September 10, 2019

Louisiana political candidates: do us all a favor and #VisitAPrison

As formerly incarcerated people, we know that much of what goes on behind prison walls is intentionally hidden from the public. Exactly one year ago, the inhumane prison conditions so many of us have experienced gained widespread media attention when incarcerated people engaged in a nationwide strike. The strike spanned across 16 states. Incarcerated people participated in sit ins, work stoppages and hunger strikes to demand an end to what the organizers called, and what we know is, “modern day slavery.” Many people across the country began to see the reality of life behind bars for the first time.

During the fall election cycle, we want to build on the success of the 2018 prison strike. But this time, the pressure will come from those of us on the outside, targeting our politicians. Our elected officials, who draft and vote on policies that determine prison conditions and other policies that deeply impact our incarcerated loved ones, have often never stepped foot inside a prison.

“You don’t know if you don’t go,” reads Families Against Mandatory Minimums’ (FAMM) Visit A Prison Challenge website. FAMM’s challenge asks the public to encourage state and federal policymakers to visit a prison or jail within the next year. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to what goes on in prisons and jails across the country, but it’s much harder to turn away once you’ve seen it for yourself. Our elected officials must see for themselves what goes on inside correctional facilities so they can understand the importance of and push for much needed reforms.

The 2018 prison strike organizers listed 10 demands, one of which was the full restoration of the right to vote for currently and formerly incarcerated people. Last year, our sister organization Voice of the Experienced spearheaded advocacy to pass Act 636, which restores voting rights to more than 40,000 (of over 100,000) people with felony convictions who are under supervision across Louisiana. While there is more work to do before our community is fully re-enfranchised, Act 636 is a crucial start. We know that our vote is our voice, which is our power. We’re now using our power to make a simple request of elected officials, and candidates running in the October election: visit a prison or jail in Louisiana, the state that is once again the global incarceration leader–a title reclaimed after Louisiana filled nearly 10,000 cells with people seeking asylum.

Just last week, NBC’s Lester Holt spent two nights at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known to us all as Angola. “To understand the issues of criminal justice reform that are now riding atop a bipartisan wave, it was important to me to get close. And so I did,” reflects Holt. We need all politicians to see what Holt saw, and more–if not for two nights, at least for a few hours. These are our prisons, as taxpayers and voters. That’s why Voters Organized to Educate is asking you to contact your elected officials, and those running for office, and ask them to participate in FAMM’s challenge today. Here’s how:

1. Make a 30-second video telling a personal story of why you think lawmakers should visit a prison. See FAMM’s examples of effective talking points.

2. Share the video to your social media pages and tag your representatives. You can find out who they are here.

3. Make sure to tag @FAMMFoundation and use the hashtag #visitaprison.

4. Ask 3 friends to make a video targeting their representatives too!

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