VISITING PROGRAM VISITING PROGRAM VISITING PROGRAM
What is the Visiting Program?
Visiting Incarcerated Survivors
S&P members and volunteers visit incarcerated survivors in New York State as an important part of our organizing work and #FreeThemNY campaign . Our Mass Commutations campaign started in the spring of 2018, when we began to meet some of the survivors who had reached out to us, to compile their stories, and start to pressure Cuomo to grant sentence commutations. Our #FreeThemNY campaign calls on Cuomo to grant commutations not only to the survivors whose stories have been made public on our website, but also to all other criminalized survivors. We lift up individual survivors’ narratives to the public as examples of thousands of incarcerated survivors across the state.
Visits provide much needed contact for many on the inside whose family members and loved ones live many hours away, or have no family or close ties at all. On any given weekday — the visiting rooms at Bedford and Taconic are often almost empty. Visits help people feel that they have not disappeared into the system. Our ultimate goal is to establishing a network of incarcerated survivors who both organize both behind the walls and provide guidance to the #FreeThemNY campaign.
Visiting is done by organizers in the mass commutations workgroup, newsletter group, the commissary working group and S&P volunteers. Not every survivor who is visited decides to join the campaign and have their story published on the website, but we continue to build relationships with these survivors through regular visits, letter writing, campaign updates, and our newsletter so that they still are connected with the S&P community. In addition, we have advocated on an individual basis for denial of visitation rights and for appropriate healthcare for individuals who are systematically being denied care. We also produced a “how to” guide for clemency and parole.
The network of S&P members inside prison is about 88 people. In the Fall of 2019 we held a training and orientation for prison visiting, and produced a guide to visiting (site specific to local prisons), covering many of the nuances and challenges of prison visits and the accountability we should engage in when building relationships with folks behind bars. We now have over 15 new volunteers who are committed to building and maintaining relationships with survivors on the inside. New volunteers will visit both current members on the inside to broaden survivors’ connection with the S&P community , and new survivors to either engage them in the public facing aspect of the campaign, or to invite them to participate in the S&P network behind walls. We are looking forward to deepening and sustaining our visiting capacity and network building in the coming year, and plan on publishing a toolkit on how to create a sustainable Volunteer Visiting program for organizations doing similar work (Coming Spring 2020).