By Michelle Lewin, NLG-NYC Parole Preparation Project
The Parole Preparation Project of the Mass Incarceration Committee continues to work in collaboration with people serving life sentences across New York State who seek parole release. In May, Michelle Lewin, one of the members of the Project’s coordinating committee, was given the Law Student Recognition Award at the NYC Chapter’s annual Spring Fling. Here is an excerpt from her acceptance speech:
“A year after working with our very first applicant, we have almost 80 active volunteers who are working alongside 30 people inside, all of whom are serving life sentences. So far, five people have been granted parole out of the twelve who have gone before the Board.
As proud as I am of the work we and our volunteers have done, and the work we will continue to do, I don’t want to overemphasize our role as advocates. One of the most sacred principles of the project is that people on the inside are the experts. Their experiences, their discoveries and their struggle make them so, and it is our job and our responsibility as people on the outside to listen. It is also our job to lift up their voices and amplify them, in whatever ways we can.
It is also our job as advocates to recognize that we have so much to learn. As a project, we imagine that this learning takes place through relationships based on collaboration and solidarity. It happens by getting to know people in real ways, by spending time in the visiting room, on the phone and with people’s families. It happens by working alongside and not for or on behalf of someone. It happens when you begin to develop relationships of care, communication, trust and sometimes even love.
Ultimately, fighting for the release of people incarcerated is deeply important work for so many reasons. At its root it is about freeing people from institutions that devastate the minds and bodies of those it imprisons, because regardless of the harm someone has caused, no one deserves to be subjected to such abuse and isolation. It is also about initiating the long process of restoring families and communities that have been devastated by the system. It is about challenging the racism, classism, transphobia, and other oppressive structures that got us here.
Finally, this fight is deeply important because it is about bringing people home who are ultimately the leaders of this movement to end mass incarceration. We need the brilliant jailhouse lawyers, activists and organizers who are at the forefront of this struggle out here with us, so they can direct us and show us the way.
It is my deepest hope that this project can be a small part of building a mass movement to abolish prisons. To end incarceration altogether. To end the inhumane and racist practices of the state. To end the stigmatization of people inside and out. To bring people home.
It is also my hope that this project will be a small part of a movement that is based in love, generosity of spirit, collaboration and most of all, lifting up the voices of those behind bars. The voices of people inside are loud and clear and it’s our job to listen.”
Questions about the Project? Email firstname.lastname@example.org