Cops, Courts & Prisons


Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2023 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 71, printed March 22. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter/Spring 2023 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For other issues dating back to 2012, see the Full Issues page.

Hassan Shabazz, who spent 23.5 years in the Virginia prison system, speaks at the 6th Annual Virginia Prison Justice Rally Jan. 14 at Richmond’s Monroe Park. With him are rally co-chairs Lynetta Thompson (left) of Community Unity in Action and Jennifer Dalton of Ignite Justice. Photo by Phil Wilayto.

By all accounts, from the organizers, those who attended and the media, the 6th Annual Virginia Prison Justice Rally was a great success!

Despite snow and temperatures in the low 30s, more than 100 people came out to Richmond’s Monroe Park and stayed for the rally that lasted more than two hours. Some drove from as far away as Norfolk, Roanoke, Northern Virginia and even Charlotte, N.C. Most were formerly incarcerated folks and family members. Spirits were really high – and the free hot coffee and snacks helped.

The rally was sponsored by the Virginia Prison Justice Network, an alliance of nearly two dozen prison justice advocacy organizations.

The high points of the day were the taped messages sent in from prison by Nadir Salaam, co-founder of Freedom Over Everything (F.O.E.), who spoke on the rally demand to “Bring Back Parole;” and Courtney Henson, co-founder of the prisoner organization Forty Strong, who spoke on the rally demand to “Reinstate Enhanced Earned Sentence Credit – for Everyone!”

Other featured speakers were Natasha White, a formerly incarcerated person and coordinator of the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement, who addressed “End Solitary Confinement;” Santia Nance, a family member and co-founder of Sistas in Prison, who spoke on the demand to “Institute Second Look Sentencing;” Hassan Shabazz, a formerly incarcerated person, VAPJN co-founder and steering committee member, speaking on the demand for “Independent Outside Oversight;” and Phil Wilayto, VAPJN co-founder, steering committee member and editor of The Virginia Defender, speaking on “Building the Virginia Prison Justice Network.”

Steve Baggarly, with the Norfolk Catholic Worker, gave a solidarity message from Virginia’s antiwar movement.

The program began with an original spoken word piece by Hassan Shabazz and ended with an open mic, during which about 15 people took the opportunity to raise specific prisoner cases and causes, including the plight of trans prisoners.

The rally was co-chaired by Lynetta Thompson of Community Unity In Action and Jennifer Dalton, founder and director of Ignite Justice.

The entire program was live streamed and is available for viewing on the Facebook page of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality: you can view the livestream here.

There also was very positive coverage by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Channel 6 News (CBS).

For more information on the Virginia Prison Justice Network, see its webpage here.

Categories: Cops, Courts & Prisons

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