“De-Bug the System” — The Shirt and the People Who Inspired the Message

When we made the De-Bug the System shirt, it was to honor those who stand up for what they believe in, who hold strong to the truth of their convictions. 
There are many who De-Bug the System everyday in their own humble way with an often unrecognized courage. And the “systems” can be whatever force or institution someone must challenge in order to free themselves or loved ones from a current condition. We want to hold up this spirit, because we find strength and inspiration through witnessing each other’s determined fight. Below are three De-Bug members who exemplify “De-Bug the System” in their own way. 
We hope you may get a shirt for yourself, or for someone you know who may be De-Bugging the System, or to only voice support for those whose struggles let us know that change is possible. 

Steeda McGruder

Steeda McGruder has spent a total of 17 years behind bars. While incarcerated in 2010, she created a vision to break the cycle of incarceration for herself and other women. She called it “Sisters That Been There.” Once released, she worked to make her dream real. The Santa Clara County Probation Department was so impressed by her work that they agreed to support her program of working with women just coming out of prison and jail. Steeda has graduated dozens of women from her program, one many say was the life-changing moment in their lives. In this photo, Steeda stands in front of the Re-Entry Resource Center, where she has an office and supports the successful re-entry of men and women coming back to the community.

Ramon Vasquez

Ramon Vasquez, a truck driver and father of two, was once wrongly charged with murder. Ramon, who had no criminal history, was totally innocent of the charge. Nonetheless, Ramon was arrested and incarcerated, all the while proclaiming his innocence. He and his family worked tirelessly to find the inaccuracies in the investigation and prove the system had the wrong man. After six months, the prosecutor dropped the charges and released him. A few months later, Ramon won a Factual Finding of Innocence, a rare legal device that only occurs in Santa Clara County a few times in a generation that allows the court to formally admit their mistake. In this photo, Ramon looks at the street in front of the main jail, the same street he watched while being housed during his incarceration.
Noreen Salinas 
Six years ago, Noreen Salinas’s father Steve Salinas was tased to death by San Jose police officers, even though he was unarmed. Despite her heartbreak, she vowed to fight for justice for her father and lead marches, rallies, and press events to bring awareness to issues of excessive force and the lethality of Tasers. This past summer, a federal jury found that excessive force and the Taser was responsible for Steve Salinas’s death and awarded the family $1 million. It was the first verdict of its kind in the history of San Jose. In this photo, Noreen stands in front of the federal court where she won justice for her father.

“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

Sisters That Been There: New Women’s Peer Mentorship Program Offers Innovative Alternative to Incarceration

Steeda McGruder, Founder of Sisters That Been There

At a forum on realignment towards the end of 2011, our very own Steeda McGruder blew away the audience as she described how the strength and encouragement she found from other women while incarcerated is what allowed her to transform her life, and break a cycle of incarceration. She had a dream of working with incarcerated women to help them turn their lives around. Just months later, Steeda is running a ground-breaking new program in Santa Clara County in collaboration with probation. Check out her story!

By Steeda McGruder — Below is a letter I wrote and handed out to all the women participating in my new program called Sisters That Been There – a support group for women being released from prison and returning to Santa Clara County, done in partnership with the Santa Clara County Probation Department. Continue reading