We crowded into the Senate chambers for a meeting of the state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) for a meeting of the state CJCC, chaired by Secretary Ed Wall, head of the Department of Corrections (DOC). At his side sat Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. A press conference followed.
Dave Liners (Executive Director of WISDOM) had chosen a shrewd, powerful mix of speakers: Talib who had just been released from prison after 20 years. He said he was ‘worser’ than when he went in, and his plaintive word echoed in our souls. Rev. Anne, a powerful Buddhist pastor, faced off the CJCC with the crime of solitary confinement. They listened and made noises that ‘Wisconsin is headed toward reform’. Then our own Richard Klein effectively represented parents of the incarcerated.
The pitiful parole ~ or non-parole ~ situation was exposed by Judy, whose husband, like myriads of others, has been denied parole. DOC Secretary Wall surprised us all by speaking directly to Judy and offering to check on her husband’s situation.
Following the CJCC meeting, SOPHIA members met with staff of their state representatives – assemblypersons and senators. Senator Paul Farrow’s staff person was very attentive to our concerns regarding parole and solitary confinement. The staff people in Representative Bill Kramer’s office suggested we talk to all candidates vying to fill Kramer’s vacated seat. Staff on Senator Leah Vukmir accepted the written report, with contact information, to pass on to the Senator. Although Rep. Dale Kooyenga’s office was closed, Rep. Kooyenga and Rep. Rob Hutton have recently met with SOPHIA and St. Vincent de Paul spokespersons about the 11x15 campaign issues. Contact information was left. Representative Joe Sanfelippo was in his office, and met with Joel Gaughan at length. Rep. Sanfelippo and his staffer know Joel due to his multiple conversations with them. Joel was able to reinforce the need for reform, the faith values supporting the need for reform, as well as the human cost and financial cost if changes are not made.
The testimonies at the CJCC echoed in our hearts as we rode back to Waukesha. We all felt the solidarity that permeated the day. We had heard from and met so many people very directly touched by incarceration, some people very recently-released from years in prison, some spouses, children and parents of the Old Law prisoners whose cause we lifted up. Underlying it all, the words of our Lord echoed in our hearts: “I was in prison, and you came to me.”
Judith Williams and the SOPHIA delegation
Additional details and the background, with links to all the press coverage, are available at www.prayforjusticeinwi.org .