By: Erica Bouska: Troy Record
TROY, N.Y. — Community advocates and others gathered Tuesday to call for the passage of two parole reform bills and celebrate those in the Capital Region who received awards from state legislators for their crime reduction work.
“The work that we do in our community,” said La-Meik Taylor, a formerly incarcerated individual and one of the people awarded, “the collaborations made between us and all the organizations and people in society at large and our ability and capacity to collectively gather with one another to implement events like this, show and speak to the fact that we are still community members as well.
Held in Troy’s Oakwood Community Center, the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice (PCPJ) hosted the event. It is the sixth event of eight statewide that PCPJ has organized over the last month to support these bills.
“Troy is a highly impacted area by incarceration and we, you know, want to let community members know that we’re here to help,” said TeAna Taylor, Co-Director of Policy and Communication and the Capital Region Organizer of PCPJ. “We push for state legislation, but we also just support people who are dealing with familial incarceration.”
“My father’s been incarcerated since I was 10 so I come into this work with a drive not only for my family but as someone with personal experience who understands that when you deal with incarceration it can feel, like, very lonely,” she continued. “So we’re trying to also break down that stigma and change the narrative around our incarcerated family members.”
One of the bills the group is calling to be passed is the Elder Parole bill which is currently in a senate committee in the state legislature. The bill would mandate parole interviews and evaluations with those over 55 who have served 15 or more years of a sentence.
The other is the Fair and Timely Parole bill which is also in a senate committee. This bill would focus parole decisions on factors more related to who the incarcerated individual is currently and the work they have done on themselves and in their community while incarcerated.
Community advocates said both bills are supported by several U.S. Congressmen, former and current District Attorneys and 350 organizations statewide including the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Crime Victims Treatment Center and New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. According to a report by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, many victims of violent crimes want shorter prison sentences and prefer rehabilitation over punishment.
Jon Romano, a formerly incarcerated person who spoke on Tuesday, was a victim of a violent crime himself after his release during his work at a homeless shelter. But in his work talking with the FBI and other law enforcement, he continues to advocate for rehabilitation and recognition of the circumstances surrounding crime.
As a teenager in 2004, Romano brought a shotgun to Columbia High School in East Greenbush and fired a few rounds during the school day.
“The man who attacked me deserves the opportunity to turn his life around,” Romano said, “just as I was able to. And I hope that one day he’s able to come home and to make a difference in the community and I hope one day that we all see that happen.”
Other incarcerated individuals also spoke Tuesday, all with a laundry list of accomplishments and community work that they continued after incarceration. Four people — La-Meik Taylor, Gordon Davis, Julia Long and Romano — received awards for that work from State Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Bethlehem.
“They continue to contribute to this community,” said a representative from his office at the event, Michael Perrin, “in ways that probably no one else would know how to do or no one else could do with dedication and the talent that they have.”
Long was a teacher’s aide, law clerk and grievance representative while in prison. Now, she is the president of a gun violence prevention task force, and she founded an organization providing housing legal services. On top of that, she coaches Little League and flag football.
“I don’t even go by formerly incarcerated person. I feel like I’m so far removed from that,” Long said, though she clarified it’s not something she’s ashamed of. “I mean, I’m a grandmother. There’s so many other things besides that that I don’t even say it anymore.”
The event also celebrated community members who were not incarcerated but use their voices to educate people and support those who are incarcerated or leaving incarceration as well as other equity projects. Those two community members, Selena Bronson and Tammar Cancer, were recognized with awards by State Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, D-Albany.
“There are so many of us that did 25 and better in prison. First-time offense,” said Charles Grosso, a formerly incarcerated community member who spoke Tuesday. “We don’t just sit around in prison. We take advantage of opportunities whether it’s vocational or educational.
“We come home to do better,” he continued. “Let us come home and we’ll show … ‘Each one, teach one.’ That’s what we need to do.”