Reflections on R&R Internship

Screen shot 2015-08-13 at 4.18.46 PM

Reflection on Root & Rebound Internship

This post was written by our incredible outgoing summer intern, Sofie Werthan, when prompted with the question, “What did you learn this summer?” Sofie is a rising sophomore at Wellesley College, near Boston, Massachusetts, where she is an intended Ethnic Studies major focusing on systems of oppression. As you will learn from this post, Sofie is truly amazing, a gifted and talented writer and thinker. We were lucky to have her this summer and hope she will go back to school using her talents for criminal and social justice reform. Here are Sofie’s thoughts:

“In some ways, the United States prison system is like a black hole. People get pulled into its gaping rift, and it’s as if they have simply vanished from society for good. By disappearing individuals who have violated the cultural, social, and legal underpinnings of our society, prison does an exceedingly good job of obscuring many underlying social problems and inequities. While families and friends notice the absence of their incarcerated loved ones, many people (without an immediate connection to those on the inside) don’t spend much time actively thinking about what happens to people in prison, let alone what happens after they return from prison. In fact, we are even encouraged not to think about those who have been sucked into the carceral vortex: currently and formerly incarcerated people have been constructed as the societal Other to reject, in contrast with the aspirational figure of the successful law-abiding citizen. By promoting this dichotomy through legal and cultural barriers to reentry, we as a society have set up formerly incarcerated people for failure, vilification, and alienation from our culture and communities.

Before this summer, I was pretty ignorant to the specifics of what happens to people after they are released from prison/jail. In fact, I wanted to intern at Root & Rebound specifically because of my ignorance on this specific issue. Over the past several years, I have become more aware of social justice issues, and during this past year in college, I have participated in the Black Lives Matter movement. I have begun to research the historical and contemporary roots of police brutality, mass incarceration, the militarization of law enforcement, and the over-policing of non-white communities. However, much of this education has come from an academic perspective divorced from individuals’ personal experiences. I came to Root & Rebound in hopes of bridging this gap by directly engaging with my fellow community members who are in the process of reentry.

I grew up in a relatively privileged environment in Berkeley. While lower income communities and communities of color in Oakland, Richmond, and even within Berkeley are subject to the cyclical oppression and violence wrought by the prison industrial complex, I was able to maintain my distance emotionally and psychologically (if not physically, as well). None of my immediate family or friends have been incarcerated. Until this summer, my most intimate connections to the prison system were the fact that I drove past San Quentin State Prison every day on my way to and from high school and that I visited Alcatraz once to see Ai Weiwei’s art exhibit. I wanted to change this sense of personal detachment.

During my internship at Root & Rebound, I have immersed myself in the world of criminal justice and reentry from a more personal, holistic, and community-based perspective. In addition to getting an inside look at the tremendous work it takes to keep a small non-profit up and running, I also learned a lot about the myriad hardships that come along with a criminal record. By reading parts of Root & Rebound’s recently published Roadmap to Reentry guide, attending lectures, and having discussions with formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones, I became aware of the many hurdles to employment, housing, education, and public benefits that formerly incarcerated people have to navigate. I learned about the complicated legal web of restrictions, regulations, and mandates that trap many formerly incarcerated people upon release.

During my summer, I have been exposed to many great opportunities: I have had the privilege of listening to the criminal justice-reform speaker Michael Santos, attending a panel (that included R&R’s own Sonja Tonnesen!) about the ADA as it relates to prisons and reentry, and engaging with many fantastic formerly incarcerated people at an advanced film screening of the documentary Life After Life. This summer has taught me innumerable lessons about forgiveness, humanity, and compassion. I made many connections to people involved in advocacy work and started forging inter-community bonds. This summer has made me even more excited about local non-profit advocacy work and has helped me feel even closer to the Bay Area community.
My internship came at a unique time in our country’s history. The criminal justice system and its many flaws have taken the center stage as President Obama’s concludes his final term. This summer, I have witnessed history being made as Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, announce a reconsideration of this country’s excessive use of solitary confinement, and reinstate Pell Grants for incarcerated people. By fits and starts, criminal justice reform is now a hot topic. Media, politicians, celebrities, and ordinary people across the country are waking up to the prospect of (bipartisan!) prison reform. It seems like an emphasis on rehabilitation and tolerance is beginning to replace a culture of harsh discipline and cold indifference to the struggles of currently and formerly incarcerated people. I am proud to have played a small part in the movement this summer. Thank you R&R for giving me the opportunity to help make a change!”

Meet Our Intern Dashia: Bright, Young, and Ready to Solve Criminal Injustice

This blog post is very special to us. It is a featured interview with our wonderful CYDL high school intern, Dashia Lewis. Dashia has had an incredible personal and professional journey that brings her to this work and we are very grateful to have and learn from her in our office this summer. We hope you take the time to read the post and learn from Dashia’s journey.

IMG_6733

ABOUT ME:

Hello! My name is Dashia. I am a seventeen-year-old Oakland native, and a rising junior year at Hayward High School, where I will be starting in the fall. I attended Fremont High School in Oakland, CA as a freshman and sophomore. Growing up in the Bay Area, in communities of color that have dealt with a lot of different issues, including high unemployment, heavy policing, high rates of incarceration, I have been exploring many of these issues for a long time. Personally I have overcome many obstacles that have interfered with my desire to be a strong local advocate and positive role model and leader among my peers.

Right now, as a rising junior, I am extremely focused on reaching my full academic potential, because I want my peers to see that I am a LEADER someone who set the right examples and committed herself to them.

The moral of my story is to not let drama be the common denominator on your path of trying to prepare yourself academically to become the person who you want others to think of when they hear your name and story.

HOW I CAME TO ROOT & REBOUND:

This summer, I joined a program called the Center for Youth Development through Law (CYDL), which is a program which directs students who are interested in pursuing a career path in law into different opportunities, such as amazing law-related internships and law classes taught by professionals. As part of the program, law professors prepare us for a mock trial. In that case, I will be playing the role of the defense attorney in a DUI case.

I am also gaining many new work readiness skills in the CYDL program, which takes place at UC-Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall), including how to approach people at work, communication skills, and courtroom procedures.

I did not know that I would get the position as an intern at Root and Rebound. The students in the program are placed at different sites based on their interests. I had the option to choose the category of internship type that I would prefer to work. My choices were: helping the community and prisoners and justice, which Root & Rebound is all about.

Thus far, interning at Root & Rebound has impacted me in a very educational and positive way. As an intern at Root & Rebound, my role includes compiling research and statistics about racial bias in the criminal justice system; maintaining an online database of contacts affiliated with the organization; administrative tasks and helping with nonprofit accounting. One of my biggest projects at Root & Rebound has been researching community centers to connect to Root & Rebound’s new Reentry Support Cohorts project, which is really enjoyable!

WHY DO YOU THINK ROOT & REBOUND’S WORK IS IMPORTANT?

Root & Rebound gives people who are incarcerated the resources they need so they can get their rights back and can get out of the criminal justice system. Instead of being seen as criminals, they can now be seen and accepted as full citizens again.

Root & Rebound can be a backbone for people who are incarcerated, giving them the support they need so they can become better people who choose to embrace healthier lifestyles. Their work can be life-changing.

The “Roadmap to Reentry” guide is a really helpful resource; the team has spent so long on creating a big book full of legal information and tools to help people who are currently and formerly incarcerated. Everything you could need in reentry is in there and for a lot of people it will be their main source of support. Having the guide will help them erase their mistakes and help them get the help they need. Whatever someone is going through, they can find answers.

HOW HAVE YOU SEEN REENTRY/MASS INCARCERATION IMPACT YOUR COMMUNITY?

Growing up in the Bay Area and living and going to school in both Oakland and Hayward, I have seen mass incarceration, racial profiling and discrimination impact my friends, family members and others in my community directly. If a parent is in jail, it impacts their children. Their children grow up without anyone to tell them right from wrong and without support, which can lead them to make negative choices. When someone does go to jail, it can affect their emotional well-being, they are treated harshly without respect. Also, within the institutions, there are little to no resources available, no job training or rehabilitation, people just tend to wait around, serving their time, which is harmful to them and the rest of society.

Also, I’ve seen first hand how communities of color face cyclical discrimination — African Americans, Latinos and other minority groups see their friends and family being targeted by the police more often and as a result spending more time in prison and jail. Often, the police pick up a group of young people and accuse them of being in a gang when that’s not the case. It can feel like its the “police vs. the people” on a daily basis. This discrimination can lead to frustration and resentment within communities, and it can be hard for the police and community members to relate to each other or build positive relationships. We need people of all backgrounds and ethnicities to come together and try and understand each other and the challenges we are facing before things can truly change.

WHY ARE YOU SO PASSIONATE ABOUT LEADERSHIP AND HOW DO YOU WANT TO USE LEADERSHIP TOOLS TO SUPPORT YOUR COMMUNITY?

During high school, I have been involved in several leadership programs, including the Center for Youth Development through Law (CYDL) who connected me to Root & Rebound. CYDL is a program that connects high school students who are interested in pursuing the law and come from vulnerable communities, with work-based placements across the Bay Area. This program, which combines legal training with work experience, has really helped me develop my advocacy skills and has increased my passion for the law to create social justice change.

I have also been part of a few school-based leadership programs, including a program called Real Hard and another called Pass 2. Through these programs, I was able to examine the structural issues that have led to our present-day criminal justice system, from slavery to modern-day discrimination. It gave me the history and the context to the struggles I see everyday in my community and helped me think calmly and carefully about how I can play a part in creating change.

I am committed to becoming an example for my peers, to show them there is another way. As we face obstacles that might cause us to give up and decide to take an “easier” path, it is important for me to tell a different story — that we can’t just follow the leader to bad things. That we should push ourselves to rise above the challenges we face and to spend more time in school, preparing for the future, so that we can see our communities thrive.

I also have learned that a key ingredient of leadership is not just about rewarding the most successful, the best in the class. It’s also about lifting everyone up along the way. Students who have brought their grades up or have overcome significant challenges should also be recognized and rewarded for their determination and courage despite the odds. I think that is an important part of leadership, supporting and encouraging your peers.

WHAT IS YOUR HOPE FOR THE FUTURE?

I am hopeful that my community can change for the better. Most importantly, I want to see the violence stop, I’ve lost too many friends and family members to violence and anger. I want to motivate people in my community to make better choices or to at least understand why they’ve made the choices they’ve made and what they or we as a society can do differently to support them.
In future, I would like to become a lawyer and/or a psychologist — I would use the law as a tool to empower individuals and communities to change the criminal justice system, and I would use psychology to understand the reasons behind people’s individual actions so that they don’t repeat their behavior and can find alternatives. Using my leadership skills and my education, I would like to empower my peers and form a movement to heal my community and see it succeed.