Families of those incarcerated are expected to rally Tuesday morning in hopes of securing clemency for their loved ones, amNewYork Metro has learned.
With the holiday season rapidly approaching, many New Yorkers are planning on how they will be spending the social occasions just over the horizon with friends and family. However, for those who have husbands and wives, sons and fathers, daughters and mothers behind bars, the time will be less than commemorative. Still, those in the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) community tell amNewYork Metro they are fighting for clemency and parole justice in order to make sure this New Year will be one worth celebrating.
Set to occur in Foley Square at 11 a.m. on Nov. 23, the rally will be taking place with several other concurrent demonstrations in Long Island and Albany, each requesting the Governor and state lawmakers pass the Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole bills (which are supported by more than 300 organizations across New York State).
According to advocates for incarcerated individuals, Governor Kathy Hochul has not granted any clemencies as of yet, but they report that by the end of Jan. 2020 former Governor Andrew Cuomo received 6,405 applications for clemency over the course of four years and only granted 21 sentence commutations. Those joining the rally say that there is severe parole injustice in New York City, and that the aging and dying crisis in New York prisons are due to extreme sentencing and blanket denials of parole releases.
The Elder Parole bill, sponsored by Senator Brad Holyman, specifies that any person 55 or older who has served at 15 years of a sentence are given the opportunity to interview with the Board of Parole to determine if they should be released (within 60 days of their 55th birthday or the last 15th year of their sentence, whichever is later.) Additionally, the bill states that if a release is not granted, they may have a subsequent parole interview 24 months later. The Board of Parole will also be required to provide quarterly reports for the Governor’s office, legislatures, and the public on elder parole outcomes.
The second bill, Fair & Timely Parole bill, sponsored by Senator Gustavo Rivera, makes amendments to the existing parole law, which would require parole to be offered to incarcerated individuals if eligible, unless they pose a current or unreasonable risk that cannot be handled by parole supervision. This act underscores the current stigma often placed on incarcerated individuals who’ve committed low level crimes or a violent crime over 25 years ago, or a high profile case that they feel would “deprecate the seriousness of the crime,” despite the individual being fully rehabilitated with excellent prison records. It allows for more meaningful parole reviews for incarcerated individuals who are already eligible for release.
The passage of these bills is something Janette Colon says she lives for day after day, in hopes she will be afforded an opportunity to lead a normal life. Her husband, José Colon, has been in prison since he was 17 years old for a botched robbery that left two dead. Janette attributes her husband’s past mistake as a teen being manipulated by peer pressure from the “wrong crowd.” Since serving some two decades behind bars in the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Janette says her husband has dedicated his life to preventing other at risk teens from falling into the same traps as he did.
“The key here is the trauma. He is the only one in his family who has ever been to prison,” Janette explained, “He said that he is sure there are a lot of young adults and even teenagers that are going through some crisis and they don’t have a platform and they don’t have anywhere to go. He wants to create a safe haven for them so they don’t make the same mistake.”
With Jose being forced to literally grow into a man inside the prison system, Janette says she has seen him change as a person, take college courses, become educated, and even serve as a father to her daughter from a previous relationship. With his past behind him, she believes he could make a difference in the lives of others. It is with this in mind and others who are aging inside the system that she says she will join the rally on Tuesday to fight for those growing old behind steel and concrete.
“There are lots of elders that are dying in prison. There is one man, when he was finally cleared to come home; he died alone in prison, never making it home. And that’s just one story that touches home for me,” Janette said.
Arnie Raimondo, a Vietnam War veteran with undiagnosed PTSD, knows all too well the importance of these bills. At just 30 years old he was incarcerated in 1981 and was not released until Feb. 1, 2021 when former Gov. Cuomo granted him clemency. Raimondo was only one of 41 individuals Cuomo granted clemency to in his 11 years in office.
“This is the first Thanksgiving I’ve gotten to spend with my family in over 40 years and I’m really emotional over it,” said Raimondo, 71. “The clemency process needs to be speeded up and happen more often than just during the holidays, and the Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole bills need to pass so that other rehabilitated people can come home, too. I know I’m not the same guy who was locked up in 1981, and they’re not the same people they used to be, either.”