Holiday Book Drive

Holiday Book Drive

The Des is raising funds and donations to send books to DC Books to Prisoners

Donating used books 

  • No hard covers
  • No stained or damaged books
  • No books with sexually explicit content
  • No nudity 
  • No true crime

Needed

  • learning Spanish
  • fiction and nonfiction in Spanish
  • westerns
  • RECENT how to start a small business
  • RECENT how to learn trades like electrician
  • DC comics
  • Marvel comics
  • RECENT almanacs
  • New dictionaries
  • historical fiction
  • history books
  • non-DC and Marvel comics
  • biographies
  • other learn foreign language books

Buying Books to donate: 

Donating funds for us to buy books: 

  • please make donations via venmo @lj-dawson with book drive in the subject line. We will update this post with total donated amount and books purchased.

Please text 202.630.4322 for local DC drop off locations.

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DISPATCHES

Shaking off the dust

The United States Sentencing Commission’s four year interruption has left the circuit court system in disarray and many incarcerated people waiting to hear back on appeals. Its first meeting addressed the list of priorities it will tackle including The First Step Act.

NUMBERS

Still locked out of the ballot box

 An estimated 4.6 million Americans are still unable to vote due to felony records despite reforms. This includes more than one in 10 Black adults in eight states – Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia.

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gun violence surges despite crime fighting efforts; package snatching is now a felony in some states; new laws could provide relief to survivors of domestic violence in prison

from the frontlines: AUGUST EDITION

sentence delivered

A federal court sentenced Gregory McMichael, the shooter of Ahmaud Arbery to life in prison for hate crimes. His son who also participated in the killing of the Black runner, also received a life sentence. Arbery’s mother responded to McMichael’s statement: “Unfortunately his apology doesn’t bring back my son, but I do accept it.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Aug. 8, 2022)

DA saga in the bay drags on

Brooke Jenkins, the recalled San Francisco District Attorney’s former employee not only quit to successfully replace him in the recent recall election, but also received $100k as a consultant for a nonprofit that shares the same address and almost the same name as the organization behind the recall ballot, according to new ethics records. The Appeal’s Nick Wing makes some sense of the madness here.The San Francisco Standard (Aug. 9, 2022)

cracking down on snatches

Porch piracy in eight states is now a felony, and five states have introduced similar legislation. But others argue that these penalties are too severe and will disproportionately affect people of color. Type Investigations (Aug. 25, 2022)

cashed out

Baltimore school police officers earned almost $1.8 million in overtime and additional pay during a pandemic school year. They worked as after-hours security for other agencies and Orioles and Ravens’ games. Baltimore Banner (Aug. 26, 2022)

 

what does forgiveness look like decades later

A mass school shooting in Kentucky in 1997 left three students dead and another five others wounded. The teen shooter, now an adult, is up for parole forcing the victims and families to confront the tough question of forgiveness of a teen shooter who claimed bullying. Washington Post (Aug. 28, 2022)

call in the troops

As the humanitarian crisis in Alabama’s prisons continues to deteriorate, a former warden said that the national guard should be called in to support record low numbers of staffing. WAAY31ABC (Aug. 5, 2022)

shots continue to rain from B-more to DC

A press conference about crime-fighting team work in Baltimore last week was overshadowed by a mass shooting of seven people. Multiple people were shot and killed in D.C., P.G. County and Baltimore this month in a continued resurgence of gun violence. A football player for the Washington Commanders was shot multiple times this weekend on H St. NE. Baltimore Banner (Aug. 24, 2022)

forced labor

A year-long investigation into Arizona Correctional Industries found that the nearly 2,000 workers are employed for less than $1 an hour, and at times have to pay to live in their own cells and receive no benefits.They are also leased to other companies. KJZZ (July 18, 2022)

punished for protecting yourself

Women’s prisons are full of domestic violence survivors who took their fate into their own hands and killed their abusive partner. Laws passed to allow judges to consider abuse survivors for early release could fix this. Mother Jones (Aug. 11, 2022)

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New report finds rise in arrests didn’t slow an explosion of meth use and overdose deaths across America

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New report finds rise in arrests didn’t slow an explosion of meth use and overdose deaths across America

From 2015-2019, the data studied showed arrests rose in 40 out 43 states by an average of 80% in each state, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ new report

By LJ Dawson
By LJ Dawson

Founder of The Des and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Despite a rise in arrests for possession of meth, both the use of meth and subsequent overdose deaths skyrocketed from 2015-2019, according to a new report from The Pew Charitable TrustsThe report found that arrests for meth possession increased by almost 60% across the country while people using meth rose by 37% and overdose deaths more than doubled.

Earlier research from Pew showed that drug arrests overall did not drop from 2009 to 2019 despite lower arrest rates for cannabis. This was due to higher rates of arrest for meth. This inspired them to look deeper into drug use by type of substance across the country, according to Tracy Velázquez, senior manager for safety and justice programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

 

“This is not a problem that because you live in a state that hasn’t traditionally had a big meth use problem you can ignore,” Velázquez said.

 

The Pew analysis found that more than 2 million people used meth in 2019, the most recent data available, and half of those users qualified for substance use disorder, meaning that meth use significantly impacted their ability to function. In 16 states, at least 1 in 100 adults used meth in 2019.

 

“Meth use is growing across the country, overdoses are growing across the country, and policymakers and states that have not traditionally thought about it as a problem they need to deal with, they need to start thinking about dealing with it,” she said.

“Lacking other tools to deal with this growing meth problem, communities are hoping that they can arrest their way out of it."

Tracy Velázquez, senior manager for safety and justice programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Other studies and reports show that overall drug use and overdoses continue to rise since the pandemic. Preliminary data reported 1 in 3 drug overdose deaths nationwide involving meth in 2021, compared with 1 in 4 in 2019.

 

And the meth people are using is deadlier. Overdose deaths more than doubled from 2.1 to 5.6 per 100,000 people. Part of this is due to meth contaminated with fentanyl. Deaths involving fentanyl more than quadrupled from 7% to 31% over the five years.

On average, meth possession arrests rose almost 80% across the country. They more than doubled in nine states and rose in 40 out of 43 states. Ohio, Illinois, New York and Nevada lead the country with increases over 200%. 

 

“Lacking other tools to deal with this growing meth problem, communities are hoping that they can arrest their way out of it,” Velázquez said.

 

Previous research shows that increasing arrests for drug possession does not lead to a reduction in drug use. Velázquez said there is no reason to think that targeting meth use through arrests would work this time around. She said that they hope the report encourages the federal government to develop and research novel treatments such as a Narcan, which counteracts opioid overdoses, for meth overdoses.

 

Velázquez also pointed to harm reduction strategies which address underlying mental health issues that spur self-medicated illicit drug use and also attempt to reduce the risk of drug consumption such as supervised drug use sites. 

Tracy Velázquez, senior manager for safety and justice programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts

“We feel that it’s a sort of an inflection point, where how we address the issue of meth use going forward can make a big difference in what this looks like, five years from now,” Velázquez said.

 

“I am hopeful that substance use disorder is seen as a health issue that isn’t someone’s fault. It’s not a personal failing, but rather a result of both their own biology and environment.”

 

Read the full report here.

credit: Pew Charitable Trusts
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Bail industry gets away with murder, costing defendants and citizens alike

An investigation was published indicating that six NYC bail bond companies were using fake trade names in order to continue operations without being shut down by state officials for large amounts of debt. The ability of agencies to continue to profit off of the bail system despite state laws that allow officials to suspend agencies owing large sums of money is the sixth loophole emphasized by the report.

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NUMBERS

Mass incarceration punishes kids too

The arrest of a parent can be traumatic and severe for children whose parents are incarcerated, causing emotional, physical, educational and financial well-being difficulties. According to a  new study, kids of incarcerated parents are likely to become incarcerated themselves.

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left to die

new report finds ten of thousands of people over fifty who are sentenced to life without parole face increasingly grim conditions

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Overdose Deaths Behind Bars Rise as Drug Crisis Swells

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Overdose Deaths Behind Bars Rise as Drug Crisis Swells

Drug-related mortality rates increased in prisons and jails even as the numbers of people incarcerated for drug offenses dropped. The pandemic visitor lockdowns didn’t eliminate the problem, showing that guards are the main source of contraband. 

By LJ Dawson
By LJ Dawson

Founder of The Des and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Annissa Holland should be excited her son is coming home from prison after four long years of incarceration. Instead, she’s researching rehab centers to send him to as soon as he walks out the gate.

 

She doesn’t know the person who’s coming home — the person who she said has been doing every drug he can get his hands on inside the Alabama prison system. She can hear it in the 34-year-old’s voice when he calls her on the prison phone.

 

Her son is one of almost 20,000 inmates in the Alabama prison system living in conditions the U.S. Department of Justice has called inhumane. In two investigations, it found that the rampant use of drugs causes sexual abuse and “severe” violence in the state’s prisons. The department has sued Alabama, alleging conditions in its prisons violate inmates’ civil rights. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections’ own report, almost 60 pounds of illicit drugs were confiscated from its prisons in the first three months of this year.

 

Even if Alabama’s prisons and jails are especially overrun by drugs, death, and violence, their problems are not unique in the U.S. Within three weeks this spring, incarcerated people died of overdoses in IllinoisOklahomaNew York, and the District of Columbia.

 

The alcohol and drug overdose death rate increased fivefold in prisons from 2009 through 2019, according to a recent study from the Pew Charitable Trusts — a surge that outpaced the national drug overdose rate, which tripled in the same period.

 

As the opioid crisis ravages America, overdose deaths are sweeping through every corner of the nation, including jails and prisons. Criminal justice experts suggest that decades of using the legal system instead of community-based addiction treatment to address drug use have not led to a drop in drug use or overdoses. Instead, the rate of drug deaths behind bars in supposedly secure facilities has increased.

 

This rise comes amid the decriminalization of cannabis in many parts of the country and a drop in the overall number of people incarcerated for drug crimes, according to the Pew report.

According to the Alabama Department of Corrections’ own report, almost 60 pounds of illicit drugs were confiscated from its prisons in the first three months of this year.

“It certainly points to the need for alternative solutions that rely less on the criminal justice system to help people who are struggling with substance use disorders,” said Tracy Velázquez, senior manager for safety and justice programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

 

For decades, drug use in America has mainly been addressed through the penal system — 1 in 5 people behind bars are there for a drug offense. Drug crimes were behind 30% of new admissions to Alabama prisons in March. Nationally, they were the leading cause of arrest, and almost 90% of arrests were for possession of drugs, not sale or manufacturing, according to the Pew study. The researchers also found that fewer than 8% of arrested people with a drug dependency received treatment while incarcerated.

 

Velázquez said a lot of drug use is spurred by people with mental health issues attempting to self-medicate. Almost 40% of people in prisons and 44% in jails have a history of mental illness, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

 

Holland said her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia and PTSD six years ago after struggling with drug use since his teens. The son, who asked that his name not be published for fear his comments could jeopardize his release from prison or subsequent parole, said a schizophrenic episode in 2017 led him to break into a house during a hurricane. He said he didn’t realize people were in the house until after he ate a sandwich, got a Coke from the fridge, and looked for dry clothes. They called the police. He was sent to prison on a charge of burglary.

Holland's son with his sister at 4-years-old.

“They don’t put the mental health patients where they should be; they put them in prison,” Holland said.

 

She’s not only frustrated by the lack of medical care and treatment her son has received, but also horrified at the access to drugs and the abuse she said her son has suffered in the overcrowded, understaffed Alabama prison system.

 

He told KHN he’s been raped and beaten because of drug debts and put on suicide watch more than a dozen times. He said he turned back to using heroin, meth, and the synthetic drug flakka while incarcerated.

 

“We need to really focus on not assuming that putting someone in jail or prison is going to make them abstinent from drug use,” Velázquez said. “We really need to provide treatment that not only addresses the chemical, substance use disorder, but also addresses some of the underlying issues.”

Beth Shelburne, who works with the American Civil Liberties Union, logged 19 drug-related deaths in Alabama prisons in 2021, the most she has seen since she started tracking them in 2018.

 

She said those numbers are just a snapshot of what is going on inside Alabama’s prisons. The Justice Department found the state corrections department failed to accurately report deaths in its facilities.

 

“A lot of the people that are dying, I would argue, don’t belong in prison,” Shelburne said. “What’s so disgusting about all this is we are sentencing people who are drug-addicted to time in these ‘correctional facilities,’ when we’re really just throwing them into drug dens.”

 

The corrections department’s reports reveal at least seven overdose deaths in 2021, three of which officials classified as natural deaths. It reported 97 deaths in the first three months of this year that have yet to be fully classified.

 

Though Republican Gov. Kay Ivey recently announced a grant of more than $500,000 for a program to help incarcerated people address drug use disorders, the number of graduates of drug treatment programs in the state’s prison system has plummeted in the past decade to record lows. About 3% of prisoners completed a treatment program in 2021, down from 14% in 2009.

In contrast, California reported a 60% reduction in overdose deaths in its prisons in 2020, which state officials attributed to the start of a substance use treatment program and the widespread availability of medication-assisted therapy.

 

Alabama’s system is developing a medication-assisted treatment plan with its health contractor, said Alabama Department of Corrections spokesperson Kelly Betts. Before 2019, medications that curb drug cravings or mute highs were given only to those who could be separated from the general prison population, according to Deborah Crook, the department’s health services deputy commissioner.

 

“The science has changed considerably and there are more medication options that are safer to prescribe — even in general population,” she wrote in a statement.

 

Though prison officials have long blamed visitors for bringing in drugs, the ban on visitation during the pandemic did not lead to a drop in drug use inside. Multiple officers were arrested in Alabama last year and accused of bringing drugs into jails and prisons, and the Department of Justice’s 2019 report found dozens of officers arrested in the previous two years on charges related to drug trafficking and other misconduct.

 

Illegal drugs are “a challenge faced by correctional systems across the country,” Betts wrote in an email. “The ADOC is committed to enforcing our zero-tolerance policy on contraband and works very hard to eradicate it from our facilities.”

 

Betts did not specify how these policies are enforced. The department also refused to respond to a detailed list of questions about drug use and overdoses in its prisons, citing the litigation with the Justice Department.

Holland doesn’t know what will happen when her son gets out. He said he hopes he can restart his business as an electrician and provide for his family. But the four years of his so-called rehabilitation have been a nightmare for both of them.

 

“They’re released messed-up, hurt, and deeply dysfunctional. What do you do with someone that’s been through all that?” Holland said. “That’s not rehabilitation. It’s not.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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IN DEPTH

Overdose Deaths Behind Bars Rise as Drug Crisis Swells

Even if Alabama’s prisons and jails are especially overrun by drugs, death, and violence, their problems are not unique in the U.S. Within three weeks this spring, incarcerated people died of overdoses in Illinois, Oklahoma, New York, and the District of Columbia.

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New report debunks 2020 youth crime wave

politicians and pundits are peddling youth gone wild but a new report says the most recent data doesn’t support their claims and harsher sentences won’t stop crime

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New report debunks 2020 youth crime wave

New report debunks 2020 youth crime wave

politicians and pundits are peddling youth gone wild but a new report says the most recent data doesn’t support their claims and harsher sentences won’t stop crime

By LJ Dawson
By LJ Dawson

Founder of The Des and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Almost a year ago, a carjacking left The District of Columbia aghast. Mohammad Anwar, died in the hospital after he was hit with a stun gun and crashed his car while two girls stole his vehicle. Carjackings are common in D.C., but what shocked residents the most was the two girls who carjacked Anwar were only 13 and 15-years-old. Now, they won’t be released from detention until they are 21.

 

This case in the city and a few other national headline grabbing crimes contributed to a political focus on the “rise” in youth crime. Chicago’s Mayor recently pushed through an earlier curfew for minors after a teen was shot.

 

But a new report debunks that violence has risen among youth, at least through 2020. The Sentencing Project, a D.C. based think tank and advocacy nonprofit, found little evidence to support the theory of a youth-led crime wave since the pandemic began.

 

The report found the number of crimes committed by youth fell by more than half over the past two decades and continued to fall in every major offense category through 2020.

 

“[…] media coverage highlighting youth involvement in carjacking has often gone well beyond the known facts or omitted critical context,” Richard Mendel, the author and senior research fellow, wrote.

 

“Scattered anecdotes and talk of out-of-control youth are fueling calls for stricter punishments and harsher treatment. But such methods have consistently proven to be ineffective at preventing crime, and are likely to cause crime to increase,” the press release stated.

 

Youth arrests fell in every crime category from 2000 to 2019, and data showed a continued decrease throughout 2020.

 

Further more, the report calls into question the focus on youth carjackings across the country because federal data, which showed an overall drop in youth robberies in 2020, did not specify car jackings. So we do not know nationally how many carjackings are committed. Over 90% of people arrested for homicides in 2020 were adults, a higher percentage than the three years prior. 

 

But recent shootings of teenagers have still racked The District. 16-year-old rapper,  23 Rackzs, was shot and killed in May in Southeast D.C. shortly after sharing a stage with Wale and other DC hip-hop legends at the city’s annual hip-hop festival, Broccoli City.

 

Homicides are up 11% from last year in the District and at least five youth have been killed since January.

 

The report does not include data from 2021 and the 2022, and it added there is a possibility that youth crime could have risen during the last year and a half. Issues such as mental health and economic stresses cannot be “solved with harsher punishments in the court system,” Mendel wrote. 

 

“Even if it is ultimately confirmed, a pandemic-era increase in youth offending should not be used as a rationale to scale back recent reforms in youth justice or to promote punitive policies against youth,” he added. 

 

The report suggests instead, hiring school counselors instead of police, using restorative justice programs to divert youth from punishment, eliminating youth imprisonment, charge all youth as youth not adults and an increase in community opportunities.

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The number of women behind bars continues to rise in U.S.

Just because prison overpopulation is usually discussed in regards to males, America also has a glaring problem of over incarcerating mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and grandmas. There are currently 108,000 women in prison in the United States — accounting for nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated females.

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IN DEPTH

Fighting for a second chance

When Dontrell Britton returned from federal prison to his mother’s DC apartment in 2017, he didn’t have tens of thousands of Instagram followers or over 400 thousand TikTok followers on his team like he does now.

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These Colors Don’t Run (At Least Not Fast Enough)

In the devastating aftermath of the mass killing at a Texas elementary school this week, questions swirl around the police response, or lack there of, while an 18-year-old slaughtered children, we turn to Posse Comitatus.

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Fighting for a second chance

Dontrell Britton sits on the steps of his old apartment building where him and his mother lived in Adams Morgan, DC. Photo by LJ Dawson

Fighting for a second chance

Trell the Trainer gained clout for training Pusha T and Shy Glizzy, but his mission goes far beyond celebrity training. He wants all ex-felons to get a chance.

By LJ Dawson
By LJ Dawson

Founder of The Des and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

When Dontrell Britton returned from federal prison to his mother’s DC apartment in 2017, he didn’t have tens of thousands of Instagram followers or over 400 thousand TikTok followers on his team like he does now.

 

After spending his entire early twenties behind bars and growing up rough in DC’s low income housing projects, he faced the daunting task of reentering society with few resources to help him, the label felon following him around and an ankle monitor tracking his every move. 

 

But within a few years, Britton, who goes by “Trell the Trainer,” built a fitness brand that gained notoriety in the district as a workout program based on training he did in prison. He gained celebrity clients, Shy Glizzy and Pusha T, his training business boomed, and local outlets flocked to cover the success story of an ex-felon turned celebrity trainer.

 

Britton is one of an estimated 24 million Americans with a felony, but unlike him most of his peers don’t make it after returning home from prison. Nearly half of the people released in 2012, returned to prison within five years due to a parole or probation violation or a new sentence, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. And as a whole this group of people face staggering rates of homelessness and unemployment compared to the general population.

 

Since returning home and starting two businesses, Britton has made it his mission to fight the stigma of “felon” by telling his story and help other returning citizens by employing them first in his personal training business and most recently through his vegan food truck. 

Britton points to his mother's old apartment window where he cut a hole in the screen to sell drugs out of.

Britton spent his childhood moving around different low income apartments with his mother – one bedroom units packed with up to seven family members. His father was absent while he was growing up and was shot and killed when Britton was 16. Britton and his friends looked up to the older men around the neighborhood with nice cars, shoes and flocks of women. The streets and selling drugs were the default option.

He got tangled up with law enforcement early in his teens for the common charges that plague DC’s youth: auto theft, armed robbery and illegal gun possession. He spent his young adult life cycling in and out of juvenile detention, spending more time behind bars than at a school desk.

“I think I was just too caught up in being the toughest or the coolest. And I thought that was getting in trouble carrying guns, selling drugs [and] getting all the girls. So I just embodied that whole entire lifestyle."

Dontrell Britton

“All of us graduated to prison,” Britton said. Every time he was arrested, he returned to a juvenile detention center full of familiar faces of friends, young kids like him trapped in the same cycle from the same low income neighborhoods. 

 

He told his mother that his goal in life was to be “a big drug dealer.” Older mentors tried to reach Britton, but he didn’t hear them. 

 

“I think I was just too caught up in being the toughest or the coolest. And I thought that was getting in trouble carrying guns, selling drugs [and] getting all the girls. So I just embodied that whole entire lifestyle,” Britton said. 

Britton looks at his old elementary school in Adams Morgan.

But at 19-years-old that lifestyle came to an end. The FBI raided Britton’s home as part of a monthslong investigation into a network of over 15 people distributing drugs including heroin and crack cocaine. This time it wasn’t a short few month juvenile sentence. He was staring down federal time as an adult. His mother was put in cuffs when their home was raided, and a few months after the raid his grandmother died of a heart attack. 

 

Britton was sent to DC jail to await his trial, facing charges that could land him up to 10 years in prison. And DC jail was not juvenile detention. Fights in the jail meant people were stabbed and even killed, and the mental stress of seeing violence everyday wore him down. As Britton sat awaiting court dates, the gravity of his mother’s arrest and grandmother’s death sank in.

“It’s not just affecting me, it’s affecting everybody around me,” Britton said he realized. The stress of waiting trial, the environment of the jail and realizing the impacts of his actions pushed Britton to start working out. Britton and other people in the jail would sneak pull ups on the stairs when correction officers weren’t looking. He began hoarding Men’s Health magazines. 

 

“That book was like my Bible. I don’t know what it was about it, but it was teaching me hygiene, how to floss, how to do a proper push up,” Britton said. Everyone in jail knew to read the magazines before they permanently disappeared into the stack he kept in his cell. Britton adjusted to jail as the months wore on, and working out helped keep his mind preoccupied. 

By the time Britton was sentenced and transferred to prison, his training was paying off. He’d gotten “swole.” Within two months, over twenty other inmates began meeting Britton and his friend to train in the yard every afternoon. He was the rookie on the compound, but the most in shape in his unit. But he didn’t consider training as a career until an older friend in prison mentioned it to him. He looked into the average salary and decided to study for the certification as his release date loomed.

Graphic from The Prison Policy Institute.

“You'd be surprised, people genuinely do want to do good and change. Sometimes lack of finances or environment is the downfall for a lot of returning citizens,” Britton said.

When Britton returned from prison to his mothers one bedroom apartment in 2017, he was 24-years-old and the biggest bullet point on his resume was felon. The bartending job he landed didn’t last long after his parole officer insisted on checking up on him at work. “Everybody knew I was a felon and I was like the oddball out of the group,” Britton said. 

 

Britton’s ankle monitor would flag him for a violation if he left home. So when he quit his job, he started training in his apartment complex’s laundry room. He began with some Instagram pictures of his abs and then before and after photos of his first clients. Business quickly picked up as he took any clients that came his way. 

 

But as his business grew, he still struggled with finding housing and with his parole officers. 

 

“Not that they have bad intentions, but they definitely didn’t have good intentions,” Britton said. When he finally found an apartment that allowed him to rent despite his felony, his parole officer’s home visit caused his landlords to ask anxiously if they were police visiting him. 

 

“You’d be surprised, people genuinely do want to do good and change. Sometimes lack of finances or environment is the downfall for a lot of returning citizens,” Britton said. 

 

Most people return home from prison with little financial support, a record that prevents them from getting jobs and housing, and the ever-present option of slipping back to the quick money of the drug game.

 

A report on those released from prison in 2010 found that 33% of people found no job at all in four years post release and around two-thirds of the population were jobless at any given time, according to the Prison Policy Institute

Britton sits on his old block 17th and Euclid with some of the youth he employees with his vegan food truck.

And the jobs people do find are bad. “Harsh parole conditions, a lack of social welfare programs, and a tough job market are forcing formerly incarcerated people — already a low-income, majority-minority demographic — into the least desirable jobs,” the report added. 

 

Britton said he sees his peers return home and spend weeks looking for a job before returning to selling drugs in desperation often with the intention to just hold them over until they find work. 

 

“But once you pick up that pack, that job is less desirable,” he said. “It takes a strong, strong personal mindset and support and it hasn’t been easy. I still battle with it to this day, and I’ve been out five plus years.” 

 

During Britton’s reentry process he took programs like anger management that he said helped, but did not address his reality. “At the end of the day, I’m a 24-year-old man returning to society. I need money,” he said. 

 

“They want a 16-year-old to not sell drugs. They want a person coming home from prison to get a job. You gotta give me an alternative, if you want me to stop selling drugs, like you need to be putting some money in my pocket, and not having me just go to these free classes,” Britton said. 

Training celebrities was life changing for Britton not only because it built his training brand, but it put a light on what he said he was really trying to do: talk about reform and inspire people with his story. He became his best proof that it was possible to spend most of your life behind bars, wrapped up in selling drugs, and still make it out with your life, freedom and even your own businesses. 

 

Because of the stigma of being a felon and difficulty he experienced growing up and when he re-entered society after prison, Britton has made it his mission to create jobs for at-risk youth and people with records.

 

“With the food truck and the training, you’re getting paid so you have a legit job. And the environment that I create, it’s fun and it’s welcoming,” Britton said. It may not be life changing, but it is a start, he added.

 

His most recent effort, the Glizzys Vegan Food Company, started with his friend Nathan Headspeth, has been serving plant based food in district style for almost a year.

 

Whether someone working is making a plant-based hot dog or street corn, Britton said that they know they aren’t the only felon there.

 

“We together, and the goal is to uplift and show people that we collectively aren’t our mistakes that we made,” he said. 

Britton hopes to open a full restaurant for the Glizzys food truck within the next year.
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Drugs

A 4/20 Tale of two countries

Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates. The increasing number of states legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana has not reduced national trends in racial disparities, which remain unchanged since 2010.

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05.02.2022

from the frontlines: april 25 - may 1

fighting for safety inside

Cynthia Alvarado was raped in jail before going to prison to serve a life sentence for a murder she did not commit. Now, sentence overturned after she already served 12-years, Alvarado is fighting for other women who faced sexual assault while incarcerated. The Appeal (April 18, 2022)

solution or political blunder?

Two bills moving through the California legislature that propose a mental health court to address houseless people gained criticism from disability advocates who say the court “forces treatment on mentally ill people with little regard for their civil rights.”  The Sacramento Bee  (April 25, 2022)

cover up

A LA sheriff commander filed legal papers accusing the LA Sheriff, Alex Villanueva, of obstructing justice and retaliating against those who blew the whistle on a deputy who kneeled on an inmate’s head in 2021.  LA Times (April 25, 2022)

saved, for the moment

A few days before being executed Melissa Lucio was granted a stay, but she could still face being killed. Her 2-year-old daughter died after falling downstairs. Lucio was prosecuted and convicted based on a coerced false confession. Truthout (April 26, 2022)

biden makes a weak pardon effort

Biden pardoned three convicted felons and commuted 75 other sentences in the first use of his presidential clemency power. As we reported, thousands are still caught in a broken clemency system that Biden has yet to address. USA Today (April 26, 2022)

fighting for identity

In six years, a special LA diversion program kept over 3,500 people with serious mental health disorders, physical illnesses and/or substance abuse issues out of jail. But for over a year, it hasn’t been able to take on new clients and no new funds have been proposed to expand capacity. LAist (April 27, 2022)

a pattern of racism before Floyd's murder

“The Minneapolis Police Department has engaged in a pattern of race discrimination for at least a decade, including stopping and arresting Black people at a higher rate than white people, using force more often on people of color and maintaining a culture where racist language is tolerated, a state investigation launched after George Floyd’s killing found.”
AP (April 27, 2022) 

it's not the kids

As car jackings sweep the nation, a new study sheds light on motives in Chicago. It’s not vagabond youth joy riding on four wheels, but adults with economic motives selling cars on the black market. WBEZ (April 27, 2022)

Michigan faces prison staff shortage

“There are worker shortages in just about every industry these days and Michigan’s prison system isn’t immune– a new bill aims to change that by allowing recently retired corrections officers to return to the job temporarily.” FOX17 (April 25, 2022)

"Collier lived close to the place where Emmett Till had been lynched 16 years earlier. Yet her case didn’t have the same kind of national attention and staying power—at the time, the media often got her name wrong, misspelling it as “Jo Etha.” Her killing, and the subsequent court proceedings, did briefly galvanize civil-rights activists during the 1970s, but her story has since faded from the public imagination."

By Keisha N. Blain for The Atlantic: They Called her 'Black Jet' Tweet

Must Read: a black girl's death faded from memory

An 18-year-old Black teenager was shot dead by a car filled with three drunk white men in 1971, her case never drew the attention that Emmet Till’s lynching did. A conviction sent her murder to prison, but he got out quickly. Her case exposes the truth behind the rose colored narrative of the civil rights movement. The Atlantic (April 28, 2022)

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04.25.2022

from the frontlines: April 18-24, 2022

into the night

The warden who ran the jail where Jeffery Epstein killed himself was allowed to quietly retire this February, the Bureau of Prisons confirmed to the AP last week. AP (April 19, 2022)

weed continues to be put on the back burner

Despite the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis, the most recent federal legislation has hit deadlock in Congress. The DOJ could deschedule and decriminalize marijuana and Biden could pardon federal prisoners of cannabis charges, but there is no indication either agency or president will act. Arizona Mirror (April 20, 2022)

on hold

South Carolina’s highest court on Wednesday issued a temporary stay blocking the state from carrying out what was set to be its first-ever firing squad execution.” AP (April 20, 2022)

deplorable prison conditions

A department of justice investigation “uncovered evidence of systemic violations that have generated a violent and unsafe environment for people incarcerated at Parchman.” The department began investigating after a January story  detailed gang control and subhuman living conditions. MCIR (April 20, 2022)

Flakka takes over Alabama prisons

The mother of an incarcerated person in Alabama is calling for change after her son died of a suspected flakka overdose. Flakka is a notorious drug in the state’s prison system which acts much like bath salts. WBRC (April 18, 2022)

fighting for identity

Trans people with felony convictions in Illinois are fighting to be able to change their legal names. One woman’s experience of using her deadname that she believes led to housing discrimination. Injustice Watch (April 21, 2022)

continued arrests of a cop watcher raises first amendment questions

The Real News Network (April 22, 2022) 

must read: millions of TX grants assault judges

A Texas crime stopper organization is turning millions of donors and state backed grants to attack judges it labels “activist judges.” Many of the judges it attacked, cut into the organizations revenue by “curbing a common practice requiring many people sentenced to probation to pay a $50 fee that goes to Crime Stoppers. The nonprofit’s revenue from those fees has fallen by half since Democrats swept the county’s judicial races in 2018.” The Marshall Project and The New York Times (April 21, 2022)

"The evolution of Crime Stoppers of Houston underscores the potential conflicts of interest that can arise when charities become dependent on financial support from politicians. And it illustrates how nonprofit organizations technically barred from participating in political campaigns can nonetheless exert outsize influence, especially when they wade into a potent issue like violent crime."

By KERI BLAKINGER, TMP & DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, NYT: Crime Stoppers of Houston Has a Tip: Vote Out These Judges Tweet

programmed racism

The justice department says it is moving to change a tool that it uses to predict a inmates risk of returning to prison after release. Critics have pointed to it over predicting the number of Black women who will go back to prison compared to white women. If an inmate rates high of reoffending risk they can be denied early release. NPR (April 19, 2022)

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04.18.2022

"In May of last year, Fair submitted her public-records requests for the DAVID and criminal background searches performed on her. She also persuaded fellow mermaid Smiley, whom Mia also occasionally attacked on social media, and their boss Anderson to submit identical requests."

Bob Norman for Miami New Times : "Wreck Bar Mermaid Sues Broward Sheriff's Office for Invasion of Privacy" Tweet

shot dead

Grand Rapids Police Department released multiple videos last week of the deadly traffic stop that led to Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old Black man, being shot dead by police officers. The Michigan State Police are leading the criminal investigation into the shooting and will forward evidence to county prosecutors. The Washington Post (April 14, 2022)

more police on more police

After a man shot up a subway car full of people in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said he would double the number of police officers on subways. But there already is a heavy police presence in the subway. From the beginning of his term, Adams has made aggressive policing of subways a centerpiece of his administration. Within a month of taking office, he had already flooded the system with 1,000 additional officers. The Intercept (April 13, 2022)

confusion

A woman’s arrest after her abortion in Texas, caused national outcry and fear about the state criminalizing women’s healthcare, but the truth of the situation may come down to an error by a first-term Democratic district attorney. The state law “explicitly exempts a woman from a criminal homicide charge for aborting her pregnancy.” People on both sides of the abortion issue condemned her arrest. The Washington Post (April 13, 2022)

imprisoned with poison

Illinois prison and health officials made misleading and inconsistent statements about a Legionella outbreak at several state prisons last month, according to records and interviews with incarcerated people. Advocates and prison watchdogs say the inconsistencies highlight long-standing problems with accountability and oversight of the prison system’s water treatment practices. During routine water testing. When inhaled into the lungs, Legionella can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially deadly form of pneumonia. Injustice Watch (April 12, 2022)

a death in shadows

Her husband died after he was transferred from jail to a hospital. Now members of the jail's oversight board and her have questions about her husband undergoing surgery and having a Do Not Resuscitate code issued when she never even knew he was even in the hospital. It took two months for her to learn details about his death. PINJ (April 12, 2022)

slow moving

A government watchdog found a “substantial likelihood” the federal Bureau of Prisons committed wrongdoing when it ignored complaints and failed to address asbestos and mold contamination at a federal women’s prison in California that has already been under scrutiny for rampant sexual abuse of inmates. AP (April 12, 2022)

no follow up

"The Senate delivered former President Donald Trump a bipartisan criminal justice reform deal shortly after the last midterm election. Staging a sequel for President Joe Biden this year won’t be so easy. Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, are still in talks over finalizing a package that would serve as a more narrow follow-up to the 2018 prison and sentencing reform bill known as the First Step Act." POLITICO (Mar. 9, 2022)

retraction

A panel of state lawmakers moved to make possession of any more than 1 gram of a substance containing fentanyl a felony in Colorado, undoing part of a bipartisan 2019 law that made possession of up to 4 grams of a controlled substance a misdemeanor. Nearly 2,000 people have died after ingesting substances containing fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin, since 2015. Colorado Newsline (April 14, 2022)

must read: how a mermaid took down a sheriff

"It began with online attacks from Mia and her husband Jeff and became worse when the couple moved in next door to Fair’s home in Fort Lauderdale. [...] Fair says the scariest part of it all is that Jeff has the power of the badge: He’s a lieutenant with the Broward Sheriff’s Office" Miami New Times (April 20, 2022)

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For Some Medical Marijuana Patients, Non-Profits Fill Gaps in Accessibility

Photography by Taylor Ecker for This is Jane Project.

For Some Medical Marijuana Patients, Non-Profits Fill Gaps in Accessibility

Because marijuana remains subject to federal prohibitions, some patients find their medication financially out of reach even in states that have legalized it.

By LJ Dawson
By LJ Dawson

Founder of The Des and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Charlene, 50-years-old now, moved across the country in 2015, uprooting her life from New York to settle in Northern California. What drove her was the search for a place where she could legally use marijuana to treat the symptoms of her uterine fibroids, which were so large she looked eight months pregnant.  (New York didn’t create a medical marijuana program until 2016, which was severely limited by the tiny number of licensees, and the list of qualifying conditions was incredibly restrictive.)

In over two decades since her fibroid diagnosis, marijuana is the only medicine that effectively treats her life debilitating chronic health issue. The same fibroids affecting Charlene occur in more than 70% of women, 25-50% of whom show clinical symptoms. Fibroids appear earlier and with more severity in Black women than in white, according to the National Institute of Child and Human Development. Charlene, a Black woman, was diagnosed at 28-years-old. 

Fibroids appear earlier and with more severity in Black women than in white. Charlene, a Black woman, was diagnosed at 28-years-old.

Doctors originally prescribed birth control pills to Charlene to help regulate her period and heavy bleeding (her periods became regular but the bleeding was still heavy), and Anaprox to help with the pain. They also prescribed Lupron to help reduce the size of the fibroids before she had surgery to remove them, but the drug threw her into premature menopause, causing significant mood swings, hot flashes and it didn’t reduce the size, she said.

She had her first surgery a year after her diagnosis. In that time her fibroids grew from baseball size to the size of a five month fetus. The myomectomy, which involves essentially performing a c-section to remove the fibroids, left her recovering for weeks. The surgery ultimately did not work for her: her tumors not only grew back, but grew back larger.  “Five to six years later they were back,” she said. 

Dr.Tiffany Bowden

In 2008, doctors suggested another surgery for her five-month-fetus sized fibroids. But when  the economic crash happened and she lost her job at a bank, she also lost her insurance to have the surgery.

Things were looking up for Charlene, two years of living in California and ingesting raw juiced cannabis and full spectrum left her fibroids in recession. A 2017 MRI showed them degenerating. 

 

But then the Tubbs Fire burned through Sonoma. Taking her house, all the plants, cannabis products and much of the town she lived in. 

 

She had a small batch of cannabis oil she rationed for a few months then it was nothing. She was couch surfing. Her condition had improved enough over the years of using cannabis oil that she didn’t need to take pain killers. “All of the ground that I gained as far as shrinkage, I lost,” she said. 

Unable to afford to pay out-of-pocket for cannabis from dispensaries and unable to utilize any insurance coverage because of the continuing federal prohibition on all legal marijuana use, Charlene went without  — until last summer, when she found a compassionate gifting program to provide cannabis for her. By the time she found Survivors without Access, This is Jane Project’s SB-34 compliant compassion program, her fibroids had grown to make her look eight months pregnant. 


People of color, women and non-binary people have traditionally faced more hurdles to access all medical treatments, and marijuana has been no different. Charlene’s case is just one more example of how legalizing the medical use of marijuana doesn’t remove the roadblocks of cost and availability to patients.

“It’s legal, but not necessarily accessible,” Charlene told The Des. “And if it’s accessible, it’s not necessarily affordable.” 

“It's legal, but not necessarily accessible,” Charlene told The Des. “And if it's accessible, it's not necessarily affordable.”

Because of the severity of her symptoms, she often has difficulty finding work in her industry due to her condition. “It’s very frustrating to know something can heal you, but then it’s something I don’t have the money for so I can’t [use it].”

This is Jane gifting products. Credit: This is Jane Project

Charlene’s marijuana was provided to her after the This Is Jane Project, an existing compassionate cannabis gifting non-profit, launched a second gifting program, Survivors Without Access, last summer. It specifically focuses on getting medicinal cannabis to women and non-binary people who are survivors of trauma whether sexual or gender based or more general trauma like losing your home to wildfire like Charlene. And Survivors Without Access, in partnerships including partnerships with Eaze, Miss Grass, and Dear Cannabis, has given out over 300 compassion donations. Each one generally includes a variety of products from cannabis flower to edibles, tinctures, pain creams, and concentrates. 

“[The program] actually makes it accessible and affordable, which is what I need,” Charlene explained. ”Especially when you’re feeling like you can’t go out and get a second job when you can barely get one job right now,” she said. Charlene received two deliveries of cannabis products as part of This is Jane Project’s first initiative. “My condition is improving just in this short period of time,” she said.  “With what I’ve been able to ingest, I’ve lost three inches off my waistline so that tells me that my tumors are reducing.”

In California, The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act of 2019 allowed already licensed cannabis retailers to provide free cannabis to medical card users or primary care givers. 

In 2019 Shannon DeGrooms, the executive director of This is Jane Project, became inspired to start the new project because she did not see a gifting organization that specifically supported women and non-binary trauma survivors. 

“I think it is utterly important because women are disproportionately victims of violence and various traumas,” DeGrooms told The Des.

“I think it is utterly important because women are disproportionately victims of violence and various traumas,” DeGrooms told The Des. 

 

In addition to providing compassionate use cannabis, the This is Jane Project also partners with Leafwell to offer medical cannabis cards for $19 instead of the typical $150-100 cost — and all its services are provided to women, transgender and non-binary people.

 

“It’s important to understand that women are at risk for a lot of different conditions especially as it relates to mental health, some of those being anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, substance abuse,” Tiffany Bowden, a This Is Jane Project board member and anti-racism educator, diversity and communication specialist, said. 

Recipients of This is Jane Project’s first gifting program. Credit: This is Jane Project

And women, women of color, transgender and non-binary people face higher rates of domestic abuse, she added, highlighting the need for a compassionare care program aimed at them specifically. 

“Socio-economic factors — combined with having to navigate systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and other societal conditions — exacerbate already existing conditions such as PTSD and anxiety,” Bowden explained. 

“Cannabis is often a safer alternative than many of the prescribed medications that are available,” to treat those conditions, Bowden said. “Also, cannabis is significantly cheaper than many of those alternatives, particularly if you're engaging through a compassionate care program.”

DeGrooms hopes to expand This Is Jane across the country as more states legalize cannabis. 

 

Charlene said she thinks about when she was first diagnosed and her fibroids were only the size of an orange. “What if my treatment was cannabis oil then? My tumors would not have grown, it would not have disrupted my life, and put me on this track.”

 

“Cannabis is real medicine,” she said. “The work that this is Jane is doing is very necessary. As someone who’s benefiting from it, I have so much gratitude for the program.”

 

To sign up for the compassionate gifting program visit This is Jane Project. 

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