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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24-IdhhMA9w&w=650&h=450]
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.’
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
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.
Heading into Fall, ACJP/De-Bug wants to acknowledge the nationally significant policy wins in criminal justice reform, police accountability, and immigration that occurred this Summer — all of which were first-of-its-kind victories in their respective fields. Check out the coverage from mainstream media, as well as videos, articles, and photos we produced chronicling how Summer 2013 has put our region on the map for social justice in this “storify.”
Read and listen to the story of Ramon Vasquez, a 33 year old father of 2, who was released from Santa Clara County Jail back in 2008 for a crime he didn’t commit. His family came weekly to De-Bug meetings to get assistance for his case, and because of their persistence and community support, Ramon is home.
This is part of the “Time Saved” series. In court systems across the country, the term used to show that someone has done their time of incarceration is called “Time Served.” At De-Bug, we transform that term, and that time, to “time saved” through family and community organizing to change the outcome of cases. — 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.
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Authored by Lena Graber of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the “All In One Guide To Defeating ICE Hold Requests” is designed to help communities disentangle local police policy and practices from immigration enforcement. ACJP at De-Bug has been one of the key organizations in the Santa Clara County FIRE (Forum for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment) Coalition that helped secure the most progressive detainer policy in the nation, spearheaded on the Board level by Supervisor George Shirakawa. Our Coalition’s yearlong efforts are featured on this guide. As we’ve always asserted, it’s not public safety vs. immigrant rights, but public safety THROUGH immigrant rights. Post submission by Charisse Domingo
Check out the profile of Santa Clara County Deputy Public Defender Andy Gutierrez. We first met Andy when he represented an ACJP family who’s grandmother was facing a 3 year sentence for an alleged dirty bottle. Everyone said it was a done deal – she was headed to prison. Gutierrez was determined to keep her with her family, and she ended up with an outpatient drug program instead. She is doing great, and it wouldn’t have happened without Andy.
By Diane Solomon — Andy Gutierrez defends poor people accused of committing Santa Clara County’s most heinous crimes. Before I spoke to him, his Deputy Public Defender job seemed awful and really hard to me. But when he explains his work, he conveys this sense of commitment, a calling to a higher purpose and enthusiasm.
“I always knew I wanted to go into criminal law because I just liked it. I like the science part of it; I like the investigation part of it. What happens when you have to champion the underdog all of the time is that the chips are always down, so your life is interesting because every person you have to help is usually an amazing challenge.” Continue reading