Free Her Rally – June 21, 2014

Last weekend I was charged with being the M.C. of the Free Her rally. This rally was organized by Andrea James of Boston Massachusetts in an effort to raise awareness around women and the criminal justice system.

Even though women are the fastest growing group of people becoming incarcerated they remain marginalized. Let’s face it, when one thinks of prison and reentry, men are the first people that

come to mind. At the Free Her rally there were a host of formerly incarcerated women who are now advocates for women in prison.

Related: Family reunification

Some of the advocates are authors, professors and social workers who are making a huge difference in the community. It was a blessing to be in the midst of such phenomenal women as Susan Rosenburg, Starlene Patterson, Dorothy Gaines, Karen Garrison, and more.

The theme of the rally was incarceration, but family reunification was a foremost topic. One gentleman wore a shirt that simply read, “Stop separating families.”

It was striking to hear the women speak so profoundly about the tragic separation endured by them and their families. It was heartbreaking to learn about the struggle to rebuild.

There were not many people at the rally, but as I told the audience when I opened, “It’s not about the quantity, but the quality of the people present.”

I was torn between celebrating as I reconnected with women I served decades with in prison and being attentive to my responsibilities as M.C. It was a challenge to be in position at the stage after each speaker and prepare to call the next presenter.

The best part of that job was being able to embrace my sisters from all nationalities who came from cities across the U.S. to stand in solidarity on behalf of the women we left behind.

Many of the women currently incarcerated are serving time that does not fit the crime. The Free Her rally was an opportunity for formerly incarcerated to raise their voices.

One woman in particular was serving 13 Life Sentences as a result of conspiracy charges incurred while she was involved in a relationship with a drug dealer.

Another woman, Kemba Smith, had a very high profile case due to extensive media coverage when she was sentenced to 19 years as a result of mandatory minimum guidelines and conspiracy laws.

According to Kemba, she was in college living on campus when she met and fell in love with an over possessive, abusive, drug dealer. She gave birth to their son while incarcerated.

The Free Her rally was an opportunity for formerly incarcerated like Kemba to raise their voices and be heard. I speak for all of us when I say we dreamed of moments like those when we were incarcerated.

The Free Her rally was a reunion indeed. Leaving behind women who are serving long prison terms is tough and just for a day the Free Her rally enabled us to stand in solidarity with them and on behalf of them.

I speak for all of us when I say we dreamed of moments like those when we were incarcerated. The Free Her rally was a reunion, indeed.

You may be interested in: More stories about women

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About Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

Lashonia Etheridge-Bey is a Public Speaker who can candidly and articulately speak to the consequences of youth violence, the effects of incarceration and the challenges of reentry into society. Read Lashonia's Full BIO Here 


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