The RAPP collective works to dismantle the racist punishment system
Jose Hamza Saldana, Director
Jose was released from state prison in January 2018, after 38 years of incarceration and four parole denials. During his decades in prison, he obtained a college degree. More importantly, he committed himself to organizing and advocating for racial justice and meaningful changes to the criminal legal system, including transformative changes to parole and sentencing. He is an alumnus of the Resurrection Study Group, which espouses the Non-Traditional Approach to Criminal and Social Justice.
Since his release from prison, Jose has been a critical advocate pushing for key policy changes for incarcerated people and building strategic partnerships to end mass criminalization. He was chosen as RAPP’s director by Mujahid Farid and the entire RAPP leadership collective just before Farid’s passing in late 2018.
As an advocate, Jose is a prominent national speaker on issues of mass incarceration and ending life sentences. He is the recipient of the 2019 Freedom Fighter Award issued by Citizens Against Recidivism.
He mentored hundreds of men during his years inside and continues to inspire all of us with his energy, commitment, and leadership.
Dave George, Associate Director
RAPP Associate Director Dave George helps to lead RAPP’s community organizing, advocacy, and communications work. Dave has been doing prison abolition work in New York State for more than five years. He has a Bachelors in Social Work and Spanish and a Masters in Social Work and Public Policy. He lives in New York City.
TeAna Taylor, Co-Director of Policy & Communications and Capital Region Organizer
TeAna advocates for children of incarcerated parents, informed by her father’s nearly two decades of incarceration and working with We Got Us Now and the HALT Solitary Campaign. She has been engaging her community in restorative justice work for the past five years. She created and maintained a peer mediation program at a local middle school, leading mediations between youth, parents, and teachers; facilitating circles that ranged from community building within classrooms to repairing harm between community members; providing conflict coaching sessions for students; and training students in peer mediation and conflict resolution. TeAna has also facilitated circles to address issues faced by students and faculty of color at her alma mater, SUNY Schenectady, that lead to policy change for a more inclusive and diverse campus.
Mark Shervington, Statewide Advocacy Associate
A New York City native, Mark served 29 years in NYS prisons on a 15-years-to-life sentence. In prison he became a Certified Paralegal Specialist and successfully challenged the NYS Parole Board’s policies, practices and determinations denying parole to deserving candidates, as well as helping to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals. Released in 2015, he was the first non-law student to be awarded a National Lawyers Guild Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowship for Social and Economic Justice. Mark leads RAPP’s New York City organizing work and is an Advisory Board member of the Parole Preparation Project of the NYC Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
Noel Casey, Westchester/Hudson Valley Community Organizer
Noel is a Yonkers native and current resident, with a deep sense of pride and love for her community. Upon graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she earned a BA in Political Science and Sociology, Noel served as a staffer in the NYS Legislature for 3.5 years. Throughout her time in government, Noel connected deeply with various advocates from across the state which helped redefine the lens of her work. Her commitment to human rights and care for her community members drives her to work towards and imagine a more restorative world.
Elmer Flores, Long Island Regional Community Organizer
Elmer helps with advancing RAPP’s collective mission by organizing impacted communities across Long Island to advocate for fair and timely parole and release of our elders. Elmer is a Brentwood resident who has been involved in progressive grassroots organizing work on Long Island since graduating from Stony Brook University with his bachelors in 2018.
Donna Robinson, Western NY Regional Organizer
Donna is a longtime resident of Buffalo, NY who began advocating for the rights of incarcerated people in Western New York with Prisoners are People Too. It was there that she first connected with RAPP, eventually becoming a RAPP member in 2017. Donna is a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. She has a daughter serving a 15 year to life sentence in New York State. She decided to become RAPP’s Western NY Regional Organizer when one of her daughter’s mentors, Valerie Gaiter, died in prison after 40 years of confinement. Donna works to ensure that no more Vals die behind bars.
Melissa Tanis, Communications Consultant
Melissa is a Communications Consultant for RAPP, a graduate of Columbia School of Social Work, and the Communications and Digital Media Coordinator for the Center for Justice at Columbia. She has worked for over five years in the Communications and Policy field and supports RAPP in social media advocacy, graphic design, and newsletter communications. Melissa experienced parental incarceration for 22 years before her dad passed away in prison. She joined RAPP to support families and advocate for older people to be reunited with their communities, rather than be sentenced to die in prison.
Mujahid Farid and RAPP’s Founders
RAPP was founded in 2013 by the late Mujahid Farid, who died on November 20, 2018, and two other formerly incarcerated elders, Kathy Boudin (22 years in NYS prison) and Laura Whitehorn (14 years in federal prison).
Farid served 33 years in New York prisons. He was denied parole nine times, based solely on the nature of his original offense; as a result, his 15-years-to-life sentence turned into 33 years of incarceration. During his incarceration he earned degrees from Syracuse University, SUNY/New Paltz, and New York Theological Seminary. In 1986 he helped create the first HIV/AIDS peer education program in NY prisons—a program now taught in every NYS prison—and a college certificate program sponsored by New York Theological Seminary. He was a brilliant jailhouse lawyer.
Farid knew that his repeated parole denials reflected the reality of many long-term incarcerated people—working to change their lives while aging in prison, yet unable to be seen and evaluated for the people they had become and how they had transformed their lives, rather than for who they were at the time of their arrest. Drawing on this awareness and a political and moral commitment to uplift the people he’d left behind, soon after his 2011 release he joined with Kathy and Laura to create the country’s first organizing campaign dedicated to releasing older incarcerated people. He was awarded a 2013 Soros Justice Fellowship to launch RAPP.
Widely loved and respected, Farid spent his last days and hours at home, surrounded by his family and his RAPP and Parole Preparation Project family. His death was marked by an obituary in the New York Times.
Following Kathy Boudin’s release from New York State prison in 2003, she earned a PhD in social work and founded the Coming Home Program at the Spencer Cox Center for Health, Mt. Sinai/St.Luke’s, which provides health care for people returning from incarceration. In addition to her work with RAPP she is the Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Justice at Columbia University and the author of many articles and research papers on the causes and consequences of incarceration, especially as these affect women and children.
After Laura Whitehorn’s release from prison in 1999 she worked as senior editor at POZ Magazine and as editor in chief of Turn It Up! Staying Strong Inside, a magazine by and for incarcerated people. She helped organize “Self-Determination Inside/Our” at Interference Archive in 2015, edited the writings of the late Black Panther political prisoner Safiya Bukhari (“The War Before”), and is a full-time volunteer organizer with RAPP.