By Mark Shervington
I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would ever be so honored and privileged as I have been to be awarded a 2016 NLG Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowship for Social and Economic Justice with the Parole Preparation Project (P3) of the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. With no JD, Esq. or other alphabets behind my name, I’m not your usual candidate for such honors.
I developed extensive practical knowledge of criminal law and the parole process as well as the social, economic and political factors affecting them through formal and informal education. I also have experience as a paralegal and jailhouse lawyer and as a Parole Preparation Project applicant. My personal experience in prison and with the commissioners of the Board of Parole also made me uniquely qualified to serve as a Haywood Burns Fellow with the Parole Preparation Project.
I have found NLG members to be genuinely dedicated to social justice. They have warmly welcomed me into the community, and have demonstrated their commitment to changing the criminal legal system. As a Haywood Burns Fellow, I have assisted the coordinators and volunteers of the NLG-NYC Parole Preparation Project, and I also attended NLG events and participated in other justice activities such as the 2016 Beyond the Bars Conference at Columbia University to share my experience and advance prison abolition and learn from others. Highlights of my Burns Memorial Fellowship include meeting many people who knew Haywood Burns including his law partner Robert Van Lierop as well as Danny Meyers and Marty Stolar.
As a Haywood Burns Fellow, I have gained further practical experience and insights useful for using the law to effect prison abolition. In the future, I hope to continue to serve the NLG in whatever ways I can. My Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowship has enabled me to fulfill that goal by giving me greater access to the Guild and its membership. I also hope to one day work as a paralegal with an organization or agency involved in justice in the criminal system. I believe this experience as a part of the Parole Preparation Project team has equipped me with the necessary qualifications.
I would like to help make the criminal justice system and parole process fair to all. For many years, parole-eligible and parole-worthy women and men have been unfairly and unjustifiably held in prison by the New York State parole board based on political considerations, often even after decades of self-rehabilitation and redemption. My own personal experience with the New York State Board of Parole has also inspired me to be an advocate for change and a key player in the parole justice reform movement. I also wish to support work that directly gives back to those still inside, in every way that I can.
I hope to emulate Haywood Burns by sharing my Fellowship experience and skills with others by assisting persons in need to advocate for social justice and equality under law. I will work with individuals and groups committed to this purpose to convey the project’s work back to my community.
My heartfelt appreciation goes to Michelle Lewin, Hillary Packer, Emily Sims, Whitney Seiler, Andrea Bible, and Nora Carroll of the NLG-NYC Parole Preparation Project for their kindness and generosity to me.