Launch of : From the Streets to the Courts

People of color killed by police are often known, remembered, and honored through their names connected to a hashtag. There are also those who survive the shooting, tasing, or beating by law enforcement; we just don’t know their names simply because they survived. They face the added insult of then being charged with a false crime such as resisting arrest or assault on a police officer. Henry Sires, pictured below, was almost killed. Henry Sires was almost a hashtag.

We are sitting with Henry’s family during his trial, and through a new site called, are reporting updates from the courthouse. Check out the site and follow our social media posts using the hashtag #almostahashtag and #freeHenrySires. Henry is the first case we are sharing through this new site to bring attention to those who almost became a hashtag. If you have a case that you want profiled, email us. We are trying to bring the movement on the streets that is calling to an end to police violence to also step into the courts, where the violence of the criminal justice system continues.

Video of the Moment Arthur Erased His Name

This is Arthur erasing his name from our weekly ACJP meeting. His dad Kenny would add his name up on that whiteboard for years. Last Sunday, Arthur came home from prison after eight years, having beaten a life sentence due to Prop.36, and erased his name. It is the one ceremony we have at our meetings — erasing the name means a family has won the freedom of their loved one.

We had only known Arthur through his letters from prison, and his stories from his father Kenny —  that he was a great son and looked out for his brothers.  Every Sunday Kenny would come to De-Bug to help think through Arthur’s case.  In 2006, Arthur agreed to a deal after he was told that if he pled guilty, his brother — one of the codefendants in the case — would be released.  He thought he would be serving somewhere around 8 years.  When the Judge handed down a life sentence during his court hearing, everyone in the courtroom was stunned.  That was the first time Arthur or his family had even heard of ‘life’ being on the table.  So when Kenny first came to De-Bug in 2008, they were still reeling from the pain of losing their son to prison, even though it had already been 2 years. But with the support of his community, Kenny — on the outside — and Arthur on the inside — worked to undo his case.  On Sundays, Kenny and the De-Bug team would lay out 4- inch binders of paperwork to help construct possible ways of appeal.  We met with his appellate attorneys, wrote back and forth to Arthur, even met with decision-makers to find openings.  Meanwhile, Kenny and Arthur held strong — working through depression and a host of health issues that Arthur faced inside the prison.  Then when Prop 36 passed in November 2012, a glimmer of hope came.  Arthur was contacted by the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s office who represented him at his resentencing.  Kenny collected letters of support that demonstrated Arthur’s network that would give him a solid reentry plan, and last year, a judge agreed to release Arthur back to his community.  Check out this Time Saved Party video, where Kenny talks about the day he found out his son had an “out date.” On May 5th, he came home.  On May 31, 2015 — 7 years after Kenny first walked into the doors of De-Bug — Arthur walked in with him.  Submission Post by Charisse Domingo


VIDEO: When Robert Erased His Name (The Ceremony in Participatory Defense Victories)

We decided to start sharing the one ceremony we have at ACJP — when a loved one comes home from prison or jail due to the advocacy of their family, and they erase their name from our weekly meeting board. To the outside viewer passing by our building and looking through our window, it may not look like much. Just some person erasing their name while others watch, clap, and cry. But for the families in the meeting, the ceremony is profoundly meaningful. It symbolizes the power of how family and community can challenge and beat the institutions of mass incarceration. Every weekly meeting, when families come to advocate for their loved ones, we write their loved one’s name on the white board, and then the groups shares updates and strategies as we go through the list of names.  A number of people listed on the board had never set foot in a meeting until the day they come home. They have been detained while their family has come to these meetings every week. Robert was one of those community members — a name on the board that the rest of the group only knew through his mother’s stories, but they prayed for his release nonetheless. This short video is of the day he erased his name, at the first meeting of 2015. [youtube]

“Prison Was Your Nightmare, This Home is Your Reality” — Photos of the First Day of Freedom from Prison

The young man spent 3 1/2 years in a California State prison. His mother Veronica started coming to De-Bug’s ACJP about 4 years ago and our community supported her advocacy for her son. Together we attended court, met with the attorney, and created a social biography video that allowed her to show the judge why she was fighting so hard for her son. He was facing much more time.  She has been waiting for his moment coming home since then. She picked him up from prison in the morning, and held a family welcome home party that very night. He told her,  “Mom, I can’t believe I’m home. This is like a dream,” he said as their car pulled up to his aunt’s house where about 30 of his family members waited. She responded, “No, son. Prison, that was your nightmare, and this…” she points to his family and friends, “this is your reality.” (Photos by Charisse Domingo)



Veronica’s son bows his head in prayer as his cousin, a pastor at a local church, leads the family in a special blessing. This is his first day home after 3 1/2 years in prison.


Veronica gathers the entire family at her sister’s home to welcome her son on his first day back. After this, they watch the social biography video that De-Bug created to ask the judge for leniency in sentencing.


Veronica’s son and his grandmother.


He did 3 1/2 years in prison.  This celebration combines all the missed birthdays and Christmases into a moving homecoming.


Veronica and her son share a moment. He couldn’t believe that 3 1/2 years had passed.  As they pulled up to the house, he said, ‘This is like a dream.’ His mom said, ‘No, son. Prison was your nightmare.  You’re home now, and this is your reality.’

How My First Felony Leads Me To My First Time Voting (By Steeda McGruder)


Steeda McGruder shares her testimony at a Yes on Prop 47 event with labor and youth advocates.

My first charge as an adolescent was a petty theft. When I think back 19 years ago my reasons for my actions seem so juvenile — peer pressure, lack of adult influence in my life and simply boredom growing up in a small town population 26,000 and a huge drug scene. A petty theft was simply entertainment to young people back in those days. When I turned 18, I was super excited to have shook the juvenile system. I had many great plans and ideas of what my life would be like now that I was free from the juvenile system. I guess you could say I had hope for my future, but to my surprise shortly after I turned 18 I was incarcerated for another petty theft.

My behaviors had never been addressed, just pushed aside. I had time to serve, but never the support or tools needed to be truly corrected. I’m sure you can imagine at the age of 18, my ideas about life are completely different than at the age of 12, especially being a single mom at the age of 18. Life showed up, and when it did, I behaved in a way that screamed “just survive.” Continue reading

Re-Entry Profile: When a Son Helps Lead a Father Home From Prison

This video, produced by De-Bug youth videographer Daniel Zapien, was made as part of a larger project ACJP/De-Bug did in collaboration with New America Media and the Open Society Foundation called, “Children of Re-Entry.” This piece chronicles the story of Greg Hughes Senior as he navigates his re-entry from prison, with the support of his son. Let us know your re-entry story! (Click image to view video.)

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“I Want To Be Like Him When I Grow Up”

Returning To Life From Life: A Daughter’s Journey To Freeing Her Mother From Prison

Check out this moving video made by De-Bug’s Jean Melesaine on Lisa Carter, the first woman in Santa Clara County who won her release from a life sentence due to Proposition 36.  Judge Deborah Ryan granted Lisa release after serving 18 years in prison for a $150 shoplifting charge (her 3rd strike), with the tremendous support from her family, friends, community, and public defender. This video will be part of the Time Saved series, chronicling stories of families bringing loved ones home from incarceration.

1 Week at De-Bug’s ACJP: Family Brings Son Home from Immigration Detention, Other Family Stops a Life Sentence

Photos of a powerful week in De-Bug’s Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (ACJP), where families fight to bring their loved homes home from jail, prison, and immigration detention. At Sunday’s meeting, one family brought a son home from immigration detention after two years, on Tuesday’s meeting, one family brings a son home who was facing a life sentence. To stay updated on the work, follow

Sunday at ACJP Meeting:
Home after 11 years in prison, two years in immigration detention. Got his conviction overturned, but then still faced deportation. The ICE agent told him he didn’t have a chance. ICE was wrong and he’s home now. Top left: We ask people to erase their name from our board when they get free, it inspires the other families there who are starting their journey. He asked his mom to do the honors since she was fighting for him all those years. Middle left: Mom hugging Charisse, last time it was for consolation when it looked impossible, today it was to celebrate. Bottom left: His sister shows the families a slideshow of his first day home, which was last week. Rightside: For those who ask, this is what we mean when we say #Debugthesystem. Gotta love Sunday afternoons at De-Bug.

Tuesday at ACJP meeting:
Remarkable. His mom started coming to our Tuesday De-Bug/ACJP meetings at East Valley Pentecostal Church a few months ago. He was facing life because they were charging him with a strike, and the lawyer and courts said he had 2 strike priors. But mom said he only has one strike prior. Lawyer said mom was wrong. Turns out he did only had 1 strike, the system just thought he had 2 strikes, and no one bothered to check the paperwork, until mom. This week, they also dropped the charge to a misdemeanor, and he’s home now, erasing his name from our board (meaning he resolved his case.) Gotta love Tuesdays at ACJP meetings, and gotta respect a mom’s commitment to bring her son home.

“Orange is the New Black” Shares the Real Stories of Our Secret Society

Having spent 17 years behind the walls, Steeda McGruder, founder of Sisters That Been There, was hesitant to watch a show about women in prison. Once she did see Orange is the New Black, she says the show amazingly “nails it” — the hardships, the relationships, and the internal struggle.


By Steeda McGruder

I hesitated when friends told me to watch Orange is the New Black. Being that that I’ve spent the last 17 years of my life behind the walls, I figured unless it was different than all the other prison shows that never got it right, I could wait. It wasn’t until a good friend told me, “Yo like foreal, you need to watch this, it hella reminds me of you,” that I actually sat down and watched it.

I automatically understood the show from the women I saw in the introduction. I saw the faces of all the different types of women that go in and out — some have piercings, some have scars from the street life or drug abuse, some are clear eyed and clear faced, some are dirty, some skinny, some bigger. I could immediately relate to the main character, Piper (who is based on Piper Kerman who wrote a book about her incarceration), while thinking of all my trips to the big house — having to turn yourself in and the thoughts about the choices, the wanting to change the past and turn the clock back. Continue reading

For Those Behind The Walls, Letters Are Our Lifelines

There is currently a proposal to dramatically restrict inmates in the Santa Clara County jail system from receiving letters. Steeda McGruder, founder of Sisters That Been There, writes about the profound power of receiving letters while incarcerated, and shares correspondence from women currently behind the walls who write about the “life-saving” value of letters. Click image to read pieces on Silicon Valley De-Bug

(Steeda shows the many letters she received from women in the system who reach out to get support. They say letters are there “lifelines.”)