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Freedom Chronicles: 130 Days

Check in, check in, check! What's up with it, freedom followers? It's the guy, I'm at it, y'all. Y'all do know that I'm passing this half a year mark, and like I said last time, It has not been all peachy. There was some ups and down and all the way around.

Anyway, happy Monday, it's August 8th and I'm just checking in to let y'all know it's all fair my world and with everyone's help it will stay that way. So let's crank things into gear. Working two jobs now! Yes, it's a challenge to say the least but soon the reward will be great. #GetTheMoney is in full swing...Let me tell y'all, night time work, wow, I barely even know my days. But it's keeping my focus and my focus is staying free. Continuing to work with youth and shine this wonderful light of mines throughout this world...So I'm shining and wishing you all the best until next time. Stay strong as I am, and continue to pray on all of our behalfs. 

Peace y'all freedom followers, 

Bilal 

Me with my twin  - my daughter. 

Me with my twin  - my daughter. 

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Freedom Chronicles: 210 Days (7 Months)

Check in, check in. Hey y'all Freedom Chronicles followers. It's now seven months to the day since I left San Quentin State Prison, and let me tell you at this point, it's has not all been peachy!! Yes, I hit a breaking point with life. Yes y'all life happened and I was almost sucked back into the fiery pit of destruction. What I'm saying to you all is I found myself having thoughts about the street life...

So let me bring you back up to speed. Just to let you know, this is no justification or excuse for entertaining those thoughts, but I want you understand what the struggle is like. Here we go. Six months into my newfound freedom I found myself tempted to risk it all due to my financial situation. Even though $17.50/hr is great, the cost of living here in Oakland is brutal. Trying to get my own apartment, along with me having two children, car payments, etc. I've found myself not being able to cope, which ultimately caused me a lot of stress and a much needed meltdown.

Within this meltdown, I discovered some things: the biggest thing I discovered is that I have NO desire to go back to the streets! Valuing life, family and freedom, I cried and called my support system here at Planting Justice, Anthony Forrest, and we talked and I was able to find a solution. The solution meant finding another job to where I could ease some of the burdens of money. So what that means, freedom followers, is that I may be part time at PJ for now (I got a job as a construction worker through a union that can pay me more than PJ can). 

So, 7 months into my freedom, today to be exact, I now have means to get into my own apartment next month! I'm back and centered. I've worked in the garden this morning, harvesting kale, tomatoes and jalapeño peppers. I'm smiling, y'all. I find a peace starting my morning in the soil. "Connected" is what we should call it, and wonderful. So bear with me y'all, I'm still a work in progress. 

This has been my 7 month check in. Still climbing. 

Stay tuned,

Bilal 

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How to Raise $100,000 in 30 Days (on Kickstarter)

When I first learned that I would be responsible for running an all-or-nothing Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 in 30 days, honestly? I was terrified! I had never tried crowdfunding before — and neither had Planting Justice. We really didn’t know what to expect, but we knew we had a compelling project that we wanted to rally our community around, and we needed to broaden our fundraising strategy to take this ambitious project on. We decided to try our hand at crowdfunding — and ended up successfully raising over $100,000 in less than 30 days. You can check out project here.

At Planting Justice, we’re committed to open-sourcing our work as much as possible so that others might benefit and have access to the skills, knowledge and resources they need to maximize organic food production, expand job opportunities, and ensure financial and environmental sustainability in their own communities. While one successful campaign does not make us Kickstarter experts, we learned a lot and we’re writing this guide to share our experience with folks who are considering the crowdfunding route.

Prove Your Track Record

Our founders (Gavin Raders and Haleh Zandi) started Planting Justice 7 years ago, and we’ve been an official non-profit for almost 6 years now. Before we ever launched a crowdfunder, we built almost 400 edible gardens throughout the Bay Area, engaged thousands of Oakland students in our food justice curriculum, and supported 20 men transitioning home from San Quentin State Prison. I need to be honest that, no matter what I did with the Kickstarter campaign, we never would have been able to raise $100,000 without the 7 years of excellent work my colleagues had already done. You can’t fake 7 years of great work — and trust us, it speaks louder than any kickstarter video or viral tweet can.

Pick a Challenging But Reasonable Fundraising Goal

Kickstarter is an “all-or-nothing” crowdfunding platform, which means you don’t get ANY of the money you raise unless you reach your fundraising goal. While other platforms let you keep whatever money you raise, regardless of whether you reach your goal or not, our research found that all-or-nothing campaigns are actually more successful on average. We originally wanted to raise $150,000 — enough for the entire down payment on the land on E. 105th — but our research showed that less than 3% of all successfully funded Kickstarters had goals of $100,000 or more:

We didn’t have an extra $50,000 lying around that we could use to make up the difference if we didn’t hit the goal, so we decided to settle on a $100,000 goal and hope for an overwhelming success that we could stretch into $150,000. In hindsight, that was a really good decision! We ended up reaching our goal of $100,000 just 72 hours before the final deadline — better to get that $100,000 than to go for $150,000, just to come up short and not receiving any of the funds we raised. The urgency factor of the all-or-nothing campaign did make a difference in getting our project funded; our hero backer made a goal-reaching $4,000 contribution 3 days before our campaign was scheduled to end. Our advice is, harness the urgency of an all-or-nothing campaign, but temper your expectations and give yourself a little breathing room when choosing your campaign target.

Be a Good Neighbor

At Planting Justice, one of our core values is collaboration over competition. The non-profit industrial complex creates a dynamic where great organizations working on similar problems end up competing with each other for funds instead of collaborating. Fighting over funding crumbs is a killer of our ability to build strong movements that actually impact the systems we’re trying to dismantle/transform, so we work hard to resist that temptation and actively support other orgs working in the food justice & re-entry sectors. We actually pushed the start date for our campaign back 3 weeks when we saw that another local organization we have worked with launched a crowdfunding campaign a week before we were going to launch ours, so as to not compete for funds and promotions. We recommend conducting your organization in this way purely on principle — but man, did it help us when it came time for crowdfunding! When you support others’ work, it makes it a lot easier for them to support yours. The support of other organizations working around similar issues addressed by our project was a critical factor that made our campaign success.

Pitch Media Outlets, Not Celebrities

When we started our kickstarter campaign, we already had over 10,000 people subscribed to our email newsletter, 6,000 Facebook likes, and 2,000 Twitter followers. According to my research, conventional crowdfunding wisdom says that you can basically expect 1% of the people who hear about your campaign to give an average of $50. With a base of about 18,000 people, that still left us raising only about $9,000 — very far from our goal of raising $100,000. We needed to dramatically expand our base of support in order for the campaign to be successful. We had two mass outreach strategies: reaching out to celebrities with millions of Twitter/Facebook followers (folks like Michelle Alexander, Van Jones, Piper Kerman, Stephen Curry, and Tom Hanks), and getting newspapers and blogs to write stories about our project. Can you guess which strategy worked? None of the celebrities we reached out to promoted our campaign. Cold-tweeting and emailing famous people was pretty much a waste of time. I can imagine that they get too many requests to be willing to deal with it (Michelle Alexander’s assistant did send us a very nice email thanking us for our work but letting us know that she has a policy of not approving requests for crowdfunding campaigns).

Our hero promotion came by way of the East Bay Express, the most widely read newspaper amongst East Bay progressives/liberals. Our project (and the crowdfunding campaign) was a featured story in their “Sustainable Living” issue, which came out on the 3rd day of our campaign. Getting excellent coverage from the East Bay Express gave our campaign a huge boost, both in terms of legitimacy and in terms of word of mouth. Throughout the campaign, more newspapers and blogs covered our project, from the Oakland Post (widely read amongst Black Oakland residents) to blogs like Ecopreneurist and online magazines like Ignited Mag, and each article that came out gave us a noticeable bump in fundraising. After all, an in depth article is much more likely to convince someone to donate than a tweet, right?

A note: the difference between tweeting celebrities and pitching journalists is the difference between a 0/10 success rate and a 1/10 success rate - you’ll need to pitch a lot of journalists to get a decent amount of coverage!

Another note: I had know idea how to pitch journalists, and read many, many articles about the best way to do it (before being rescued by my trusted communications mentor April Thomas!).  The truth is, there’s no need to overthink it. The key is to make it clear why this story would be of interest to the journalist’s editor/readers. Here’s the email I sent to the East Bay Express:

Hi Journalist!
It's been a year since you wrote a story on Planting Justice for (your publication) - and we've been busy! The farm in El Sobrante is making fast progress.
We're about to embark on an exciting new project that will significantly expand the scale and impact of our work - purchasing an empty lot on E. 105th (in Sobrante Park, which has the highest unemployment & crime rates in Oakland) and transforming it into an urban farm & training center that will greatly expand access to fresh produce & living wage jobs. With this project, we aim to:
You're the perfect journalist to cover this story because you're skilled at connecting culture and politics (loved your recent piece on the displacement of the arts community in Oakland), and you're already familiar with our work. Let me know if you're interested in doing this piece - of course, I am here on standby to help with anything you may need to get the story up.
With Respect,
Nicole

3 Strategies for a Strong Campaign Launch

My research showed that over 90% of Kickstarter campaigns that got 30% funded get fully funded. I knew we needed to at least cross that 30% mark in the first 48 hours of the campaign so that people would believe that our ambitious campaign was viable. But that meant raising over $30,000 in less than 48 hours! How did we do it?

  1. Use Thunderclap: Thunderclap is basically an “online flashmob” — it allows people to sign up to “donate” their social media influence by letting Thunderclap automatically post a message (that you write and each supporter can edit for themselves) and link to your campaign. Using Thunderclap as a tool, we were able to build buzz for the campaign before it even launched, and enlist over 150 supporters in promoting the campaign to an audience of over 200,000 people at 10 am on the first day of our campaign.
  2. Recruit a Few Big Money Backers to Pledge on the 1st Day: We made personal asks to some of our strongest supporters before we ever launched the campaign. Several folks stepped up to pledge big donations ($3000 — $10,000) within the first few hours of our campaign launch. These big up-front donations were critical in drumming up both excitement and confidence in our crowd-funder during that critical first 24 hours.
  3. Throw a Launch Party: I’m so glad we decided to throw a launch party to kickstart (hehe) our campaign — it was so much fun! We threw a backyard BBQ, complete with a “Plants as Medicine” workshop facilitated by our staff members, live music, and testimonials from our formerly incarcerated and youth staff about what this project would mean for the community. The party was a wonderful opportunity for us to connect face-to-face with our supporters and get them fired up about the campaign. Plus it was an excuse to make herbal cocktails and fire up the grill. Do it!

Enlist as Many People as Possible as Kickstarter Ambassadors

Unless your campaign “goes viral” (which let’s face it, most projects don’t), the majority of your backers will sign up because someone they personally know asked them to back the project. It took 878 backers for us to reach our goal — trust me, one person can’t make enough personal asks to raise that kind of money in less than 30 days! You need an army of campaign ambassadors who can deliver the message of your campaign to various audiences. Here are some strategies we used:

  1. Highlight Lots of Stakeholders: A traditional crowdfunding campaign usually highlights the founder of an organization or the originator of an idea. While our founder/originator Gavin Raders is one of the most amazing people we know, this project is so much bigger than just him — it’s about our formerly incarcerated staff, our permaculture warriors who are innovating to change the food system and save the planet, and our neighbors in Sobrante Park. We actually filmed and edited personalized calls to action from 30 different stakeholders in the project — and released a new video for each day of the campaign. This gave us content to keep our momentum going throughout the kickstarter and highlighted various reasons to invest in our project from an extremely diverse group of stakeholders.
  2. Ask Supporters to Throw House Parties: Before I started working at Planting Justice, I helped run a mayoral campaign, where I learned about the fundraising power of house parties. Ask your strongest supporters to throw a house party for your campaign will help you build buzz and recruit more backers for your project. The house party host just needs to invite 20–50 of their friends and neighbors and put out some snacks — nothing too fancy. Outsourcing the outreach and party-hosting enabled us to show up with a couple of staff members, show our video, give our pitch, answer questions, and collect donations from 20–50 new friends!
  3. Everyone on Your Team Needs to Send Personal Email Asks: Kickstarter’s analytics showed us that 45% of our donations came through someone clicking on a direct link to our project from a personal email or text ask. Personal asks are by far the most powerful, and you need to do a lot of them in order for your campaign to be successful! Make sure that everyone on your team is sending out personalized email asks to their own networks.

Plan for — and Interrupt — the Plateau

Every crowdfunding campaign pretty much follows a bell-shaped curve — with a lot of backers signing up in the first week, a lull or plateau during the middle of the campaign, and then more excitement and more backers signing up in the last week. At the halfway mark of our campaign, just when the plateau was becoming obvious, we donated $5,000 to our own campaign. We then advertised this bump as the campaign gaining steam — and then saw another $7,000 of donations roll in throughout the day. The narrative that our campaign was actually gaining steam when most would be plateauing helped us in the long run. You could plan to interrupt the plateau by donating to your own campaign like we did, or you could introduce some new rewards, or time a major media story to come out during the middle of your campaign.

Hold on to Your Humanity

I know this sounds a little dramatic — but an ambitious crowdfunding campaign can really warp your thinking if you’re not careful. I found myself thinking about money CONSTANTLY, which was new and unpleasant for me. You can start to feel desperate when you’re making asks all day and watching the numbers creep up slower than you’d like. The last week was such a nail-biter — we reached our goal less than 72 hours before the deadline! It’s important to stay grounded in your vision and remember that you’re raising money for a project because you really believe in it. Here are the practices that helped me:

  1. Keep Your Campaign in Perspective: When you’re psyching yourself up to ask people for money, it’s easy to get mentally carried away with how deserving your project is and how EVERYONE should invest ALL their money in it (real talk, I know I got myself into that headspace at times while I was crowdfunding). No matter how brilliant, necessary and innovative your project is, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot of great causes, awesome products, and pressing needs out there competing for folks’ money, which most of us don’t have enough of to begin with. And no matter how great your ask is, not everyone is going to say yes — and you’re not going to know why, and you should not waste your time wondering why. Back off the first time someone tells you they’re unwilling or unable to contribute, and be gracious about it. Don’t spam people. Know when to close the laptop and take a walk to get your mind right.
  2. Say THANK YOU: Stay grounded in gratitude for the people who are stepping up to invest in your project. Make thank you memes. Record thank you videos. When your friend from college write a thank you note on their facebook wall. When your aunt contributes, call her on the phone to say thank you. Remember that nobody owes it to you to back your project, and that every investment, no matter how small, is a gift. I made it a personal practice to say thank you OUT LOUD every time I got a notification that somebody had donated, and it helped me stay grateful and grounded even on the slow days.
  3. Keep Moving: If you act like your dreams are on pause until the money comes in — guess what? They will be! Actively working on our project during the crowdfunding campaign helped us build momentum and gave us a sense of empowerment. Continue to make what progress you can while you wait for that $100K to hit your bank account — the work will keep you motivated and focused and sharing your progress will encourage people to invest.

Well, there you have it! That’s how we raised $100,000 in 30 days.

I want to end this piece by naming that crowdfunding can be a wonderful tool, it is no substitute for transforming our economic system. Our motto at Planting Justice is “Compost the Empire.” We live in the richest country in the world and yet millions of Americans (particularly Black Americans) are born into poverty, segregated into neighborhoods where basic necessities like nutritious food and clean water are inaccessible and  jobs and opportunities for economic self-empowerment are non-existent, while our elected officials waste the bulk of our tax dollars on paramilitary policing of these disenfranchised communities and a system of mass incarceration that is an international embarrassment. That is a system that needs to be composted - it needs to die so we can grow something new. Much love, solidarity and gratitude to everyone who is putting in work to facilitate that process.

 

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Call to Action (Statement in Solidarity with the National Prison Strike 2016)

By Maurice "Big Moe" Bell 

I am now speaking on behalf of myself, my fallen brothers who were once incarcerated (RIP), and on behalf of all the other brothers and sisters who are still in the struggle. Stay strong!

1971 — Attica

Wow, 35 years. Just in case you don’t understand what’s going on, let’s do a short history lesson: Attica. In 1971, I was 2 years old, but I remember hearing stories about the uprising at Attica Prison in New York. Once known as one of the most dangerous and notorious prisons, mostly for its torture and killing of unarmed prisoners/men, there was this massive riot and prison takeover, one of the biggest in the history of the prison system. A lot of people died during that prison riot/massive takeover. The takeover was so extensive that it got a lot of media coverage and lots of exposure of the deplorable and inhumane treatment of human beings/prisoners. These men came together in solidarity and risked their lives (some gave up their lives) in support of overthrowing a corrupt system, leading up to one of the biggest prison riots in the history of prisons in the United States.

2016 — Mass Incarceration

Moving forward to present time, on September 9th, 2016, there will be an all-out sit-down strike nationwide. This sit-down strike is huge and could also be labeled monumental. These men and women who are taken a stand against mass incarceration and cruel and unusual punishment, including deplorable living and working conditions, are brave and courageous, and should be considered heroes. This sit-down strike is very important, and can change the corrupt prison system as we know it. So it is extremely important that we get behind these men and women and stand side by side with them in honor and in solidarity.

As a man who was once incarcerated, I fully support these men and women in their struggle. The reason this sit-down strike is so important to me is because I was once involved in a prison sit-down strike in 1996. Not only was it powerful but it was liberating as well.

It was in 1996 when then Governor Pete Wilson took the family visitation rights away from lifers (prisoners serving life sentences who would never get released from prison). As a prisoner who was not a lifer and was getting family visits, I knew how important it was to receive family visits. Even though I was not a lifer, I felt compelled to participate in that sit-down as an act of solidarity. Even though the lifers did not get their family visits back, we still took a stand and said all in one voice, “NO MORE!”

Today we are still taking that stand and we are still saying in one voice, “NO MORE!” We are now only adding demands:

NO MORE mass incarceration!

NO MORE putting our kids away for life!

NO MORE slave labor!

NO MORE 3 strikes!

NO MORE death penalty!

NO MORE mental, physical or sexual abuse!

NO MORE forced sterilization!

NO MORE inhumane treatment of prisoners, men and women alike!

NO MORE unhealthy food!

NO MORE deplorable living conditions!

NO MORE inadequate medical treatment!

The list goes on and on but I am sure you get the gist of things.

Now I know the term “slave labor” might have startled you or went over your head, or maybe you don’t get it or know anything about it in general, so let’s do some education.

Slave Labor Is Still Alive & Well in the U.S.

“Slave labor” is a commonly used phrase in the prison system, which means you have a man or a woman doing a job that normally pays $10–12/hour, but the prison pays a person $0.08 or even no pay to work just hard as if you were making that $10–12/hour. They expect nothing less, and sometimes you are required to work on your days off.

“The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states, ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted shall exist within the United States.’ Overseers watch over our every move, and if we don’t perform our appointed task to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off of our clothes and investigations of our bodies as though we are animals.”
- THIS IS A CALL TO END SLAVERY IN AMERICA (NATIONAL PRISON STRIKE, SEPTEMBER 2016)

You are required by law to work in the prison system, and there are only so many paid slots in every prison, which is given on a first-come, first-served basis, and everybody else has to wait their turn for a paid position. And if that requires you working for free, then so be it.

The paid jobs in prison range from 1 cent/hour to up to $2.50/hour, and every able-bodied person is required to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, no matter what. If you refuse to work for free, at any time, you will face stiff penalties which could include:

  • Loss of good-time credits
  • Solitary confinement
  • Loss of privilege (canteen, phone time, yard time)
  • Loss of visitation rights
  • The list goes on and on

All of this I am speaking from experience, so am I going to support these brothers and sisters in their sit-down strike? YES, you better believe it! All I ask is for you to also stand up and support these brothers and sisters, men and women, whichever you prefer, in their time of need. It is never too late to be a part of something big.

As of today, please mark your calendars for 9–9–16….a day of reckoning.

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Moving Forward Education

Hey y'all, let's check in!

Our education team soared to higher heights last week. No for real, we opened the Planting Justice 5 acre farm to the students of moving forward education and their staff. We planted 8 tree. We also learned about the art of grafting, which is the ability to take one fruit tree and fuse it to another fruit tree where it will bear fruit year-round. We also learned about ticking the roots of  a plant before putting it in the soil, and last but not least, we learned about soil amending. 

This has been the check in for my 139th day of freedom - how productive is that?! 

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Farm Life

By Maurice "Big Mo" Bell 

It all started about one year ago. Me, Darryl (who was in San Quentin with me), Drew (the farm manager), and my brother Siddiqqi were working together. My first day on the farm, I looked around like, “What are we doing way out here? And why is this just a bunch of open land with so much debris and vegetation everywhere?” So as time went on, Drew informed us guys that we were going to transform this huge piece land into a working farm. 

This is me, Big Mo, looking and feeling happy on our farm. 

This is me, Big Mo, looking and feeling happy on our farm. 

Now at this point in time, it’s important for you to keep in mind that I had only been released from prison and working on staff at Planting Justice for less than 90 days. My job title was as a member of the “Transform Your Yard” (TYY for short) crew, and we actually became a crew. 

Anywho, as I was looking around this jungle, while Drew was explaining our task, our goal and mission, I was thinking to myself, “I have heard of Transform Your Yard, but this is ridiculous. How are we supposed to transform all of this land?!” In my mind, there was no way we were going to actually do any of the things that this guy was asking us to do: clear this 5 acre lot of all debris, lay an irrigation system, build a fence around the whole property, make some swales, and then build a retaining wall, and so on and so on. Imagining all of this work in my mind, I was looking around for power tools, but all I saw were axes, shovels, picks, digging bars & posthole diggers, just to name a few - oh yeah, there were even more hand tools to name. So I asked Drew for confirmation purposes, “Are we doing all this work with only those hand tools?” And to no surprise, he answered, “yes.” I started to laugh at first, but Drew was looking way too serious, and I had just started working at Planting Justice, so I didn’t want to piss off the boss! So I just said, “Wow, wow, wow.” 

Our brother Siddiqqi, may he Rest in Peace. This is what a lot of the land looked like before we did a lot of work to turn it into a farm! 

Our brother Siddiqqi, may he Rest in Peace. This is what a lot of the land looked like before we did a lot of work to turn it into a farm! 

Then I told myself to basically psyche myself out that this was just part of the initiation to prove that I wanted the job bad enough and could handle it. Because if you could hang when we first got started on the farm, then you could always hang with TYY. Welcome to TYY! Boy, was I wrong. 

So we dug in, and come to find out, there was no initiation, there was just a lot of hard work and a very beautiful and meaningful vision. So as time went on, we built the retaining wall, we cleared all 5 acres of debris & vegetation, we built and installed our own water system for rain water, and treated water. We installed an irrigation system, put in fencing around the whole 5 acre farm, and we also completed those swales, which are now 90% planted up and manicured daily. 

Here is a close up look at the irrigation system we built. 

Here is a close up look at the irrigation system we built. 

This is the most amazing project that I’ve ever been a part of, so to see it from the very beginning, up until now, it’s like night and day. Just knowing that I had a lot to do with that brings me so much joy. It feels great to know that this farm that I helped build will feed our community for hundreds of years. 

Our newest team member, Bilal, making friends with the goats on his 11th day free after a 20 year prison sentence. This farm is healing for those of us who have been to prison. 

Our newest team member, Bilal, making friends with the goats on his 11th day free after a 20 year prison sentence. This farm is healing for those of us who have been to prison. 

Well, at this exact date and time, the farm is at 60% of its full potential. There is still a lot of work to be done. We are currently looking for volunteers, supporters and donators. How ever you can help us keep our farm alive, our dream alive, and mainly our future alive, is greatly appreciate and very much welcomed. 

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Changing California's 65% Recidivism Rate is 100% Possible

"California is to incarceration what Mississippi was to segregation—the state that most exemplifies the social and legal deformities of the practice."
- Jonathan Simon, Berkeley Law Professor
“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you never did.”
- Anthony Forrest, Re-Entry Hire at Planting Justice

California’s over-incarceration problem has been growing for a long time. That 500% increase in the prison population that occurred between 1975-1995 is due in part to the state’s dismal recidivism rate, which has been the highest in the nation for decades. About 65% of people who leave a California State Prison end up back inside in less than one year. While sentencing - tough on crime policies like three strikes & mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders - receives most of the attention when it comes to the mass incarceration issue, the over-incarceration problem cannot be meaningfully addressed without radically reforming our broken parole and re-entry policies. Even if we drastically reduce prison sentences, apply those reforms retroactively, and implement common-sense policies to get tens of thousands of people out of prison, we will be unable to make a serious dent in our prison population so long as only 3 out of 10 prisoners who exit prison are able to successfully re-enter society. California needs a comprehensive strategy to re-integrate formerly incarcerated people back into society - and we need to start by recognizing that what we’ve been doing ain’t working.

What makes California’s recidivism rate so high compared to other states?

Source: https://prisonlaw.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/california2.jpg

Source: https://prisonlaw.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/california2.jpg

For over  a decade, California has had one of the highest recidivism rates in the United States. This is due to a number of factors, most significantly:

  1. The State of California was unable to build and fund the infrastructure necessary to keep up with the rapidly increasing incarceration rate. By 2001, California prisons were so overcrowded that the average facility was operated at 200% capacity. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plata vs. Brown that the conditions in California prisons due to overcrowding violate prisoners’ constitutional rights. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, "A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society." As a result of extreme overcrowding, California prison spending has been more focused on expansion - building more beds to warehouse more prisoners - than on rehabilitation. While the State of California has spent billions building more prison beds, rehabilitative programming, which is absolutely essential to preventing recidivism, has been cut drastically. Without rehabilitative programming like substance abuse & mental health treatment, opportunities to obtain basic and higher level education and job training, etc. prisoners are set up to fail, when they try to re-enter society upon their release. Not only do many California prisoners not have access to rehabilitative programming, the deplorable conditions in over-crowded California prisons (everything from medical neglect to sexual assault to psychological torture via solitary confinement) likely have long-term negative health impacts on prisoners that continue to burden their families and communities long after their release.

  2. California’s parole system has long been one of the most draconian in the nation. California prisoners spend more time on parole than anywhere else in the country, and technical parole violations (where parolees are sent back to prison for violating some term of their parole) occur more frequently in California than in other states. (See table below) A California parolee can be sent back to prison for violating any term of their parole - including infractions that wouldn’t mean jail time for someone who is not on parole, which, of course, means that many parolees end up recidivating while on parole.  You can read about Planting Justice’s formerly incarcerated staffers’ experiences with the CA parole system.

Source: http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_614MLR.pdf

Source: http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_614MLR.pdf

Attempt at Reform - Public Safety Realignment

"For too long, the state’s prison system has been a revolving door for lower-level offenders and parole violators who are released within months—often before they are even transferred out of a reception center. Cycling these offenders through state prisons wastes money, aggravates crowded conditions, thwarts rehabilitation, and impedes local law enforcement supervision."
– Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Governor’s Press Release, April 5, 2011.

In 2011, the State of California made an attempt to address the prison-overcrowding crisis by passing a reform known as Public Safety Realignment, which essentially stopped the practice of sending parolees back to state prison for parole violations - but sending violators into the county jail system instead. Realignment also cut the maximum sentence for a technical parole violation in half - from one year to six months. While Public Safety Realignment is one of the most major prison reforms ever implemented in California, according to a 2014 study by the Public Policy Institute of California, “the post-realignment period has not seen dramatic changes in arrests or convictions of released offenders.”

Why didn’t Realignment work? Because instead of addressing the root causes of the recidivism issue, it simply shuffled parolees and prisoners from state prisons to county jails. While realignment has provided some relief for CA state prison administrators dealing with overcrowding, it has utterly failed our communities, who continue to suffer from mass incarceration, recidivism, poverty, and violence.

The Failure of Public Safety Realignment:

“Although Prop 47 and other reforms have reduced the prison population by 8,700, the budget projects that the population will grow by 1,153, or 0.9%, to 128,834 people.”
Californians United for a Responsible Budget
“They never lied to us; it’s all right there in the title. Public Safety Realignment. They’re not changing anything, they’re just moving stuff around.”
- Gene Allen, formerly incarcerated PJ Staffer

While the proportion of released offenders arrested within one year of release has declined slightly, the proportion of released offenders who are arrested multiple times within the first year of release has increased by 7 percentage points under realignment. Parolees are now incarcerated in local county jails for short terms stays (instead of in state prison for a longer stay). The impact of this change on the parolee is that they are able to cycle in and out of jail more rapidly (they may be released earlier due to overcrowding, a problem which has now migrated from the state prison system to county jail system), giving them a greater total of “street time” (days not incarcerated) but not necessarily helping them move forward and out of the system for good. Each arrest and each day in jail is a major setback for a formerly incarcerated person trying to get out of the system. Even if these arrests don’t land them back in state prison on a high level felony conviction within their first year of release, they can prevent a parolee from getting and holding down a job, keeping a roof over their head, reconnecting with their families in meaningful ways, demonstrating accountability, etc. This rapid cycling in and out of county jail is a major impediment to a successful transition home from prison, and it puts an additional burden on local law enforcement, who get bogged down in a cycle of catch and release for mostly low-level, economic crimes by people struggling to survive out on the street after years or decades in prison. High arrest numbers might be good for police departments on paper, but these kinds of arrests clearly aren’t making our communities any safer and are detrimental to sustainable de-carceration and re-entry.

Basically, you can’t stop parolees from re-offending by changing what happens to them when they step out of line. In order to stop people from committing crimes during their first year release after a lengthy prison sentence, we need to address the set of conditions that might motivate parolees to break the law in the first place.  

The State of California has attempted to address the issues arising from realignment by funneling hundreds of millions of our tax dollars into county jail construction and expansion. This push to expand county jail capacity is a pre-emptive plan for failure. With high recidivism viewed as a given - an attitude based on ahistorical, racist assumptions about the inherent, incurable criminality of our incarcerated population - no serious attempt is being made to address the root causes of criminal behavior. Instead, we are continuing to make massive investments in a system that reproduces the violence and social instability it claims to address.

Planting Justice participated in a community mobilization to the CA Board of State & Community Corrections to oppose jail expansion in 2015. 

Planting Justice participated in a community mobilization to the CA Board of State & Community Corrections to oppose jail expansion in 2015. 

Recidivism CAN be prevented - but only if we invest significant resources in community-based re-entry services like job training and placement, housing, individualized case management, mental healthcare, and substance abuse counseling.

We know that incarcerated people are perfectly capable of successfully returning to their families and communities and becoming valuable assets to those communities because we see it every single day at Planting Justice. All seventeen men who have come through our re-entry program have not only stayed out of prison and beat California's sky-high recidivism rate; they are becoming leaders in their communities, building community gardens, mentoring high school students, and supporting others who are making the transition out of California's brutal prison system. Our entire organizational budget is approximately 0.002% of the budget the BSCC just approved for jail expansion - and we have a 100% success rate against recidivism, while California jails have a 65% recidivism rate. Justifying half a billion dollars in jail construction spending in anticipation of maintaining these high rates of recidivism does a profound disservice to the communities most impacted by mass incarceration.

We need to start investing in formerly incarcerated people - not more incarceration.

 

The Planting Justice Re-Entry Model

Bilal Coleman was sentenced to 20 years in prison at the age of 17. Now 37, he has been free for just over three months. You can follow Bilal's first year home here. 

Bilal Coleman was sentenced to 20 years in prison at the age of 17. Now 37, he has been free for just over three months. You can follow Bilal's first year home here. 

“Let’s say life is wonderful. Although there are many adversities one faces during re-entry, being able to face those adversities is a blessing. This organization has afforded me a platform to give back and let my positive light shine through for all those who I encounter.”
~ Bilal Coleman, Re-Entry Hire at Planting Justice

Planting Justice is not a government program; we’re a small social-enterprise non-profit that is 40% self-funded (through paid contract work) and 40% grassroots funded (through small individual contributions). We operate at a small scale (in 5 years of operation, we’ve supported 18 men transitioning from San Quentin State Prison), and we understand the challenges entailed in supporting successful re-entry for the tens of thousands of prisoners released each year.

But in 5 years of operation, our re-entry program has a 0% recidivism rate.

0% compared to California’s 65%.

While in just the past year, the State of California spent $500 Million building new jails to prepare for "inevitable" recidivism, Planting Justice has kept 18 parolees out of prison, with the help of a few thousand regular people who donate generously to make our work possible. 

We have developed an innovative, sustainable, self-sufficient model for prisoner re-entry in California that actually works. 

The 5 Keys to Our Success

“I was so excited to get out....I was dreaming about the job and getting out. Haleh told me, ‘don’t worry, I got you’ and sure enough, when I got out, I found everything she was saying was true.”
- Darryl Aikens, Re-Entry Hire at Planting Jusice

1) Start on the Inside:

One unique attribute of our re-entry program is that it starts inside the prison. Our partnership with the Insight Garden Program at San Quentin State Prison enables us to train prisoners in permaculture gardening work before they even make parole. By the time a PJ parolee leaves prison, they already know that they have a job waiting for them the next day with people they already know and trust. Especially for people who have been incarcerated for a very long time - our most recent re-entry hire was locked up for 20 years starting at age 17 - coming out is an incredibly difficult transition, especially in the first few weeks. Many have lost contact with relatives or friends who could offer them a place to stay or some help getting back on their feet. Establishing a healthy relationship between the parolee and the re-entry program before release can help stabilize that early transition.

“I really feel good about myself now, because I can support my family without having to look over my shoulder all day.”
- Maurice Bell, Re-Entry Hire at Planting Justice

2. Living Wage Jobs:

If a formerly incarcerated person cannot get a legal job that pays enough for them to fully support themselves financially, they will have to find another way to survive. The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people in Oakland is 70% - think it’s a coincidence that the unemployment rate is the same as the recidivism rate? The #1 thing a person transitioning home from prison needs is a good job. We start all of our hires coming out of San Quentin at $17.50/hour - $5.25 higher than Oakland’s minimum wage. This living wage policy means our staff can depend on their job at Planting Justice to cover their rent, bills & necessities without needing to engage in the extra-legal economy to survive and advance financially. In an economy that systematically devalues, under-employs and underpays formerly incarcerated people, our $17.50/hour starting wage is a political statement that the labor of former prisoners is valuable and that their success and well-being is a worthy investment. A real living wage is a real incentive to show up for work every day and avoid things that could jeopardize the job.

“It helps to work with other people who have been to prison and have stayed out. Because it’s like, “If they can do it, I can do it too.”
- Maurice Bell, Re-Entry Hire at Planting Justice

3) Peer Support:

With over 50% formerly incarcerated staff (including former prisoners who did not come to us directly through a re-entry program), the struggle to recover from criminalization and incarceration is an experience that is shared by most people in our workplace. When a parolee leaves prison and joins our staff, they enter a workplace where their co-workers understand what they’re going through and are willing to go out of their way to support this person through their transition. Every week, we hold a peer support group for formerly incarcerated staffers called “Moving Forward.” Moving Forward is a space where formerly incarcerated staff can receive and provide support  for each other on everything from rebuilding family relationships to opening a savings account. Working every day with other people who have successfully made the transition out of prison helps parolees in our program feel more confident that they too will be able to stay out of prison long-term.

“Well, I never thought I’d be a gardener to be honest. But hey! Everything’s been working since I came home from prison. It’s quiet, it’s serene, and I’m just at peace within myself and my spirit. To get paid, and still have that peace and tranquility within your life? You can’t ask for anything else.”
- Siddiqqi Osibin (Rest in Peace), Re-Entry Hire at Planting Justice

4) Prioritize Health:

At Planting Justice, we know that the health & well being of our staff - which have been severely damaged throughout lifetimes of poverty and incarceration - is critical to our ability to keep doing this work sustainably. All of our full-time staff receive comprehensive health, vision & dental insurance, as well as generous sick days & paid time off. We also strategically invest resources in creating a “culture of wellness” at Planting Justice - offering workshops and seminars on everything from self care to long-term financial planning. While traditional re-entry programs (including parole) are focused on policing parolees behavior, we try to focus on supporting our re-entry staff to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and heal from the trauma of long-term incarceration. Our own program was devastated earlier this year when, after finally making it not just out of prison but off of parole for the first time in his adult life, our Transform Your Yard team leader Siddiqqi Osibin passed away in his sleep due to an unknown health issue. Given the enormous tolls that both early life poverty and long term imprisonment have already taken on folks by the time they leave prison, improving and maintaining the health of former prisoners should be a top priority for every re-entry program.

Anthony Forrest, Planting Justice's first re-entry hire, stands in the garden he built at McClymond's High School in West Oakland, where he now teaches kids about healthy eating every week. 

Anthony Forrest, Planting Justice's first re-entry hire, stands in the garden he built at McClymond's High School in West Oakland, where he now teaches kids about healthy eating every week. 

“I think having a meaningful job makes a big difference, as far as staying out of prison. Because you’ll do anything it takes to keep that job, if you care about it. You’re not just trying to change your life, you’re changing everybody’s life.”
- Maurice Bell, Re-Entry Hire at Planting Justice

5) Meaningful Work & Opportunities to Advance:

A job at Planting Justice isn’t just a paycheck - it’s an opportunity to be a part of a growing movement to transform our food system so that everyone has access to healthy food and the ability to live a long, healthy life. Can you imagine spending 10 years in prison, then coming out and getting paid a living wage to build vegetable gardens in the neighborhood you used to sell drugs in? Meaningful, community-serving work can help heal a formerly incarcerated person’s relationship to the neighborhood in a powerful way. We’ve watched men who’ve served hard time transform into impressive educators and skilled community organizers, inspiring classrooms full of Oakland teens to grow, cook and eat vegetables and signing up thousands of monthly donors to support Planting Justice’s work. After working with us (and staying out prison) for one year, the re-entry wage jumps from $17.50/hour up to $20/hour, and every department from landscaping to canvassing is geared towards developing formerly incarcerated workers’ leadership. Maurice Bell celebrated his one year anniversary with Planting Justice by becoming our first Media Apprentice, and now spends one day each week receiving training in everything from photography to editing to database management. Five years after leaving prison for the last time, Anthony Forrest has been promoted to a hybrid role as a Case Manager, Educator and Spokesperson at Planting Justice. In January, Anthony gave a presentation at the American Corrections Association national conference in Louisiana - presenting as an expert to the same people who had overseen his own confinement for over 25 years. I recently observed Anthony coaching a newer re-entry hire on how to ask for and negotiate a pay raise. It’s clear that our staff who originally came to us through the re-entry program and ultimately stayed to build careers at Planting Justice are our greatest asset and critically important mentors for each new parolee who enters our program. This is one of the most important paradigm shifts that must be made in the prisoner re-entry sector: we have to orient re-entry programs towards long-term investments in human beings instead of viewing parolees as numbers to shuffled around. 

We Need Transformative Reform Now

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.” (Unknown) 
“You gotta be really blessed...to actually put your hand on something like this and call it yours. I see a lot of future out here. A lot of future for a lot of people, you know what I’m saying? And...pretty much a lot of hope, too." 
- Julius Jones, Re-Entry Hire at Planting Justice

Mass incarceration has taken too much from our communities for too long. If a 7 out of 10 failure rate were a grade, it would be an F. If a medicine killed 7 out of every 10 patients, doctors would stop prescribing that medication. The dominant model of prisoner re-entry - which emphasizes policing formerly incarcerated people’s behavior - is an undeniable failure and must be radically re-thought. We can’t keep building more prisons. We can’t jail our way out of our own failure to “rehabilitate” people. There is little evidence that bureaucratic reforms like Public Safety Realignment have helped the situation at all, much less done enough to seriously address the cycle of incarceration that is swallowing the lives of millions of Americans, mostly Black and poor. The mass incarceration crisis didn’t happen overnight and we won’t solve it overnight either - but it’s time to abandon the losing strategy of investing in police, jails, prisons, parole and the endless game of catch and release that inevitably ensues with each investment in the ever-expanding prison-industrial complex.

A 65% recidivism rate is not inevitable. The (admittedly anecdotal data)  from the Planting Justice experiment suggest that a 0% recidivism rate might be possible if every prisoner had access to:

  • job training & mental health support while incarcerated

  • a guaranteed job that pays a true living wage upon release from prison

  • a workplace sensitive to the natural, human needs & struggles of post-incarceration

  • peers and mentors who share similar experiences of poverty, racism, criminalization & incarceration

  • comprehensive health insurance

  • meaningful work & opportunities for professional, leadership & skill development/advancement

Does this transformative reform agenda call for a massive, unprecedented investment? Absolutely. You know what else is unprecedentedly expensive? Our current prison system. The proposed California state budget for 2016-2017 brings spending on corrections to $13.3 billion, up more than $600 million from last year. How many more years are we willing to spend $13 billion on a failing prison system that has become an international human rights embarrassment? 

It does not have to be this way.

By Nicole Deane


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Transform Your Yard Rebuilds Team in Loving Memory of Siddiqqi

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Transform Your Yard Rebuilds Team in Loving Memory of Siddiqqi

By Alejandra Cano

As some of you may already know, Planting Justice lost not only an employee but also a friend and a strong leader on Friday, January 22nd 2016. Siddiqqii Wilmer Osibin was a brilliant light in our community and most certainly in the Transform Your Yard team aka TYY! He was a site leader and role model for many of us in the team. Siddiqqi stepped into a role of leadership after about one year of coming out of prison; he led garden installations, became an expert in garden irrigation and well-versed in plant-knowledge, took good care of our tools including our sensitive yet powerful diesel trucks... he became a pillar in the TYY structure!

Losing him has not only been emotionally devastating, but also structurally challenging. Right before Siddiqqi's passing, TYY was being supported by 2 site leaders, where initially we were equipped with three site leaders: Sal, Julio, and Siddiqqi. When PJ bought Rolling River Nursery up in Humboldt County, Julio was asked to support in Humboldt as we prepare its transition to Oakland, leaving our team in the strong and creative hands of two site leaders, two project managers, and five landscapers. When Siddiqqi passed, we were all left heart-broken and with only one site leader.

Even though, our team took the time to process and collectively mourn the loss of our friend and pillar-team-member, we had to keep going and pick up the pieces as graciously possible. In the midst of the pain, we all had to step it up a notch to fill the void of our deep loss. We looked deep inside ourselves and tapped into our varied resources to shuffle things around, take on hybrid roles and new roles altogether. I, a project manager who spends most of her time in the office, have found myself going to site more to support the crew with pruning and planting, which I personally enjoy very much and don't do enough of!

Landscapers checked their tool belts and realized that the skills they have been developing needed to be put to use from a place of leadership: George, a reliable and formerly incarcerated man has been site leading in maintenance jobs; Dana, a carpenter and an Oakland-Richmond native has been co-site leading with Sal to perfect his irrigation skills; Julius, one of PJ's O.G. landscapers has taken on the role of toolshed manager to insure that our tools are receiving the care and storage they need. We have proven to be a sustainable team, yet we are experiencing growing pains.

Witnessing and being part of this experience reminds me of the life cycles so essential to our existence on this planet. Somethings die, somethings are born, somethings grow, somethings blossom, somethings harvest, and some decompose so that the cycle may be invigorated once more. May Siddiqqi's memory continue to inspire us to be more joyous and kind, may our team grow healthy and strong to continue sharing bountiful harvests, may PJ and all us continue to chip away at the life-sucking food-system so that it decomposes and we all grow healthier thereafter!

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Join Our #BringYourOwnCup Flashmob!

Have you heard about our Bring Your Own Cup campaign? Since 2013, PJ has partnered with Actual Cafe to save paper and the planet. When customers bring their own reusable coffee cup to the cafe, instead of using a disposable paper cup for their coffee order, Actual Cafe donates 25 cents to Planting Justice. So far, this campaign has raised over $2,000 for Planting Justice and saved 6,440 paper cups - which means we've also kept 1,545.6 lbs of CO2 emissions out of our atmosphere! 

Now, we're taking the Bring Your Own Cup campaign to another local cafe - our neighbors at Farley's West - to get more people involved in the movement we're building to support our people and save our planet. And we want you to be a part of it! 

On Saturday, March 5th, we are going to do a flashmob at Farley's to launch this iteration of the Bring Your Own Cup campaign. Our very own Daniel Francis Alper has written and choreographed a musical number that explains why bringing your own cup is so important. Check out our first performance of the song below!

We want this flashmob at Farley's to be even bigger, better, and more memorable - so we need your participation! 

We need singers and dancers (no experience necessary) to kick off the campaign and deliver the Bring Your Own Cup message to Farley's customers. Before the actual flashmob, we will have three rehearsals: 

  • TOMORROW, Thursday, February 25th from 5:45 - 6:30 pm 
  • Tuesday, March 1st from 5:45 - 6:30 pm
  • Thursday, March 3rd from 5:45 - 6:30 pm 

The flashmob/performance will take place at 11:30 AM on Saturday, March 5th, and we'll meet up for once last run-through that day at 10:45 AM. All ages welcome, and you can come to as many rehearsals as you want, but don't need to come to all (or any - as long as you come at 10:45 the day of the flashmob) of them to be a part of the flashmob. We'll also have printed lyrics that can be used during the performance, so it's super low pressure and anyone can join in. 

All rehearsals and the meet-up for the flashmob will be held at the Planting Justice office, located at PLACE (1121 64th Street, Oakland, CA). 

Can't wait to sing, dance and save the planet with you all!

The Planting Justice Family 

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The Center for Critical Environmental & Global Literacy Hosts Spring/Summer Institute in Oaxaca

 

 

OAXACA SPRING-SUMMER 2016

From our friends at the Center for Critical Environmental & Global Literacy

The CCEGL International Environmental Institute is for classroom and community educators as well as other interested individuals who are committed to providing their students and communities with an understanding of the interdependence of the people and the environment locally & around the globe and connecting this understanding to a critical literacy development.

The goal of this institute is to support participants to gain a local & global focus for their teaching and community work as they help others to understand common environmental and social challenges. The focus themes for the institute are Food Sustainability & Food Justice, Water Access and Quality, Energy, Consumption, Climate Disruption and Popular Education Movements.  All themes will include both local and global components and consider the impact of the media and consumer habits on these issues. There will be a focus on indigenous cultural and linguistic maintenance & survival within these thematic areas. During the international work, interactive teaching practices and universal life themes are explored and strong personal and professional relationships may be developed. Teacher participants are encouraged to integrate their student’s, families, and the greater community into their learning process.

The Spring/Summer 2016 International Environmental Institute will work with a select group of educators & others (10-16) beginning with an Introductory Weekend on the Russian River, Friday evening, April, 22 through Sunday, April 24.  Participants are expected to check out and view videos from the CCEGL video library, and read theme related articles, before the Introductory Weekend, as well as small preparation for weekly sessions.  After the weekend, meetings will take place on Wednesday evenings & one (or two) Saturdays in preparation before departing for the international workshop. (approximately 12 sessions total). The International Collaboration (approx.. July 15-27) will take place within the Oaxaca City region, beginning with five days of travel and cultural experiences.  The workshop will take place during the following week within an indigenous community of educators in the nearby mountains where we have established strong collaborative relationships over the course of many years.  (Up to 10 optional Academic or Professional Development units will be available through Cal State East Bay - $89 per unit is the current cost).  Participants may also choose to use the Institute as a foundation to pursue a Master’s of Science in Education Degree (MS) at a local college. The team will depart for the International Collaboration from S.F airport (July 14th or 15th). Spanish language skills are not required but welcome.

You may call The Center with any additional questions: (510) 644-1724

Comment

Comment

The Center for Critical Environmental & Global Literacy Hosts Spring/Summer Institute in Oaxaca

 

 

OAXACA SPRING-SUMMER 2016

From our friends at the Center for Critical Environmental & Global Literacy

The CCEGL International Environmental Institute is for classroom and community educators as well as other interested individuals who are committed to providing their students and communities with an understanding of the interdependence of the people and the environment locally & around the globe and connecting this understanding to a critical literacy development.

The goal of this institute is to support participants to gain a local & global focus for their teaching and community work as they help others to understand common environmental and social challenges. The focus themes for the institute are Food Sustainability & Food Justice, Water Access and Quality, Energy, Consumption, Climate Disruption and Popular Education Movements.  All themes will include both local and global components and consider the impact of the media and consumer habits on these issues. There will be a focus on indigenous cultural and linguistic maintenance & survival within these thematic areas. During the international work, interactive teaching practices and universal life themes are explored and strong personal and professional relationships may be developed. Teacher participants are encouraged to integrate their student’s, families, and the greater community into their learning process.

The Spring/Summer 2016 International Environmental Institute will work with a select group of educators & others (10-16) beginning with an Introductory Weekend on the Russian River, Friday evening, April, 22 through Sunday, April 24.  Participants are expected to check out and view videos from the CCEGL video library, and read theme related articles, before the Introductory Weekend, as well as small preparation for weekly sessions.  After the weekend, meetings will take place on Wednesday evenings & one (or two) Saturdays in preparation before departing for the international workshop. (approximately 12 sessions total). The International Collaboration (approx.. July 15-27) will take place within the Oaxaca City region, beginning with five days of travel and cultural experiences.  The workshop will take place during the following week within an indigenous community of educators in the nearby mountains where we have established strong collaborative relationships over the course of many years.  (Up to 10 optional Academic or Professional Development units will be available through Cal State East Bay - $89 per unit is the current cost).  Participants may also choose to use the Institute as a foundation to pursue a Master’s of Science in Education Degree (MS) at a local college. The team will depart for the International Collaboration from S.F airport (July 14th or 15th). Spanish language skills are not required but welcome.

You may call The Center with any additional questions: (510) 644-1724

Comment

Comment

The Center for Critical Environmental & Global Literacy Hosts Spring/Summer Institute in Oaxaca

 

 

OAXACA SPRING-SUMMER 2016

From our friends at the Center for Critical Environmental & Global Literacy

The CCEGL International Environmental Institute is for classroom and community educators as well as other interested individuals who are committed to providing their students and communities with an understanding of the interdependence of the people and the environment locally & around the globe and connecting this understanding to a critical literacy development.

The goal of this institute is to support participants to gain a local & global focus for their teaching and community work as they help others to understand common environmental and social challenges. The focus themes for the institute are Food Sustainability & Food Justice, Water Access and Quality, Energy, Consumption, Climate Disruption and Popular Education Movements.  All themes will include both local and global components and consider the impact of the media and consumer habits on these issues. There will be a focus on indigenous cultural and linguistic maintenance & survival within these thematic areas. During the international work, interactive teaching practices and universal life themes are explored and strong personal and professional relationships may be developed. Teacher participants are encouraged to integrate their student’s, families, and the greater community into their learning process.

The Spring/Summer 2016 International Environmental Institute will work with a select group of educators & others (10-16) beginning with an Introductory Weekend on the Russian River, Friday evening, April, 22 through Sunday, April 24.  Participants are expected to check out and view videos from the CCEGL video library, and read theme related articles, before the Introductory Weekend, as well as small preparation for weekly sessions.  After the weekend, meetings will take place on Wednesday evenings & one (or two) Saturdays in preparation before departing for the international workshop. (approximately 12 sessions total). The International Collaboration (approx.. July 15-27) will take place within the Oaxaca City region, beginning with five days of travel and cultural experiences.  The workshop will take place during the following week within an indigenous community of educators in the nearby mountains where we have established strong collaborative relationships over the course of many years.  (Up to 10 optional Academic or Professional Development units will be available through Cal State East Bay - $89 per unit is the current cost).  Participants may also choose to use the Institute as a foundation to pursue a Master’s of Science in Education Degree (MS) at a local college. The team will depart for the International Collaboration from S.F airport (July 14th or 15th). Spanish language skills are not required but welcome.

You may call The Center with any additional questions: (510) 644-1724

Comment

Comment

The Center for Critical Environmental & Global Literacy Hosts Spring/Summer Institute in Oaxaca

 

 

OAXACA SPRING-SUMMER 2016

From our friends at the Center for Critical Environmental & Global Literacy

The CCEGL International Environmental Institute is for classroom and community educators as well as other interested individuals who are committed to providing their students and communities with an understanding of the interdependence of the people and the environment locally & around the globe and connecting this understanding to a critical literacy development.

The goal of this institute is to support participants to gain a local & global focus for their teaching and community work as they help others to understand common environmental and social challenges. The focus themes for the institute are Food Sustainability & Food Justice, Water Access and Quality, Energy, Consumption, Climate Disruption and Popular Education Movements.  All themes will include both local and global components and consider the impact of the media and consumer habits on these issues. There will be a focus on indigenous cultural and linguistic maintenance & survival within these thematic areas. During the international work, interactive teaching practices and universal life themes are explored and strong personal and professional relationships may be developed. Teacher participants are encouraged to integrate their student’s, families, and the greater community into their learning process.

The Spring/Summer 2016 International Environmental Institute will work with a select group of educators & others (10-16) beginning with an Introductory Weekend on the Russian River, Friday evening, April, 22 through Sunday, April 24.  Participants are expected to check out and view videos from the CCEGL video library, and read theme related articles, before the Introductory Weekend, as well as small preparation for weekly sessions.  After the weekend, meetings will take place on Wednesday evenings & one (or two) Saturdays in preparation before departing for the international workshop. (approximately 12 sessions total). The International Collaboration (approx.. July 15-27) will take place within the Oaxaca City region, beginning with five days of travel and cultural experiences.  The workshop will take place during the following week within an indigenous community of educators in the nearby mountains where we have established strong collaborative relationships over the course of many years.  (Up to 10 optional Academic or Professional Development units will be available through Cal State East Bay - $89 per unit is the current cost).  Participants may also choose to use the Institute as a foundation to pursue a Master’s of Science in Education Degree (MS) at a local college. The team will depart for the International Collaboration from S.F airport (July 14th or 15th). Spanish language skills are not required but welcome.

You may call The Center with any additional questions: (510) 644-1724

Comment

Comment

The Center for Critical Environmental & Global Literacy Hosts Spring/Summer Institute in Oaxaca

 

 

OAXACA SPRING-SUMMER 2016

From our friends at the Center for Critical Environmental & Global Literacy

The CCEGL International Environmental Institute is for classroom and community educators as well as other interested individuals who are committed to providing their students and communities with an understanding of the interdependence of the people and the environment locally & around the globe and connecting this understanding to a critical literacy development.

The goal of this institute is to support participants to gain a local & global focus for their teaching and community work as they help others to understand common environmental and social challenges. The focus themes for the institute are Food Sustainability & Food Justice, Water Access and Quality, Energy, Consumption, Climate Disruption and Popular Education Movements.  All themes will include both local and global components and consider the impact of the media and consumer habits on these issues. There will be a focus on indigenous cultural and linguistic maintenance & survival within these thematic areas. During the international work, interactive teaching practices and universal life themes are explored and strong personal and professional relationships may be developed. Teacher participants are encouraged to integrate their student’s, families, and the greater community into their learning process.

The Spring/Summer 2016 International Environmental Institute will work with a select group of educators & others (10-16) beginning with an Introductory Weekend on the Russian River, Friday evening, April, 22 through Sunday, April 24.  Participants are expected to check out and view videos from the CCEGL video library, and read theme related articles, before the Introductory Weekend, as well as small preparation for weekly sessions.  After the weekend, meetings will take place on Wednesday evenings & one (or two) Saturdays in preparation before departing for the international workshop. (approximately 12 sessions total). The International Collaboration (approx.. July 15-27) will take place within the Oaxaca City region, beginning with five days of travel and cultural experiences.  The workshop will take place during the following week within an indigenous community of educators in the nearby mountains where we have established strong collaborative relationships over the course of many years.  (Up to 10 optional Academic or Professional Development units will be available through Cal State East Bay - $89 per unit is the current cost).  Participants may also choose to use the Institute as a foundation to pursue a Master’s of Science in Education Degree (MS) at a local college. The team will depart for the International Collaboration from S.F airport (July 14th or 15th). Spanish language skills are not required but welcome.

You may call The Center with any additional questions: (510) 644-1724

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Recidivism, Parole & Re-Entry: Part I

This is the first in a series of posts about recidivism, parole and re-entry in California. The road to decarceration (and eventual abolition of the prison-industrial complex as we know it) will be long, but we believe that the people who have been most impacted by this system (incarcerated/formerly incarcerated people and their families) can lead us to solutions for this complex problem.

California has the highest recidivism (return to prison after release) rate in the nation at almost 70%. While this high rate of recidivism is due to a number of complex, interlocking factors, one of the most significant factors is our parole system, which is one of the most stringent. When someone gets released from prison, they’re put on parole and closely monitored by a parole officer. If you violate the terms of your parole, you can be sent back into the system (even if whatever violation you commit isn’t technically a “crime” ie it wouldn’t land you in prison if you weren’t already on parole).

From the Department of Justice:
Over a third (35 percent) of all the recorded parole violations were for noncriminal or “technical” violations. Two-thirds of technical violations were for absconding supervision, meaning that the parolee missed an appointment and/or his or her whereabouts were unknown. Other technical violations include weapons access, psychological endangerment, and various violations of the parole process, such as violations of special conditions of parole imposed by a parole agent or deputy commissioner. Interestingly, if one adds up all of the parole violation reports that pertain to drug use or drug sales—there are over 110,000 of them—they comprise over a third of all parole violation reports (37 percent) during our study period.
….
In terms of the timing of violations among parolees in the study, the risk of all kinds of violations was highest during the first 180 days following release from prison, and declined thereafter. A major reason behind this declining risk pattern was that the most risk-prone parolees tended to be violated earlier and returned to prison. The remainder were probably more compliant, less likely to violate, and more likely to successfully complete their parole period. Indeed, after 360 days on parole, a “surviving” parolee’s risk of violation had dropped 70 percent from what it was during the first two months of parole. From 360 to 900 days, a parolee’s risk only dropped another ten percent. In other words, after about 360 days, a parolee’s risk of violation—while not zero—had substantially leveled off.

We asked two of our formerly imprisoned staff members about their experiences with parole & re-entry:

Nicole: Do you feel like parole does anything to help you stay out of prison?


Mo: No. I believe that when you get parole, the reason they send all your information to the police department, it’s so they can go out of their way to look for you and arrest you.

Maurice Bell aka "Big Mo" 

Maurice Bell aka "Big Mo" 

Nicole: So you think it actually makes you more likely to get arrested?

Mo: Yes. I think it makes you a target. The whole system is designed to fail. If it’s designed to fail, why would they assist you? If I forget to use a turn signal while I’m driving, that’s a violation. I can get arrested for that, because I’m on parole. It’s a total setup.

Alisia: Well...yes and no. Once you’re out on parole, police are definitely looking for you. It’s a system that they are following. They (the police) have to get their arrest numbers up by the end of the month, or whatever it is. They do target people who are on parole. But if you’re doing the same things you did before you went to prison, then you’re just making their job that much easier. But if you’re not doing nothing wrong, there’s nothing they can really do to you to make you get arrested. If you’re doing right, then it’s like, “Alright, pull me over. Now what? I’m clean.”

Alisia Brown

Alisia Brown

Mo: But if they want you bad enough, they’ll just plant drugs on you.

Alisia: Yeah they will do that if they really want you off the street that bad.

Nicole: Do you feel like the rules that come with being on parole help people not commit crimes after they get released?

Alisia: It does but it doesn’t. You have to worry about all these things. You feel like you’re being harassed in a sense. It’s like they’re on your back, whether you’re doing right or if you’re doing wrong, you still have this person on your back either way. So there’s not really a reward if you’re doing right. Unless you get a good parole officer…

Mo: Not all parole officers are bad, but you do have those who go above and beyond, and it makes you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. They come to your house in the middle of the night and you know that they ain’t even on the clock! It’s 2 o’clock in the morning! Why are you on me right now? It happened to me. I was blown away, like, “For what?”

Nicole: So in terms of preventing recidivism, and changing that 70% recidivism rate...when you got out, what do you think would have been the ideal thing to help you stay out of prison? Right now, we do parole. If you could change parole to make it better, what would you do?

Mo: They would help you assess your situation and help you make a plan. Like okay, where can you live, where can you get some clothes, how to get a job.

Nicole: They don’t do that?

Mo & Alisia: No.

Mo: They tell you to do that stuff but they don’t help you figure out how to do it. Ideally, they would actually help you. Like a social worker.

Alisia: If I could revamp it...you can’t expect me, someone who’s been in jail for 5, 10 or more years - the world has changed. I don’t know how to navigate it. When you’re in for that long, people forget about you. You don’t necessarily have anybody on the outside. The parole officer should understand that.

Mo: I only did 6 years, and a lot has changed. Everything’s harder and more expensive.

Alisia: That’s where the parole officer should come in. They need to be a lot more lenient and a lot more helpful. Have a list of people who hire felons! Say, “I got these applications, here, fill em out.”

Nicole: They don’t do that?

Mo & Alisia: No.

Alisia: They have stuff up on the wall, and they tell you to go to the PIC (Private Industry Council) office.

Mo: Some people coming out of prison have never had a job in their life. You have to get a job on parole, and if you don’t, they can violate you and send you back. They say it shows a lack of trying.

Nicole: They’ll send you back to prison if you can’t find a job?

Mo: For 30 days, 60 days. But any days back in prison is bad.

Nicole: So here’s my question….I’ve heard you both say that it ultimately comes down to the individual, that you can’t keep an individual out of prison if they don’t want to change. Statistically, 7 out of 10 people who leave a California prison will be back within one year. How many of them do you think sincerely want to change but the system is just failing them?

Alisia: I would say that 3 out of that 7 sincerely do want to change and stay out but the system is screwing them over. You’re still going to have some people who really don’t want to change, but if the system worked better, that would probably more like 30-40% instead of 70%.

Nicole: So you think we could cut recidivism in half if we had better re-entry policies, more supportive parole programming?

Mo & Alisia: Yes.

Mo: That would separate the people who really want to do right from the people who don’t want to do right. Because now you got a person when you get out who’s going to hold your hand for the first 6 months to a year.

Alisia: There’s people out there who are really trying and they just can’t succeed. Going on lots of interviews but not getting a job…

Nicole: Yeah and it would help if you had someone who could coach you, like, okay, what is happening that I’m not achieving this goal and how can I not give up?

Mo: We need more self help programs and peer suppor groups, like in San Quentin. Out here, there’s AA, but that’s pretty much the only thing that’s free. And my mental health issues might different, might not be drugs, might be trauma, might be anger management. I want to help myself. But coming out without that outlet, it’s really hard. You start to turn inward but that can backfire. Support groups in prison taught me that I need to open up and ask for help. And I can get that here at Planting Justice, but most people don’t. That’s where the mental thing comes in and that’s where people start to collapse.

Nicole: Do you think there’s people who on the day they get out of prison, they’re like, “I’m free, I’m not going back, I’m going to turn my life around” but then they get out and it’s way harder than they expected, and then they give up?

Mo & Alisia: Yes.

Alisia: A lot of people have that experience. Probably almost all of that 70% that go back.

Nicole: So how do we reach people before they give up?

Alisia: That goes back to the parole officer needing to be more like a social worker. To have someone to support you when you’re trying to do good. And you need money when you have bills but you can’t get a job, or the job ain’t paying the bills. That’s the biggest thing, when your dreams aren’t paying the bills. It’s easy to go to the streets, especially when that’s all you know. That fast money is the hardest thing to say no to, especially when the regular job system ain’t got nothing for you.

Alisia hard at work raising money and awareness for Planting Justice with fellow staffer Anthony Forrest. 

Alisia hard at work raising money and awareness for Planting Justice with fellow staffer Anthony Forrest. 

Nicole: Right, the social contract is that we’re all supposed to get a legal job and that’s how we’re supposed to get your money. And if you’re not working and you’re getting money a different way, whether it’s from the government or from doing something illegal, you kinda get shade thrown at you. People are like “oh you’re on welfare,” or “oh you’re selling drugs” or “oh you’re a sex worker”...you don’t count as a “good citizen.” “Good citizens” go to work, pay their bills, pay their taxes. So when people have been totally excluded from the ability to get a good job that pays the bills, when you’ve excluded people for so long, how do you get people to opt in to a system that’s never worked for them?

Mo: It’s kinda hard. It’s like you want me to believe in something I know is not real. You want me to believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. You really trying to convince me that there is a Easter Bunny.

*Group laughs*

Nicole: And when every real job you’ve ever had hasn’t paid you well enough to survive, maybe you’re like “why am I trying to get a job?”

Alisia: Exactly. When you can’t see yourself getting ahead, it’s hard to motivate yourself.

Nicole: There’s this idea that people who have been to prison don’t want to work.

Mo: I go to work because I’m trying to change my life. The paycheck is nice, but honestly, I’m coming to work because it’s helping me change.

Nicole: Do you think if you had a job that paid the same but they were treating you like shit, and the work wasn’t meaningful, would that change your relationship to work?

Mo: I think having a meaningful job makes a big difference, as far as keeping a job. Because you’ll do anything it takes to keep that job, if you care about it. You’re not just trying to change your life, you’re changing everybody’s life. And it helps to work with other people who have been to prison and have stayed out. Because it’s like, “If they can do it, I can do it too.”

Peer support is a key part of the Planting Justice re-entry model. 

Peer support is a key part of the Planting Justice re-entry model. 






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Love Note from Planting Justice Supporter Morgan Bolender

"I passed Bilal while rushing into Berkeley Bowl today (I really really had to pee). He said something about supporting re-entry jobs in gardening and permaculture for the formerly incarcerated, and fighting recidivism -- my ears + heart perked up. "I'll catch you on my way out!"

When I walked out, Bilal asked if he could tell me his story. I felt immediate tenderness and love for him. "Yes, please."

He told me it was his 72nd day as a free man. He'd been incarcerated for 20 years, beginning at age 17. 17. So. young. His (beautiful) Planting Justice script fell away as we stood looking teary eyed at one another. He told me the world felt like a whole different place than when he'd last seen it - that emerging was like time traveling or going to another planet. 

After 20 years in prison, Bilal Coleman has been free and doing great work in the community for 62 days. Follow Bilal's first year free here at Planting Justice!

I asked how his heart was feeling. He told me he's not bitter, but grateful for the opportunity to be part of this world, and to be a light in it. His sweetness cracked my heart open. 

I believe in him, and am so grateful that organizations like Planting Justice, which has been his employing him for 71 days, exist to support the incredibly difficult transition he's experiencing in such a holistic and loving way. Planting Justice is one of many reasons I absolutely love living in the bay."

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Smile

Smile

By Maurice "Big Mo" Bell 

Every day that you wake up to another day is reason enough to smile. Tomorrow is not promised to no one, so we should live for today and be happy for the day. 

I plan to live my life happily, smiling every day and being thankful as well. Thankful for the fact that God gave me another another day, and thankful for the act that I have a good job, decent co-workers, and friends who truly love me. 

Since the passing of my co-worker and friend Siddiqqi, that has given me a whole new perspective on life, because you never know. Here today, gone tomorrow. Life too short to do anything other than smile and be happy. 

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As We Say Goodbye to our Smiling Giant...

As We Say Goodbye to our Smiling Giant...

By Kelly Curry 

"I was only trying to make enough money to feed my daughter..." - The Notorious BIG

In  the summer of 1994, with this one line, rapper Biggie Smalls changed the way the world looked at the inner-city-street-corner-hustler in neighborhoods across America. By using his art to tell his own story, that of a resourceful, committed, young man willing to do whatever he had to do to put food on the table for his family and find a way to participate economically in a system that had for hundreds of years, erected hoops of fire and other barriers that successfully marginalized him and left him with few opportunities to do so, Biggie, on his debut track, "Juicy", gave us an alternate portrait of the young Black Man in America, striving to survive, through a life of street hustling and selling drugs. 

The alternate portrait of this young man, looked down upon by society, excoriated and punished harshly by the same society that pushed him to eke out a living, however dangerously, on the margins of broader society was that of a soldier; resourceful, nimble, courageous, devoted to his family and community.

Planting Justice lost such a soldier this weekend past. Brother, friend, colleague and community activist Siddiqqi Osibin, left us, in the wee hours of the morning, Friday, January 22nd, 2016. He leaves behind a loving family; a large community and several vibrant networks to mourn his spirit's departure from this earthly plain.

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Siddiqqi was born on April 25, 1972 and raised in Oakland and found his way to Planting Justice through his lifelong friend Darryl. "He called me Unc', because I'm 15 years older than him, we did everything together, lived together, walked those streets together."  Darryl connected with Planting Justice through Insight Garden Program at San Quentin. Insight Garden Program goes into prisons and develops the "inner" garden of the mind, while giving participants an opportunity to get their hands in the soil and tend to vegetable gardens.  The one at San Quentin was created in partnership with inmates and Planting Justice. Beth Waitkus, founder of Insight, writes that Siddiqqi was "one of our most engaged participants. He always had an optimistic attitude and positive outlook on life and was a joy to be around. He was a treasured graduate of the program and had one of the biggest hearts (and one of the greatest bear hugs) I've ever known." 

This connection with Insight Garden Program and Planting Justice  (90 days before his release from San Quentin in early 2014) provided a pathway that would support the changes he'd made in his heart, mind and body for the healing of his soul. "He had become a Muslim," Darryl tells me over the phone from his home in Antioch, the Sunday after Siddiqqi's transition, "and he was doing a whole bunch of  praying and a whole bunch of meditation, trying to figure out what he was gonna do when he got out. He got out before me and when he got out, he got the job with Gavin and Haleh and they are the best people to work with because you know, we used to working in institutions and they were good to be working with on the outside to make sure you okay. He was telling me how great it was and he couldn't believe the people he'd hooked up with, they were real, the job was real and it wasn't the regular job where you just a robot, you're friends and you've got all these resources and you're working hard, feeling good and feeling free. I was so excited to get out, he was sending me letters about it, I was dreaming about the job and getting out,  Haleh told me, "don't worry, I got you" and sure enough, when I got out, I found everything he was saying was true."

Siddiqqi at his Pathways to Resilience Graduation Ceremony. 

Siddiqqi at his Pathways to Resilience Graduation Ceremony. 

"Siddiqqi's first day on the job was March 19th, 2014. We were out
at Dig Deep," Gavin Raders, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Planting Justice tells me in the backyard of his house, the Saturday after Siddiqqi's passing.  Gavin's clear, expressive eyes are soaked in the sadness and shock of losing a friend, mentor and colleague unexpectedly. "That first day, we were setting gopher cages and planting trees. I remember him being like "I never realized the scale of what we have the opportunity to do out here." We were working right alongside Camp Sweeney, that meant alot to him and the scale of what we were doing at Camp Sweeney and in the community that he was from. He was so lit up about it...it was the perfect thing for him to be doing in the way that he saw himself. He was clear about what his personal mission was from the first day he got out.

We took a walk the last time I saw him. We were by the office. I didn't know that he wasn't feeling well. We talked about health and other issues in the community. He talked about how he and Darryl sold drugs in those communities and how when they got out they wanted to be there for their families. Siddiqqi's faith...Islam; getting sober; it all changed his life and taking care of his daughters and he used that metaphor about putting poison in the street and making up for it by planting trees and growing healthy food. 

You learn a lot working side by side with somebody, four, five, six hours a day planting trees and we talked a lot. It was joyful working alongside him. He developed a relationship with the farm at El Sebronte and was so excited about the long term potential.  He wanted to build an amazing place for people so they could build these amazing relationships to nature and he was really passionate about being a farmer. He was in it for the long haul, it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He was really committed to the work and really brought such a generous spirit to the work. He really, really enjoyed the work so it made it fun being around him...doing it."

Siddiqqi working on our Planting Justice "2016 Vision Board" at our December 2015 Staff Meeting. 

Siddiqqi working on our Planting Justice "2016 Vision Board" at our December 2015 Staff Meeting. 

In October of 2015, Siddiqqi had an opportunity to represent this transformation and his commitment by speaking on a panel at the Black Urban Farmer's conference held here in Oakland. The name of the panel was "Farms Not Prisons."  When met by critics in the audience who suggested that farms like the one at San Quentin replicated slavery, Siddiqqi had this to say, "I'd taken enough from my community in my other life, it was that garden that prepared me to give back and I love being able to give something back in the form of planting fruit trees that my daughter and her children and children's children will nourish themselves from. Future generations will eat because of our efforts and that feels good." 

As a writer and a recording artist The Notorious BIG found a window of escape through his art. He hopped through it. For others in the same situation, that window is often a dead end, leading to drug addiction, early demise and or incarceration...the latter yielding estrangement from family and friends and community and loss of self-identity. Siddiqqi found a window with a pathway that led him back to his community as a whole being. We all pray, he is experiencing an eternal spiritual peace and an acknowledgement of his accomplishment as a contributor to a better world, down here on earth.

This morning as we come to understand that he is no longer here with us on earth, we are also thankful that he spent his last years with us, working the land, preparing her for future generations, speaking out his vision of a bright and bountiful, abundant future for all of earth's children and her communities that struggle for peace, equality, justice and balance.

Siddiqqi with Salvador, who he called his "mentor." 

Siddiqqi with Salvador, who he called his "mentor." 

We love you Siddiqqi and we thank you for your creative contributions to our work at Planting Justice. Thank your for that beautiful boyish smile, your pride, your mischievous humor, that giant beautiful bear hug, your immaculate heart, your humility and the blueprint for the lush, green future of all God's children.

Our Smiling Giant...we will love you forever and ever as we journey forward out into these devouring streets that will become food forests to be devoured...with you in our hearts.

We love you, Siddiqqi. Rest in Peace & Power. 

We love you, Siddiqqi. Rest in Peace & Power. 

Your Brothers and Sisters at Planting Justice

Thanks to Generous Contributions
from
Darryl Aikens
Beth Waitkus
Gavin Raders
Anthony Forrest
Nicole Wires

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Occupy the Farm disrupts construction on Gill Tract and inauguration of Sprouts

SEE VIDEO OF DIRECT ACTION AND INTERVIEWS WITH SENIOR ALBANY RESIDENTS AT: https://vimeo.com/152206901

 

Albany, CA—On Monday, January 11, contractors with the UC administration began construction work on the southern portion of the Gill Tract, a historical farm sold to the University of California in 1928 under the condition it would be used for agricultural research and education. Contractors Ghilotti Bros. laid surveying stakes on the ground, pulled down fencing with an excavator, and began trampling the land with a bulldozer. 

The next day after working hours, about fifteen individuals entered the Gill Tract to remove surveying stakes marking the paths for the heavy machinery brought to pave over the last large-scale plot of high-quality urban farmland still available on the East BayThe mobilization by the group Occupy the Farm was led by senior citizens from the community.

The UC is privatizing this section of the Gill Tract for the construction of a high-end senior assisted living facility by the Belmont Village corporation, alongside construction of a Sprouts supermarket and a parking lot.

On a separate location, senior residents of Albany gave interviews for a short film on the issue. "Strong popular opinion in favor of keeping this land for farming was consistently disregarded at City hearings," explained Signe Mattson. "There has always been clear alternatives and strong opposition to paving over this land." Ed Fields, another senior resident of Albany who has consistently challenged the project at public hearings explained: "I think the UC is being very short sighted in leasing this land to an assisted living facility and a supermarket... This land was set aside for agriculture and research. That's needed now more than ever."

Senior Albany resident Jackie Hermes-Fletcher explained that the monthly costs of the proposed assisted living facility far exceed the income of local residents. "Me as a retired teacher, I could never afford something like that... Its not about affordability, its about profitability." When asked if he would consider living in the facility to be constructed, senior Albany resident Rafael Gonzalez stated: “No, I don’t want to be locked up in one of those things even if I could [afford it], that is not a wise use of the land.”

Then on Wednesday, January 13, Sprouts inaugurated a new store in Oakland. From 7am to 10pm, farmers and community members organized a meditation sit-in, held banners and distributed flyers calling for a boycott of Sprouts until they cancel construction over the Gill Tract. By early evening, over twenty five people had gathered to protest Sprouts. They set up a projector to screen the Occupy the Farm film, distributing popcorn and snacks, and informing Sprouts employees and community members about the history and struggle over the Gill Tract.

Protest at the new Sprouts store in Oakland continued daily. On Friday, January 15, store managers called Oakland Police Department to remove the protesters. A contingent of about 20 police officers who went to the location determined that the protesters were fully within the law, and even asked them to move their banners and sit-in further towards the entrance of the store in order to leave the sidewalk open.

Community members, students, and UC faculty have put forth an alternative proposal to use all twenty acres of the historic Gill Tract as a Center for Urban Agriculture and Food Justice, serving the University of California’s mission of research and education for the public good, while also operating as a productive urban farm that provides students, workers, and community members with access to affordable local produce. This proposal better aligns with UC President Napolitano’s Global Food Initiative as well as the sustainability and climate mitigation policies of the state of California.

“We have tried every formal and institutional route for a more democratic decision on the fate of this land,” explains Gustavo Oliveira, a spokesperson for Occupy the Farm. “But the UC administration and their corporate partners only reconsider their plans for privatization when opposed by organized direct action.”

This coming weekend, the Indigenous Land Access Committee along with Occupy the Farm and other groups are calling for a Walk on the Land on January 24 at 3pm on the Gill Tract (on the corner of San Pablo Ave. and Marin Ave. in Albany, CA).

Background:

The privatization and construction launched on the site has been contested by students, faculty, and members of the community for almost two decades. In 2004, the UC Regents approved commercial development despite years of campaigning by students, faculty, and community members for the preservation of the land for urban agriculture and food justice, and proceeded bulldozing greenhouses in 2008 and contracting with Whole Foods for development of the site.

In April 2012, Occupy the Farm reenergized this struggle by camping on the land and planting a publicly-accessible farm on the Gill Tract. Under pressure, Whole Foods pulled out of the proposed development, and the UC administration granted protection for a portion of the land, some of which is now the vibrant Gill Tract Community Farm.

However, the 7 acres of the southern portion of the Gill Tract remains slated for development with a shopping center anchored by Sprouts supermarket, a hihg-end senior housing complex, and a parking lot. UC Capital Projects now seeks to implement this project despite another occupation in May 2013 and other mobilizations on the land in 2014 and 2015, two lawsuits, an Albany City referendum effort, broad based and constant community participation at the Albany City Council in favor of preserving the farmland for agricultural use, and an ongoing campaign for Sprouts to drop its proposed construction project over the Gill Tract.

occupythefarm.org

boycottsprouts.com

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Multicultural Exchange for Solidarity in Agroecology (MESA) Hiring Now!

Multicultural Exchange for Solidarity in Agroecology (MESA), a non-profit in Berkeley, CA, seeks a Lead Urban Farmer Educator for a new urban beginning farmer training and incubation program.

This is a a ¾ to full-time position who will join our dynamic team for the newly established “Advancing Next Generation Urban Farmers” project, in collaboration with Planting Justice. This position will lead educational development and implementation of an urban beginning farmer training and incubator program, primarily serving refugee, formerly incarcerated and immigrant populations. The educational role supports beginning and new farmers with culturally-specific and relevant resources, and works as leader/point person with our community partners. The incumbent will work with multiple farm managers in the program to provide training in urban and peri urban agriculture. The Lead Urban Farmer Educator works closely with farmers to link growers with program activities and with other agricultural support services. Due to class and training times that serve participants with day-jobs, this position will require working some evenings and weekends. The position responsibilities will shift seasonally, as appropriate and needed, while maintaining some core functions throughout the year.


Please see the following link for more information about the job responsibilities, desired qualifications, and how to apply: https://mesaprogram.org/about/jobs/lead-urban-farmer-educator

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