Cops, Courts & Prisons

PRISONER-LED NETWORK PRESSES FIGHT FOR PRISON JUSTICE

Originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, printed February 17. Reproduced here in for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in this issue or download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

Lynetta Thompson, a leading member of the Richmond VAPJN chapter, addresses the 3rd Annual Virginia Prison Justice Rally Jan. 20 at Capitol Square. Photo by Phil Wilayto.

By Lynetta Thompson

The 3rd Annual Virginia Prison Justice Rally, sponsored by the Virginia Prison Justice Network, was held Jan. 11, 2020, on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol. This year’s rally was preceded the day before by a press conference, held in the briefing room of the General Assembly building and covered by TV stations CBS-6, ABC-8 and NBC-12, as well as several newspaper outlets.

The purpose of the press conference was to draw attention to the rally and highlight the different bills our partnering organization are advocating for to bring about prison justice reform, and to draw attention to the many injustices that exist within our prison laws and policies.

Addressing the media were representatives from the ACLU of Virginia; Resource, Information, Help for the Disadvantaged & Disenfranchised (RIHD); Rise for Youth; Bridging the Gap Virginia; Humanization Project; and the Coalition to End Solitary Confinement. In addition, statements were read from Askari Danso and Hassan Shabazz, longtime prisoners and co-founders of the VAPJN and Prisoner of Conscience.

The Jan. 11 rally gathered approximately 200 supporters. There was great diversity in the crowd, with ages ranging from young teens to those well into their 70s or more, with Muslims, Latinx, Blacks and whites showing support. The majority were family members of prisoners housed at the various correctional centers throughout Virginia.

Written statements from 12 different facilities were mailed to the Prison Justice Network. A total of 10 letters were read, each with a minute-and-a-half time frame, followed by an open mic for persons formerly incarcerated and family members who wanted to speak or read a letter from their loved one. These speakers were also given a minute and-a-half to speak.

Partnering advocacy organizations were given one minute each to speak on the bills they are presenting to the General Assembly to harness support for committee hearings on that proposed bill. In this way, a large number of people were able to address the crowd, with the emphasis on statements by prisoners, former prisoners and families of those incarcerated.

After the rally, about 30 people attended a meeting at Second Baptist Church in the nearby Randolph neighborhood to exchange more information and discuss lobbying at the General Assembly.

Founded in 2018, the Virginia Prison Justice Network is an all-volunteer, prisonerled coalition working for justice in the Virginia prison and criminal justice systems. The VAPJN has a website (https://vapjn. wordpress.com) and a printed newsletter that reaches virtually all Virginia prison facilities. The network has sponsored local Speak-Outs for Prison Justice in Hampton, Richmond and Roanoke; supported prisoner-activists facing repression for their activism; and developed a coordinated plan to address legislation in the Virginia General Assembly.

We are always looking for volunteers to host local Speak-Outs or to help strengthen the network with your media or administrative skills.

For more information, contact the VAPJN: Phone/Text: 804-644-5834 – Email: VirginiaPrisonjusticenetwork@gmail.com.

Lynetta Thompson is an activist with Community Unity in Action and a leading member of the Richmond chapter of VAPJN.

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