First National Meeting of Formerly Incarcerated Convenes in Alabama

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

In the spirit of those brave and selfless Georgia prisoners who stood up for their human rights last December, formerly incarcerated people from across the country convened their own first national meeting in Alabama last week. The next is scheduled for November in Los Angeles. They stand for the full restoration of civil and human rights, and the rollback of the nation's policy of mass incarceration.

First National Conference of Formerly Incarcerated Persons Convenes In Alabama

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Many have declared that the real Freedom Movement of the 21st century will be a broad civic mobilization to confront the prison state and the policies of mass incarceration it inflicts upon the black, the brown and the poor. If so, the clearest sign that such a movement is truly underway is the awakening and self-organization of the formerly incarcerated.

Last week, The Ordinary Peoples Society of Alabama hosted the first national gathering of the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted Peoples Movement. The three day meeting was attended by ex-prisoners from all 50 states and included formerly incarcerated leaders from dozens of groups from round the country, including co-conveners All of Us or None (CA), Women on the Rise Telling Her Story (NY), National Exhoodus Council (PA), A New Way of Life (CA), Direct Action for Rights and Equality (RI) and many more.

Many of these one-time prisoners had long ago seized control of their lives and destinies to found service and self-help organizations in their own cities. Up till now, much of their activism has been about providing counseling to former inmates and their families, helping them find jobs, health care, housing and a tenuous foothold from which to re-enter society. They have led local efforts to curb violence and drug use, to keep kids in school, as well as restorative justice initiatives designed to make the victims of crime whole and heal the wounds of their families and communities. Separately, the former prisoners and the organizations they founded have waged local, statewide and national campaigns to curb the vicious and pervasive discrimination against former prisoners in employment and housing and to fully restore their civil and human rights.

Participants at the meeting pointed out that 700,000 prisoners were released from state and federal custody every from 2005 to 2009, mostly into communities with few jobs, little health care, dim economic prospects, and not many educational opportunities. These lives cannot be rescued, they said, unless the communities they come from and return to are rescued as well.

In the end, more prisons are not the answer to crime,” Pastor. Kenneth Glasgow of Dothan Alabama, one of the event's principal organizers told Black Agenda Report. “Mass incarceration,” he emphasized, “locks long-term poverty in place for the communities many prisoners come from and return to. Our work changing individual lives has led us back here, back to Selma and Montgomery,” said Pastor Glasgow. “Just as we've changed ourselves, we are going to challenge America, to change America, and to roll back this prison state.”

The meeting of the Formerly Incarcerated Persons Movement was funded in part by the good people of the Drug Policy Alliance. It was conducted in the spirit of the Peoples Movement Assemblies, which are a spin off of the U.S. and World Social Forum Movements. Participants in the meeting left with commitments to begin the political education and organization of the formerly incarcerated, their families and their communities across the country as part of their ongoing self-help agenda.

That is how mass movements for real change grow. The next national gathering of the formerly incarcerated will take place in Los Angeles this November. You can contact the national Movement of Formerly Incarcerated Persons on the web at, or through links on our web site,

For Black Agenda Report, I'm, Bruce Dixon.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Marietta GA. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)


I am personally excited about the potential

that this movement creates.  I'm hopeful that, given the past and continuing struggles of the organizers and participants of this movement, we don't have to fear mass political sell out and cooption, the type we've come to expect from "mainstream" leaders. 

I can assure all that there is no more racist system on the planet than the criminal justice system.  It's long past time that a mass movement to address Black incarceration take root.  I'm pissed to no end that our mainstream politicians refuse to tackle this issue, the issue of sentencing disparity and the overwhelming imbalance of justice when it comes to (especially) the federal judiciary and prison sentences.   The vast majority of these sentences are for drug-related offenses.

Someone can help me out here, but a lawyer recently wrote a book detailing that the federal rules of criminal procedure are over 1000 pages.  No doubt the deck is stacked against justice and fairness with each page added to the rules.

Friendly Amendment

11.  Telephone calls.  For heavens sake why are Black politicians silent about this?  Why do inmates have to pay $dollars for minutes when the public is paying 8 or 10 cents per minute?  Please explain to me (us) the technological differences in an inmate call or a friggen telemarketer's call?  Aren't both recorded for "quality control purposes?"

12.   Books, magazines, literature.  Why do companies like Barnes & Nobles have prison contracts?  Why can't family members donate or send books or magazines to their loved ones, why do we have to send books and magazines through Barnes & Noble or similar corporations?   A good chunk of the prison staff or jail staff frankly sit on their ass, they have the time to scrutinize this material.

13.  Commissary items and clothing.  Why are jails and prisons gouging the shit out of families already poor and struggling?   This is an abomination.  Again, where are chickenshit Black politicians when you need them?  Why are they silent as these corporate parasites feed off poor Black hosts???

The jail and prison assertions that this is all done for "security purposes" is rank bullshit.  How many people actually escape from jail or prison in a given calendar year, .005% of 1 percent?  Five out of 5 million?  Or some other infintestimal number??? They don't exercise the same diligence when it comes to prison rape or assault do they?

I'm pissed that Black leaders allow this shit to happen and don't say nothing about it!!!  The prison  and jail system has become a convenient foil for debt peonage in addition to mass incarceration/slavery.

Thanks as always

And please, perhaps before you write those pieces, contact the Congressional Black Chickenhawks or some Negro Congressperson who sits on a committee dealing with the justice system, or the NAACP for that matter and get their tepid response before you go to print.  I want to hear what these cowards have to say about the straight hustling of the prison population and their poor families.

As a humble suggestion a third piece might, perhaps involve how jails and prisons ACTUALLY CHARGE people for their jail time as if they were spending a night at the Hilton or Comfort Suites and Inns.   How in the hell does a person ESCAPE the clutches of the criminal justice system (through endless contempt of court charges) for failure to pay fines when they broke as hell and the court costs are in the thousands if not tens of thousands and the Brothers and Sisters can't get a job shoveling shit???

What the criminal justice does to poor people is some Third World Bullshit and quite Kafkaesque.

Additionally, the pressures they put on the poor, struggling families probably results in more deaths, depression, family break-ups, and mental health issues than one can imagine.

Most of the Middle Class

Most of the middle class don't have a clue about this. I've had the good fortune to talk with people who've been in prison, most of whom I've met on the bus.  I hear about how they have to pay for meetings w/ parole officers, the halfway house, and retributions.   A young man told me he went back to jail because he hadn't found a job in the alloted time (30 days).  I live in a city where a college educated person w/ money in the bank,  a home, and no prison record might not find a minimum wage job in 6 months.

I think the idea that most people are in prison for drug related charges is a misnomer - most people are in prison because they are African American, Latino, or female. The cops and the courts can charge you any way they want, and if you don't have money for a good lawyer, expect to lose.

One of the New Jersey 4 is still doing time - because she stood up when a man harrassed her and tried to strangle her friend. Renate Hill is in jail for being black, lesbian, working class, and brave.




I take slight issue

First of all I commend you and anyone who has the decency to dialogue with ex-prisoners.  If anyone has ever had any mentoring experiences with prisoner, probationers or parolees I can assure you it is one of the most meaningful and uplifting endeavors possible.  Not for what us middle class can give them, but just as much what we can get from them.

Perhaps you say most middle class don't have a clue because most of them are too damn uppidity to acknowledge folks who have done time or want to look down upon them as lesser beings. 

I know from personal experience that, in fact, most middle class do have a clue because there is hardly a Black extended family in America that hasn't had some experience with the criminal justice system.  I know from observation and hands-on experience that criminality crosses all social lines when it comes to Black folks, I know that the principal's kid is just as likely to get "caught up," as is the "bad kid" from around the way.  When I lived in Stone Mtn, GA them middle class Negroes there was cutting a rug rivaling any "hood rat" from Techwood.  The rapper T.I.'s lawyer was carjacked at the local Krogers around the block from where I lived. 

In fact, the wheres and whys of this have befuddled Blacks to the point of paralysis of analysis, so we are left clinging to bullshit homilies like Bill Cosby's rants about poor Blacks not keeping up their bargain or Obama's talking down to Black folks, or City Councilperson passing stupid ass ordinances/laws against "sagging," or ranting about "back in the day" shit.

We don't want to get our hands dirty doing heavy lifting (we meaning Black folks as a whole) we want to sit back and be "preachy."  What the youth of today need now is less preachiness and more teachiness.  Most don't want to hear about the "back in the day bullshit," as relevant as it is to me and my peer group.   Because "back in the day" we were not bombarded and desensitized with the mass media madness, sexual rauchiness and general bebauchery and nihilims that parade as mass culture.  Shit...."back in the day" when I was in my teens I was reading Fanon, Cleaver, Wright, Baldwin, Angelou and listening to Curtis Mayfield talking about "moving on up," "we're a winner," and James Brown talking about being "Black and Proud," or Marvin Gay talking about "Ecology" or Earth Wind and Fire talking about "Keeping your head to the sky..."  The average nigga knew gold came from modern day Black S. African slaves, not some bling bling shit.

I've worked p-t security in the local library and caught adolescents looking at porn.  I simply told them not to do it, I promise you I didn't give them "back in the day" speeches.  "Back in the day" I was lucky to look at some panties in the JC Penney catalogue.  We don't get it as a people, now that we've arrived we just can't understand why folks mess up.  Well we all get frustrated but we all need to take a step back too.  I get mad too, and frustrated like anybody else, but at the end of the day everybody's shit stanks.

I'm sick of niggas talking about what they did or did'n't do, or what they do and don't understand.  Truth is if half the motherfuckers did what I did in college we'd all be in prison right now.  How about that for some "back in the day" shit????