Refusing to Remain #StuckOnReplay

On July 13th, the community came together to deliver a clear message: Massachusetts can no longer delay; we need comprehensive criminal justice reform. The gathering, entitled The Fierce Urgency Of Now, Or Else #StuckOnReplay, drew hundreds of individuals, advocates, and community leaders to Dudley Square to share stories and issue a passionate call for change.

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The program included performances by local artists to illustrate inequalities in the system, a breakout session to organize advocacy and social media strategy, and pep talks from advocacy organizations working on different components of the reform agenda. James Mackey, Founder and Organizer of #StuckOnReplay, also presented awards to recognize champions in this effort, including Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Evandro Carvalho.

The forum marked the one year anniversary of the first #StuckOnReplay gathering, which brought together members of greater Boston communities most affected by incarceration. Over the past year, #StuckOnReplay has hosted and participated in a number of events, facilitating conversations and amplifying the voices of those who are underrepresented in a truly impactful way.

It is clear that the Massachusetts Legislature does not reflect the communities who are disproportionately impacted by the justice system, and so the need to listen to the those on the front lines – those with first-hand experience, is vital in this process. Only by acknowledging these disparities can we begin to address them through reform efforts and a reinvestment strategy that actively works to break the cycle for the next generation.

Thank you to all of the partner organizations that helped make this event possible.

 

Stuck On Replay Goes Back to School!

On August 20th, the Tito Jackson Community Fund and the Roxbury Community held a the Back to School Block Party for Peace! Right in the heart of Roxbury, the youth-centric event had delicious food, drink and live performances available for those in attendance. In addition, school supplies were distributed to those in need. 

There was a bouncy house as well!

There was a bouncy house as well!

StuckOnReplay was there to capture the action and we received some great testimony from people making a real difference in the community. 

We first interviewed Malika MacDonald-Rushdan, Director of ICNA Relief USA's Massachusetts Field Office and Director of Shelter Operations. Her organization strives to build healthy communities, strengthen families and create opportunities for those in need while maintaining dignity and advocating for basic human needs. Check out their work at icnarelief.org.

Malika and her granddaughter.

Khalia and her daughter.

Next we heard the success story of Khalia, a student at the New England Center for Arts & Technology or NECAT. NECAT is a career-directed educational non-profit serving resource-limited, chronically unemployed and underemployed adults in Boston. They offer targeted job training, support, and employment services to prepare students to secure and retain career-ladder jobs in the growing food services industry. Check out more from NECAT at their website, ne-cat.org.

Finally, we'd like to thank Tito Jackson and Monica Cannon for organizing the event and welcoming StuckOnReplay.

Rickey McGee Speaks at StuckOnReplay

Prisoner-turned-activist Rickey McGee spoke to the crowd at the first stuck on replay event. He joined us over the phone from prison and imparted some inspiring advice in the telling of his life story. What follows is a transcript of the speech. You can also find the video version of Rickey's speech below.

“On the behalf of the McGee family I appreciate all in attendance for extending their receptive ears to me in the here and now.

Understand that a change without begins with a change within. The very instrument that could legitimately alter our circumstances is of course our Minds, so what happens when our perspectives are pre-occupied with effectively dealing with the unfortunate societal norms of our times such as systemic racism, joblessness, gun violence, institutional disenfranchisement, absentee fatherhood, mass incarceration, etc.

We are being asked to thrive in conditions that are designed to break our will and sense of determination, so how will we succeed? Allow me to paint a clearer picture for you utilizing my own life as a narrative. Growing up my father was like a deity to me, I truly worshiped him and everything that came out of his mouth was greater than gold. When I was around 8-9 years old my father was dealing an apparent addiction so much so that my mother kicked him out of the house.

This dramatically impacted myself esteem. I felt like nothing because in my mind he had chosen his drugs over me. My father was my main source of motivation so it was difficult for anyone outside of him to animate the vigor within me. My mother was a great parent who tried but her love had felt different than his. I grew up in a house full of girls so I sought my identity in the streets with other young men who themselves had gone through issues in the home. Sadly each of us strongly felt that all we had was each other and we would ensure that nothing would get in the way of us maintaining our brotherhood. Thus a "code of the streets" was adopted.

I was a talented teenager growing up. I excelled in basketball, and at the age of 16 I was offered a recording contract to get into the rap industry. A little after my 17th birthday I made the worst decision and brought a gun into the home I shared with my mother and four sisters.

As a result of this my little sister Shanika was accidentally shot with it by one of her friends who assumed that it was fake when she had discovered it in my boot. It had almost taken her life. I did not know how to process the impact of this event, one that I had blamed myself for, so I started smoking blunts and drinking alcohol beyond its recreational usage in the past in attempts to suppress the shame that was real within me. I started getting arrested, and was soon the youngest person detained in Southbay Correctional Center at age 17 in 1995 as a result of being charged with the gun used in my sister's accident.

In 1997 I was a 19 year old charged with the death of a store clerk in a neighborhood Christie's market, and although the evidence had clearly shown that there were holes in the prosecutor's theory of the case I was convicted to serve a life sentence at the age of 20. It was once told to me by an elder that "in order to go somewhere that you have never been, you must become someone that you never was”, so I began challenging myself to effectively combat the system. But I could not do this until I truly understood it. In 1998 I not only started to educate myself to the criminal justice system, I also studied multiple social systems as well and soon began to see my life in a broader historical context. I felt like a fool to get sucked into the streets, but at the same time it was hard to focus on anything outside of the day, and in addition to that it was preached to us on the corner that tomorrow wasn't promised anyway so why would I invest time to even thinking about it!

For the last 19 years of my life I have not only been fighting to regain my freedom, but most importantly my humanity. I've witnessed a lot of trauma, and experienced a lot of loss, yet I was never introduced to anyone who could explain to me why my life felt so empty - so meaningless. But at 20 I realized that my life would be what I have willed it to become, which is the period where I started changing my thoughts about my potential beyond what transpired in my past. Be very mindful that I have been doing this in an environment that discourages self empowerment and self expression. Through it all I have elevated in conditions that attempted to breed standardized mediocrity within me, and what I have discovered throughout this journey is that there are many prisons but most of them exists internally in the form of low self esteem, insecurity, misplaced identity, etc., all which have the ability to prevent one from living as a liberated people who have decided to become the architects of their tomorrow rather than one who simply reacts to the day.

As I have said earlier change without begins with a change within, which means that our situation will never change until we do, until we vessel our justified frustrations into mediums that can foster the needed solutions. I firmly believe that you are only as young as your ideas, which translates into new visions for old problems. If you are a teenager with old solutions then what changes are you logically expecting to see? It is only when you dare to be different that your conditions will soon imitate the impressions seen within your mind’s eye.

It was once stated by George Jackson, a prison abolitionist. who had himself died in prison at the age of 29 under a hail of bullets, that “life without the control over the factors which determine the quality of my tranquility is of the first of importance to me, for without this control I am forever insecure, forever at the whim and caprice of the man in control." So it is ok to feel a certain way about what is transpiring in your community and what has taken place in society, just look at what occurred to the Brother in Minn. who was shot and killed by a police officer as his girlfriend was live streaming the entire event. With all this understand family that you should never become so overwhelmed by the problems that you miss out on the opportunity to discover its existing solution. Your life will always be what we have willed it to become: so it will always be what it is until it's changed by you and those of similar passion and commitment, and as everyone here this evening realizes we must put forward a greater effort to identify our commonalities rather than magnify our differences being that all we have is each other in this struggle for human decency in our homes, in our communities, and in this country. This is not about race, it's about pacer getting with those who are desirous about dealing with the issues NOW through effective networking and strategic alliance building.

Throughout everything that I have been through in my life I was told for the first time in my life by my wife that I am deserving of happiness regardless of what I have been through. So I now extend this to you that whatever it is you have experienced in this life, you too are deserving of happiness. Understand that the entire world can doubt you, but it is only until you begin to doubt yourself that this becomes a reality. Take care of yourselves, Peace.


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Do You Believe in Second Chances?

Jay Blitzman First Justice, Massachusetts Juvenile Court

Jay Blitzman
First Justice, Massachusetts Juvenile Court

That is the most commonly asked question I receive when I speak to students as part of judicial-school outreach. My answer is always the same: “Yes.” I believe anyone who works with adolescents or has ever been a parent would provide the same response.

The concept of second chances is implicated in the debate concerning when or if it is appropriate to expunge a juvenile or criminal court record. The subject was addressed in a Juvenile Law Center study, Failed Policies, Forfeited Futures: A Nationwide Scorecard on Juvenile Records, which analyzes how states protect individuals’ records during and after their involvement with the juvenile justice system.

Read More from CommonWealth

The Inaugural #StuckOnReplay Event Recap!

On July 7th, a passionate crowd bustled about the Haley House Cafe in Roxbury for the inaugural #StuckOnReplay event, a series of community dialogues on corrections reform in Massachusetts.

To raise awareness of the issues at hand, attendees were encouraged to share their stories, ideas, and opinions on how the criminal justice system has impacted their lives. Those testimonials, as well as other media from the event can be found on www.stuckonreplay.org.

The evening included powerful testimonials and performances by spoken word artists and a conversation with a currently incarcerated Boston-resident, who dialed in to share his concerns and experiences with the criminal justice system.

James Mackey of Teen Empowerment and Opportunity Youth United led a conversation on the Council of State Governments process with a panel of leaders, including Rashaan Hall, a civil rights lawyer at the Massachusetts ACLU, Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, and Shannon McAuliffe, Roca’s Boston Director. Video from the informative 20-minute panel dialogue can be found below. 

To wrap up, attendees broke into small groups to discuss problems that the criminal justice system poses in their communities and possible solutions. Representatives of each group shared a summary of their discussion on stage. As this final activity concluded, the horizon had nearly eclipsed the sun and everyone posed for a photo, hopeful that by coming together their voices will be heard.

We’d like to thank everyone who attended. If you weren’t able to make it, Share Your Story online and please encourage others to the same! 

- James Mackey, Community Organizer and Coordinator for Opportunity Youth United - Boston Community Action Team