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Michigan Criminal Justice Program News August 2021

Updates on advocacy and work for liberation

Jawan Hayes at left, his mother Angela, and his brother William
Jawan Hayes at left, his mother Angela, and his brother William Photo: / AFSC

Dear friends and allies and supporters and community members,

We know it has been a hot minute since we reached out to you all. We have been going through all kinds of changes, beautiful trials and tribulations in our work and in our lives. COVID has been a great separator and a powerful unifier.

Over the last 16 months we have worked from home and done our best to show up for people living in prisons in Michigan in ways that lead to more freedom and more community.

At this time, our program is in transition. We are moving our work to concentrate more on the hardest cases. We still root everything we do in advocacy for and with people inside, and also are aiming to build more power with people serving long time -- lifers and long indeterminately-sentenced people.

We believe the prison system is flawed at its core.

We believe it is founded and tied directly to the legacy of slavery and attempted genocide in the United States.

We believe prisons are places of profound struggle and hardship--at times this struggle and hardship becomes direct abuse, neglect, and torture.

We believe you cannot make the current system better.

We believe in redemption.

We believe in the robust power of transformation.

We believe the antidotes to many of our current social struggles are locked away in cages.

We believe in liberation.

We also understand that there are people who have done great harm in communities and who struggle with personal and generational trauma histories, causing need for more community care, not less. A bunk bed in a ten-by-ten with a bunkie and a toilet and medications that zone a person out, with once-in-a-while counseling sessions, is NOT how you treat or manage complex trauma histories.

It is with this ethos we come to you now. Over the next many months, we will be in more communication via this newsletter. We want to provide information, opportunities, and resources for you to get deep in the work.

We have a long way to go. It seems like punishment responses to harm are the go-to, the easy thing, the way we get by without investing our spirit into really confronting the power of the state

Life and Long Sentence Coalition

We are a part of a coalition of concerned Michigan community members, organizations, activists, advocates, loved ones of people in prison, people in prison, people of faith, and survivors of harm.

One byproduct of the coalition is "Let Me Tell You." This soon-to-be website will have stories, artwork, and photos from people who are currently incarcerated in Michigan's prisons. You can also follow this Instagram account for a first look.

Let Me Tell You

Before Prison
By Jawan Hayes

My past has not Defined, Destroyed, Deterred, nor Defeated me.
It has only strengthened me.

My name is Jawan Hayes, and I was born on June 8, 1981. My mother was a teenager who did not know much about raising a baby, but one thing she knew for certain was that she loved me, and she had plenty of help from my grandmother.

My mom and grandmother often told me stories of what I was like as a child and shared photos with me. I was a spoiled mom’s and grandmom’s boy. My childhood was great.

Our home was full of love, support, and happiness. I got clothes, toys, and everything I needed. During holiday seasons like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and the 4th of July, I had the same things other kids had.My mom and grandmother sacrificed their own needs to make sure I had more than I needed

Growing up, my favorite thing to do was to be outside. I loved playing sports or just going to the park. My grandmother and mother were worried about me as a kid. Their worry stemmed from certain people in the neighborhood, and the busy street where our house was located.

The community was good, and everyone looked out for each other. If you did something wrong, someone would tell your parents. Our community had block events, where there would be fun, games, and music. It was the stuff that brought communities together. I grew up knowing how to have fun.

My grandmother and mother are my heroes. The life skills they instilled in me as a young boy such as how to treat women, how to get a summer job, and how to be independent are ones I still use as a 40-year-old man.

Education was mandatory in the home. My mom would sit down with me to help me do my homework. She was an active mom. So the importance of education and family were instilled in me at a very young age. I aim to make my mom proud and happy because I know how much she struggled and sacrificed, not just for me, but my other siblings.

I think reflection is a great gift because as I reflect back, I would offer my younger self some advice. I would say, “Be patient and not care about what other people say about you. Don’t allow their thoughts to navigate your life."

The Sentencing Project: A Second Look at Injustice

Click here to read more on The Sentencing Project's report addressing ending mass incarceration and putting a cap on long sentences. The report was written by Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D., Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project.


The Good Neighbor Project

The Good Neighbor Project pairs people in prison with people out of prison in what we call “co-mentorships.” Through letters and other correspondence, co-mentors learn about transformation, accountability, and supportive relationships, while shifting public perceptions of those serving long sentences and helping long-termers prepare for critical events like parole interviews and public hearings.

Upcoming dates for Good Neighbor trainings:
September 10 and 24 from 6pm-8pm
Email for more info: dtitus@afsc.org

Learn more about some of our Good Neighbors by reading below!

Criminal Justice Reform Book List

Are Prisons Obsolete?

The Meaning of life: A Case for Abolishing Life Sentences

The End of Policing

The New Jim Crow