How a Group of Lifers Cracked the Code of Prison Reform
Date:  07-01-2020

National Lifers of America is a powerful organization that believes people with lived experience should be the drivers of prison policy reform
From Politico:

“This is going to be the rest of my life. They want me to die here.”

Demel Dukes, a 41-year-old Detroiter and father of four, was sentenced to life in prison 18 years ago. For the past five, he’s been at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where hushed brick walls divide more than 1,000 beds inside from peaceable rural terrain outside. Just east on I-80, his own name happens to mark the landscape: Dukes Lake is half a mile away, nine acres of freshwater, popular for fishing. To him, it might as well be in another state.

Over the years he has seen depression and despair swallow grown men alive, and has confronted the questions that hang over people facing life sentences. What do you do with this time? How do you carry responsibility for yourself and the burden of never-ending exile, while also—well, living?

For his first nine or ten years inside, Dukes steered clear of the prison groups that might have offered answers to those questions, leery of “some shady characters.” He preferred to spend time in the law library. But one day, at the invitation of a friend, he went to the general assembly meeting of a group called National Lifers of America. There, Dukes saw incarcerated men discussing leadership skills and legislation on criminal law. It felt, he says now, like people were genuinely interested in educating themselves and one another—not just filling time, but meaningfully engaging with the world. The message of mutual uplift, he said, was “right up my alley.” Continue reading >>>