By Louis L. Reed, #cut50 Director of Organizing and Partnerships

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Photo Courtesy of Washington Post

I am a Black man who has had more than his own share of life’s challenges, some self-inflicted. But I’m more than the poor decisions I made more than 20 years ago that landed me in federal prison for nearly 14 years. I am a leader, advocate, and landlord. I love spending time with family, though my nephews, eight and ten years old respectively, always beat me in NBA 2k. …


By Zoe Rivka Panagopoulos, #cut50’s Digital Manager

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Since the First Step Act became law, thousands of people have returned to society after serving time in federal prison. But returnees face major challenges — including proving their identity.

People lose a lot while in prison (perhaps the grossest understatement I’ve ever made) — family, moments, hope, to name a few — but many less obvious things are lost as well, including a valid form of identification. And for those who get to step foot on the outside again, ID can be one of the biggest barriers to successful reentry.

At cut50, we hear a lot about this. Our team shepherded the First Step Act through Congress (and eventually the White House) alongside directly impacted advocates. And since the bill became law, we’ve been hearing a lot about the first challenge people face after prison: getting a valid form of ID. …


My name is Gale Muhammad and I’m fighting for families that are impacted by mass incarceration because I lost precious time with my husband while he was serving a prison sentence.

Primary caretakers are often an afterthought in the criminal justice system, yet families are deeply impacted by incarceration while their loved ones are away, which is why I’m supporting A-3979: The Dignity for Incarcerated Primary Caregiver Parents Act.

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Gale Muhammad on the Day of Empathy

As a single mother, I reconnected with my childhood friend, Tariq Muhammad, who had been incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. When I first heard about Tariq’s situation I went to visit him in prison, the first of what would become hundreds of visits behind bars to him and others who were impacted by mass incarceration. …


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Early-release recipients of the First Step Act joined by family members and loved ones of those still behind bars with #cut50 National Organizer, Louis L. Reed (far right)

This past week, the House Judiciary Committee convened for a hearing on the implementation of the First Step Act (FSA), historic criminal justice legislation responsible for bringing home ~7,000 community members from prison so far this year.

Since the passage of the First Step Act almost one year ago, thousands of people have benefited from the law, including the families and communities of those returned to them under this legislation.

But it is rare that lawmakers come face-to-face with those directly impacted by their policies.

#cut50’s team — notably National Organizer Louis L. Reed, a directly impacted survivor of the federal prison system himself, along with Communications Associate Abree Dominguez and Policy Manager Matthew Bulger — worked hard to change that. With just a few days notice, people recently released from prison under the First Step Act (and the family who accompanied them) embarked on flights (some for the first time in their lives) to meet with those who played a crucial role in granting their freedom in Washington D.C. …


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#cut50 National Organizer Louis L. Reed addressing a crowd at the Congressional Black Caucus’s Annual Legislative Conference in 2019.

For the 49th year, the Congressional Black Caucus convened with allies from across the nation for their Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) in Washington D.C. Historically, the conference has served as a forum for dissecting broken systems and looking forward toward solutions. But this year was different.

In rooms filled with advocates spanning generations, cell phones were ablaze capturing photos and videos of a unique moment in history: one in which directly impacted leaders gathered to discuss progress.

Nine months after the First Step Act was signed into law, #cut50 partnered with three leading lawmakers to present panels on next steps. Almost 7,000 people have come home from federal prison this year. And one single provision in the bill — retroactivity of crack cocaine sentences — has thus far reclaimed 155,000 years of human life. …


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Heidi De Leon, a directly impacted advocate for California Senate Bill 394, after graduating with a Masters of Social Work in 2018 – pictured here with her daughter.

A bill that just cleared the California State Assembly would create a new diversion court system that prevents eligible parents and primary caregivers from being incarcerated and having the lifelong stigma of a criminal conviction.

Authored by Dem. Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, SB 394 would set a model for how we can prioritize healing, treatment, and restoration over punishment. And, it would start to transform a justice system that currently results in an estimated 10+ million children nationwide from the impacts of parental incarceration.

When her daughter was only three years old, Ashleigh Carter was forced to leave her job, her home, and her family when she went to prison. …


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Michael Mendoza speaking at a past Day of Empathy event

At #cut50, we fight to ensure that people who are most affected by the justice system can leverage their voices and expertise to develop policy solutions that will impact their lives, families, and communities.

That’s why we are thrilled to welcome back a former team member who is now stepping into the role of National Director: Michael Mendoza!

Michael grew up in Southern California in an environment that exposed him to racism, peer pressure, drug abuse, gang violence, and poverty. At the age of 13, Michael joined a gang to seek safety and acceptance.

22 years ago, he made what he calls the worst decision of his life: agreeing to participate in a gang related murder. …


Today, more than 2,200 incarcerated men and women are being released from federal prison under the First Step Act!

When you’re incarcerated, even one extra day of freedom can be life-changing– especially if that day means getting to see your child walk down the aisle, witnessing the birth of a new family member, or getting the chance to say goodbye to someone you love.

Last year, the #cut50 team fought alongside formerly incarcerated leaders and bipartisan coalition members to pass the First Step Act. We have spent most of this year making sure this law is implemented quickly and effectively.


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Me (right) – alongside co-authors of the Tennessee Dignity Act, Senator Katrina Robinson and Representative Harold Love Jr.

My name is Tray Johns and I fight for incarcerated women because I am a formerly incarcerated person myself. While I was incarcerated, I was treated as less than human and as a second class citizen. I served 8 years, 7 months and 19 days in federal prison for possession of less than $500 worth of drugs. While incarcerated, I became a skilled “Jailhouse Lawyer” and, since being released, a prominent and fearless social justice activist.

This year, my Dignity Co-Ambassador Clemmie Greenlee and I traveled across Tennessee working with formerly and currently incarcerated women to advocate for access to feminine hygiene products inside women’s correctional facilities in our state. …


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Ashleigh Carter and her two daughters, Asia and Amara.

My name is Ashleigh Carter. I go by many titles and wear many hats, but none are quite as important to me as ‘Mother’. And it is for this very reason that I am fighting to keep families together in California, because I know first hand what it’s like to have my family torn apart by incarceration.

Every day, I think deeply about all the parents who are locked away behind bars in California and around the country not knowing when they will get a chance to hold or see their child again. …

About

cut50

A national bipartisan initiative to smartly and safely reduce our incarcerated population. Co-Founded by @VanJones68, a program of the Dream Corps.

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