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Thinking Beyond the CARES Act

We as prisoners have to be more active in our own liberation. Recently there was a ruling in the Federal courts that prisoners could finally receive their Stimulus checks for 2020. This means that all prisoners can file with the Department of Treasury to get their $1200. This is great for each and every prisoner, but while I understand that the purpose of the stimulus checks is to stimulate the economy, we as prisoners should be doing more than just spending our money with Keefe, JPay, or GlobalTel. We should be thinking about liberation and how we could financially assist in the flight to end mass incarceration.

It saddens me to think that over 30,000 prisoners in Virginia could potentially receive $1200 each (totalling $36,000,000), yet we are not even organized enough to pool 10% of that and put it towards our own re-entry and lobbying to change the laws. We could build more transition homes for violent and nonviolent offenders, create peer support counsels in our communities, and create business opportunities through our own investment clubs. Unfortunately, the majority of us are not thinking that way and cannot wait to spend our checks on our lower desires. With all of this money that we will be spending the VDOC will be receiving kickbacks from the contracts that they have set up with all of the major companies that we spend money with religiously.

Another thing that upsets me is that most of us don't ever donate to the organizations that have been fighting to end mass incarceration. The majority of us have never even sent a stamp to contribute to those who constantly send us information and keep us in the loop, and at the same time they show up at the rallies and at the General Assembly to ensure that our voices are represented. We could do so much by giving just $120 of our stimulus to organizations that do the work of fighting for our freedom.

Imagine if we could go to the legislature and show them that we have our own community development project similar to what the female prisoners in the Midwest designed to provide affordable housing for ex-felons while also providing jobs for them to fix up those properties. With these types of projects we could move to propose our own legislation for things like the reinstatement of parole and we would have a good argument for why these bills should pass. Until we began to innovators when it comes to prison and criminal justice reform, it will be a hard row to hoe if we expect for the system and those who helped to create it to provide the solutions.

Lately I have been thinking about the idea of a Fraternity of ex-felons. This type of Brotherhood/Sisterhood of ex-felons would be the largest fraternity in the world considering how many people have served some time in prison or are on probation and/or parole. I am sure that there are some local groups in different states that may be organized in such a way, but nothing national or international. With this type of organization and structure we could effect change in a way that is more broad in scope. This would link the formerly incarcerated from California to Virginia, and give us political sway over the legislatures from state to state. We could pool our resources in a way that would make us independent in the pursuit of our dreams and aspirations. Instead of looking towards the government to provide resources, we would be totally self-sufficient.

Now, some would say that my vision is lofty and far reaching, but I believe that this could be done. I think that there are enough like minded individuals out there who would be willing to put in the work, and while this is only a concept, I hope that just the idea will get your wheels turning towards this destination. I am as optimistic as ever about our future. It just takes some of us who are willing to put in the work. Will you join us?

Hassan Shabazz, VAPOC/CFJ/VAPJN


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