For the past many years, a number of formerly-incarcerated people-led groups – such as All of Us or None and The Ordinary People’s Society – have pushed for a national convening of formerly-incarcerated people, and we believe that now is the time for such a convening. The only way the sum total of all the parts becomes greater than the whole is when there is a practical common function. It is our job as responsible leaders to construct a well-oiled machine.
Efforts to convene formerly-incarcerated people are not new, and we have been a part of most of such efforts over the last 10 years. But most of these previous efforts – including the most resourced amongst them – largely unraveled, failed or otherwise erupted into factional battles and infighting. Sometimes these efforts failed because they were directed or otherwise guided by foundations or national advocacy groups without the meaningful involvement of, or formal direction or guidance by, formerly-incarcerated people themselves. And sometimes these efforts failed because formerly-incarcerated people themselves did not have, and did not build, the right spaces and processes for such a convening to occur – we did not have the opportunity to gather and work out critical questions, debates, contradictions and problems necessary to generate a stronger foundation to build upon. The national gatherings we call for now must, both in practice and perception, be organized by formerly-incarcerated people, and there must be ample space to work to resolve questions, problems and issues that have divided us in the past. We must assume the lead and control the process and direction. The first step is ours.