How does the criminal legal system impact the lives of those involved and their families? Why is Parole Justice so important? Join Jason and Amber on this episode of Amplified Voices as we hear Theresa's powerful story of perseverance during her husband's lengthy incarceration. Visiting an incarcerated loved one is a process riddled with indignities and challenges. In our conversation with Theresa, we explore the emotional toll of visiting her husband in prison, the financial burden of staying connected, and the restrictions placed on communication. Theresa highlights the devastating impact these limitations have on both incarcerated people and their families, as well as shedding light on the inadequacies of healthcare provided to people who are incarcerated in New York.
In this compelling discussion, we dive into Theresa's advocacy work with Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) and the importance of community involvement in criminal legal reform, particularly the urgency of providing opportunities for individuals to be evaluated as they are today rather than by their past. As she shares her journey, Theresa makes it clear that people should not be dying behind the walls when they could be contributing to violence disruption efforts in their communities.
Intro: Everyone has a voice, a story to tell. Some are marginalized and muted. What if there were a way to amplify those stories, to have conversations with real people in real communities, a way to help them step into the power of their lived experience? Welcome to Amplified Voices, a podcast lifting the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system. Together, we can create positive change for everyone.
Jason: Hello and welcome to another episode of Amplified Voices. I'm your host, Jason, here with my co-host, Amber. Good morning, Amber.
Amber: Good morning Jason.
Jason: And today we're meeting Teresa. Hello Teresa.
Theresa: Yes, good morning Jason.
Amber: Good morning Teresa. We're so happy to have you on the podcast today.
Theresa: Yes, good morning Amber. How are you?
Jason: So, Teresa, we're going to start our conversation with the question that we've asked most of our guests, And that is could you tell us a little bit about your life prior to your involvement with the criminal legal system And then what happened that brought you into it?
Theresa: Well my life. In the beginning I became a mother at well late age 24. And I worked in the system of state, the city system, as a case worker for about five or six years And then from there I moved on and kind of got caught up in the world of foulness in the streets But pulled myself out of that, came into recovery and then I started working in security. And from there my husband, who I have been with since I was 15 years old experienced in him going in and out of the prison system took a lot on me And then this last time it took me into working with relief agent people in prison, which is known as RAP. I got to know about RAP by doing a rally for security to stop some from giving us.
Jason: I'm sorry, teresa, i have a question for you. So where do you live?
Theresa: I live in Harlem.
Jason: OK, and did you grow up in Harlem?
Theresa: For my life.
Jason: You are a New York City Harlem woman.
Theresa: Yes, I am.
Jason: When you say your whole life, I hesitate to ask you your age, but give us a feel for that.
Theresa: OK, I'll give you a feel. I was born in 1960.
Jason: All right, ok, so, because I know we're talking about we're going to be talking about release aging people in prison, rap, which are involved with a little bit later on. You've been on the planet for a little while, basically Yes, and so you grew up in Harlem, and your husband also grew up, and you've known him since you were 15 years old. Yes, ok, so how did the two of you Well, we lived in the same block.
Theresa: We lived on the same block And he was like my husband is six years older than me And the attraction of at that time you're a young woman, not even a woman yet, you're still a young girl. But there's this guy that seems to be keeps being attractive to you and found out that he was attractive just as well as I was to him, and I used to really want to talk to him because I would always see him in my, always around me, and I would be like I'm not talking to him, but when they asked me to go to lunch, i'm looking at him like what should you know about our lunch day? This is insane. So, ok, we went to where we lived at. We had two parks, two parks And we had what they call Marcus Garvey Park today. We known it as Mark Morris Park back then. So we went to Mark Morris Park, set up on the rock, and we ate a sandwich, and to me that sandwich turned into such a lovely game that I couldn't get about my brain for nothing.
Theresa: But life moved on. He was started getting incarcerated back and forth, so kind of like we had missing to number out for maybe about two or three years. But then he came back around. Mostly to it We were under calling ourselves boys. Many girlfriends that grew into us being around each another more, doing more things together. I even played hooky from school just to hang out with him. And time went on and moving forward But staying started getting a little more crazy for him. I had to take my turn of events and take care of my life because I was like I'm not going down what I call a rabbit hole because he kept going back and forth in jail Like no, i'm not doing that. So I moved on.
Jason: So what was that like for you The first time he was incarcerated and his girlfriend? was that normal in your community? Were people supportive of you? I mean, what was that like?
Theresa: No, it wasn't normal, because my parents were not aware of us being boys and girlfriends for a long time. So him going to jail, it was like I had to really say, OK, that's where he went and I'm not there Because, like I said, I wasn't waved to be in the streets. My parents were head A real hard time with that. So I wouldn't never go visit him. I wouldn't never go visit him. He would write me, I would write him back. I would have to sneak the mail out the mailbox so that my parents would see it. It was a lot of communication at that time through mail.
Theresa: So when he came home, here we were once again And we got together And again, like I said, my husband has had jail has been almost all his life basically. So he was out for maybe about five or six years And then he stole a car And then he wound up back in jail. So I had to move on with my life. I couldn't set the building, do all of that waiting and carrying on. So I moved on and I met my oldest daughter's father And I had gotten pregnant by him. We moved to Puerto Rico and lived in Puerto Rico for like a year and a half And my mom took sick. So I came home, me and my baby came home And I had to make sure she was OK.
Theresa: Maybe about a year later my husband popped up again out of jail. Here he was, in my way again. I called it in my way because I could never get this man out, My sister, he was always in my system. So me and my oldest daughter's father, we broke up because it was just too much for him and, whatever the case may be, I let him go ahead about his business. But back to my now husband. And just sometime and I got pregnant with his first child. But we lost his son, That kind of crushed him, So sorry yeah.
Theresa: Yeah, that crushed him really bad And I don't know, maybe that's what sent him back out to the streets And then whatever else he was doing. But he came home and I mean process took his time for him. I know it's a time for me because his aunt one of his aunts was a nurse. But he went running to her to ask her, like you know what's through this, that and the other, oh, she was sick And just that. Now this is an honest claim to him what a miscarriage was, because he didn't understand. He thought maybe it was something I did or whatever he did. But it wasn't that, it was just life, it wasn't miscarriage.
Jason: How many kids? at this point, you're at two kids.
Theresa: Would have been two at that point.
Jason: Yes, Two kids, and how old?
Theresa: That baby. Jason: How old are you?
Theresa: How old am I now? I'm at that time, yeah, i would have been 26.
Jason: So you're 26 years old, you've got two kids You have. You've come back from Puerto Rico. You're living in New York again, right?
Jason: What are you doing for work?
Theresa: I was working in the social service department with the children eight of the printed children in daycare centers, and that was my job for like 60 years, very much so. And then I moved over to what they call the borrower child welfare back then, which is now ACS, preventive Services for Children. I stayed with them for like five years. then I moved on. It became a parent. as I said, i had one child at that time to care. that child Lost my second child, which was his son, and you know, from there I just was audit in jobs here and there security mainly security, jobs mainly. So when you say security.
Amber: Is that something that you saw yourself getting into? Oh, or it was one of those things where your life, as all of our lives, sort of take these twists and turns and you find yourself somewhere. Was that a field you were interested in?
Theresa: Well, not actually someone introduced me to it with, like this, and you know, at that time I needed a job. So you know, a friend of mine said, hey, missing security is looking for somebody. So you have to do it, you have to take the test, pass it, and they put you to work. So I was like, ooh, sounds great, let me jump in there and do it, not knowing that actually I stayed in that field for exactly eight your own years. That's something I've been seeing myself doing, but it was worth the time I made. I passed. All of the requirements was to say fire license, you know, safety license. You had to pass the test order to stay in security. Sure, and that was yearly. You know you had to do those yearly in order to have those certificates yearly. You had to do that, if not they have to put you out of work. So you know, i enjoyed and I moved up as I went along. I became I came from a regular security in a building, secure in a building, two builders. From doing that I became a basement factor. So that was my last job as a basement factor, had that job for like eight years. So I kind of stayed away from them during those times.
Theresa: Then he went back up in jail. Before he went back to jail I got pregnant with our daughter And visits were crazy for me. I started visiting Jim Mourak and Alan. It was just a lot, you know it was summertime, moving around pregnant but not good. I went to see him one time. He got very sick on the floor on the visit And you know it was like okay, i got to get out of here, me and the baby not liking this way, so came out Next thing I know they had moved him up to Eastern correctional facilities. So I saw a visitor him near and we wind up with a situation that wasn't good for him or me. So I stopped going to see him. For eight years I left him alone, me and his child, no visit, because he needed to fix what he did, which wasn't well with me.
Jason: So this is now the mid 90s.
Theresa: Mid 90s, going into almost 2000, and I don't know what he did, but the parole officer had a rearrest I never found out what that was about And he went back in. I think he stayed there like a year and a half. He came back out and he was doing well for like three years. We were here together for like three years in the process of we were supposed to get married while he was outside. It was a prison but that didn't happen.
Jason: So he must be really charming. He must be really charming to win you over, like that He is very charming.
Theresa: He is very charming because he keeps my attention and I don't know why I would be there, but he is. He's very charming And one thing about him that I respect a lot is that he demanded what he would tell you. I won't put my hand on a woman, that's not him. I've experienced that with someone else and it's not good And you know he is charming Very. As you can see here my voice is very.
Amber: So, teresa, i just want to we've covered a lot of ground and I just wanted to ask a couple of questions in terms of you talked about visiting him at Rikers, so I just want to talk a little bit about that. And then you talk about visiting him upstate And so just want to give our listeners sort of a flavor of how far that is from where you are and maybe some of the challenges that you may have experienced, because not only are you going through everything that you're going through in your own life trying to raise your child, but is it like trying to visit someone while they're incarcerated, in terms of the travel and the experience of going in and all of that? if you could expound a little bit on that.
Theresa: Traveling from where I lived at the time.
Theresa: It was a challenge because you had to be able to get the train to 59th Street Then you had to be able to get. There's a bus that goes from Queensborough Plaza out to Brackers Island. You had to make sure you were on the time schedule with them because if not you wouldn't be able to get in. And then where he was, once you got there, there were dogs. They give you these tickets and they tell you to hold them. They tell you don't do it or don't switch numbers or whatever the case may be. Then they ask you to stand off the bus on the line. The dog goes on the bus. I guess that's the protocol of the dog sniffing out. You see, if anyone has any drugs, then if that dog gets a hit on the person's feet that had that number, they come to that person and pull them out the line.
Theresa: Thank God I was number one, although I had an incident where a young lady that was standing by me I don't know if it was just that it was such a strong odor over what she had but the dog couldn't make up his mind as to which one it was, whether it was me, whether it was her. The system is. The correction officer said ma'am, i'm going to pull you up out the line along with this lady. However, we're going to separate you so that the dog can make a difference. That's the way it went For me. My God, i was so nervous because I know I didn't have anything, but at the same time I'm pregnant and this dog is still getting a hit. It seemed like it was me and her, but thank God that he separated us and found that it wasn't me. It's a lot going into the prison system, even on rackets, but it became a norm for me. I want to say that it became a norm because I started visiting more.
Theresa: I didn't like the procedure. They want you to lift up on your bra and then bring your hands to your underwear No, in your pants belt area and take off your belt, stuff like that. To me they were stripping you down like they were stripped down in a concentrated person. They're taking away your dignity. This is the process. Yeah, it's not to weigh your dignity and make you feel as if you're an incarcerated person, even down to the baby. When you take the child, you have to take out the pampers, you have to open the pampers, you have to let those things in the milk and stuff like that. It was a lot. Now today, i can imagine what a woman has to go through with the baby. If I see him when I go upstate where Morris is located That's my husband's name, morris With that right now, i see a lot of the women go through so many changes.
Theresa: I know it's bad hard on them because, just for us going through, you can't wear your hat, you can't wear this, you need to not wear jewelry, period. If you ask me, you can't wear a bra or underwear your bra. If your bra has the hooks in the back, you have to go take that off in the bathroom. They go and they shake it out and then you put it back on. They also check the bathroom to see if possibly you threw anything away. Then they give it back to you until you put it back on.
Theresa: It's a grueling process. Is it dehumanizing? if you ask me that question, sure. If you want to visit a prison, to visit an incarcerated person, they become dehumanized. They take all of your, everything from you because now you're stripping to go see this person. Basically, they're stripping your way shoes off In certain socks. They don't want you to wear them, but my sock is a sock. What are you talking about? What are you going with that? But anyhow, life going to visit an incarcerated person is not as easy as a lot of people think it is. It's really bad, sometimes sad. Sometimes just seeing what they're doing to others around you makes you want to cry. I really have a real source of heartache thing about older people. Back during the pandemic, when they allowed us back in, they kept us on the outside. Every inclinic of whether every climate there was, we had to deal with it without any snow covers. To the rain, the snow, the wind, the cold. You had to stand out there.
Amber: Just to be clear, you're saying that during the pandemic, when you were waiting for a visit, you were standing outside in the elements.
Theresa: Yes, in every element there was Yes, i am. That's what it was.
Jason: They didn't do anything like say stay in your car and we'll text you when it's time for you to come in.
Theresa: No, they did not. They made you stand out there. They took five at a time. You went and you took your COVID test. They had to wait there 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes you come over, you let them see, you throw it away. Then you go to registration. Now that's what even other people outside in the cold, for 15 extra minutes each five people. Now with the elderly, i felt like they should have let them inside regardless. Babies a few young babies with their babies in the carrier, freezing weather. Some of us went back to like some of them had cars and went back and got their coat or extra blankets they had in the car so they could wrap them up and make them warmer. That's what they got in And this was a process that I felt New York State Department of Corrections should have changed When it came to very older people and babies. They shouldn't have to go out and say, oh, i'd be out there standing in a cold weather. It was bad for us. It was bad for us.
Amber: Yeah, i have a question around that Do you feel or did you experience that some of those things that happened when people visit and the process that you have to go through may serve as some deterrent for families, that they may feel that it was a lot to go through and maybe visit less?
Theresa: Yes, yes. And even with that, and some of the COs will say y'all still want to be here. I'm trying to see these people, they're not worried, but you can't tell us that You understand what I'm saying. That's our family, of course, right? So when you say that you're heartless, you don't care, and we already know well, most of us know that. But to tell that, okay, for example, there was an older woman in the line. She came all the way from Virginia to see her son. She was standing until this woman she's not. You know, doesn't make sense for you to be here. That's not what you were supposed to say. What you should have been saying is you know what? Mai’m we're going to try to get you in first so that you can get out this element of the ice cold weather at that time, so that you don't have to be cold standing out there to see your son.
Jason: I get to COVID related things. So first is, for a while you weren't even let in, right, you're talking about being let in during COVID, but didn't they shut it down where people couldn't come visit at all for a while And along the way we will shut down.
Jason: Yeah, and along those lines I'm going to give you two questions, so that's one to address. And the second thing is how did you feel watching the news and having the governor of New York doing victory laps over COVID response, when you're having this type of experience with your loved one?
Theresa: To answer your first question, they did not let us in for approximately six months And at that time things were still rampant. Covid was still rampant, they were crying, the drugs were coming in, but who were bringing them? It wasn't us, the visitors. So, yes, it was really bad being locked out. And how did we communicate? through JPA, emails, phone calls. That was about all we could do until they let us back in. And when they did decide to start letting us in, as I said, you have to take the COVID test, you have to stand out in the cold. Some facilities had a tent, we did not. We had. My husband is located And with Governor Como, with his victory lapse.
Theresa: I must say this, and it is part of my story and I can never let it out nowhere else but in my story, governor Como took the youth out of the Adirondack facility to take older people who were either COVID, already had COVID or he was afraid that they would catch COVID. Older people when I say older people, i'm talking about people 55 and older. He would take and put them way up in Adirondack, calling himself making this a medical union for them. It was an old folks home. Let's be real here.
Theresa: Como didn't care what he did with these people. He had so many more people that could not fit in that Adirondack facility. Why? Because it was a dorm facility which they used to put the team, the adolescents, in when they committed their crimes. Como thought that doing this lapse, this victory lapse, saved him from getting lawsuits on top of lawsuits because so many people were dying inside And he couldn't control it. He didn't want to control it at the time because it kept telling him what is it? The medical union kept telling him you need to have these tests inside, you need to get these COVID shots inside. He didn't. However, i just want to say it took a few other grassroots advocacy groups to push, to push Andrew Como to sing this inside. He just didn't care.
Amber: Well, first I want to acknowledge sort of what you've just shared with us. As you know, we a lot of people think about COVID and everything that you know entire society went through, and they don't necessarily always think about those who were incarcerated in their families at the time. Can you tell, talk a little bit about how you may have gotten information So and what I mean by that is knowing or not knowing, if your loved one was okay. If you didn't, you know the fear that you may have encountered if you didn't hear from them in a number of days. Can you talk a little bit about that, your experience or others that you've interacted with?
Theresa: Well, if I didn't get a phone call within a matter of two days, my concern was, you know, heightened and I would call the facility. Some of them were good enough or nice enough to tell you well, that person is okay, you know, they tell you all right, they are right, we'll see why they're not calling home or whatever the case may be. Then, if I didn't receive an email after that, i definitely, you know, my fear heightened about him being sick or took him out to the hospital or whatever. And I've heard others speak as well. And it got hard. It got hard on us, for me. I was always constantly looking for that phone call. I was always constantly looking, checking to see if I got an email. and you know it was hard. What can I say?
Theresa: It was just hard on people trying to know what was going on. It was hard because we couldn't see, but, you know, couldn't see them to see if they were okay. See, i have a thing about seeing a person that lets me know if that person is okay or if that person is going through something you know. and then let me say that, besides the COVID being rampage at the time inside the facility, you also had people dropping from K2, sending all and all of these things. So now the business system is not saying nothing, but this is what's going on And people were not able to know if it was their loved one or if it was somebody else they knew inside. but we will get a little of information from Docs. They didn't want to see us.
Jason: So are you always on a sense of like heightened alert, like waiting for that phone call to come that says there's an issue or a problem, and you're just, you're thankful every day that doesn't happen.
Theresa: Yeah, okay For me, jason and Amber for me. My husband has a problem with his kidney, he's a diabetic, he has high blood pressure, he has asthma Okay, all of these ailments rolling to one can be any day or any moment death centers. Okay, yes, i stay always on a high alert and know if he's okay. This is just to hear from him through an email or just a phone call will kind of ease my day. The one thing I'm not looking forward to, because he's 68 years old, so he's fast The death age. The Doc states it's 58. I'm not looking forward to a phone call that says that he's dead. I don't, i don't, never, ever want to get that phone call. I don't know how that is, but I had a friend that experienced it and still to the day she's not well at all with none of this and she doesn't know how to breathe. I don't want to be that person and I hear my husband say this to me all the time. I don't want to die alone inside of here by myself. That takes a lot on me. So I tend to want to make sure he's okay. If I can just hear from him, if I don't hear the voice, at least see something from him on an email. See, doc's has gotten to a point where they will tell you anything to make themselves a better than any. You know better in your eyes. But Doc's still a lot of covering up And I don't know. I'll share this with you guys.
Theresa: I don't know if Amber, because we haven't really seen each other in a while, but my husband was attacked here back in September by a correctional officer. An unprovoked attack. It could have took his life from the way that he hit him. When he hit him another inch near his kidney he would have died. The CEO tried to say he did not do this, that and other. However, what was fortunate for my husband was that where this incident happened, there was a camera to call every bit of the incident. Okay, every bit of the incident.
Theresa: So what if the officer on special investigation, or FI, they eventually what they did? they moved my husband for two weeks to all this building and pulled him back to his facility. Then OSI came in and let him know they've seen the video. The officer was in the wrong. They were going to charge the officer. They were going to take whatever charges they put on him. They was going to drop those on my husband because he never touched them or he did with stuck his hand out to the man trying to protect himself from getting hit more And the CEO tried to say, oh, he came at me. You know these things Right You were found guilty.
Theresa: Right, you've found guilty by way of that video. So you know, and these things that go on inside we don't even know about out here. Some of them are so afraid to tell you about it because they figured in their listening on the calls which they do. Some of their emails we're finding out they could read, and today, today, what they are doing. When you send them a letter. They open that letter, they read the letter, then they photocopy it to give to them. They keep the original. Why? Why?
Theresa: You said that drugs are coming in on paper. Okay, my thing to them is you, when we was able to take packages in, you scan it right then in there. So if you've seen something in it, at that point that's when you are supposed to approach it You wait to say, oh, it was something in a package, oh, this letter has got notes and drugs on it or whatever. But now you're validating because you're reading the mail and then you're sending it to a printer or whatever to get them a copy of cards. Some cards can't like birthday cards or anniversary cards or whatever, can't go through today because they don't allow them. So so I want to explore.
Amber: Theresa, i want to explore a little bit because you've talked a lot about communication And so for those who are not familiar, j-pay and phone calls and all of those things a lot of people don't realize the cost that's associated with some of those things and who bears the burdens of the costs for communicating with loved ones. Can you talk a little bit about that? And since you've sort of seen the system for over a period of time, how has that changed?
Theresa: Well, the families of the incarcerated people are the ones who bear the burden of paying for putting money on the phone When something happens. You, as a family member, put money on the phone. You also can buy stamps that you could share with him. When I say stamps, they're stamps that they can write, They get some emails out with, And it's the same for the family member. We use the stamps when we have the email in them. That's stamps that we use.
Theresa: It used to be one stamp for whatever amount of let me see characters of a thousand. If you did 600 characters in a letter and an email, how was this one stamped? Now you can only use 54 characters and you're paying two stamps to it. So it's actually boxes robbing you. Then, if you send them money for their commentary let's say I wanted to send him $50. I'm now sending all together $54 because they're charging me $4 for that $50 to go into his account. That's robbery. We have no outs here. We can't send a package. If we do, We have to go through these vendors that they chose, which sometimes these vendors say okay, we'll do it, but it's going to cost $16 extra or a package of like seven items that come up to $250. Now I got to add $16 more for $250. Where do we think we have that money coming from? We are out here trying to take care of ourselves and our families out here.
Theresa: So nobody is helping us do this. Some people they get food stamps, but I don't. I work, i have to use my money to do my paycheck, so I don't want to see him go hungry in there because he's a diabetic and he's feeding them soy foods, which is no good for them or us.
Theresa: So the burden is really bad on the family right now because now they can't get the packages from home other than maybe closing, and that's only a certain amount. And what a family has to use these vendors. These vendors are not looking at us as people who will be you know how can I say people who will be you know kind of suffering doing this. They're seeing it's a money tree. That's what they see.
Theresa: We're nothing more than a money tree to them And the prices are ridiculous on the phones After we would get out here at $2, $3, there's a $6 now, even can I just say this, even now on the visits in the vendor machines where the chicken used to be 350 in a packet, now it's 550. What are we paying for? We're paying the state and their vendors. That's what we are paying. We are not. It's really bad. We're seeing no package bill is gone.
Jason: I've made you talk to a lot about Morris before and now we're talking about the price of incarceration of on the families. Do you have any sense of how much you spent in the last year as a family? All?
Theresa: right, but how?
Jason: You personally. How much have you spent in the last year for Morris because he's incarcerated? How much additional funding for the phone calls for the commissary, for all the things? Do you have any sense of that number?
Theresa: Yeah, I do A good $1,500. If not a little more.
Amber: I mean I do have to say, just based on my own experience, i don't feel I mean I should feel shocked by that number. But on phone calls alone when my husband was incarcerated, i was spending $700 a month. And where did that money come from? We didn't have that money. We were dependent on friends and family who wanted to make sure that the children could speak with their father, and they were kind enough to help us. And that was a short period of time, right. So absolutely That doesn't surprise me. What I am was not as aware of is the character counts And the idea that you're paying a certain amount of money because they didn't have. When my husband was incarcerated, they didn't have access to that.
Amber: The idea that, by the character, families are paying, by the character, to communicate with their loved ones is mind blowing, and so it definitely is something that, when I think about it, i think about the idea that this is an anti-safety sort of policy, because what keeps people going, what gives them hope, what keeps them connected to community, it is being able to communicate with their family and those pro-social supports. So, teresa, i really want to thank you for sharing your perspective on that for everyone And I see Jason has an interesting question Just underlining it.
Jason: It's not even a question, it's just there's to have a character penalty, right, communication penalty. It's just insane, because you want people to be communicating with their loved ones And that's not something versus using up a phone. You're taking a real resource, or you're taking a resource or a limited resource, but with sending it, sending an email to somebody, it's just mind blowing that they would penalize you for writing more.
Amber: And then the other thing I want to highlight, teresa, that you spoke about, that I really appreciate you bringing up, is this idea of how communications have changed, and so the packages and how they're dealing with written messages, how they're dealing with written mail and the scanning, because that is a real thing. So when you think about when I know not as many people use like snail mail as they used to, right But when you think about receiving something in the mail or someone giving you a handwritten card, or when my husband was incarcerated, i used to make him little pieces of artwork and send them to him like little watercolor cards and whatnot, and then I would say that's not the same thing, but it's not a connection with that, and so I think that's kind of a connection that you're going to see with that. I think that's the same thing, and I think that's the same thing, yeah.
Theresa: That is not the same in a scanned black and white form, as it is holding something that someone else has touched, feeling that connection with your loved one. Would you agree with that? I agree, i agree, i totally agree. I agree with that. I agree with that.
Theresa: Now we're going to talk about the first anniversary. We got married on Valentine's Day. Love that We are now 12 years married, 48 years together. For Valentine's Day I usually send him 14 cards. Then I'll add another card, this personal that I would know, one of the blank cards I would get while I write my own personal note and to have? And now what they do? they scan so much So he don't really get the reality of what the cards were.
Theresa: It's black and white now, it's not, you know, colorful and you know it's the anniversary cards that include in the Valentine's Day cards. And then my personal card. It says what I want him to know from my heart. It's taken away from the value of that And this is something that they don't care. They just do it And it's not heartfelt, no more. It's like okay, i got a black and white card for my wife or my husband or my loved one. There's no feeling there, no more.
Theresa: They have stripped them of that particular thing where, when they used to be able to get it, I know for my husband, for Morris, he would be so happy that he would paste all of the cards around his cell and the stars would go okay, grady, what's that And he'd be like that's for my wife, that's for my wife And it's my anniversary, it's the Valentine's Day, you know and her personal card. I got that. Y'all can't see that one if you're on the wall, but it wouldn't be if you're just a little sad. And even to pictures now, when you send them pictures, they want you to really send it through the J-Pay system. I hate that. I used to have them having, you know, hard copy pictures They can't even take when you're taking pictures on visit Amber and Jason, they can't take those pictures back to their cell Right.
Jason: And what you did earlier. The word you used earlier was they stripped you of your humanity as a visitor, And now there's him of his humanity. This way is just another way of stripping him of his humanity, And so it's just. And to take this back to where we started, you've been dealing with this for years and years and years. Now It's not like, oh, this happened in a week and it's done with it, And we checked the box, we paid our price and we're done. This is trauma that you've been living with and Morris has been living with for a very, very, very long time. We're now in 2023. And I know you tell me a little bit about how you and Amber met.
Theresa: I met Amber at an advocacy day in Albany where I was with rap, and actually a young baby named Melissa actually introduced me to Amber And we hit it off from there And Amber and I have been trying to do this here for over a year. It was always something in our way, but God puts people where they need to be in his own time. So recently I ran back into Amber up at an advocacy in Albany and she was like hey to me. But I was like Amber, you know, like oh my God, a long lost plan. And you know she said, let's do it this time, let's see if we can get it done. So this is where I met today And this is how I met Amber at advocacy. I don't know if Amber remember, but I have a big mouth nowadays. I don't think I could forget that.
Amber: But the loud and the honest and the authentic way that you share your story and that you do what you do in advocacy is just really an amazing thing to behold.
Amber: So I would love to at some point, talk a little bit about the advocacy work that you are doing with rap and in other spaces, just want to make sure that, before we sort of move on to that, we talk a little bit about.
Amber: I wanted to explore the health aspect. When we think about people who are incarcerated, i know that you know, in particular, my husband was very moved by an individual he was incarcerated with, who had open heart surgery, and so he went out of the facility to have open heart surgery, came back, you know, after having been in the hospital, chained to the bed and this and that, and needed certain things. Right, because if you think about, after you have open heart surgery, you need to be walking, you need to be doing all of these things, you need to have a certain diet, and none of that happened for this gentleman. So I just want to explore that and that person was subsequently released and died shortly after, which is something that really that trauma of his friend experiencing that, you know, also sort of affected my husband as well. So I just wanted to explore that a little bit.
Theresa: Your experience? Well, my husband was hospitalized because he had kept faint and things like that and kept saying they didn't know what to do for him in inferno. Can I just pull it back a little? When my husband was incarcerated in Attica in 2006, my husband had. When he got arrested he tried to escape from them So he broke his leg, took about an inch off his right leg And he had been in Bellevue. They did what they did. They had the pens in it and rods and all of these things, but before they transferred him up to Attica they removed all of this right In 2007, a doctor we found out was a veterinarian, because a lot of the doctors inside the facilities of docs are not actual doctors.
Theresa: We are veterinarians and training and things of that nature. This is something that docs like to hide But, however, when they do this to my husband, this man wouldn't mind. When they found nothing, the question for him was what x-rays were you looking at? Tell us what extra range you looked at the scene that he supposedly had metal pens in his leg. He had none of that. All of that was removed when he was down in the city in Bellevue Hospital. So what extra did you look at that. They do decide to take my husband into a hospital and cut his leg back open. Let us understand.
Theresa: The lawsuit against this doctor is what? let us know, he was a veterinarian in training. He was not an actual MD or PhD. He had none of that. The lawsuit literally litigated that the money that he requested. He couldn't even get that much of that money. Half of that went to the lawyer or the state and the other half had to. Some of it had to go to victim services, which we understood, and what they left him was little or nothing, but at least he had his leg. But behind all of that he starts suffering with MRSA. Okay, he starts suffering with MRSA, so much so that every now and then his leg will open up and leak puffs. That's MRSA. They decided to take him back and do bone grafting and skin grafting And still to the day he has what I call a sinking hole in his leg. When they cut it open again, they never really put enough official bone structure back in the skin. So when you see his leg, you literally see the cut, where they cut and how deep inside the leg it is. I thank God he's able to move around. He has a cane. He gets around Thank God for that But sometimes that they make some booty, he goes through a lot.
Theresa: Then when he had to go in to the hospital and they found out about this kidney problem, it was like what's next? What do we do? How do we deal with this? Because the doctor called me personally and said to me and he wasn't supposed to, but he did He said let me say something to you If your husband's count go up to five, he's going to be in dialysis mode And that's going to be a problem. So I said why? He said because the facility, the facility would have to make the decision.
Theresa: So it took me a while. I called the counselor and I said to her if we have a count of five, what's the process? Do y'all know what they told me? We might not be able to take him out for three days a week because we don't have security like that. Excuse you, this was a man that could be in dialysis. You all don't have no way of knowing how to function around that. So that told me that anybody else to stick like that inside at any facility in the state of New York, they're going to wind up dying in themselves, and that'd be the end of the story. That's what you're going to let the family know. You couldn't get them out to a hospital because you didn't have security, so they just language the way and died in a cell.
Jason: So what? The story you just told is horrific. Yeah, everything. I mean, starting with your with Morris's leg and then talking about what the feelings that you must have gone through when you heard about his kidney. and knowing that when somebody is is someone is in the care, basically in the care of the state, that if they get one of these diseases that requires a certain level of medical attention, that it's a death sentence, that we we would rather warehouse people than care for people, and you know, it doesn't matter who they are. The state should not be causing this type of harm. We should be doing what we can to preserve life, not to treat it as if it's disposable.
Jason: So I am so afraid for what you've been through and what your husband has been through and your family has been through, And I don't it just, it's just mind blowing.
Amber: I think it's important And I also want to express those same sentiments to you, teresa It's just, it's just mind blowing to know that your situation is one of many right In in the system. And when we think about healthcare for people who are incarcerated, it really is a situation where it's like acute care all the time. There's no long-term thinking. When people are incarcerated for long lengths of time, which we can talk about why that is bad, right. But if we are going to do that, to treat it like you know, throwing Band-Aids, throwing some Motrin on it or whatever right. Instead of actually caring for people with not only dealing with issues that they have and that they that arise, but also preventative care, right. So there's a human aspect to this, but there's also a financial cost that is exorbitant. So I think that plays really nicely into talking a little bit about release, aging people in prison and why they care about these issues so much.
Theresa: As you know, release aging people in prison is rap, and we are now fighting for two bills, which is one is the elder parole bill, which is someone who's 55 years old, who has 13 years. All we ask is for consideration for these people to be able to go to the parole board, present themselves as to who they are today not their crime, because that crime can never ever be eliminated Or that crime will always be in their life, but to show that they have rehabilitated themselves, deserve a second chance, redeem themselves. Let the board see that and make that decision, not allow them to keep laying their language in a way to die. Docs say that 55, this is Doc's age, 55 years old but they also state that 58 is when most of the people die in prison. Our second bill is for your time parole. That's the bill that says the same thing, basically, except for it says if a person has served 15 years of their time, then they are able to show you that they have. You know. Redeem themselves, show that they have completed all programing. Maybe even some of them have taken college degrees, gotten college degrees or blown away.
Theresa: Why not release these people? They go to the board. You see these things, let them go. Yes, the crime can never change. The crime will never change. It's always going to be there.
Theresa: But to see that these people had grown in a growth, because you said that this is what prison is about to put them in there to change the course of how they live, what they've done. A lot of them have admitted and have been remorseful about what they've done. So if a person can come to you because you're on it, we're on the screen saying now they don't see them in person, no more, they see them by screen. You really don't know who I am because you're looking at me from the screen. So to me that's still their name and they really don't care.
Theresa: But these two bills only ask that you do two things Allow them to be seen as to who they are today, and two, we want them to put on the board, because right now they only have 22 or 24 people on the board. It should be 29 to 30 people. So many people we are asking to be put on that board are formerly unconstruated people who have degrees Okay. So we ask that you put someone on there like that that can understand the other side of what it is to be inside and go through what they go through. Yes, jason.
Jason: What are these two? what are the two bills? Say the names of them. I know you talked about them, but Okay, the first bill is elder parole. Elder parole.
Theresa: Okay, elder parole In the second. In the second, it's fair and timely parole.
Jason: Fair and timely parole. Okay, yeah, okay.
Amber: And so just to clarify for those who are listening, these are two measures that are New York state based, and I want to mention because when you talk to people as Theresa mentioned, we have done some advocacy together on this and restorative action alliance is involved in supporting these two measures as well. When you talk to people, they like to say things like oh you know, you're just mass releasing people, or things like that. It's important to understand that this is only a chance at a chance, right? This is not an automatic release bill. This is not, you know, we're opening up the doors and everybody's running out. This is an opportunity for people to present themselves in a fair way.
Amber: You know, and to write the way that people are evaluated by making sure that the parole board has a variety of people with a variety of different understandings on them. Am I characterizing that correctly, Theresa?
Theresa: Absolutely, absolutely, you are.
Jason: I think it's interesting because this is our first opportunity on the podcast to talk about something that happened recently here in Connecticut. So there was a hearing recently to reconfirm the members of the board of pardons and paroles that the chair and all the members and they had to go in front of the judiciary committee and they took a lot of heat because in 2021 they issued more commutations than they had previously. They went from like one to 71 or something. It was in that range and they took a lot of heat because they had just increased, they had changed their policy and they took a hard look at it. They had actually stopped because of COVID. There were some reasons they stopped and they came back in and they looked at it and I'm sitting here listening to it And, as we just talked about, as Amber just mentioned, it was an opportunity to go in front.
Jason: They have an attorney. They have to show all the things that they've done while they were incarcerated, that show that they're different people now that they've grown. And it was not a free pass. It was actually just an opportunity to have a hearing And there were people that were opposed to just giving people the hearing because, oh, this is more than we've ever done before. So we're sitting here saying there should be more commutations. There's another guy that I'm following who was he was turned down from having a hearing because he has two years. He'll be eligible for parole in two years, But, as you know, every year is a lifetime And for you, we're sitting here telling us that the average age for people to end up passing away is 58. Two years could be, could be, could be the difference between life and death. So it just it just.
Jason: I really appreciate you being here and talking about all this and helping highlight some of these issues.
Theresa: I want to say this and sometimes when they go to the, to the parole board, and They get rejected and they get extra two years added on to the time They gave you know refused and two years added on and no one understands Why would you put two more years on this person? sentence first of all the judge, since the judge have sent this, this person, through This time. Now that I'm in front of the board, you want to deny me on this time and add more time to it. I'll just say all director at rap has done 38 years. He was denied, i believe he said four times. We've had some that were denied 14 times And now if you have 25 years and add 14 to that, come on out. You're really taking a person's life from now.
Amber: Absolutely, and so I want to again, for those who are not familiar, clarify something. So, when you're speaking about the sentences, a lot of people feel that or or don't have an understanding of How sentences are given. So the difference between an indeterminate sentence and a straight sentence. So a lot of times people will be sentenced to, you know, 12 years to life or you know something like that. So that gives them the opportunity, after they've been there for the 12 years, to go before the parole board. So that's what you're referring to When you say they're adding additional time.
Theresa: Yes, like, for instance, my husband has what we call the flat bed 40 years, right. So when he goes in front of the board on his 40th year Lord will help me make it before that but He goes before the board The boy can turn around and say, okay, you did 40 for me, adding to more, so now you got to do 42 years instead of the 40 and then, after the two years go by, he may go back in here again two more years. That is, this is truly in the name. This is truly Stripping a person of life and it's so all the person. When you know we have someone went to the board. He was so scared so much that they were going to reject and we asked to go to the bathroom. His name went to the bathroom at a massive heart attack Because that's how afraid he was that they were going to deny him on his 10th time at the board. This is insane. This is insane. Do do something like that to a person you got to understand. You take. This person has taken a big chance after doing so many years, and now I come here. I'm already afraid, because you have denied me so many times before and I'm afraid you're going to deny me again. So I go to the bathroom Maybe he was just to shake it off, you know, but he died because he had a massive heart attack.
Theresa: And did they? did they allow that? did they allow him to release? the funny thing is, yes, they approved his parole, but he's on died now. So what is it? What does it do for him, what does it do for the family to hear?
Theresa: this man was going for many times and he was up in age. He just wanted to go home, to get back into his community, to serve his community in a better way today. And it's like, while he had the time to do it And this is mafia for my husband He's he has to do a full 40 years of I'll be 90 something years old, maybe not even. I'll be honest here, if I can. He might not be able to take his own body far. It's in the bathroom, things that I think. This is what we are looking at.
Theresa: The cruelty behind the ball is So sad for men and women. Why allow them to die inside like that? I don't know if, amber, you remember hearing about Val Gator. Yes, this woman was suffering with cancer and able to feed in her collar north for it, that's. It's a good as suffocating. She had something going on her suffocating. You want to give a talent or silly, instead of getting her out to see that she had this cancer and take care of it. That was the oldest woman in concentrated in New York State for this right now, died inside a New York State facility. Desperate, unnecessary death. Unnecessary death they allowed to happen inside. So for me, jason and Amber, my biggest fear is to get a phone call. Demarra's is gay, right and you.
Amber: You touched on something that I really, really believe in and I've heard Many people speak very eloquently about, and that people want to get out and they want to serve Their community, because when you talk about what has happened during a period of incarceration, you alluded to the fact that People are working on education, many people are mentoring other people, they are doing self-improvement, and a lot of this is In spite of the system, right, it's not provided by the system, it's provided by outside entities. It's the residents of prisons and jails that are developing their own programs to help each other and things like that. So all of this is going on. And then who better right to Know how to prevent violence and disrupt violence than individuals who have experienced it? right, and so these are the types of people that we need in our communities to stop these cycles. Would you agree with that?
Theresa: Yes, absolutely the people we are talking about. Who better to come back to the community To help to do the resistance towards violence? So these young folks out here, especially the young folks who continue to be going rampant, to help them understand that you go in there and start helping you Out here is where you need to learn how to be a better person. We are out here to teach you this fact. You know, because there's many of them that mentors in it. Okay, there's many of them who have gotten degrees. There's many of them who inside right now, teaching them to the best of their ability How to do to be better, developed, better skills. So when you come back out here, you'll be able to help your community. Just like we want to come out of health Community, we've had some to come out right now, especially within rap. We have a few of them just out right now helping in the community and it's going well. It's going well.
Theresa: You know, as I alluded to with you guys, i've been in rap for four and a half years. When I walked in the door rap, i didn't know anything whatsoever about being an advocate. As my aunt used to say, you have a listener. No, i'm not. And to my fellow executive director. He says you are my effing hero and I've been. Right now I stopped because I used to wouldn't talk, i used to duck in dogs. No, when it came to reality, don't. I'm not me, but I'll be honest. What took me on my trail? We just lost a very great person, mr Mayfield. He was like get on up here, girl, and say what you gotta say, and that was a unit square, 14th Street, and I talked about Como and I said I wonder if he would put the tilde In a nursing home like that. At that time of COVID, i was really upset because I'm like my husband could be put all the way up there. I can't reach him. I just regret that we don't have.
Jason: That we can't do like a double episode, because right one of the things, one of the things.
Jason: One of the things for sure, when we're talking with someone who's been Involved with the system. I mean you've got, as you know, amber was asking questions before about how have things changed. I mean we could probably cover five episodes talking to you about how is think, how things changed. What's your experience been? What are your thoughts? I mean you've got so much to offer. It's it's wonderful talking with you today. What I would like to, as we start to wrap up, i want to give Amber a chance to say a couple things. But one question for you is if someone wants to get involved and support wrap in any way, how could they do that?
Theresa: Well, you could go to our facebook account and have the rap release agent people in person, and you can either go there or you can get in touch with me. I can give you my information, you can call me and I can get you directly involved with rap.
Amber: Yeah, we'll make sure that those things get in the podcast notes.
Jason: Yes, thank you. Do you have any final thoughts?
Amber: So I do. I always like to ask people sort of a similar question. We have a standard question that we start with in the beginning and this is sort of my Signature question at the end. So if you Had the opportunity To talk to somebody who was at the beginning of a journey similar to yours And you had one piece of advice for them, what would it be?
Theresa: My advice that I would be if you came out here from doing them all on this side, come see your community, and so exactly what you said you learned you learned to now be more settled. You like to come out and help in, to participate in programs and helping others do better, helping that you stay on the right track, even helping your elders learn how to do things that They probably don't even know how to do. I know that a lot of them don't know about Habits, don't know about computers. So if you have that skill You know, come out here and start a program, just like you have started inside, to help them out here, so that they can finish flourishing, so that they don't have to look back and go back into crime, so that they can say, oh, i'm, i'm able to teach somebody else too. Let me get in here, learn what I can learn. Now, let's do. Let me help guide some people to the right side, because, see, right now It's like youth is really losing it out here And I feel like, even to the youth, that they came out from doing time and they learned all of these fields inside And things like that and even graduated to say, let's say, high school a little bit of college, maybe they got associated degree. But come on out here.
Theresa: They have programs now that for me, incarcerated people can go to and finish their education And then come out and be teachers. We have a guy that's a teacher now and you know it was shocking and learning. He came out, he got his bachelor. He's now fighting for his master's but he's a teacher. But he's teaching not only inside the college but he also has a program he started with some I think it's with the freedom fighters. That's about pulling in the youth, teaching them things that they need to know to be. You know, resistance to jail, synthesis, resistance to the crimes. Look at the statistics and see, and the last couple of years, that the crime level has went down and has been up. We see the reasons for older people coming home. It's almost zero.
Theresa: Okay, almost zero. So that's I. That's what I was, you know. I was my encouragement to people who are coming home, or who's home, and you know, looking at going inside, stop and think about the fact that there's things that you can do out here To save other people's lives.
Jason: All right, that's a beautiful, great message. Thank you so much, teresa, for Speaking with us today. It was wonderful to get to know you a little bit. I hope we get our paths continued across as we work for positive change, and I hope that I hope there's a time when the Morris is is home with you, healthy And and and this is just, you're just working to help other people.
Theresa: So, yeah, thank you, that's my, that's my goal to keep, even if people to come home the day or tomorrow, i will still be with rap, working to bring home other men and women because they deserve a chance. And, amber, you know I love you to death. Every time I see I'm like, oh, wow to go, amber, and now I know Jason. So, guys, thank you for this podcast, thank you giving me the opportunity to speak about things that are going on within the criminal justice system. And You know I'm just praying that we can carry it on and our two bills get passed. You know those two bills are so very important The old, the flow and the grand economy for a bill. And and we are, we're close, we're close.
Amber: We're gonna keep pushing. We're gonna keep pushing. Yes, this is gonna be the year. Thank you all so much.
Jason: All right, yeah, until next time, amber.
Amber: We'll see you next time. You've been listening to amplified voices, a podcast lifting the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system.
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