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January 2024

Re- Entry Programs, a Personal Experience

By Sharon Jarrett
Posted: 01/08/2024
The group had a presentation by Brian Biery, Adjunct Professor, Pacific Oaks College, third generation Pasadena resident and local historian and Jamala Taylor, Re-Entry Manager for the Insight Garden Program and Life Coach.  The topic was the Justice System and Incarceration.
The meeting was recorded and the recording is available at " Incarceration and Re- Entry "  on the Pasadena Village Youtube channel. Visitors are encouraged to listen to this powerful and moving  recording to have the fullest understanding of the talk. 
Brian Biery began the presentation asking attendees the following questions for consideration:
1.   What is your personal experience with incarceration and law enforcement?
2.   What is the purpose of the justice system?  How did the system develop?
3.   Is the current justice system the most equitable way to address transgressions?
4.   How could we make a safer society?
Brian Biery then established the process that would be followed for the presentation, Brian would ask Jamala questions and he would respond.  Attendees could ask questions using Q and A or Chat functions.
Jamala began by indicating he had been born and grew up in  Northwest Pasadena.  When he was 18, he was sentenced to 99 years to life and served 31 years, 15 years in solitary confinement.  He reminded attendees that during the 1980s and 90s, Pasadena had a significant problem with drugs sales and related gang activity.  Crack cocaine sales brought a great deal of money to the gangs.  This led to essentially franchises being developed focused on drug sales. This resulted in internal gang issues and disgreements which resulted in 35 to 45 homisides a year.
Jamala then reminded attendees of the law enforcement approach of the time, The War on Drugs. This approach resulted in "a generation of black and brown men going missing" due to incarceration.  This was significantly impacted by the three strikes laws and required sentencing enhancements. This changed with the passage of SB 260 and 261.
Next Brian and Jamala discussed enhancements, solitary confinement and legislation. They began with the question "what incentives exist for imprisoning individuals"?
Private prisons and services provide part of the answer.  In California, there is a limited use of these companies.  Most companies are used for immigrant detention.  GEO is a large company providing a variety of detention and security services.  This company is expanding into transitional services.  The book "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander was recommended as a good information source.  One fact mentioned was a comparison of the numbers of incarcerated individuals:  1970,  350,000 to 2010, 2,000,000.
The next topic discussed was the War on Drugs and Race.  The persons effected by these laws were largely black and brown.  Part of the cause of this disparity was the laws, which differentiated between powdered and crack cocaine.  Possession and use of powdered cocaine had less harsh penalities.  Crack cocaine laws were harsher and disportionately effected black and brown individuals with approximately one third of black and brown individuals being involved with the legal system.
Another reason for the disparity is access to defense attorneys.  The legal system favors those with resources.  Individuals using public defenders often are encouraged to accept deals which involve incarceration.
Jamala then began to respond to questions about the prison system.  He discussed prison jobs which typically pay 15 cents a hour.  Much of the work focuses on making products used in the system such as soap and uniforms.
Jamala then discussed Pelican Bay State Prison located in Crescent City.  It is the State super max prison.
The solitary confinement cells have no windows and Jamala indicated that assignment to solitary confinement made inmates into angry people.  He described the social structure as rigid and racially divided indicating at one point basketballs were identified as being used by specific racial groups.
He then discussed the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike which resulted in significant improvement for the inmates.
Brian then asked about the challenges of release.  Jamala began by discussing the skills that are lost  while incarcerated especially social skills due to being in solitary confinement. He discussed skills that are not developed which over time present a significant challenge. Finally, he cited family reunification challenges.
Jamala then discussed the Insight Garden Program (  Initially, the program offered inmates the opportunity to work in a garden, then landscaping.  The program then expanded to being a transition program for those who completed their sentence or were paroled.  The program provides a needs assessment to determine the needs of those being released to ensure success. Program participants are picked up at the prison, provided a phone, are taken to a "freedom meal" and provided transitional housing.  They receive help with integrating back into the world. He also indicated the lack of programs for women both in prison and upon release.  Brian and Jamala then discussed the costs of incarceration.  The website Transparent California was noted as a information source. Ending with the question, "what change in conditions could be made so prisons are not needed"?  Attendees suggested several things such as child care, education, training opportunities and legislation changes.
At the conclusion of the talk attendees thanked Jamala for his generous sharing of his experiences. 
 Our next meeting will be January 19th at 12:00 PM PST. There is no presentaton scheduled for this meeting. We will entertain an open discussion for participants can talk about anything we have covered in the last year and what we expect for 2024. The coming year will certainly be full of bad news but there are many things to be optimistic and hopeful about. And I would like to make sure that we address some of those points. It is important to remeber these because the news media focuses on  and emphasizes bad news, which is also important but can be overwhelming. 

In February, which is Black History Month, we will have Larry Duplechan on February 2nd at 10am Pacific discussing his new book “Movies That Made Me Gay”  (Available at Vroman's Book Store). On February 16th at noon, Ricky Pickens will talk to us about his work in reducing gang violence in Pasadena. 


In March, Helane Rheingold will return on the first Friday, March 1st, at 10am Pacific with another of her very engaging conversations with art where she will talk about "Blacks Portrayed by European ArtistsThrough the Centuries."


This looks to be an exciting series of presentations and we are looking forward to a very interesting year in 2024 and hope that you will join us.

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