Episode 3 - Protecting Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls
In this episode we talk with Andrea James. She is the founder and Executive Director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and the founder of Families for Justice as Healing. She’s also the author of “Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts on the Politics of Mass Incarceration”. She was a 2015 Soros Justice Fellow and a recipient of the 2016 RFK human rights award.
Our conversation is fascinating and sure to be of interest with anyone interested in just access.
For more on Andrea James’ work check out: https://www.andrea-james.com/about
To order Andrea James’ book: “Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts on the Politics of Mass Incarceration”, go to: https://www.amazon.com/Upper-Bunkies-Unite-Thoughts-Incarceration/dp/0988759306
For more on the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls for Justice Andrea James’ check out: https://www.nationalcouncil.us/
If you are interested in joining the work to end incarceration of women and girls go to: https://www.nationalcouncil.us/clemency-works
To donate to the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, go to: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/free-her
For more on the Free Her Institute Think tank, go to: https://www.freeherinstitute.com/ and purchase items that support the work of The National Council and ending incarceration of women and girls here.
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Episode 3 – Interview with Andrea James – National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls – Part 1
Dr. Miranda Melcher: [00:00:03] Hello, and welcome to Just Access! In this podcast series, we talk to some fascinating people: legal experts, academics, and human rights advocates; and we explore ideas about the future of human rights and improving access to justice for all.
I’m Dr. Miranda Melcher, a Senior Legal Fellow at Just Access, and in this episode I talk with Andrea James.
She is the founder and Executive Director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and the founder of Families for Justice as Healing. She’s also the author of “Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts on the Politics of Mass Incarceration”. She was a 2015 Soros Justice Fellow and a recipient of the 2016 RFK human rights award.
Our conversation is fascinating and sure to be of interest with anyone interested in just access.
Interview – Part 1
Dr. Miranda Melcher: [00:01:07] Well, Andrea, thank you so much for being with us. I’d love it if you could start us off telling us a bit about the fact that you are the founder of two incredibly significant organizations – the National Council for Incarcerated and Formally Incarcerated Women and Girls and Families for Justice as Healing.
You’ve had a long and fascinating career that has led you to found these two organizations amongst the massive amount of work that you’re doing on the topic. So I’m wondering if maybe to start us off, you could tell us a little bit about your journey.
Andrea James: [00:01:39] Well, thank you for inviting me! This is exciting, to be talking with you folks over at Just Access.
Andrea James: [00:01:45] I think that my journey started long before I was the founder of either of those organizations. I come from a very active family in the work around liberation and the work around education and the work around civil rights, and come from a number of firsts in my family: my grandmother was the first African American nurse to break the color barrier where we live in Boston, Massachusetts; my uncle was the first black tenured law professor at UCLA; my aunt was the first lead black woman pediatrician in LA county; my parents were both educators and researchers of people of African diaspora. And so we grew up just surrounded by people who were engaged in their own personal achievement, through education and wanting to stay connected to education and the wellbeing of community, but also were very active and engaged, from the civil rights movement forward and then upon my entanglement in the criminal legal system really shifted to supporting the work that we do to end the incarceration of women and girls. So, my story really starts there.
Andrea James: [00:03:14] I grew up in what is the most incarcerated corridor on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in a part of the city of Boston called Roxbury, which is predominantly African Americans and Latino and really a beautiful collective gentrification is setting in rapidly in that those demographics are changing.
Andrea James: [00:03:38] However, there is still a very poor and working class, a part of the neighborhood that exists that make it the most entangled community in the criminal legal system here in the Commonwealth. And then, I went to college, went to law school and became a lawyer, and practiced – cut my teeth even prior to graduating from law school. I worked at the Public Defender Agency, developing a project with its founders there called the Youth Advocacy Project (YAP), now the Youth Advocacy Division, that worked on addressing the needs of children involved in the criminal legal system. And then that led to YAP’s leadership developing a project called the Education Law Project because this huge percentage of children that became involved in the children’s system showed glaring red flags early on through school, through their academic practices and school work.
Andrea James: [00:04:44] So, I became a practicing attorney and primarily was a criminal defense attorney and trial lawyer. It’s what I aspired to be and why I went to law school and the only thing I really ever wanted to be since I was a young child, watching so many of my friends, older brothers mostly then, before they started this uptick in oppression and control of poor women through the criminal legal system – it was mostly men, when I was a child, and we would go to court and be in the courtrooms and everybody in the courtroom was white. Everybody! At that time our community was mostly all African American and you go into the courtroom and everybody was white: the judge was white, the prosecutor was white, the defense attorney was white, the team of people that supported all of the courthouse work were white, the police were all white. And I remember that very distinctly as shaping my decision to wanna do this work, thinking naively as a child that becoming a criminal defense attorney, that job could fix the system, not really understanding that it just gets indoctrinated and brought in and rolled into the system.
Andrea James: [00:05:57] So that’s really where my journey started. And then in my law practice, I made a mistake. I was a much younger woman at the time, I was very proud of my position in the community, I opened a law office – I could have done it anywhere, but I chose when I went into private practice to open my law office in my community of Roxbury, because I wanted the people in my neighborhood to have a space just as beautiful as if they went downtown, that was in their neighborhood, that had really good lawyers and were treated kindly, and were made to feel as if somebody cared about their dilemma. Most of my cases were criminal defense cases. I continued as a buyer advocate taking court reporting cases from the local district criminal courts and superior court, but also did other things. Most times grandmothers would come in with a bag of fruit – they had no money to pay me for that criminal case, but their grandson got arrested for selling marijuana or something, parked up the street or something, and so we opened our law office up to community organizing and we did gang truces and we did conflict resolution, anything we needed to do to be a part of the community as a law office.
Andrea James: [00:07:24] And I also was eventually wooed, and I loved it. But this was during the height of the predatory lending in the United States and it was like this ridiculous, crazy frenzy. It came as a result of years of work on the right to deregulate banking and during the two thousands and particularly 2006, 2007, 2008, there was this incredible, just outpouring of really criminal practices amongst real estate companies, amongst banks who provided mortgages and then this proliferation of mortgage companies that just came out of nowhere. Everybody seemed to be a mortgage broker, everybody seemed to have a mortgage license and they were pushing products. It’s almost like if you went into a grocery store and everything on the shelf was rotten and moldy, you know. There were just really bad practices, there was no regulation, everybody was engaged and involved. It wasn’t just these kind of third party, subprime mortgage lenders – they existed and they were everywhere, but it was also the big banks. They were just as responsible and participated in predatory lending.
Andrea James: [00:08:48] And so in my community, where my law office was we were already struggling under the oppression of all of the years of, you know, from slavery to mass incarceration, and now the one thing that held our community together, that was the glue, like where I’m sitting in my home office, speaking to you right now, is a house that’s been in my family for five generations, in Roxbury, Massachusetts. We all grew up here, my parents grew up here, we grew up here, my children grew up here, my grandchildren have grown up in this house. So, you know, home ownership was the one thing that helped to hold black families together, but also helped us to build wealth where we could rely upon some sort of lending to send our kids to college or whatever.
Andrea James: [00:09:39] And so it meant everything and it was also so much part of our culture. And we have these big, huge houses in the city of Boston, no matter what the community is – Dorchester, Roxbury, you know, we have big houses that are two or three family houses, and they’re literally resided in by the generations, in those houses, in those families. So it means a lot, not just if somebody’s home is foreclosed on, you’re not just talking about, oh, well, somebody did something and lost their home. You’re literally talking about the foundation for a family for generations.
Andrea James: [00:10:18] And so that happened in my community and I made some poor choices, initially in trying to assist a few families in stopping a foreclosure on their house. I controlled millions of dollars of bank money. I was a closing attorney in Massachusetts where I live. You know, in some states in the United States, there’s title closing companies, some states are attorney closing, meaning the attorney controls everything from opening the file to closing and all of the money to be dispersed where it needs to go comes through the law lawyer’s office through their IOLTA account.
Andrea James: [00:10:57] Well, I made a mistake and then I was afraid. I wasn’t as emotionally intelligent as I am today, I didn’t really quite understand that term, although my uncle told me when I started law school I needed to understand emotional intelligence and it was more important than anything I’d learned out of my law school textbook, but I really didn’t understand it. And so when I got in trouble, I was afraid to tell anyone and I started to use money from the client bank IOLTA account saying: “I’m gonna fix this! I’m gonna fix this! I’m gonna get it right!” and then I’m gonna fix whatever, moving around of money, and that’s like the kiss of death as a lawyer.
Andrea James: [00:11:38] That’s hugely irresponsible and fiscally irresponsible and I take full responsibility for that. But I also wanna raise the issue of the need for particularly young lawyers, who are coming out of a tradition where you may be the first or second or nobody in your family has reached that height, where we don’t have enough real guidance. Outside of my uncle, who wasn’t working in the areas that I worked in, although he was a great mentor to me overall, I didn’t have those folks that I could reach out to when I felt that I had crossed the line or I was in trouble. And every lawyer does it at some time or another. It may not be some financial malfeasance, but it is something. You make mistakes.
Andrea James: [00:12:22] And there’s an old boy network still in the field of law and a lot of the times I would go to these, kind of bastions of white guys who, you know, socialize together and supported each other and would kind of try and fit in, but never received that kind of support where I felt like, oh yeah, I could go there and confide in somebody and help to get redirected, get put back on the path, which happens all the time in the field of law.
Andrea James: [00:12:51] I’m sure other professions like that might experience it as well. So, you know, I tried to fix this on my own and only made it worse. And one day I just said, once you touch the IOLTA account there’s no putting it back. You know, there’s just no making that right. And there’s also an internal struggle that you go through when you realize that you have really done something that you should not have done, and that you’re in this struggle now of ego, embarrassment, not knowing where to go for help where somebody’s not going to judge you and make it worse, but they’re gonna actually support you, whether it’s in making it right, which was the only thing that I could do, to make it right, and to go and tell one of my dear friends Joshewa Dowen at the Youth Advocacy Project at Raspberry Offenders: “Josh, I made a huge mistake and I’m really in a lot of trouble right now”. And, I was, you know, supported by Josh and some other folks unconditionally, which helped me to just disclose what I had done.
Andrea James: [00:13:57] And I have to be honest, I just did not understand that it rose to the level or should have risen to the level of incarceration. And I was becoming an abolitionist then, hadn’t really the language for that yet like we talk about abolition, I’m going back to 2007, you know. We weren’t talking about abolition in that manner at that time, but the actions that we were doing and the alternatives that we were building and the work that we were doing in talking to judges in the way that we were defending our clients in the criminal cases, that was a very early beginning stage of abolition. We just didn’t have the language for it until really Mary and Coba and Andrea Ritchie started to teach us, this is abolition! This is how we do it! This is how we get ourselves free from these systems that only cause further harm.
Andrea James: [00:14:54] So, you know, that’s what happened. And I took another two years to figure out what to do with me and I had misappropriated a million dollars of money that belonged in the IOLTA account and I was gonna be sent to prison. That was the determination that was made. I was, you know, pregnant with my last child – I actually went to prison when he was five months old. I didn’t come home till six days after his second birthday. We still had a young daughter at the time who was 12 when I went to prison and we had two young adult daughters at the time as well. So it was incredibly traumatic. It was gut wrenching. But I had to survive.
Andrea James: [00:15:43] I was sentenced to a federal prison. There were no federal prisons in my state for women, thank God, but I had to be sent to Connecticut, which was two states over from me. It was a four hour drive there and back for my husband, you know, at the crack of dawn with a brand new baby and a 12 year old and whoever else wanted to come up to visit. Visits were not every day. They were, you know, one day a week on the weekends. It was a lot for us. But I had to figure it out. I was sentenced to serve 24 months and my sentence was for wire fraud.
Andrea James: [00:16:15] And we were starting to see everything unraveled by that time and banks were talking about getting bailed out and families had just been decimated – entire blocks in our community with these big three family homes were shuttered. You know, the banks were refusing to help the families out. They were just taking the properties and selling them to developers who were breaking them down into condominiums. Just watching all this, it was very, very difficult and challenging time in my life.
Andrea James: [00:16:43] And then I went to prison. I entered the federal prison in January of 2010 and I knew everything that I was going to encounter, but I’m gotta tell you there’s nothing like that experience of actually going and living in a prison and into a women’s prison.
Andrea James: [00:17:07] It was a kick in the gut. It was just… I was stunned! I knew all of this, I was a criminal defense attorney. I lived in the most incarcerated corridor in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Most of my friends did not fair as well as I did in life in terms of access to education and going to law school and becoming a lawyer. They went to prison early. By the time we were teenagers had started getting into encounters with the police and with these places they call juvenile prisons – I call them baby jails, that’s what they are. But, I was in a prison trying to navigate, learn how to navigate getting through that experience.
Andrea James: [00:17:57] Having just had a baby, going through that guilt and shame and postpartum depression to being on a bunk and seeing the sea of women – there were 1800 women in that prison at that time and I was in a section called the prison camp, which was the lowest security section, and there were 200 of us crammed in a space that was built for the Watergate eight.
Andrea James: [00:18:21] And so you knew everything that was happening in these women’s lives. You got to know the women, you got to listen to the phone calls, to the gut wrenching sobbs at three o’clock in the morning, where women just could not hold it together another minute, just sick with pain over the separation from their children. There’s nothing like hearing a woman sobbing at 3:00 AM in a prison. Women would literally be mopping the floors as part of their jobs and just, you know, fall to their knees, or we’d be in the chow hall eating and women would just break down at the tables because they just could not stand another moment of not being able to hold their children, to tell their children how much they loved them.
Andrea James: [00:19:13] And I was kind of lucky cuz I was only two states away. Women were from all over the country: from Houston, from Compton, from Denver, anywhere black, brown and poor, you know, that’s who was crammed into that prison, poor poor women, predominantly black. Most of them were not lawyers and doctors. There were four of us in the prison at the time – another lawyer and two doctors. Women were there predominantly for drug transgressions. The United States has an absolutely horrible criminal legal structure to it. Most of it has grown out of the 1994 Crime Act and attached to that is also this horrible other act, the Adoption Safe Family Act, that all were part of the Clinton administration, that says if you are absent from your children’s lives for 15 out of 24 months, the state must initiate adoption proceedings of your children.
Andrea James: [00:20:21] Now, women in federal prison, many of them who have an elementary school education, aren’t aware of how to navigate a family court system in the state that is 2000 miles away from where they’re in a prison. And so, because of these things, they’re in prison for selling drugs, they got this really bad draconian sentence as mandated under these mandatory minimum sentences and guideline sentences in the federal system.
Andrea James: [00:20:57] And now they’re losing custody of children, who they were the primary caretakers of, who they loved with all of their life, who they were good parents to, prior to their incarceration. And they knew nothing about it until they got a letter and they would bring it to me on my bunk or in the fake law library, because there was nothing really, but Sydney Sheldon novels in it and, you know, say, what does this mean? What does this mean? I’ve lost custody of my children.
Andrea James: [00:21:28] And so that was the heaviness that we lived in. There’s a heaviness in women’s prisons. And I literally had to figure out how do I navigate 24 months until I can get back and get out of this prison and back to my family, my husband, who was holding all of this together at home.
Andrea James: [00:21:48] And these women had been in prison already for 10, 15, 20 years. Some of them weren’t coming home ever for a drug conviction. And most of them were for conspiracy, which is a whole other thing we don’t talk about. We have this survey in the federal system that we’ve been doing for past three or four years now. You know, how many women were in prison for conspiracy? Because but for conspiracy, you could not justify the indictment, the prosecution, the sentencing, and the incarceration of these women. But for conspiracy, but attaching them and these very small pieces, or dating somebody further up the chain, or, you know, holding drugs to make some money to purchase baby Pampers or to help them pay their rent every month, just really ridiculous things.
Andrea James: [00:22:56] And then being swept up in this conspiracy they’re getting the sentence that everybody else is getting. There were very few women in that prison when we started to ask these questions for the purpose of organizing ourselves that were in that prison at Danbury, Connecticut, and we found out across the country now in this survey we’ve done years later, that aren’t there just directly for, but for conspiracy.
Dr. Miranda Melcher: [00:23:34] I think that’s a really important point, so I’m really glad you’ve mentioned that. And thank you of course, for sharing your story. I’m glad you explained as well, the context of it, because I’m sure there is kind of a one sentence version of this is what happened to me and how I ended up in this place, but that context is really important. Just like the context of women being in prison on conspiracy charges. That’s not the same thing as being in prison for other kinds of charges or for other related charges. So, just in that one story that you shared with us, the importance of context and importance of understanding all of the things around the kind of official letter of the law, becomes really clear that that’s what we really need to be understanding. So thank you so much for sharing that with us.
Andrea James: [00:23:44] And I’d love to kind of pick up on a few of the things that you mentioned and maybe ask you in a little bit more detail, because obviously some of the things that you’ve described that are so challenging within the incarcerated environment are challenging, I would imagine, for both men and women, right? The idea of being away from your family, being far away from the same state that you know how to have a case in and trying to navigate those different systems, difficulty visiting, obviously the living conditions are not ideal for men or women.
Andrea James: [00:24:15] But there are some aspects that sound like are particularly gendered in some way. Right? Obviously postpartum depression is a process that happens to the person who is giving birth to the child, right? In a lot of senses. And I was wondering if given that, when we talk about incarceration, as you said in your early law practice, we do generally often think of it in terms of men, in terms of boys. Are there particular things about being a woman in prison or women within the incarceration system that maybe are specific to that experience that we should be more aware of and you can help us understand?
Andrea James:[00:24:55] Yeah, well, I’d go back for one to just mention again, the separation of mothers from their children. 85% of currently incarcerated women, whether it’s in a county jail, a state prison, or a federal prison, were the primary caretakers of their children prior to their incarceration. So they were literally there one day, gone the next and the trauma for children of separation of their mothers in particular is just, it’s heartbreaking and it causes that generational entanglement in the criminal legal system. But, I would say that for one, because the numbers are so high. Mothers were the ones caring for their children prior to their incarceration, amongst incarceration populations. Right? And so, it doesn’t mean that fathers, my husband is a formerly incarcerated man and was a better father than I could have ever been a good mother, I always say, so it’s not that men aren’t good dads and aren’t still affected by the separation of their children. Certainly they are, if they were in the lives of their children.
Andrea James: [00:26:03] But the fact remains that moms who are currently incarcerated, upwards of 85% and more, were actually every day heads of households managing the lives of themselves and their children: getting them to school, feeding them, coming home, caring for them, making the money that was putting the food on the table. So that’s significant in terms of women.
Andrea James: [00:26:26] The other thing is that the conditions of confinement aren’t just the physical plant itself, the physical building itself. There are things that women need, have needs for – feminine hygiene is one of them. It’s a longstanding, you know, struggle that we’ve been in to make sure that even in the most rural county jail, somewhere, that women have access to feminine hygiene products, to tampons, to feminine pads and to appropriate ones, you know, that address the needs of women as we’re all different in our needs around those issues.
Andrea James: [00:27:04] There’s hormone medicine that transgender sisters need that they just do not have access to. Other health concerns around being transgender – whether you can be transgender and come in to be allowed into a women’s prison. So there’s that aspect. There’s rape in prison, there’s sexual violence. There’s taking advantage of women. There’s no consensual relationship with an incarcerated woman in a prison. It just does not exist. And so we know, those of us who live in prison, we know all of the things that prison gards do to entice women, to use women, to rape women. That’s a significant issue. It’s not an anomaly. It’s not something that every now and then there’s some prison like, oh, this happened in this prison. No, it happens every single day – sexual violence against women in prisons.
Andrea James: [00:28:01] It happens to men as well. It just happens in prisons. I don’t wanna make a difference because it’s just as horrific and harmful to men, who are raped and mistreated and sexually abused in prison as it is with women. It happens amongst the incarcerated population and in women’s prisons it happens mostly by prison gards. So there’s that whole aspect.
Andrea James: [00:28:27] And now because of the Dobbs decision here in the United States and the rollback of Roe V Wade, I mean, to think that you were even going to be able to get access to an abortion in red states or any state, if you’re pregnant, particularly if you get pregnant by a prison guard, that is completely off the table in this country, depending on where you are incarcerated now. And that is something becoming pregnant in a prison, or coming into a prison pregnant, where women will go months without prenatal care. It takes you months to even be able to get your first physical and they’re only doing that to make sure you didn’t have HIV aids. When I was in prison, that was the thing, you know, that’s what they tested you for. And it took you months. I mean, I was in prison for almost six months before I started to go into the routine that they put you through to get a medical appointment.
Andrea James: [00:29:23] There’s all kinds of issues around postmenopause that are not addressed that cause women to have a much more difficult time during their incarceration. There’s all these aspects that are gendered, that require us to think differently. And we were women. The other thing about this is that the voices about creating change were dominated by men and academia and scientists.
Andrea James: [00:29:56] So when I was in prison, it was 2010 and there was this uptick in dialogue happening in the country. And it was mostly because of a book, two books, really. One, Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow” was published and it gave this incredible chronology from slavery to mass incarceration and how intentionally state and federal policies were created, targeted on the backs of poor black people in this country and how it just grew like this beast, this insatiable machine to the point that anybody who gets entangled in the criminal legal system now is caught up in this carceral system that we have. But in 2010, Michelle Alexander, by writing this all out chronologically, all of these things that we hadn’t really seen laid out like that before, it got the interest of the general public about the issue of what’s going on with criminal justice reform and so forth and brought in a whole lot more people into the discussion.
Andrea James: [00:30:59] We heard nothing about women. We heard nothing. We barely heard formerly incarcerated men who were outside, if they were brought onto a panel, or to bring their expertise into the space, they were brought on like we’re the experts, but you’re just gonna tell us all about all the messy, ugly parts of your life. Right? And so retraumatizing us over and over and over again. And we were saying, but no, we are the experts. We are the experts that you need to be supporting with all of your fancy well education and research and research dollars and study, and knowing how to do a study, you know, in academia. And we are the experts.We need to tell you what we need and you need to get behind us and support us because we know actually what this is like, what are all the inroads into it long before we landed on a prison bunk. So, that’s another thing, they weren’t really connecting those dots. They were just starting from the place of, oh, you did something and you’re going to prison. And now what?
Andrea James: [00:31:59] So, um, we knew we were sitting in a prison and our dear comrade, she wasn’t in the prison with us, she had gone through prison and come out years before that, but our dear comarade was Piper Carmen. And Piper told a very specific story about her life as an incarcerated woman and what she saw and experienced and that of course turned into this whole “Orange is a New Black” and Piper will tell you herself, you know, I wrote a book, you know, read my book. But we didn’t hear anything really about women on the side of what does different look like? What else can we be doing? So we decided in the prison, you know, we’re gonna organize ourselves.
Andrea James: [00:32:40] So we started organizing in the prison and then I was tasked with bringing that work out with me. And we actually started Families for Justice as Healing in the prison. The National Council came later, but the organization that we started and we named in the prison was Families for Justice as Healing. And I live in Boston, Massachusetts, so that’s where I brought the work. The women gave me a mandate. Take this work out with you and help us to get our voices heard.
Andrea James: [00:33:40] And we actually started Families for Justice as Healing in the prison. The National Council came later, but the organization that we started and we named in the prison was Families for Justice as Healing. And I live in Boston, Massachusetts, so that’s where I brought the work. The women gave me a mandate. Take this work out with you and help us to get our voices heard.
Andrea James: [00:33:09] And I did. I mean, we worked out of the trunk of my car for years. You know, we just didn’t have any money, we didn’t have any space. Now, F Joe, which is what we call Families for Justice as Healing, is the leading abolitionist organization that does work specifically in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and it contributed to ending the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women and making sure that that is adhered to pass the primary caretaker legislation. Just recently, worked very hard to derail a $50 million new women’s prison and then built up a whole hyperlocal organizing model called reimagining communities, and then pushed a jail prison construction moratorium bill, all the way to our governor’s desk. He vetoed it recently and now we’re fighting for the special session.
Andrea James: [00:33:53 ] So F just shares our headquarters. The National Council is also here and we share office space, but the National Council wasn’t rocket science. We were women in a federal prison. That means we were women from all over the country and many women from outside of the country. And so we knew that everybody wasn’t gonna move to Roxbury to continue our work and we had a really solid organization growing that was working specifically on issues in Massachusetts. So we knew it was time around 2015. We started to think about it and to organize. And then I got a Soros Justice Fellowship to create the National Council, which was this network, initially just this network of formerly incarcerated women to connect around the country, and then that grew into the work we do today.
Dr. Miranda Melcher: [00:34:48] Wonderful.
Andrea James: [00:34:49] So, that was all because, just to finish connecting my last dot, it was necessary to have a gender analysis. And Angela Davis, we got an opportunity to speak to her and ask her this question, cuz we were stunned when we came out and said, we work to end the incarceration of women and girls, which we created in the prison. We never changed that from back in 2010, when we were sitting at the table in the yard in the prison talking and organizing ourselves, that was our goal. We didn’t know how we were gonna do it and we have never wavered from that.
Andrea James: [00:36:16] But when we came out and started talking about it, we were under attack by people in the criminal justice reform space and people who were even in the abolitionist, this burgeoning abolitionist space, who were like what about the men? You know, we need to free her, and we have this mantra – we say “free her!” – now that’s known all over the world, but then came along “free them all!”. And we were pushed back on just focusing on women. But we were like, we are women! We identify as women and everything we do policywise and so forth affects everybody – they’re gender neutral in that respect, but the work that we do is to put a laser sharp focus on ending incarceration of women and girls, whoever identifies as such. And also, the protection and decarceration and conditions of confinement for our gender nonconforming family, you know, anybody who’s not cis white male. So we do, we still hold that space and we exist and that’s how we identify and we know that there’s a need because we were those women in that prison, our issues were not being addressed.
Dr. Miranda Melcher: [00:36:30] Well, thank you for expanding on that, because I think it is really true that the issues are not being addressed and there are these conversations and there was that kind of question of, wait, hang on a second, what about the women? What about the girls? And so to hear of the work that you are doing, I mean, obviously that’s why we’re so interested in hearing your story and hearing about your work.
Dr. Miranda Melcher: [00:36:48] In our next episode, we’ll delve more into Andrea’s recommendations on preventing the incarceration of women and girls in the first place, as well as her suggestions for how aspiring human rights defenders can support this kind of work.