January 1, 2019
Dear David Rockefeller Fund,
I have had the opportunity to be a part of the Gamaliel network of leaders and organizers since the fall of 2015, which was less than one year after my last interaction with the justice system. I was introduced to Ex-incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO), a group specifically formed of folks who have been directly impacted by the justice system, by a Gamaliel organizer who came to a local treatment court to tell us about this new group and to invite us to be a part of making a change in the system. This was the first time in my life I was made aware of the public sphere, and that I was also welcome to have my voice heard in it. Prior to this, I thought a person must be elected or “important” to speak at a public hearing. One of the first tasks I took on was speaking to county board supervisors about “Ban the Box”, asking them to sign on to a resolution banning the question “Have you been convicted of a felony?” from an initial employment application. This experience changed the trajectory of my life. Now that I found my voice, there was no turning back.
My experience with JONAH, our local Gamaliel affiliate, was one of acceptance and support from the very beginning. People I met in the organization became invested in my success. I finally found a positive community that could fill the void I had been trying to fill my whole life. I sought out and was given opportunities to attend local, statewide, and national leadership trainings. I recall attending Gamaliel’s Weeklong National Leadership Training where everything finally clicked. I had been a leader in my community for about a year at this time, but was not making significant progress. The National Training helped me understand the building blocks of organizing, and when I returned home I hit the ground running. In the following year, we established a solid local EXPO chapter, secured funding for a paid organizer, held several community forums, and our inaugural fundraiser raised over $4,000. Although we have had our challenges since, I feel supported by the network in overcoming them.
I was recently promoted to a full-time position, as the Associate Director of EXPO. This is significant because I am from a rural area and I am a woman. Within the Gamaliel Network, I am sought out for input in areas where I am known to have expertise, such as in regards to treatment courts or jails. I know that my voice is authentically valued by the leaders in the network. Not only do I provide training locally, but I am also on the train the trainer track nationally.
When it was just me, I felt powerless to change anything I saw wrong with the system. And believe me, I saw plenty that needed changing. And even with a few of us, it felt far too large to overcome something as large as criminal justice reform. But when I know there are others, across the state of Wisconsin, and across the country, who have similar values as I do, who share my vision for a future where people are treated fairly, it seems like just maybe we can make it happen. I am proud to be part of the Gamaliel Network.