Is death the answer?

This past year has been troublesome for me personally so I have not written much here even though my plan was to constantly highlight social justice matters. I am going through old boxes to downsize and organize and part of what I find is that for decades I have argued to abolish the death penalty. For a brief time in the U.S., the death penalty was found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, but it revived itself fairly quickly.

For so many reasons, this is not the answer to the crime problem. First, research shows it does not result in reduced crime. In fact, some research suggests that crime increases when government condones death as a remedy to a problem. Next, while victims’ families and friends may be satisfied by vengeance, in the end their loss is still tragic and does not end. Instead, another family suffers the same consequence. Third, it costs millions above and beyond costs of imprisonment to incarcerate on death row and for all of the appeals. Fourth, can’t society learn from those on death row in order to understand those who commit capital offenses – and move toward prevention? And most significant to me, the death penalty primarily affects the poor and people of color. This type of lawful discrimination is unconscionable.

It’s not just me. Here are other thoughts.



FILM REVIEW: “13TH” shocks, disturbs

13th-documentary-trailer-poster.jpgThe Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”

America has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners.

Since the 1980s, seven times as many people are now behind bars.

For African American males without a high school diploma, around 80% will end up in jail or prison. Why aren’t the alternatives chosen more often: drug court, mental health treatment, house arrest, community service, restorative justice, close supervision by parole and probation, halfway houses, fines, restitution?

These facts alone should provoke thought. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) explores these disturbing truths in her eye-opener documentary, “13TH” (2016, 100 minutes).

Nominated for Best Documentary Feature for an Oscar, it is a film that compels the viewer to dig deep and realize why there is a connection between mass incarceration and poverty, and in particular why the impact is so forceful on people of color.

Many of you know that I rode my bicycle from Albuquerque to Baltimore to raise awareness of the value of re-entry programs and how they reduce crime, benefit families and result in of course fewer crime victims. They also save the taxpayers so much money since programs cost around $20,000 a year on average and incarceration is more in the $80,000 range (and much higher for federal prisons and facilities for juveniles).

I’m still working on this issue, and one way is to encourage you to see this film. It’s on Netflix and from time to time is screened in local theaters around the country, often in the film festival context. Perhaps after the Oscars, it will find a larger audience.

“13TH” explores the link between slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment and today’s massive system of incarceration. DuVernay has succinctly pieced together historical events, archival news footage and imagery along with expert opinions establishing an unexpected link: the link between an amendment intended to guarantee freedom and the utter lack of free movement of those incarcerated.

I winced as I watched the deconstruction of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film, “The Birth of a Nation.” Filled with disturbing and terrifying images of black men, the film predicted the rise of racism, injustice, the torture and death of people like Emmett Til and Medgar Evers and the lack of balance in the criminal justice system when race and poverty are factored in.

Post-civil war freedom came with a price: more incarceration for petty matters requiring involuntary servitude identical to slave conditions, restrictions on voting, the rise of the KKK just as the black middle class was gaining strength and the demonizing of African American males. The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, the early civil rights movement leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the later so-called wars on crime and drugs, including Clinton’s promotion of Three Strikes laws and mandatory sentencing, are all connected in this film to the end result: mass incarceration.

Think about this: why were penalties for possessing and dealing crack so much more severe than the same for cocaine until the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010?

When states and the federal government turn over to for-profit companies the detention and monitoring of inmates and former offenders, are there any “for profit” incentives for those businesses to ensure successful re-entries and reduce recidivism? This documentary explains what ALEC is and shows its influence on lawmakers that results in increased incarceration and corporate earnings rising at the same time.

Contemporary opinions are sought from many, including U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, New Gingrich, professor Henry Louis Gates, Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist, professor and political activist Angela Davis, civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander and writer (“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”) and others.
It is beyond chilling just hearing the words of George Zimmerman when he calls the police about teenager Trayvon Martin, heading home after buying candy: “He’s got his hand in his waistband….and he’s a black male.”

Ponder all of the meaning and the consequences of this mindset.  Wonder why we still are not having open, honest discussions about race.

Here’s a link to the trailer.

Sources: Next America: Criminal Justice Project, IMDb, “13TH”

Prison release


We wait in the prison visitors parking lot after checking in at the main gate. We have to show ID which is examined carefully and explain tediously who we are picking up and our relationship to the person.

I am a mentor to the young man I am picking up. I will take him to a re-entry program after checking him in with the county parole and probation office. He, of course, will enjoy his first lunch as a free man and a phone call to his mother who is several hundred miles away in another state before I drop him at the program’s residence.

A mother and her two nephews sit in a battered old Chevy while I pace the lot. A father is in a nearby older SUV, dozing while his mixed-breed dog (appears mostly collie) stares at my nervous walking back-and-forth across the lot.

A third car, a modest sedan, is quite a distance away and I can’t see who is in the car at first.

I was told to arrive at 9.30 am sharp. The mother with the nephews was told 8.30 am. I learn later that all four of the groups there were given different times to arrive: 8 am, 8.30 am, 9 am, 9:30 am. I guess it depends on whom we talked to.

Eventually, a man and woman get out of the distant car and begin their own pacing in the lot, but at a distance from us.

Each has different concerns and worries. Eventually we coalesce into an awaiting group as the clock ticks and it is now close to 12:00 pm. We are becoming impatient and the two young boys are hungry.

I walk up to the guard gate with one of the mothers, Beverly, to ask what the delay is. We learn that the prison is doing a second count since they thought someone had escaped when their count indicated they were one person short. He was in the library but after they found him there they have to count again.

I hope my face doesn’t show how ridiculous that sounds to me. Can’t they just add one to the previous count and see that all inmates are present and accounted for?

There is a tiny public bathroom in the front of the guard building. I use it first while Beverly waits. As I exit the bathroom I hear my phone ringing in my blue jeans pocket. I must have “pocket-dialed” so I pull out my phone to quickly hang it up before whomever I dialed answers.

A guard comes out of the building, approaching me. “Ma’am. No phone calls allowed except in the parking lot.” I respond, “I’m sorry. I pocket-dialed my phone so I was just hanging up the phone. I wasn’t making a call.” The phone is already back in my pocket. “Ma’am. No phone calls allowed here.”

Again – I put on my poker face. Arbitrary and unfair decisions of correctional officers and administrators abound. I do not want to be the cause of this young man losing his early release because I want to point out another absurdity.

I head slowly back to the parking lot so that Beverly doesn’t think I abandoned her when I told her I’d wait for her outside the bathroom. The guard, arms crossed, continues to stare at me for my ignorance of a rule, telling me, “Move, on, ma’am.”

When we get back to the visitors lot, I tell the mother/aunt that we have probably another hour to wait so she takes her nephews to the McDonalds that is about a 15-minute drive from the prison. They get back a bit before 1 pm.

She, the walking couple, even the dad with the dog and I are all now talking together since we have been relegated to waiting close to 4 hours (close to 5 hours for two of the families). I learn their stories.

The son of the mother with the nephews has been in for a decade for drug crimes. He was to get out six months ago after he completed a drug program but was told to go back to his old housing unit for a few weeks. He refused since he believed his successful rehabilitation would now make him a target; authorities told him he disobeyed an order and had to be punished another half year. Meanwhile, though, he didn’t know he had six months added on to his sentence so six months ago his mom was there waiting for his release for a few hours before she was told, “Not today, ma’am.” Her drive is several hours each direction.

The pacing couple’s son has a complex background of psychological issues and despair and addiction and they are unsure he will have success on the outside. They are unwilling to take him in to their home so will drive him to the other side of the state where a sister is tentatively agreeing to give him a chance.

The elderly dad (with his dog) has a look of trepidation and doesn’t share much information. He seems beaten down, as if perhaps he has followed the same trail as his son. He does say that his son has served day-for-day so has no parole and can leave the state. They are heading to Georgia.

A guard drives out to the visitor’s lot. “The second count is over. Maybe another half hour.” It is 1.30 pm.

Finally, nearing 2.30 pm, four smiling men come out of the front gates, each carrying a satchel, all wearing flip flops. I see that the young man whom I am picking up has lost a lot of weight but otherwise looks fairly well. Each of us in this briefly bonded group introduces our freed men to the others and wishes good luck to all. Then, we all head out on our separate ways.

If we help our incarcerated youth, we help all of us

The National Institute of Justice, which is based at the Harvard Kennedy School, has just issued a significant report that calls for a drastic overhaul of the juvenile justice system, and in particular the youth prisons.  An alternative model that is community-based will ensure safer communities and brighter futures for troubled children.

If you would like to learn more about this, you can check out the link below the photo (which I am posting courtesy of the Annie E Casey Foundation)  and read the full

KRQE covers the cycling adventure!


A local reporter came upon my story and interviewed me last week.  I’m pleased the story included mentions of Wings for Life and Crossroads for Women so that anyone interested can now make donations directly to them.  I also really like the map! Here is the link to the story:

AGAIN – THANKS to all who donated!


Join us September 15th in Civic Plaza



This is a significant “first.”  Albuquerque Celebrates Recovery is an event scheduled for September 15 at Civic Plaza in downtown Albuquerque on Sept 15. I will be there at the Prison Reform Ministry table. I’m hopeful that many will join me and others in celebrating recovery. There will be music, food trucks, recovery speakers, information about recovery resources, and camaraderie. Wings for Life and many other organizations are also represented. See you!

Thanks, and stay tuned for more posts on the issues that matter to those released from prisons and jails.

THANKS to all who donated and to those who supported New Beginnings Work by following my journey. $4106 was raised and each organization is getting checks for $1026.50.   Copies of the checks are above (with account number and signature not showing). Plus – the other photo is me post-cycling event – at Chaco Canyon last weekend!

The website, is de-activated for donations and tomorrow I will officially “close” it, though I am told it will be archived in case anyone wants to look at the posts or photos.

I delivered personally the check to Crossroads for Woman on August 11 and am also
hand-delivering Wings for Life its check at the August 22 Back-to-School Fashion Show at Second Presbyterian Church.

Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake and Volunteers of America Chesapeake in the Baltimore Metro Area have received their checks as well.

If anyone wants “New Beginnings Work” memorabilia, there are t-shirts, caps, mugs, duffel bags, and so forth on the Cafe Press site, which will remain active.  My sister Kathleen designed the New Beginnings Work logo and I think it is wonderful!

I will still be working toward the reduction of recidivism and improving prison conditions and job opportunities by continuing to volunteer with Wings for Life, the Prison Reform Ministry, and the Returning Citizens Collaborative.  My photography and other personal projects are also important to me  so I will make sure I have time for that as well.

If anyone is interested in future information on issues relating to the formerly incarcerated, aka returning citizens, I will continue to write about stories, events and issues here, so stay tuned.

I’ll also keep the Facebook page active to write about the obstacles faced by those released from prisons and positive stories as well about those who succeed, changes in laws / policies that are beneficial, and various events.   If you “like” that page you’ll receive those updates, too.

SO THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND INTEREST FROM ME AND ON BEHALF OF THESE 4 NONPROFITS!!!!!  It was quite the journey and I’m glad I did it – but I am also very happy now to be riding on the Bosque Trail – much flatter, less humid and most important, very safe.



Donation deadline and Albuquerque interview

final ed FB NBW_1_Stay Happy near Taiban copyThanks again to all who supported my cycling from Albuquerque to Baltimore to raise awareness of and funds for 4 re-entry nonprofits. The closing date for donating is JULY 16, 2016. Here’s the website:
I plan to distribute the funds raised  at the end of July. For those who had trouble with the website, please message me and I can give you my address for mailing donations. THANKS SO MUCH TO ALL OF YOU!  Meanwhile, Albuquerque station KAZQ interviewed me for 10 minutes after my return to ABQ. Check it out if you want – it begins a bit after the 14 minute mark.


To my friends in New Mexico and particularly the Albuquerque area – please join me Friday, July 1st, from 5-8 PM at the Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery to see some photos from the bicycle adventure-awareness campaign-fundraiser for reentry programs. The gallery is in Old Town at 303 Romero Street, directly west of the historic San Felipe de Neri Church (on the second floor).  I would love to thank you in person for your support and interest in this venture so if you’re in the area, please stop by the gallery Friday night.



I was skeptical myself that I could accomplish my goal of bringing attention to re-entry programs by riding my bicycle over a 2 month period from Albuquerque to Baltimore. But this is a cause that has meant something to me since the 1990s.

Back then I worked for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, having left private practice in 1983. I had some excellent law books that I no longer needed for work and wanted to donate them somewhere. I had heard that prisons had law libraries so I wrote to the Maryland House of Correction asking if they would want the books donated.

The volunteer coordinator got back to me with a hearty “yes” and then invited me down to meet the group who was to receive them – a self-help group called the Legal Clinic Education Project. With some concerns for my safety, I accepted the invitation, went to the prison, heard the doors clang behind me (several sets of doors) and entered a large room with a group of men awaiting me.

That night I learned of the hopes and dreams that live behind prison walls. I realized most people locked up yearn for normal lives with a home and a job and a means of transportation. My fear left me almost immediately. The head of the Legal Clinic Education Project asked me (I believe via letter a few weeks later) if I would consider teaching a writing class there since I told them I was presently teaching legal writing at the University of Baltimore Law School one night a week. I agreed, and put together a class dealing with the basics of writing, case law, case analysis, and persuasive writing. I brought in an English teacher from Towson State University to focus on grammar issues. I learned:

Most people in prison come from a background of poverty.
The average prisoner reads at a 3rd grade level.
Virtually everyone I met wanted to put prison behind them and lead productive lives.

Despite the reading difficulties that a number of my students had, homework was completed timely, and classroom discussions showed me that everyone took the course seriously and prepared to participate completely in the class. I ended up teaching this class one semester a year for 3 years.

Inspired by this experience, I eventually changed my legal career to become an assistant public defender. One of the kinds of cases I worked on addressed sentencing modification and it was in this context that I tried to get my clients into re-entry programs. Baltimore had several, but waiting lists were lengthy and judges were reluctant to change sentences to allow convicted defendants to be released early into programs.

The struggle to get clients into programs showed me how most people who are locked up want to succeed upon release. It also showed me how few programs there are. And how, even with an attorney, it is difficult to persuade people that these programs have longterm value. This longterm value is not only for the incarcerated person, but for society as a whole.

With re-entry programs recidivism drops from around 75% to around 25%. Re-entry programs make fiscal sense as well. Prison costs $20,000 – $50,000 annually, whereas re-entry programs are one-third that cost. Finally, crime is reduced and hence there are fewer crime victims, and families are restored.


I met a family in Texas whose husband was helped by a re-entry program called Victory Outreach. Not only did he put addiction and incarceration behind him, but he holds a job and reaches out to others released from prisons and helps them break the cycle of incarceration as well.

I met two men in Florida who turned their lives around after serving time. One now is in charge of job outreach for a re-entry nonprofit and the other person is an administrator for this program.

Also in Florida, a woman whose daughter in incarcerated is now working actively on getting a 12-step program established for women who are released from prisons and jails.

Another Florida young woman works with others to help with re-entry and also educates the community on the value of welcoming those released from prison and jails with housing, health care and job opportunities.

A reporter in Georgia became very interested in reentry programs in his state after interviewing me and asked me to send him more information so that follow-up stories could be done.

A Maryland family who had never thought about the difficulties of re-entry talked to me at length about it, enlightened and more open-minded about the necessity of supporting them.

Here are two detailed stories of people helped by programs in Albuquerque:

Crossroads for Women (one of the 4 programs to which I’m donating the money I raise) has helped Sarah break her cycle of incarceration:

“After my brother died I returned to my use of alcohol to numb the pain of missing him. By the time I was 28 I was homeless, drinking, and using crack non-stop. Over the course of 8 years I was homeless and incarcerated 10 different times. I would go back to jail once or twice a year. During my last stay in jail, a friend told me about Maya’s Place (one of Crossroads’ programs)….I couldn’t stand to see the disappointment in my daughter’s eyes and my son hated what I was doing. I struggled with how to manage my anger…but part of what I learned at Maya’s Place was how to think through a situation before acting on it.” Sarah is now taking classes at a local community college and planning to get her own place.

Gary’s story, a person who benefited from Wings for L.I.F.E. (another one of the 4 programs which will receive 1/4 of what I raise):

After 33 years in Oklahoma prisons, in 2011 Gary moved to Albuquerque to the custody of his sister. He heard about Wings for L.I.F.E. (Life-skills imparted to Families through Education) and began attending regular meetings. Gary learned how to “dress for success” and worked on life skills, manners, and how to talk positively about his past. A key ingredient to Gary’s success has been developing relationships and friendships at Wings, building trust in him. This has resulted in work opportunities. His solid work ethic led to public recognition of his credibility. He is now a respected businessman, allowing him to help others in the community. He has inspired, encouraged and hired returning citizens (those released from prisons and jails) and is a Wings Board member.

There are thousands upon thousands of success stories. For those of you who have donated, MANY THANKS! For those of you who have had difficulty with’s website, please message me about an alternative way to donate. For those of you who will donate, this is my last request. I’m going to make the distribution in July and will post copies of the certified checks before they are delivered to the 4 nonprofits. ALL funds raised will go directly to these four non-profits that help with re-entry.

Here is the link to the donation site, and as I said, if you have difficulty, you can message me through the Facebook website or by responding to me on this blog.  Also, my sister Kathleen’s design is imprinted on T-shirts, duffel bags, note cards, caps and so forth. Check it out (and use the HOME tab at the top to see all the choices – that website also is a bit glitchy).


Donation site
T-shirts, mugs, memorabilia

Journey completed! Goals accomplished! Peace out!