In 2019, I had the memorable experience of visiting the Texas Capitol as part of an amazing team. And although I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with some of my fantastic coworkers again this year, that’s not what I’ll remember about the 2021 session. In the time of COVID-19, what’s stuck with me is a different experience--watching bills travel through the legislative process from behind my laptop screen.
Alternatives to Incarceration
In early 2020, the TCJC team had a vision: a week of justice-focused events, displays, and lobbying at the Texas Capitol during the state’s 2021 legislative session. We pictured our posters, tables, and reports laid out for legislators, staff, and visitors to learn about our work and get involved in the statewide movement to end mass incarceration. We imagined our team meeting people face-to-face and sharing stories in person.
A year ago, I sent out an email asking TCJC’s supporters for your input on our work. We collected survey responses from 140 people, who represented all walks of life and levels of justice system impact. I read about your priorities for policy reform, your difficulties navigating an opaque and insensitive justice system, and your reasons for joining us in this fight.
None of us could have guessed how different the world would be a few months later.
Finding the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition was a bit of a fluke—or at least that’s how it felt at the time. Doug Smith, TCJC’s Senior Policy Analyst, had come to speak to one of my classes at St. Edward’s University in 2018. I spoke to him after his presentation and asked for one of his business cards. About a year later, when I decided I wanted to spend my summer making a difference, I found his card. Our conversation was quick, and I began my internship with TCJC that summer.
As of May 27, 2020, nearly 4,500 incarcerated people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Texas, nearly 12 times the number of cases this time one month ago. Thus far, 36 incarcerated people have died and at least five officers have lost their lives. Tens of thousands of men and women have been on lockdown in their cells or dorms for a month or more. There appears to be little end in sight.
Last updated: August 29, 2019
It’s Sine Die – the last day of legislative session – and TCJC is thrilled that so many positive bills have progressed to the Governor’s desk. A few have already become law!
The Governor now has a 20-day period to review the bills and either sign them into law, let them pass into law without his signature, or veto them.
I watched an LGBTQ Pride Parade for the first time in New York City in June 2008. I was 20 years old and in the middle of my undergraduate degree at a small college in the Midwest. A group of friends and I drove over 1,000 miles to spend two days in New York, basking in the one of the world’s largest celebrations of love, self-expression, and community. As a young gay college student, I had already experienced the rejection from family and friends, stigma from society, and outright anti-LGBTQ discrimination that most LGBTQ people must endure throughout their lifetime.
On any given day, Dallas County incarcerates about 5,100 people in county jail. About 71% of these inmates are “pretrial,” which means they are awaiting trial for the charges against them. If they are in jail as a pretrial defendant, it generally means they cannot afford bail, or they are held without bail.
I remember my time on probation in 2007. When the prosecutor offered a plea agreement for 10 years deferred adjudication, I felt as though my life had been handed back to me. Ten months earlier, I had been arrested for handing a note to a bank teller asking for $500, driven by my desperation to feed a drug addiction. At that point, I assumed that I would not breathe free air again until I was a very old man. The probation sentence seemed to be such a priceless gift.