Creators of “participatory defense” – a community organizing model for people facing charges, their families, and communities to impact the outcome of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system
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.’
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 →
This mom and daughter first came to De-Bug about 4 years ago, when she was only 16 years old, and facing charges in juvenile court. Her mom kept insisting that her daughter did nothing wrong, and despite her family, community, and her attorneys fighting for her, the courts nevertheless put her on probation. However, they never gave up in pursuing justice. This week, she became the first person ever locally to win a dismissal of her juvenile case through a 782 code, making Santa Clara County legal history in the process. “I put off so many job applications because I didn’t know how to move forward,” she says. But because of her unwavering family and community support, as well as great advocacy from her public defender, this family has triumphed. “I couldn’t give up, because I had people — especially my mom — that wouldn’t give up.” — Submission Post by Charisse Domingo
Cesar’s family came to De-Bug almost at their wit’s end. Their son was nearing the end of his 9 year prison sentence and was facing imminent deportation. During the 9 years, his family had searched for a lawyer, only to be told it was too complicated. However, we helped find a fierce immigration lawyer and advocate in Helen Lawrence to complete our team. “Team Cesar” — his family, church, and community support — put together an almost 200 page mitigation packet of Cesar’s life; helped find experts for his case; organized community support at hearings; conducted fundraisers for his legal defense. His entire community bonded together to help push for Cesar’s release, which resulted in a habeas release granted in criminal court, re-sentencing, and a bond hearing in immigration court that freed Cesar from almost 10 years in custody (almost 9 years in prison, and over a year in immigration detention). Click here to hear his story and see the photo essay. Photography by Charisse Domingo
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.
We couldn’t fit all the ACJP mothers in one picture, but here are a few of them whose strength fuels us all to keep going, to keep fighting. They come every Sunday or Tuesday — after their visits with their children in jail, or even way after their children’s court cases are over — to then uplift other family members who have faced the same struggles. Happy Mothers’ Day to these Moms! Submission Post by Charisse Domingo
We had a powerful meeting this Sunday at ACJP, where three families all successfully resolved their cases through mutual support. They didn’t know each other a month ago, but will be forever united in their life stories. They live in different counties, even speak different languages at home.These images are a part of ACJP‘s “Time Saved” Series, documenting the stories, and amount of time saved from incarceration, due to community intervention in court cases. Submission and Photos by Charisse Domingo.
In 1968, George Whitmore, Jr. was beaten by New York police and coerced to signing a 61 page confession that he murdered two women. He contended that he was somewhere else that day — watching Martin Luther King Jr’s historic civil rights speech and had witnesses who could attest to him. Nevertheless, he was convicted for these murders. Steadfast to his innocence — and supported by lawyers, advocates, and civil rights activists — his conviction was overturned 9 years later. And his case was pivotal to the Supreme Court’s Miranda ruling to protect alleged suspects and to the partial repeal of capital punishment in New York City.
While he is 3,000 miles away from Santa Clara County, the impact of his resolve to maintain his innocence reverbrates here. At ACJP, we’ve seen youth as young as 15 forced to make confessions to crimes they didn’t commit. But because of cases like Mr. Whitmore Jr, people can still be protected. This particular editorial talks about the emotional toll the system can take on you and the personal fall-out of the struggle for justice. It is this silent and sad struggle that is rarely documented. To the question the writer posed on “Who Will Mourn George Whitmore Jr”, we resoundingly answer — we will, and we will honor his sacrifice as we hold our systems accountable. Submitted by Charisse Domingo
Op-Ed Contributor Who Will Mourn George Whitmore? By T. J. ENGLISH Photo by Tom Cunningham/NY Daily News, via Getty Images New York Times Published: October 12, 2012
I received news this week of the death of George Whitmore Jr., an occurrence noted, apparently, by no one in the public arena. That Whitmore could die without a single mention in the media is a commentary on a city and nation that would rather bury and forget the difficult aspects of our shared history.
Forty-eight years ago, as a New York City teenager, Whitmore was initiated into an ordeal at the hands of a racist criminal justice system. For a time, his story rattled the news cycle. He was chewed up and spit out: an ill-prepared kid vilified as a murderer, then championed as an emblem of injustice and, finally, cast aside. That he survived his tribulations and lived to the age of 68 was a miracle. Continue reading →
On Friday, July 20, this family stopped the deportation of their brother and son, through their unstoppable will, and successfully beat the process that makes criminal courts a waiting room for immigration court. This was a long road, but their loved one will be home next week as a result, and they created a blueprint for other families. Submission Post by Raj Jayadev
On the heels of the one-year anniversary of a historic Supreme Court decision, attorney Angie Junck and organizer Raj Jayadev share lessons learned from a case of a San Jose man who beat a deportation order.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of Padilla v. Kentucky – arguably the most important U.S. Supreme Court decision to date in terms of the nexus between local criminal courts and federal immigration laws. This is also the first week of renewed freedom for Jeysson Minota, a 28-year-old legal permanent resident from Colombia who had been in and out of federal detention centers for the past four years due to charges stemming from graffiti. His detention and his ultimate freedom tell the story of the need and possibility of the Padilla standard.