“Strip down, inmate!”
“Face to the wall, inmate!”
“To your cell, inmate!”
It never leaves you, the scorching effect of the word inmate, the dehumanizing way it’s shoved in your face, how it follows you in your everyday thoughts and echoes in your dreams. A label designed to deprive you of humanity, to strip you of your most basic human identity: a simple name.
The day they return your civilian clothes and hand over your personal belongings, months or years after being shackled behind bars, it feels almost surreal.
You step outside the gate, take that first breath of free air, ready to shed the old inmate skin, to be a person, a human, once again.
Little do you know, that when the world took your humanity away, it was not ready to easily hand it back. You discover that labels are merely switched, and that you erase the inmate mark, only to have ex-convict branded on your forehead.
You leave prison, but prison does not leave you.
Under the US criminal justice system, you are subject to a series of abuses, racism and police brutality based on your color and ethnicity, which accompany you until you land in prison, that is if you are not already shot dead before. Throughout your journey in prison, these screaming violations only intensify, until you realize that this nightmare is endless, that you are now “ex-convict” for the rest of your life with all the horrid discrimination the label entails.
More and more formerly incarcerated people (FIP) have stopped succumbing to this status quo, and communities of leaders and organizers started forming and mobilizing others to take a stand and work towards change.
This is where the FICPFM Fellowship steps in.
Pictures from FICPFM organizers and their campaigns in 2020 & 2021
About the FICPFM Fellowship
The fellowship is a program designed and led by the Leading Change Network (LCN), and was funded for two years by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) to support the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People & Families Movement (FICPFM).
As one of the participants, Ronald Simpson-Bey, puts it:
“The FICPFM Fellowship builds on the concept that those who are closer to the problem are closer to the solution.”
The “Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People & Families Movement” Fellowship is designed to build the power of all the organizers standing for this value, the leaders aiming to embrace and guide those torn between giving up and speaking up, eager to fight for something, yet filled with inhibition as they look around them and feel isolated and alone. Through creating that community of leaders who can coach other leaders, a pipeline of internally-developed and nurtured leadership emerges within the FIP community itself.
The FICPFM Fellowship is centered around an essential message to formerly incarcerated people: you are worthy, you are not alone, and not only do you deserve a solution, but you can be the solution.
This yearning to be treated as a human, to be accepted and respected, is one that fades as the fellows find unconditional love and understanding, as one of our fellows puts it:
“…[to] see people who look like me and have a space to express that frustration, that anger…But to be able to embrace that where I’m working at a predominantly all-white nonprofit, I can’t say that to them. But, on Thursday, I know at one o’clock, I can say, ‘Hey, this is how I’m feeling,’ and be embraced.”
The fellowship is a two-phase certified online program for system impacted people, aimed to equip participants with leadership skills and the capacity to respond with agency to rise up and challenge the criminal justice system.
In Phase I, participants go through a six-week online fellowship to learn how to organize more effectively and to build power to transform the Criminal Justice System.
From Phase I, the top performers are selected to continue to dig deeper in their organizing practices for an additional training program, Phase II. In this second phase, the participants start an intensive Training for Trainers online program, to develop a deeper understanding of the content and pedagogy, that leads to building and maximizing their leadership capacity in order to effectively coach and train new leaders on the ground.
The fellowship phases have clear objectives to produce the following outcomes:
- Build the power of formerly incarcerated people;
- Win local, state, and national campaigns to transform the criminal justice system;
- Develop leadership skills to effectively organize online and offline;
- Strengthen collaboration, strategizing, and coordination across groups;
- Grow local chapters and membership; and
- Develop a cohort of trainers to train and coach formerly incarcerated people.
But it’s not all sentimentalities and emotions; numbers and on-ground accomplishments undoubtedly further prove the amazing impact the fellowship has.
In 2020, 76 brilliant fellows, leaders, and organizers from the formerly incarcerated people joined Phase I, leaving with testimonies of having achieved the aforementioned program objectives and outcomes. 12 of those participants were selected to move on to Phase II, undergoing the intensive training that honed their training skills and prepared them to coach others on leadership and organizing.
Last year, a second cycle of the fellowship was launched with a total of 69 participants for the first phase, and 15 coaches-in-training that were invited and completed the second phase.
During 2021, LCN has also founded two initiatives with the help of our coaches and alumni, to further support the cause: the Community of Practice (CoP), and The Underground.
The Community of Practice, was an open-to-public event that has a main objective to support in-depth understanding of the leadership practices. The topics were based on a listening drive with community leaders, that helped us hear what they believed are the skills needed by their community in order to continue supporting the movement. Through this five-part series, we explored relevant topics for the community such as Trauma-Informed Leadership, Racial Justice in Leadership & Organizing, Running Legislative Campaigns, Strategy, Framing & Messaging for Racial Justice, and Building Leadership Teams.
The Underground was a coaching clinic that spanned for three months to support Phase II 2020 participants, to continue developing their training skills, and invite them to join as part of the coaching team of the FICPFM Organizer Training Fellowship in 2021 as shadow coaches.
The aim of this program is for LCN ultimately to not be needed at all when it comes to training and coaching FIP campaigns in the US. We want to make sure that we have enough qualified and equipped trainers and coaches within FICPFM for them to run their own workshops and win campaigns.
The type of impact that FICPFM fellowship has can be witnessed in the words of fellows whose lives changed because of the fellowship, fellows whose agency was truly enabled, and who left the fellowship empowered and energized to change. As a fellow says:
“First learning that a person that’s been labeled a drug addict or a felon or any of these nasty labels learning that we have the power to do something about it. I think was one of the biggest things for me…I think it’s the power of being in rooms with people, with other leaders and learning we can make a change.”
Other fellows felt a warm sense of belonging and family to the vibrant culture that is built on wonderous vulnerability and interconnectedness.
This culture is embodied in the words of one of our astounding fellows:
“When I heard the coaches speak and I heard their stories and I saw what they had to share, I felt like wow, that’s deep…they’re really in this because they have a passion and they’ve been through some things in life, that kind of opened me up and it made me see things, it brought that fear down for me and then I just started to open up more, and I shared my story for the first time in that training.”
This has been such a powerful learning journey, and we know this is only the beginning. We are hopeful and excited to see leaders from the FIP community continue to take action to reform the criminal justice system.
This work wouldn’t have been possible without a dream team across all phases thanks to: Abel Cano | Ana Babovic | Anita Krishnan | Andrea Ornelas | Anjali Rodrigues | Bridget Cervelli | Charlotte Garnes | Greg Whittington | James Sleep | Jeff Roussset | Jeremiah Nelson | Juman Abu Jbaara | Kai Mateo | Kortni Malone | Maggie Hughes | Mais Irqsusi | Mariana Garza | Marissa Ocampo | Miya Cain | Natasha Soto | Nneka Akubeze | Quiana Malone | R. Akwese Nkemontoh | Rosario Molina | Sachiko Osawa | Sadie Dean | Samuel Gonzalez | Sarah ElRaheb | Steve Huerta | Tommy Morris |