living Chance : Storytelling to End Life Without Parole in California

A Living Chance is a multimedia storytelling project created in collaboration with people serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) in California’s women’s prisons. People serving LWOP describe themselves as the “lost population” of the prisoner rights movement. Their sentences are so severe, they seem impossible to reverse. The majority of people serving LWOP are survivors of childhood abuse and intimate partner violence. In most cases, evidence of their abuse was not presented at their trials. Through visual storytelling, A Living Chance will humanize the LWOP population and make visible the struggles and resiliency of these people who are, essentially, sentenced to die in prison.

Through audio recordings, interviews, letters, and photographs we will document and archive the stories of people sentenced to LWOP. These stories will be compiled into a website and publication to be used for public education, broader campaign work against LWOP, and to support individual cases. This project emerges from the current organizing inside prison—specifically the work of incarcerated members of California Coalition for Women Prisoners, a grassroots social justice organization with members inside and outside of prison.

By carrying the voices of this lost population beyond the prison walls, A Living Chance has the potential to affect cultural and legislative change, thus giving those sentenced to LWOP in California a living chance at freedom.

Go to the donation page here: A Living Chance donation page

March with us at Pittsburgh Pride

Members of Let’s Get Free will march with New Voices Pittsburgh – This Sunday! Meetings at 11am at Boulevard of the Allies and Grant. New Voices says – Are you ready to show your #BlackPride?!

Boulevard of the Allies and Cherry Street – click here for a map and directions.
Let any of the Pride Staff know you are with New Voices Pittsburgh when you arrive and they will direct you to our specific position for the March.
If you have any issue, call or text 412.450.0290.

Calling all Black #LGBTQ & allies to walk with @NewVoicesPgh in the Pride March, 6/15,  Text 412.450.0290 to walk. #NVP #ReproJustice After the march we will engage and tell the story of our two proud sisters behind bars! Free Avis! Free Charmaine!



New ACLU Report Examines Devastating Impact of Solitary Confinement on Women


Date of Alert:  Thursday, April 24, 2014

Today, the ACLU released Worse than Second Class: Solitary Confinement of Women in the United States. Recognizing that women in solitary are often ignored, the report examines the gendered impact of solitary and issues a series of recommendations. These recommendations assume that vulnerable populations will continue to be incarcerated and focus on ameliorating the harmful effects of solitary.

Further Harming Those with Mental Illness

Nearly seventy-five percent of incarcerated womenhave been diagnosed with mental illness, a rate much higher than that of their male counterparts. The report notes that a disturbing number of women with mental illness are held in solitary, sometimes for behavior that is beyond their control. Mental health experts recognize that long-term isolation is harmful for anyone, but particularly for those with pre-existing mental illness.

Recommendation: People (of all genders) with mental illness should never be held in isolation. Furthermore, women should be evaluated by competent and qualified practitioners to assess their medical and mental health conditions before being placed in solitary.

Re-Traumatizing Survivors of Past Abuse and Increasing Likelihood of Future Abuse

The majority of incarcerated women have reported past physical or sexual abuse. The lack of contact, human interaction and mental stimulation contribute to psychological deterioration for people who have experienced abuse. In addition, across the country, women in solitary areregularly supervised by male guards even when showering, changing clothes and using the toilet.

Solitary confinement also places a woman at greater risk for physical and/or sexual abuse by prison staff. Isolated from the general population, these abuses are easier for staff to hide.

Recommendation: Women’s histories of mental illness, trauma, abuse and sexual assault should be taken into account before placing them in solitary.

Punishing Women Who Report Abuse or Neglect

Prison staff utilize solitary to punish women for reporting abuse or neglect. Women who have complained about sexual abuse by prison staff are frequently placed in solitary confinement while their complaints are investigated. The threat of solitary often discourages other women from reporting abuse or neglect.

Women who report neglect have also been placed in isolation. The report highlights the case of Carol Lester, a 73-year-old grandmother who was placed in solitary confinement in a CCA-run prison for almost five weeks after complaining about inadequate medical care. She filed suit against the prison, arguing that placing her in solitary was retaliation for her complaints. She was released on probation/parole shortly after her story hit the media.

Recommendation: Solitary should never be used as a retaliatory measure. Qualified auditors should be specifically tasked with ensuring that people who report abuse are not placed in solitary confinement.

Punishing Children

Noting that the majority of incarcerated women are mothers, the report found that placing women in solitary negatively affects their children. Many women’s prisons are far from the areas in which mothers and children lived before incarceration. The distance, travel time and expense make visitation difficult and sometimes infrequent.

Placement in solitary makes these visits even more difficult. Visitation for people in solitary is often limited. Visits are often conducted through a glass partition or, as some states move towards video conferencing for visits, through a video monitor. Neither option allows a child the opportunity to hug her mother or hold hands. At other times, people in solitary are not allowed visits at all. Both undermine a mother’s efforts to remain connected to her children.

Recommendation: Contact visits with children should be allowed for all people. Family visitation should be encouraged.

Harming Pregnant Women

In addition to being inhumane, placing pregnant women in solitary confinement often jeopardizes their access to prenatal care.

Although the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (known as the Bangkok Rules) prohibit the placement of pregnant or nursing women in solitary confinement, jails and prisons across the U.S. continue to place pregnant and postpartum women in solitary.

Recommendation: Pregnant and nursing women should never be held in solitary confinement.

Isolating Trans Women

Solitary confinement is also utilized for trans women sent to male prisons. Justifying this placement as “protective custody” rather than punitive segregation, prisons place trans women in solitary units where they have little to no access to human contact, educational programs, exercise or recreation. Trans women in protective custody are subject to the same rules as people in punitive segregation—they are allowed out of their cell only one hour each day and allowed to shower only a few times a week. In addition, placing trans women in solitary increases their vulnerability to harassment and assault by prison staff.

Recommendation: Prison officials should not utilize isolation to protect vulnerable people. Those who may require extra protection should have access to the same programs, privileges and services as people in the general population.

The report also recommends:

  • That solitary be used only as a last resort and for as short a duration as possible;
  • That all jails and prisons have uniform written policies about solitary confinement practices and procedures. Policies should include written notification informing people about the reason for and duration of their placement; processes by which a person can earn privileges, such as access to commissary and visitation; and ways in which a person can earn release from solitary;
  • That all jails and prisons be required to regularly and publicly report details on people held in solitary, including the number, gender, duration, available alternatives and the reason why these alternatives were not utilized. There are currently no uniform state or federal data available about solitary confinement.

Although the ACLU recognizes that a high percentage of women are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, none of the recommendations focus on reducing the potential impact of solitary confinement by reducing the number of people sent to jails and prisons. All of the above recommendations assume that people with mental illnesses, histories of trauma and abuse, pregnancies or primary caregiving responsibilities will continue to be incarcerated. Their recommendations are important steps for ensuring the safety of people currently behind bars.

But more ambitious goals would call for building alternatives not just to solitary confinement but to the default policy of locking people up in the first place.

Get on the Bus! Free Her Rally in DC!!

freeherimage copyFamilies For Justice As Healing presents:

Free Her Rally

6/21/14 10am-2pm, National Mall, D.C.

Contact New Voices if you want to go from Pittsburgh:

Support incarcerated women like @FreeMarissaNow at the Free HER Rally, 6/21 in Washington, DC. Ride with the #Pgh delegation – #NVP is providing scholarships! Text 412.450.0290 if interested. #ReproJustice #WOC https://www.facebook.com/events/1421368641458909/

Calling all women and supporters to
(1) raise awareness of the increase in the rate of incarceration of women in the United States and the impact on our children and communities,
(2) Demand an end to voter disenfranchisement for people with felony convictions and
(3)  Insure President Obama commutes the sentences of women and men in the federal system who have applied for commutation.

The number of women in prison, a third of whom are incarcerated for drug offenses, is increasing at nearly double the rate for men. This must change.

Operation Public Hearing Support for Avis Lee!

All Hands on Deck!!
Let’s Get Free The Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee
is preparing for the hopeful and potential good news that Avis Lee will be granted a public hearing.
avis crossstichAvis was sentenced to life without parole under the Murder Felony Conviction Rule and has served 34 years in prison for her role as lookout for a robbery which ended in the unfortunate death of Mr. Robert Walker.
We believe she deserves a second chance. More information on Avis’s case here
Avis applied for commutation in 2011 and could be assigned a public hearing any day now and we want to pack the courtroom. Will you come to Harrisburg with us to show your support? If you can’t attend can you help in other ways? In addition to attending the public hearing you can support by helping with logistics, blasting your social media and email contacts, or lending a car for others to use in carpool.  All help is greatly appreciated! Fill out the form below or contact etta at 443-603-6964 – writealetta(at)gmail

 And..If  You Haven’t Already, Please Take 5 Minutes To Sign the Petition This small act DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE. We want to walk into that hearing with 1,000 online signatures in addition to all the physical ones we have received.

Abolitionist Visions: A Fundraiser to Fight the Prison State

Members of Let’s Get Free supported last Saturday’s benefit for the Abolitionist Law Center. It was a night of poetry, song, hip-hop, fellowship and prison abolition at the Bricolage Theatre in downtown Pittsburgh.

If you didn’t get a chance to go consider making a donation. The ALC is representing Charmaine and we support all their amazing efforts!The Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm inspired by the struggle of political and politicized prisoners, and organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States. – http://abolitionistlawcenter.org/

Performers included:

Joy KMT – self-taught&queer&black&femme&hood&poet&mother&lover&. She works from the possibility of the personal to be collectively transformational. Her work often blends the magical with the reality of living at the crossroads of multiplicities. Website: http://joykmt.com/   Joy read the following article which you can read on the website Black Girl Dangerous.

DangeJoy-KMTr, Discrimination, Heartache, and Triumph: Being a Black Mother


BeLove and Bee McBryde the amazing MC!

Blak Rapp Madusa – Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Mel Carter also known as Blak Rapp Madusa emerges from the ghetto streets of Pennsylvania, taking the conscious music movement by storm. Through melodic lyricism this rapper/activist/poet paints a vivid picture of the black experience in America, the black nationalist movement, social and political justice ideologies interwoven with the spiritual inspiration of Islam. This artist is on a mission for change by spreading a positive message and a call to action for all oppressed people. Website: http://www.reverbnation.com/blakrappmadusa

Jacquea Mae – an amazing singer, actress,and spoken word artist that has graced the mic at several open mic events, theatrical productions, & has featured as a singer at many venues throughout the city of Pgh,PA. Ms. Mae continues to receive rave reviews for her powerful, often passionate, free, uninhibited, soulful, from the gut performances. Website: http://www.reverbnation.com/jacqueamae4

BeLove Sanaa – musician, singer, songwriter https://www.facebook.com/be.love.90

SPEAKERS included:

image_5Terrell Johnson & Saundra Cole – After being framed for a murder he did not commit in 1994 in the Hazelwood murder of Pittsburgh, Terrell Johnson and his wife Saundra Cole set out on a mission to free him. In 2012 he was released from 17 years in prison after being acquitted at a retrial.






Donna Hill – President of Fight for Lifers West and mother of Charmaine Pfender, an Abolitionist Law Center client who has spent 29 years in prison for killing a man who was attempting to rape her. Self-defense is not a crime!







Jasmine Gonzales-Rose – Critical Race scholar, University of Pitt Law Professor, and Abolitionist Law Center board member




Russell the Third and etta cetera met for the first time!


Russell Shoatz III son of political prisoner/prisoner of war, and Abolitionist Law Center client, Russell Maroon Shoatz

Bret Grote – Co-founder and executive director of the Abolitionist Law Center


One of the children pulled the fire alarm and we couldn’t figure out how to stop it even with the firefighters help.  Russell and Black Rapp Madusa finished up the event in the ally alongside of the theatre. So fun! Thanks to Bee McBryde and all the HRC-FedUP crew for helping out with this great event!

image_1 image_2image

Shadae Schmidt died of Heart Attack at CIW Prison

Shadae Schmidt (aka Dae Dae) was a 32-year old African-American woman who died of a heart attack last Thursday, March 13th, 2014 at CIW prison (east of LA). We suspect her death isDae Dae - Headshot due to medical negligence because she had been asking for medical help for weeks. On February 3, 2014, Shadae had a stroke and within 2 weeks she was returned back to a cell in the solitary confinement unit (SHU) where she was still in active recovery. Upon her return, she was given medication that she repeatedly told medical staff was making her very sick. Her complaints fell on deaf ears and prison staff continued giving her the same medication which we believe led to her death on March 13th.

Shadae’s death is a terrible tragedy and one that happens far too often in California prisons because of severe medical neglect. We are asking for as many people as possible to call in and demand that the federal medical receiver’s office conduct an investigation into Shadae’s death immediately, before the prison tries to cover anything up.

Please pick up your phone now and call the Inmate Healthcare Inquiry Line: (916) 691-1404 to ask for an investigation into Shadae Schmidt’s untimely death (please reference her CDCR # W97014 and location at CIW). Just leave this request as a message after the prompts.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support!

Questions: contact Jayda at (562) 612-5816 or Colby (CCWP) at (415) 234-3837.