All of Us or None

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

Formerly incarcerated experts and their families educate the community.

by tiny/PNN

This poem is Honor of

incarcerated mothers and

Homeless mothers…

Immigrant mothers and

Low and no-wage working mothers

Welfare mothers and

3 job working mothers

in other words this poem is honor of

INS-ed with

CPS-ed with and

DHSed with mothers

In other words all of us

System-messed with Mothers…excerpt from This poem is honor of Mothers by Tiny/Po Poets Project

"It took me ten years to get my nursing license cause I had a felony conviction, but I did and I am now a Registered Nurse and I am here to tell you a story" One of the first voices of scholarship I was educated by and had the privilege of listening to at the truly inspiring Peace and Justice Community Summit held on Saturday in Oakland was Harriet Davis, one of a panel of formerly incarcerated experts who focused her comments on the extremely slippery slope of Child custody and Family reunification for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated parents and Grandparents. "My Granddaughter ended up in the system, but when our family attempted to adopt this child the "system" refused us custody, pointing to my felony conviction as the excuse"

Ms. Davis went on to detail the impossible situation that occurs when capable and genetically connected parents and grandparents like her and her extended family attempt to follow the African tradition of "raising" their own and try to get rightful custody of their kin but are refused and instead the system opts to put their babies in the "fast-trak" for adoption all because of a current or former conviction on someone in the family. " As well, when incarcerated mothers have their children The Department of Corrections has the right to decide where that child will go…. as an African Descendent person this is like slavery to me…" Ms Davis concluded her powerful story with tears for all mothers and fathers facing this impossible situation.

The East Bay Peace and Justice Community Summit, Sponsored by All of Us or None and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, was the first in a series of urgently needed town hall forums where people who have been in prison and their families testified to local, state and federal elected officials and decision-makers. Toward the front of the long Chapel-like room in the Unitarian Universalist's Church there was a panel of very respected "listeners" including folks like Oakland City Council person Nancy Nadel and Berkeley School Board member Terry Doran, as well as a panel of very proactive poverty scholars speaking up about everything from homelessness after incarceration to the rights of children of incarcerated parents. From POOR Magazine/PNN's perspective the "expertise" of Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson was no match for the Scholarship of speakers; GrandMama Harriet Davis, Ex-panther Elder Freeman, organizer Dorsey Nunn or youth organizer Ise Lyfe.

"Visiting our parents who are incarcerated is not a privilege but a right" Emani Davis, daughter of an incarcerated parent and advocate since she was 18 for the rights of children of incarcerated parents spoke between tears about the situation facing the children she advocates for, "today I am invoking UN declaration which protects the rights of children to survive and to develop, our parents are our political educators, spiritual educators and sexual educators, if children don't have access to those educations they will have a real hard time making it." Emani concluded by introducing the Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill of Rights which was created by The San Francisco partnership of incarcerated parents which she hoped Alameda county and the entire country would adopt into policy. The Bill included the right for children to be kept safe and informed at the time of their parents arrest, the 'right to speak with, see and support my parent' and the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent'.

"I was released from San Quentin in 1978 and I got $200 dollars gate money, now in 2004, they are still releasing you with $200. When I got out I had family and friends, so that little bit of money didn't really matter, but nowadays, when folks come out with no family or friends or support they end up in the streets, they end up homeless", The next scholar was ex-Black Panther and powerful community organizer Elder Freeman who I was thrilled to hear made the clear connection between incarceration and homelessness, and as this formerly incarcerated, previously homeless PNN writer can attest to, this is a problem that is growing with no end in sight, not to mention the concurrent growth of the shelter as jail system Elder continued, "and with a drug conviction or felony you can just forget about any kind of housing. Over 78% of people in the shelters in Oakland and 70% of the people in Berkeley shelters have been convicted of a crime and released from prison or jail." Elder ended with a plea to address the very serious issue of housing when it comes to solutions for incarcerated folks.

"I was stranded on the street, I had nowhere to go, I used to sleep in the car , sometimes on the flo..but I was not arrested I was rescued" One of the next scholars we heard from was (Dr) Tom Bowden from the Men of Valor Academy in Oakland which focuses on support services for formerly incarcerated folks coming back to the community and specifically on the difficult challenge of re-entry. Dr Tom spoke eloquent poetry as a scholar of incarceration, himself incarcerated for 15 years and as a powerful advocate for the need to strengthen re-entry services and provide more jobs for folks returning to the community.

"The Crack epidemic is the second middle passage" Ise Lyfe, another inspiring educator addressed the audience on the issue of youth incarceration and the root causes to young folks being locked up, "They gave us Crack in the past to make sure in 2004 we weren't cool, " Ise went on to discuss the "dumbing down" of young folks through the glamorization of dances like "go stupid" and the hype of gangsta rap producers and the way the prisons are obviously built specifically to house youth of color by the millions with the inclusion of BET channel in prison. "We are scared of our youth.." Ise described the detrimental impact of youth being completely separated from elders and from eldership, i.e., the knowledge and scholarship of our ancestors. He concluded, " The leaders need to come to the community and the community needs to come to the leaders"

One of the last speakers from the first half of the program was Starr Smith, a formerly houseless single mother with a felony conviction on her record,"When I was pregnant and homeless I applied for welfare and was turned down, I applied for housing and was turned down cause HUD guidelines say no to drug felonies and was even turned down for welfare to work volunteer programs. I made it, I am working, I am housed and I have a beautiful son but it was hard as hell" Starr cited the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, The Homeless Prenatal Program and All of Us or None as some of the organizations that supported her with innovative solutions to her impossible situation but she was there to outline some of the ways that the system could be changed to stop making it impossible for formerly incarcerated parents to be parents and stay alive. " Repeal the welfare ban AB 1796 and restore food stamp eligibility to folks with felony convictions."

The second half of the day included audience engagement which brought even more questions and innovative answers to the table and the discussions of local campaigns for solutions.

Finally, the day was closed with spoken word scholarship from Molotov Mouths, Colored Ink, The Black Dot Collective and many more. But Finally, I think the demands created by the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated scholars speaks for itself; 1)End Discrimination against people with criminal records 2) Opt out of the lifetime Welfare and foodstamps ban 3)Implement The Bill of Rights for Incarcerated children 4)Ban the box on applications for public employment 5)Increase support services for people coming out of prison…. Because like lead organizer Dorsey Nunn said, " To create a strong community for Every body, it really is All of Us Or None!!"

To find out more about this important campaign contact All of Us or None, a project of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children at (415) 255-7036 x 337 or (510) 410-1099.


Sign-up for POOR email!