Revolution Messaging is honored to have helped Wayne Kramer and Jail Guitar Doors in their fight for much needed prison reform. You can help the cause too! Read Wayne Kramer’s latest blog post below.
Citizen Wayne Returns to Washington
By Wayne Kramer,
It took me a second to realize that the hallway I was passing through was the one that leads down to the real-life Situation Room. The Situation Room — where the President and his closest advisors meet when an actual state of emergency happens. I’d seen it on the news and in the movies, as we all have, but reality sometimes takes a second look to sink in.
I was in the good company of Revolution Messaging’s Scott Goodstein and Arun Chaudhary as well as our White House acquaintance Mike O’Neil. Arun had worked in the White House as Obama’s official videographer and knew many of the people we passed in those halls.
Needless to say, there’s something special about the place. It isn’t every day I pass Presidential Advisor Valerie Jarrett in the hall and she stops to say “Hi” to my friends and me.
My first meeting of the day was with Tonya Robinson, Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy. Tonya was kind and professional. She was also sympathetic to my argument that we are suffering through the greatest failure of domestic policy in America’s history: Mass Incarceration.
I get it. Our President has a full plate. Tonya mentioned their work on some re-entry initiatives, but IMHO, this is nowhere near enough involvement from their team. We agreed to keep the channel open. This is where We The People comes into the equation. It’s up to us, regular folk, citizens, to make this an issue that the White House cannot ignore. Pressure needs to be applied on President Obama for Justice Reform.
Someone who is in the fight for real is Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA). Getting an opportunity to sit down with the Senator, as well as his Chief of Staff Trevor Moe and Webb’s National Criminal Justice Commission Act point man Doug Ierley was a terrific experience. I have met with Moe and Ierley on a couple of other occasions, but this was my first meeting with Jim Webb.
The Senator is a no-bullshit guy and we went straight into the nuts and bolts of getting his National Criminal Justice Commission Act passed into law. A run at getting it passed last year was close. It made it through the House and we only missed the Senate by three votes.
We talked at length about making another run at it this year and I will have more to say on how you can help in the weeks and months ahead.
Webb is a unique individual in Washington. He is actually a public servant, doing the best he can to uphold the principles that make America the great experiment in democracy, small “d”, it is. I believe the reason he is not running is that he will not suck-up to big moneyed interests to finance his re-election.
The man is a combat decorated Marine and he doesn’t play games. You may remember him as the Senator that refused to shake then-President Bush’s hand because of his disingenuousness in steering the country into the Iraq War.
How many US Congressional representatives do you think have ex-offenders on their staff? One does: Sen. Jim Webb. Barrett Kinsella is an immigration caseworker in Webb’s office and a musician, so we connected immediately. If we had more people in government like him and his boss, America might actually approach its noble ideals. Senator Webb was generous with his time and answered every question I presented. I thanked him — from my personal perspective as an ex-offender — for championing prison and justice reform. It was also important to me to be able to tell him that I consider his efforts inspirational.
Then, at a lunch date soon after, the unexpected occurred. My friend Mike Lux and I were talking about JGD’s mission and the fact that the political Right are in support of the very same reform vis-à-vis Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist’s Right On Crime, when Mike noticed Grover actually sitting at the table behind us. Seize the time! We stopped Grover on his way out and Lux introduced us, mentioning the fact that I was in D.C. lobbying for prison reform. Grover warmed up immediately and gave me his contact info, remarking that he has done some work on the issue and was willing to talk further about it, and we are.
This is the reality of political life. It’s easy to sit back and call people names from the comfort and safety of your living room couch. It’s easy to have strong opinions about who’s right and who’s not. But getting something done in Washington means coalition building. It means organizing everyone you can who agrees with your cause to help you in whatever way possible. We are in a time of unprecedented political polarization and unless we can find a meeting point on the issues that matter, communication will only degenerate further.
I may disagree with much of what the Right thinks and does, but I will partner up with anyone to help prisoners if the result is changing an immoral criminal justice system into one that is truly fair for all people, whatever the motivation.
Then we headed over to Capitol Hill for a meeting with Congressman Bobby Scott. He’s got it right. His Youth PROMISE Act would enable local communities to put evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies into practice to reduce the number of youth incarcerated. My meeting with Bobby was actually outside the Congressional Chamber.
It was hard to stay focused with Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank bumping into me while John Kerry and staff members elbowed their way down the hall. But talk we did and Rep. Scott is a force to be reckoned with in Congress and he’s in it for the long haul. I’m happy to report that he not only understands what’s at stake, but plans to battle against the unbelievable injustices that occur on a daily basis as a result of our country’s one-sided sentencing policies.
I believe the Youth Promise act is a vital component of justice reform and I will be talking more about it as we move forward. I just want to mention how much I enjoyed talking with his fantastic staff members Ilana Brunner and, in particular, Ron LeGrand. Ron has a background in federal law enforcement and was a federal prosecutor who knows what’s right and what’s wrong with the system from the inside out.
I truly appreciate it when folks from such diametrically opposing perspectives and backgrounds can connect meaningfully to work together for positive change. Some of my experiences in JGD have put me into contact with people that, in another life, I would have never known but that today I can count as friends and comrades. This might have seemed impossible in the past. There is something to the principle of keeping an open mind, and to working for goal bigger and beyond yourself.
The next day’s meeting with Dr. Niaz Kasravi, Director of the Criminal Justice Department of the NAACP, was excellent with a vigorous discussion about the ways we can partner on furthering our respective missions. The NAACP has taken a real and meaningful stand on mass incarceration and the racial indifference that has created a justice system that incarcerates people of color and limited economic means at a rate ten times that of other racial/ethnic groups. See Drug War Facts: Race and Prison. They agree with us that mass incarceration is both a civil and human rights issue. I’m looking forward to a long and productive relationship with Niaz and the NAACP.
The next day I flew to my hometown Detroit to deliver a “keynote speech” to the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) on the subject of Art and Activism. I always make an effort to open the rooms for questions and the Q&A portion of the event was lively. Detroit is making a strong effort to find its footing after the economic disaster it’s suffered through, reminding me that Detroiters are nothing if not resilient. I even had time to take a walk down to the Detroit River and stop for a real Coney Island hot dog with the works.
Back in Los Angeles now and returned to the daily work of surviving in America, fighting the power, and rocking out.