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What's New with The First 72? February Newsletter!

Exciting updates, announcements, and more from

The First 72+!

Check out this interview that The First 72+ Peer Mentor Henry did with theGrio. He shares about how the criminalization of marijuana has impacted him, and the reality of the tough choices many make simply to support their families. The fact that the recent decriminalization of marijuana has done nothing to benefit or attempt to undo some of the harm in communities who have been devastated by these laws is unacceptable. Thank you Henry for sharing your story!

Did you know that Louisiana is the most expensive state in the nation to expunge a criminal record? Expunging a criminal record can help get someone get a job or find a house, and in Louisiana the $550 price tag makes an expungement a luxury that is only afforded to those wealthy enough to pay it. Last month, in partnership with Equal Justice Under Law, The First 72+ filed a lawsuit on behalf of three Louisiana residents, arguing that these fees should be waived for people who qualify for expungements but can't afford to pay. Read more about the federal lawsuit in this article: A criminal record clean slate is expensive in Louisiana, but a new lawsuit aims to change that. Also, read about by The New Orleans Advocate / Times Picayune Editorial Board supports fee waivers for expungements.

Our Lenten Season Fish Fry is BACK starting February 28! We will be ho

sting our Lenten Season Fish Fry every Friday from February 28 through April 10. This year we're also selling Shrimp and Grits with Toast from 7am-9am, and the the classic Fried Fish plate 10:30-2pm. There are plenty of opportunities to join us for some great food and company, and be a part of this community tradition. We look forward to seeing you!

Last but not least, last month our office manager, Kisha, video chatted with NFL legend Deion Sanders and got some very exciting news... check out the link to see what happened!


Team member of the month:

Smitty "Junius" Smith

This past month, Programs Manager Juliana Matz sat down and talked with Junius “Smitty” Smith- Peer Mentor at The First 72+. The First 72+ is so lucky to have Smitty on our team. The interview has been shortened to fit this newsletter, but if you would like to listen to the whole thing please contact

Juliana: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at the First 72+?

Smitty: I’m Junius, they call me Smitty around here, and I'm a peer mentor. A peer mentor is someone who tries to help formerly incarcerated guys get acclimated back to society. We talk to them, try to get them to understand some of the challenges that they face coming back into society. I love working here. I was raised with the founders, Ben and Tyrone. After I got out of prison I reconnected with the founders through church, I started volunteering here and that led to my part time position as a peer mentor.

J: What do you think is one of the greatest challenges you see people face during the period of re-entry?

S: I mean, housing is one of the biggest challenges that people face. When you've been gone for so long in prison and you come back, your family often isn’t the same. People have changed and grown, your parents might be dead, and you often have nowhere to go. You’re then the new face of the homeless population here.

J: What do you think is one of the most important things for people during the re-entry period?

S: Well, I’m geared towards education as something that's important when a lot of the guys come home. I’ve been a tradesman all my life, so a lot of the time I direct people towards getting an education in a trade, like construction, air conditioning, carpentry, electrician, refrigeration. Something you can learn in a year or learn on the job, and something where you can build a career more long term. Once you learn a trade, they can’t take that away from you. You can always feed your family. I try to empower them to go out and get that education for themselves.

J: Anything last thoughts you have? Anything on your mind recently?

S: I’ve recently been thinking about the direction that the city is going and the changes that have happened. One thing I notice is that there are less free programs for juveniles these days than when I was growing up, it's almost non existent. Everything costs a buck. Especially children with incarcerated fathers- the father is out of the house, they’re raised by single mothers, they’re often raised in poverty. Sometimes I wonder what we could do to deter some of the juvenile crime that we have in the city? Like in addition to The First 72+, what could be done to help on the front end of the issue? How can we help these kids facing poverty in this city?

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


Intersections of Mass Incarceration...

Women and Incarceration

This is a new section of our newsletter, where we discuss how the work that we surrounding mass incarceration and re-entry overlaps with many other societal issues and injustices. We are excited to continue educating ourselves and our community about the broader context of the work we are doing! We hope that this section prompts further discussion in the community.

This month, we want to highlight the incredible and extensive research completed by the Essie Justice Group, an Oakland based non profit of women with incarcerated loved ones taking on the injustices created by mass incarceration. Their research project, "Because She’s Powerful: The Political Isolation and Resistance of Women With Incarcerated Loved Ones” explores how mass incarceration shapes women's lives in powerful ways that often are unacknowledged and forgotten. Everyday, we see the ways that mass incarceration uniquely shapes the lives of women who come through our office, and we’re very excited to see research that stresses the importance of understanding how the issues of gender justice and mass incarceration are linked.

In the write up of their research they highlight four main findings:

1) Incarceration of a loved one is a burgeoning women’s health crisis

2) As linchpins of communities, women take on extraordinary financial burden

3) Women with incarcerated loved ones face extreme isolation

4) Women know what needs to change; the women whose expertise and strategies for survival inform this report affirm that women with incarcerated loved ones are distinctly powerful social and political leaders

You can read their full report here!


In other News…

Local and national news stories or projects relating to our work at The First 72+.

Bryan Stevenson, lawyer and author of “Just Mercy”, talks about the challenging work of advocating for clients on death row, and how his faith and belief in every persons’ humanity has sustained his work for many years. He explains: “I don't believe anyone is beyond hope, beyond redemption. I believe everyone's life has purpose and meaning and value. That's why I'm committed to defending basic human rights for everybody.” The film based on his book is now in theaters.

The past few weeks there have been high levels of media coverage on the deadly violence inside of Mississippi’s Parchman Prison, with now 15 people dead since December 31. Check out this article by The Marshall Project that digs into the underlying causes of the ongoing deadly violence.

Keith Tharpe’s sentence to execution is just one example of the racial prejudices that are at play within the criminal justice system. A racist juror attributes his decision to find Tharpe guilty largely based on his ethnicity. The Sixth Amendment was neglected in Tharpe’s trial, and he is currently waiting on an appeal to prevent his execution scheduled to happen in September.

That brings us to the end of this month's newsletter- Thanks so much for reading!

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