We are a nonprofit organization - based in Los Angeles but serving all of California - powered by care, commitment, hard work, and a calling. We are dedicated to building community and healing individual and collective harm.
It has been a wild year full of surprises, challenges, and silver linings. So much has happened. We converted all of our prison programs and reentry support into virtual offerings to sustain our communities. The silver lining has been including more of our community members from all over the state, and a few scattered around the country, than ever before.
We started a quarterly outreach effort to check-in on everyone in these trying and isolating times. We held a workshop series on “PTSD and Incarceration” to give people a platform to process the trauma associated with incarceration, be it people who were incarcerated or their loved ones. We’ve organized art therapy workshops, surfing trips, and whale watching tours. We began a program to assist community members in becoming certified life coaches with the intention of helping them develop marketable employment skills, so they can contribute to society and earn a living wage.
We started our “Freedom Bus” - a warm handoff reentry effort in which we send a representative to pick folks up when they are released from prison. We welcome them back to the free world by taking them to a meal of their choice, providing clothing and essential supplies, processing any questions or emotions around their transition, often after decades of incarceration, and making sure they get to their new destination safely. This is a stark contrast to the standard drop-off at a bus or train station with only gate money and the feeling of being entirely overwhelmed and alone.
A service that we’ve been told makes us unique is assisting our community in obtaining driver’s licenses. As we all know, having a driver’s license is critical to successful adulting, like getting to job interviews, work and social service appointments, and providing the ability to visit family, friends and more. We put some of our aspiring drivers through professional driving lessons and our staff/volunteers provide support and help them practice; our favorite part is taking our potential drivers to their driving tests, as we see them all the way through the process and vicariously experience the joy of that “win.”
In prisons, our Junior Mentor leadership program has been running at Valley State Prison (VSP) and the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC). We are about to start our third cohort at VSP, our second at CRC, and anticipate returning to in-person groups at each facility in the near future. As our first and flagship program, we are proud to announce that Junior Mentors has been adopted as a part of the core curriculum for the state Youth Offender Rehabilitative Campus!
We’ve developed a powerful “victim impact” class, called the Sanctuary Program, that promotes parallel healing for incarcerated youth and also for those on the outside who have experienced harm. Designed to evoke empathy, accountability and restoration, we work to support a movement to heal our youth and reintegrate them back into society more capable of living their best lives, while also healing those who have been touched by harm. We look forward to sharing more news about this program in our upcoming newsletters as the prisons open up to in-person facilitation of this class.
NEW TEAM MEMBERS
ReEvolution welcomes our new board members - Malin Yhr, Nuri Nusrat, David Bonde, Eric Richardson, and Drew Schmidt. We’re excited to be growing our leadership and harnessing the talents of these amazing individuals.
Joining our staff are T. Jiménez, Dani Barcheers, and Carlos Moreno. T. has a strong public service ethic that emphasizes community and equity. T.'s interest in supporting positive social change was first sparked in their adolescent years, when they first saw how race, gender, and income impact one's life opportunities. Dani has a plethora of skills from a business degree, to substance abuse counseling, to dog training, and is a powerful circle facilitator. Overall, Dani just wants to have a healing and positive impact on the Earth and its inhabitants in whatever form that takes. With a dedication to giving back, Carlos (a former Junior Mentor), has a great sense for identifying what’s important or relevant while keeping ego and emotion in check but incorporating some fun along the way. He’s our voice for our 18-25 year old target population and keeps our curriculum fresh.
REFLECTIONS WITH REEVOLUTION
We talk with some of our community members who open up about life inside, life after, and they generously share some of themselves with the rest of us in the hope that their openness creates a little learning, a little empathy, a little motivation, and a little movement toward living like we’re all in this world together. A big thank you to Carlos and Claudell for sharing themselves with all of us. Listen below.
Episode 1 - Carlos Moreno:
“Recovery is important to a lot of people, especially in there - you know. People are trying to get their stuff together and learn how to cope.”
The beanie that Carlos is wearing was designed by him and is available to the public. Show your support and enthusiasm for ReEvolution by sporting your own, which can be purchased here.
Episode 2 - Claudell Martin:
“I see so many good people being successful, it just goes to show when you give people what they need, they’ll do something with it. That’s what I look forward to showing, continue showing, that if you give us something, we’ll do what we’re supposed to do with it. We just need that confidence and that support. It looks like we’re naturally terrible people, when in fact, some of us never really had a chance. Our spirits, our dreams, everything was stolen from us by the things we were going through as kids.”
Click the link below to listen to the full podcasts!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
ReEvolution is grounded in restorative justice, restorative practices, and restorative values. What are these and how do we apply them to our work?
If you weren’t already aware, incarceration is a problem in the U.S. Over the past 30 years incarceration rates have risen 400% while actual crime rates have gone down. The U.S. spends at least $82 billion each year on incarceration although some new estimates say it’s closer to $182 billion annually. The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population but over 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. The U.S. incarceration system focuses on retribution while countries focusing on restorative justice, like Norway, focus on rehabilitation. Norway has a recidivism rate around 20% compared to our rate around 76%. So what is restorative justice anyway?
At its core, restorative justice is a response to harm which seeks to restore a sense of community to all parties involved. Restorative justice is a practice as old as time with roots in indigenous cultures. In modern terms, it started in 1974 as an alternative to the court process and has been gaining a lot of momentum and recognition in recent years as its applications have expanded.
While restorative justice is used as an alternative to traditional sentencing, it’s more than that. The foundational principles are to repair harm, engage those who are affected, work toward healing and learning all around, and reintegrate everyone as a community. Restorative justice sees crime not as a law that has been broken and for which a third party (such as a judge or court) decides the outcome, but rather defines crime as something where harm has been caused and strives to find solutions that meet the needs of those involved.
While restorative justice aims to elevate the needs of the direct recipient(s) of the harm, it also recognizes that harm can be experienced by friends and family on both sides, by the greater community, and the person(s) committing harm. Restorative justice recognizes that crime doesn’t happen in a vacuum - there are social, economic, and political factors which contribute to cycles of violence. Those who commit harms are often victims in their own right and their trauma needs to be addressed in order for sustainable change and greater community safety to occur. It requires a sincere commitment to accountability and remorse and eventually the willingness to forgive if one’s needs are met in order for ultimate healing to occur. Though if the process doesn't lead all the way to forgiveness great value can be gained on all sides.
Restorative justice processes can be used even when a crime results in incarceration. Though someone may be sentenced, healthy dialogue can still produce healing. Restorative Justice encompasses more than a process - it’s a set of values or principles. Restorative practices seek to equalize power and balance inequities. Restorative circles are one practice used to achieve restorative justice, which is becoming more common in many schools and workplaces to solve conflict. By sitting in a circle, everyone is addressing each other at the same level, and everyone has a right to be heard. Using words that place our humanity first can help provide dignity to everyone involved. To that aim, we strive to eliminate words like “victim” and “offender” when possible to instead refer to them as people who have experienced harm and people who have committed harm. We are all people first. Rather than making one side “good” and one side “bad,” it identifies a person’s role in the given circumstance but doesn’t reduce their entire existence to it. As studies show that our environment and those we spend time with are the greatest indicator of our choices, it recognizes that there are greater social norms and issues which have to be addressed in order for crime to be prevented.
At ReEvolution, we hold restorative circles both in prisons and in the free world and work to incorporate the guiding restorative principles into everything we do. We respect the agency of each individual. We encourage everyone to feel confident using their voice in all aspects of our curriculum, activities and intentions, with consistent reinforcement that their needs and perspectives matter. In our programs, we sit in circles and we co-create values and agreements amongst each group so everyone gets a say in deciding the expectations and boundaries which they will be held to. If someone doesn’t uphold the group values or agreements, we hold a discussion amongst the group and discuss what we would like to happen next, leaving room for greater learning, constructive conversation, and collective remedy.
Studies since the 1970’s across our country have demonstrated that restorative justice and restorative practices result in a greater satisfaction amongst both people who have caused and experienced harm, in lower recidivism rates, in higher rates of restitution payoffs, and improved accountability. When you look at a variety of factors from reducing recidivism to better family reunification to budget reductions, restorative justice works AND studies have shown benefits are even better amongst youth.
ReEvolution has partnered with UCLA in two ways. An evaluation was done on our Junior Mentor program which found that we successfully invoke a formula that reduces “the tendency for criminogenic behavior” through our particular mix of (1) self-realization work, (2) recognition of intergenerational transmission of patterns, and (3) cultivation of leadership skills. Expression through art and self-reporting demonstrated a significant positive change in how the participants evolved, and indicated a shift in self-awareness, optimism, reactiveness, and experience of community. In sum, our program was found to be a “meaningful, change eliciting experience.”
Second, we’ve been working with UCLA interns to help harness each of their skills and interests while introducing or further integrating them into our community and values. We’ve been lucky enough to benefit from some of their unique contributions, as have some of our community members, and aren’t ashamed to say that we’ve been able to impart some heartfelt learnings. Below are some articles (or an article) our UCLA interns have contributed for our learning and enjoyment.
Dealing with America’s Past: Explaining the Prison Industrial Complex and the War on Drugs
by Austin Aguirre
It’s no secret that America is notorious for it’s not-so-stellar past filled with white supremacy and injustice. As a member of generation Z, I find it difficult to fathom that the Jim Crow laws ended only 52 years ago! It felt like ancient history when I first learned about America’s past, but after I put time into perspective, I began to wonder: how are we still affected by America’s recent history of injustice? Now, as an 18-year-old college student, I’ve found throughout the years that our nation is still filled with injustice and inequality. Recently, I watched a film titled 13th that addressed a serious issue that most Americans don’t know about: the prison industrial complex.
13th was a documentary directed by the outstanding Ava Duvernay, and its main premise was that mass incarceration is an extension of slavery. In her film, Duvernay addresses the prison industrial complex, which was a term coined to represent the overlapping interests between government and businesses to gain a profit from an influx of prisoners. This prison industrial complex is an inhumane system that is attributed to one of the causes of mass incarceration. Instead of using prisons to rehabilitate and reintegrate incarcerated people into society, the prison industrial complex made sure to make it clear that they were simply an asset to make money.
Where did this all begin? The trend of mass incarceration can be dated back to President Nixon’s War on Drugs that shaped American policies for the years that followed. The War on Drugs criminalized all forms of drugs and established minimum sentences for possession. The intent of this “war” was to deter illegal drug use, but it could not have been more unsuccessful. Instead, the War on Drugs terrorized low-income communities and people of color. These two groups were disproportionately searched for drugs because of biased-based policing; as a result, they made up the majority of the prison population. An example of minorities being targeted for drug use can be seen in the different handling of crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Powder cocaine is considered a “white collar” drug since it was considered classy and eloquent. Crack cocaine, despite virtually having the same effect as powder cocaine, was considered a poor man’s drug. When it came to sentencing those in possession of either drug, crack cocaine had a higher minimum sentence. This difference was fixed in 2011 under the Obama Administration, but it is a prime example of how the War on Drugs tried to protect the wealthy while terrorizing the poor.
The effects of the War on Drugs did not stop there. Eventually, prisons were reaching their capacity. How would we solve this problem? Private prisons. A private prison, also known as a for-profit prison, is a place where a third-party is contracted by the government to operate a prison. Two examples of third parties operating private prisons are the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Both of these entities earn a profit from the government based on how many they have in their cells, so more people inside the prison means more profits. Besides running the prisons, there are also corporations that run other aspects of a prison, such as the Correctional Medical Group Companies (CMGC) that supply sub-par medical services to incarcerated individuals. The problem with these organizations is that they make prison a business, and they want people in prison because if nobody was in prison, they would be out of business.
The problem of mass incarceration is beneficial for corporations and the government, but it was never beneficial for us. Every year, billions of tax-payer dollars go towards prisons, yet years have shown that prisons aren't doing what they are supposed to do: rehabilitate. This “tough on crime” attitude Americans have is harmful, and it will continue if there are not drastic changes in our prison system so that we could better support and uplift those who are incarcerated. If we continue with the “tough on crime” mentality, more people will be put into prisons when they can be better served elsewhere. Punishment does not equal rehabilitation.
I am hopeful for a future where the incarceration we know today is a thing of the past; however, we need more than hope -- we need action. We need to educate ourselves on current issues surrounding our criminal justice system, such as the prison industrial complex, and inform others of these issues. We need to advocate for more humanity and justice when it comes to incarceration. We need to let our lawmakers know that we want to decriminalize drugs in order to focus on supporting those who are struggling with addiction rather than punishing them. Most importantly we want less people in our prisons, and more people using external resources. Together, we can revolutionize the broken system we have.
How Our Experience with COVID-19 Should Change The Way We Look at Prison
by Marialena Lamprianidis
It’s been a weird year. Not many people would have guessed that the entire globe would be put on house arrest for such a long period of time, but here we are: desperately grasping onto our last strands of sanity as vaccine distributions are providing the light at the end of the tunnel. Our mental and physical health have surely seen better days. People were quick to scratch that itch of inactivity. It seems as if more people are out taking walks and going on hikes than ever before, and it’s become nearly impossible to escape the mentions of workout trends and the stationary bike fad that everyone on social media seems to be raving about. But are we putting in the same efforts to alleviate mental distress? At the height of quarantine, the CDC reported that 40% of US adults were struggling with mental health or substance abuse, with 31% having symptoms of anxiety and depression, 26% having symptoms of trauma and stress related disorders, 13% starting or increasing substance abuse, and 11% seriously considering suicide. What these unprecedented rates of mental illness represent is the very human reaction to isolation. Social interaction is at the very core of the human experience, and even as we work towards transcending the current physical limitations of COVID-19 by shifting to a virtual world, we struggle to hold onto our humanity and our well-being. Imagine if we did not have the technological resources to connect to the world around us. Self isolation may have felt a little bit like incarceration. Our COVID-19 experience doesn’t hold a candle to what our incarcerated population has had to and continue to face, but as we begin to slowly recover from our socially distanced reality, it’s important that we reflect on the impacts of isolation and reimagine our systems of incarceration to better serve those who are serving time.
Prison wasn’t always as centered around isolation as it is today. One of the main reasons it operates like this is because of Eastern State Penitentiary. Before this prison came to be, American prisons were simply holding cells packed with men, women, and children guilty of things from petty crimes to the most serious. This situation led to filthy and violent conditions, which inspired Quakers to found the Eastern State Penitentiary in 1829. This prison was founded with the belief that the purpose of punishment was penance, thus “prisoners” should be living alone in cells, working in isolation, and spending this time to reflect and read the bible. While the intent to heal people was present, this was a system that abused incarcerated bodies. James Morton, an individual who was imprisoned at Eastern State Penitentiary explains, “In the gloomy solitude of a sullen cell, there is not one redeeming principle. There is but one step between the prisoner and insanity.” Penitentiaries evolved from just holding cells for criminals, and it was this same system that institutionalized criminalization. This form of imprisonment established the idea that people who broke the law were broken or had an affliction that justified rehabilitation, and that the practices of prison would remedy them.
Today, studies show that there is little to no evidence of the rehabilitative value of isolation. In fact, being socially and physically isolated from others can exacerbate pre-existing mental health problems. This is especially troublesome, considering a large number of people who enter systems of incarceration suffer from some sort of mental illness, ranging from anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, etc. According to the American Psychological Association, 64% of those in jail, 54% of those incarcerated in state prison, and 45% of those incarcerated in federal prison report having mental health concerns, with substance abuse being rampant and oftentimes happening simultaneously. People of color are also more likely to suffer disparities in mental health treatment in general, which makes them vulnerable to being ushered into the criminal justice system, where mental illness often worsens. However, this issue goes beyond the deprivations of ordinary prison life, as practices of solitary confinement take a serious psychological toll on the people it is weaponized against. Living with no stimulation or meaningful social interaction, even for as little as a day, can create psychological devastation. Many incarcerated people experience panic, anxiety, rage, depression, and hallucinations when confined, and many cases observe people entering prisons without symptoms of mental illness and walking away mentally ill due to isolation.
It is quite clear that isolation does not reform; isolation creates regression. I mean, just look at how quickly we went from making whipped coffee and trying out new bread recipes to terrorizing the Capitol building. Fortunately, COVID-19 and our time in isolation has gifted us with greater ability to empathize with those who have had to face isolation since Eastern State Penitentiary opened its doors. Though our experience cannot truly compare to those of people facing prison or solitary confinement, we can still take this empathy - empathy that nearly everyone in the world should possess at this point - and use it to reimagine incarceration.
“In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized, through it all, that in the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that ‘no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger - something better, pushing right back’.”
~ Albert Camus