Michiganders speak out at criminal justice reform rally

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On Oct. 14, The National Lifers of America, Inc. hosted a rally at the Lansing Capitol in support of “Second Look” legislation. The organization works to create changes in state laws impacting individuals serving life and long, indeterminate sentences in prisons.

It’s been nearly two years since West Lansing resident Katie Parr’s husband, Adam Grant, was released from prison. Grant was imprisoned for 27 years for a nonviolent bank robbery. 

“We recycle tires, we recycle glass, we recycle plastic, but we throw people away. We throw people away like it’s nothing,” she said. 

Since his release, Grant has worked for a non-profit in the Jackson area as a recovery community coordinator. He helps individuals battling addiction and those in recovery.  

Parr said, “He’s an asset to his community … if they gave him 10 or 15 years, instead there are way too many long sentences that are just disproportionate and just such a waste of people, we just throw them away. Twenty-seven, he could have started this a long time ago.”

Parr met Grant through her cousin who was also incarcerated. Grant was in charge of inmate classes at the time. It’s been 13 years since then. 

“It’s an antiquated justice system, it’s the Department of Incarceration, not the Department of Corrections.”

Katie Parr

January will be the first time Grant hasn’t been in some form of supervision or incarceration since 1985. While discussing his incarceration, Grant was emotional. It was traumatizing, he said.

“You become acclimated and habituated in some ways, and that’s more frightening than when you’re actually afraid,” Grant said. “And after, you have to find some way to actually turn your life around and everybody doesn’t have that kind of resilience. Everybody doesn’t have that kind of support … there isn’t a lot of help in the system. The system is designed on a military model of building things up, breaking them down … Building them up costs money, so breaking them down is all that’s left behind.” 

Ashley Goldon, state program director of Nation Outside, is also a formerly incarcerated person. She spent three years in the Michigan Department of Corrections. 

“I’m using my lived experience to help change a system,” she said. 

According to the Nation Outside website, it is a statewide organization with a mission to drive policy and practice reforms that build transformative systems of support. The organization is entirely led by the formerly incarcerated and justice impacted. 

“There’s a whole nation of us out here with criminal histories,” Goldon said. “We have over 43,000 barriers facing us when we come home. That’s what our organization does, tries to focus on macro and micro level policy change that will help people have a better transition,” Goldon said. 

Flint City Council candidate supports change

Lakeisha Tureaud, a write-in candidate for Flint’s City Council, has ambitions for policy change. Her father and uncle were incarcerated for armed robbery.

She said her motivation has been her boys. Tureaud is the mother of two Black males, ages 24 and 16. 

“I’m trying to make it better for our children, for my children… I’m fighting for all facets of the city of Flint, to hear the voices that are normally silent,” she said. 

Tureaud is advocating for incarcerated individuals to receive time off for being productive. 

“I’m on the board of Catholic Charities in Flint where we do an offender success program. There’s a good chance if you’re productive in prison, you’re productive when you come out. I’ve seen it,” she said. “If you go into prison at 15, 20 to 25 years later, your mind changes, you shouldn’t be punished all your life for something you did as a juvenile.” 

The treatment of people in prison is often neglected, and must be looked at, Tureaud said. 

“We’re dealing with people who have been deemed criminals. They have sentences to serve out, but there are some things inside the prison system you just don’t understand unless you’ve been in there,” she said. “We deal with a lot of reform, and not having people being sentenced, or treating them when they come out, but when they’re in there, we need to look at some of the treatment that’s going on within the prison system.” 

Legislators also support changes

Michigan Sen. Stephanie Chang, a speaker at the rally, said she was in support of “Second Look” legislation. 

“If you have been in prison and if you’ve served a certain amount of time, you absolutely deserve a second look … people can change, people mature,” she said. 

Chang and Sen. Jeff Erwin announced a plan to introduce “Second Look” legislation to allow courts to re-evaluate or reduce sentences after inmates serve a certain amount of time in prison. 

Chang said, “Please keep speaking up, please keep reaching out to your lawmakers, let them know who it is you are fighting for and why it’s so important we always remember it’s about people’s humanity.”

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