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What's New at the First 72+? May Newsletter and Covid-19 Update

What’s New at The First 72? In some ways everything has changed, some things are completely the same.

Although our physical office closed on March 17, we are as motivated as we have ever been to support our clients and community in all of the ways that we possibly can. You can find more details about how to access our services on our website.

We are still here to help! Since we closed our office on March 17 we have welcomed home 34 people - one new client (who had just been released after 10 years) was with us when we locked our door.

It took us six years to build our office, and shutting it down was heartbreaking. We know that it was the right decision for our Governor to shut down our state, Governor Edward’s leadership on this front has saved lives. But how do you abide by a “Stay-At-home” order when you have no home? The COVID - 19 Global Pandemic has only reinforced the importance of having access to support when you come home from prison - and most importantly, access to a safe place to live. While many of us have been working from home, our clients have been sleeping on the streets, on their mother’s porches (because to let them sleep inside would violate their lease), or held in jail / prison because they can’t provide an address.

So, we did something about that.

For the last 6 weeks, in partnership with Voice of The Experienced and Operation Restoration we have been working ‘round the clock to put 25 people and 5 children in safe housing. We have rented hotel rooms and negotiated with landlords to sublease homes. We have connected with our community to provide meals and clothing. We have partnered with the Orleans Public Defenders, the Council on Drug Abuse, and Crescent Care to provide case management. This weekend we will be helping one of our residents take custody of her nephew - whose mother will give birth while in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Corrections.

Our Co-Director, Kelly, doing an “orientation” outside of the hotel where our recently released clients are quarantining (above). Our office Manager, Kisha, helping move two new residents into their home - from a safe social-distance, of course (below).

Next week we will welcome home, Darrill Henry, who will finally be released after 17 years of wrongful imprisonment. In partnership with our friends at Innocence Project we raised over $27,000 to help his family post his bond. Learn more about his story HERE.

Our mission has always been (and will always be) to respond to the most urgent needs of the community we serve. And now more than ever that need, is home.


The last six weeks have been exhausting - mentally, emotionally, and physically. But if the last six weeks have been any indication of the potential of our community and our future, we only have reasons to be optimistic. And we hope you will help keep that optimism alive by giving what you can so we can house 25 more families next month, and 25 more families the month after that.

You can support the work we’re doing on #GivingTuesdayNow, this Tuesday, May 5th. The global community will be coming together to give back in response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. We hope that you will consider supporting the work that The First 72+ is doing to meet the immediate needs of our community as this crisis continues. We are so grateful for the generosity and support of our community-- you make our work possible.



First 72+ Team Member Highlight:

Wayne Thomas

This past month, Programs Manager Juliana talked with Wayne Thomas- a member of The First 72+ community who lives in our transitional house. We’re so lucky to have Wayne in our community, and are so grateful for his support that has allowed us to continue doing our work remotely (more on this in the interview!). The interview has been shortened to fit this newsletter.

Juliana: Would you tell me a little bit about yourself, and how you’ve been involved with The First 72+?

Wayne: I’ve been in the First 72 transitional house since I’ve been home from prison, and it’s been a big help for me. I’ve gotten a lot of assistance with a lot of things- going to the doctors, going to the social security office, setting up appointments, applying for jobs. There's a big big difference between how you do things today, and how we used to do things. And you know, I grew up here in the city, but you have to relearn so many things, the hurricane has changed the city all around. It’s been really helpful to transition to practice keeping up your own household, and interacting with people, and working on a lot of helpful skills.

J: Would you tell me a bit about how you and Wayne S. have been helping out since the office closed a few weeks ago? What has that been like?

W: Since the office has been shut down, some of us in the transitional house have taken up the task of helping out. That’s felt really good. We stay outside on the porch a lot of the time and look out for people who come by the office. When people come by the office, we make sure that they stay at a distance. We direct them to how to talk on the phone that's outside of the office, and help them get connected to the peer mentors and other First 72+ staff over the phone. And then we make sure afterwards to keep the phone wiped down and sanitized.

J: What do you think it’s like for people who are coming out of jail or prison now, with everything that is going on with the virus?

W: You know, there’s always people who are coming home from prison and they don’t have nowhere to go. And that’s really bad right now. And it’s hard to get a job today because there's not really anything that's open, I guess you'll have to wait for this to blow over.

J: Would you share a little bit about what you think is an important part of having a successful re-entry experience?

W: Yeah, I think you’ve gotta have a plan about what you really wanna do, to have a smooth transition. Like family, housing, getting a job. You’ve really gotta have that focus, or else you ain’t doing nothing. And then just being responsible, you have so many more responsibilities once you’re out of prison. You know, I did a lot of time, and I didn’t do that time with a hollow mind. I really wanted to get out of there and accomplish things, so I did a lot of programs and stayed in my own space away from the negative stuff. And that’s what I kind of do out here too.

We’re so grateful to Wayne for sharing part of his story with us, and The First 72+ is lucky to have him as a part of our family.


Newsreel Highlight: Intersections of COVID, Mass Incarceration, and Inequality

As we face COVID-19, it has become urgently clear that the deeply rooted inequalities that have always existed in our country directly shape how people are impacted by COVID-19. Below are articles that shine light on how COVID-19 impacts Americans unequally, largely along the lines of race, class, and involvement in the criminal justice system.

Local News:

*First 72+ featured* Freed From Prison After 26 Years—Into a Coronavirus Hotspot: “During the COVID-19 crisis, people coming home after decades behind bars find loved ones in quarantine, dire job prospects and overwhelmed social services agencies.”

‘It’s a war’: New Orleans jail struggles to manage COVID-19 outbreak as it implements mass testing. “The unique threat of coronavirus in correctional facilities is something that advocates, public health experts, and the Orleans Public Defenders have been stressing for weeks.”

Black Communities Are Hit Hardest By COVID-19 In Louisiana And Elsewhere: “In Louisiana, there are a lot of reasons why black people are more at-risk of dying from COVID-19, including preexisting conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary heart disease. These disproportionately impact the black community, largely because of poverty and a lack of access to services — problems that stem from hundreds of years of systemic racism.”

Lawsuit Filed Challenging Dangerous Plan to Move State’s COVID-Positive Incarcerated People to Angola: “Incarcerated people who test positive for COVID-19 in prisons and jails in around the state of Louisiana are being transferred to the Louisiana State Penitentiary (commonly called Angola) to be housed in Camp J...The DOC’s entire plan has been widely criticized by public health experts and civil rights advocates.”

National News:

Quarantine Could Change How Americans Think of Incarceration: Nationwide forced isolation, along with media coverage of the pandemic’s toll in U.S. jails and prisons, could shift public perceptions of carceral punishment. “In growing numbers, people not affiliated with traditional advocacy circles are calling for decarceration, whether through reducing jail and prison populations or easing punitive measures to protect public safety...These efforts join campaigns such as Free Them All for Public Health and Release Aging People in Prison, as well as writing from legal scholars and city officials, in framing decarceration as necessary for public health and safety.”

No, Your Coronavirus Quarantine Is Not Just Like Being in Prison: “For those of you reading this who feel trapped or are going stir-crazy due to your coronavirus-induced confinement, the best advice I can give you—as someone used to suffering in long-term confinement—is to take a pause, inhale a few deep breaths, then look around at all the things you have to be grateful for.”

A Public Health Doctor And Head Of Corrections Agree: We Must Immediately Release People From Jails And Prisons: “Decisive action by governors and the President now can save lives -- of incarcerated people, correctional and medical personnel, and nearby community members. Business as usual will not.”

As jails and prisons cut inmate populations, ICE detention centers remain crowded: “Treating people that are detained as an afterthought puts everyone’s public health in danger”
San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin Says COVID-19 Won’t End Without Criminal Justice Reform: “While these steps could help stem the crisis and reduce overcrowding in prison, the recent concern around COVID-19 also invites broader questions around the general premise of mass incarceration and immigrant detention: why do we incarcerate a greater percentage of our citizens than any other country, and is it actually making us safer? Are these proposed reforms simply about COVID-19 — or could they help build a stronger criminal justice system for the long-term?”

Bail Someone Out of Jail Today: “For those who don’t wish to sit by helplessly during the coronavirus crisis, there is something you can do. You can very possibly save a life by bailing someone out of jail. A human catastrophe is unfolding inside America’s houses of detention. As the virus continues its spread, 2.3 million prisoners and 400,000 corrections officers (not to mention their families) are living and working cheek by jowl, vulnerable to this highly contagious scourge, poorly supplied with protective gear and unable to practice social distancing. The surge in infections is most likely just beginning.”

Coronavirus Ended His Shot at a Second Chance: “Over the last year, his lawyers had been asking a federal judge to let him out under the new terms of the First Step Act, the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill signed by President Trump. “Patrick deserves another chance at life,” one lawyer wrote. The judge denied the request, but Jones told his family he would appeal.”

Inside A Coronavirus Quarantine Unit At Rikers: One of the most concentrated coronavirus outbreaks in the world is happening in New York City’s biggest jail complex, which holds roughly 5,000 detainees in its eight facilities.

Covid-19 is disproportionately taking black lives: “Hundreds of years of racism has delivered poor health and economic outcomes for black people, making them more vulnerable in the pandemic.”

Trump Administration Tells Some Business Owners “Do Not Apply” for Coronavirus Loans: SBA says people with criminal records aren't eligible for some emergency loans, even though experts say the law doesn't exclude them.

Every aspect of the coronavirus pandemic exposes America’s devastating inequalities: “Beyond poverty, a number of factors contribute to poor health among black people, from racism in medical settings to the physical health effects of discrimination. Redlining and other forms of housing discrimination have made black Americans more likely to live in neighborhoods affected by environmental contamination, which federal and state officials have been slow to respond to, in turn raising rates of chronic illness.”

Walmart Workers Say They Face A Choice: Their Safety Or Their Paycheck: Low-wage essential workers across industries — from grocery store employees to bus drivers and delivery workers — find themselves in a similar situation to Walmart workers. They cannot work from home and aren't afforded the health precautions that the CDC is advising Americans to take. And the majority of those workers are people of color, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute.

Six points about Coronavirus and poverty in the US: “In the United States, tens of millions of people are at a much greater risk of getting sick from the coronavirus than others. The most vulnerable among us do not have the option to comply with suggestions to stay home from work or work remotely. Most low wage workers do not have any paid sick days and cannot do their work from home. The over two million people in jails and prisons each night do not have these options nor do the half a million homeless people.”

That's the end of our newsletter, thanks for reading!

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