August 3, 2023

What’s New at the First 72+? - August Newsletter

What’s New at the First 72+? - August Newsletter

Save the Date - and please check out our Registry!

In 2017 we teamed up with the Office of Jonathan Tate with just a big idea and a lot of hope: to design and build our dream transitional house for people coming home from prison, in the former footprint of Orleans Parish Prison - previously one of the largest jails in the country.

Please join us on September 18 to celebrate the grand opening of the Ben Smith Welcome Home Center. This 3,200 square foot mixed use facility is designed to support a full complement of services, including transitional housing, health, job placement, spiritual guidance, education, and business incubation, to help our residents re-enter society.

In the meantime, we still have some furnishing to do  . . . Please check out our registry, and consider spreading the word

9 Steps to Living Free Graduation

On Sunday, July 9th we celebrated our second ever graduation ceremony for our 9 Steps to Living Free program at the Next Generation of the Original Morning Star church. The program, which is facilitated every Wednesday by Pastor Tyrone Smith and our coaches, is an opportunity for participants to share experiences, build community, and learn a variety of life skills.

Fifteen graduates received certificates and were celebrated with song, prayer, and a speech by our valued friend and collaborator, Judge Marcus DeLarge. The Judge spoke to the ways in which our graduates are breaking the cycle of incarceration through their devotion to themselves and our communities. We were also joined by our friend and longtime supporter, New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas.

We are so proud of every graduate and grateful for the communities that continue to lift them up!

Staff Retreat and VISIONS Training

In mid-July our team gathered at the Next Generation of the Original Morning Star church for a strategic planning retreat facilitated by our longtime friend and esteemed community organizer, Alison McCrary. Staff cultivated and shared visions for the future of the First 72+ while expanding their skills and learning new tools to help us serve our clients and our community as best we can.

Later, we were joined by VISIONS (Vigorous Interventions in Ongoing Natural Settings, Inc), a women and people of color nonprofit organization that works to provide training and consultancy in diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. VISIONS guided us through a holistic diversity, equity, and inclusion training that gave us tools to show up as our fullest and most authentic selves and celebrate the incredible diversity of our community.

We are grateful for the time we had this month to devote to ourselves and one another, and we are excited to bring what he have learned back to our office at 2915 Perdido St.

Victory at the OMV for Formerly Incarcerated People

In 2015 we set out to make it easier for people leaving prisons to access driver’s licenses. We knew it would be hard, we had no idea it would lead to a nearly nine year battle with the Office of Motor Vehicles (OMV).

Even though they already existed in Louisiana law (Louisiana Revised Statute 32:415.3), it took nearly two years (and one brief sit-in protest in a OMV waiting room) just to get the Office of Motor Vehicles to agree to issue provisional driver’s licenses (PDLs) to formerly incarcerated people with outstanding traffic tickets (a nearly universal reality for people that have done prison time).

What held it up? Finding a satisfactory way to prove our clients had been incarcerated . . .  A particularly weird obstacle considering 1) having a prison record is nearly possible to escape, and 2) the OMV is a subsidiary office of the Department of Public Safety, which is also home to, yep, you guessed it: The Department of Corrections. This led to the creation of what we term “letters of incarceration” (LOIs), issued by sheriff’s offices, the department of corrections, and the department of probation / parole. We actually had to get a law created to ensure access to ensure access to LOIs (La R.S. 15:714). Then-State Representative Royce Duplessis helped us make that happen, and we are forever grateful for his leadership on this important issue.

Just when we thought this fight was over, almost immediately after we agreed on an issuance process that complied with the law, and almost immediately after we got OMV to agree to print and promote a pamphlet advertising PDLs in their waiting rooms . . .

Then, the legislature created La R.S. 32:402.1(E) requiring people who have never had a driver’s license before to go to driving school, and to have “temporary instructional permits” (TIPs) in order to enroll and complete driving tests. Seems harmless, right?

Only problem, the overwhelming majority of our clients never had valid driver’s licenses - getting a license when you turn 16 is a privilege, not a right. Or, had a license but it had been inactive for more than 20 years and was purged. Considering the extreme sentences that have historically been the norm in Louisiana, many of our clients have served in excess of 20 years.

And so, with this new requirement, most of our clients were disqualified from getting PDLs.

After a few months of debate with OMV, they came around to our Interpretation of the statute that created the PDL (Louisiana Revised Statute 32:415.3), and agreed to issue TIPs to people who otherwise qualified for PDLs.

But, of course, our fight wasn’t over. Because, as always seem to be the case when fighting for formerly incarcerated people, nothing is easy. Especially when it comes to a state government with exceptionally inefficient technology. As it turned out, in order for OMV to issue TIPs to people who are eligible for PDLs, they would need to undertake a “fairly substantial programming change.” This was communicated to us in October 2019, but no actual time frame was given.

After years of pleading emails, setbacks, a global pandemic, and more technology setbacks on the afternoon of July 14 we got confirmation that people who are eligible for PDLs can now access TIPs! It was a hard fought, and very long (too long) journey. Nevertheless, we stayed the course and today it is significantly easier for people coming home from prison to access drivers licenses.

Please see below for how to access a driver’s license when you return home from prison:

How to Get a Drivers License When You Return Home from Prison

Wishing Them Well on Their Journeys Ahead

Finally, we want to share our gratitude for a few folks who will be leaving the First 72+ this month.

Our beloved pre-release coordinator, Darrell, will be moving back home to Tennessee with his wife Pam. We will miss him dearly and wish him all the best on his journey!

Our two Avodah Service Corps members, Talia and Kayla, will also be moving on as their program year comes to close. We are grateful for the time they have spent with us and look forward to meeting next year's corps members!

Thank you to everyone who supports us and makes our work possible.

Stay tuned for what we have in store this fall, and remember to follow us on Facebook and Instagram!