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.
Shortly afterward, a new reality set in, and we found our work lives completely changed. And a year later, while we got started with the legislative session largely from our homes, the Justice Week we imagined took on a new life online.
From March 22 – 26, 2021, we gathered on Zoom and social media to share knowledge and connect with supporters virtually. Guests chatted in questions on our video webinars, commented on our Facebook posts, and double tapped behind-the-scenes videos on our brand new TikTok account. Below, you can find links to all of our events throughout the week. And remember, for the most up-to-date information about our work and events, you should sign up for our e-newsletters and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.
Monday, March 22: Justice 101. We started the week with a webinar that walked supporters through all the basics of the Texas Legislature. For our “Justice 101” event, staff members Devin and Maggie were joined by Policy Associates Ilana and Kristina for an intro to justice advocacy terms, key players at the Legislature, public testimony, and advocacy from a distance during COVID-19. That evening, we posted the first video in our new “Let Me Explain” series, which shares personal stories of justice system impact. Jennifer shared her story of reentry and her difficulty finding meaningful employment after incarceration.
Tuesday, March 23: Women’s Justice. On Tuesday, we shared the history of TCJC’s Justice for Women campaign and the Texas Women’s Justice Coalition on our social media. That evening, our followers watched Melissa’s heartbreaking story of being separated from her newborn child after giving birth while incarcerated. Following an exciting International Women’s Day on March 8, this group of women made a splash once again!
Wednesday, March 24: Youth Justice. For our youth justice day, Policy Analyst Alycia sat down with her whole team of Policy Associates: Giulia, Ilana, Kendall, Temi, and Tina. They discussed the major youth justice bills that we’re working on this session, from Raise the Age to Second Look to education justice. That afternoon, we shared a social media guide to those bills, created by Policy Associate Carolina. And later that day, we heard from Nicky, who spent the night in an adult jail at 17-years-old and now advocates for Texas to raise the age of criminal responsibility.
Thursday, March 25: State Jail Reform. On Thursday, staff members Doug and Cynthia were joined by Policy Associate Sarah and special guest, Dr. Andrea Button from Texas Tech University, to discuss state jails. Their conversation about policing and the drug war led into that day’s big event at the Texas Legislature: testimony on HB 88, the George Floyd Act. With leadership from George Floyd’s family and dedication from some of our partner organizations, we were proud to participate in this solemn day of action. That night, we posted Doug’s story about facing years behind bars as a result of co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
Friday, March 26: Conditions of Confinement and Parole Reform. Our week of action closed with two important topics for system-impacted people. Our morning webinar featured Peer Policy Fellow Maggie and Policy Associates Josh and Kristina. They respectively shared personal experience from three different perspectives: that of a formerly incarcerated person, a former corrections officer, and the family member of an incarcerated person. During the day, we shared more information on independent oversight of prisons and why it matters. And finally, we shared Criselda’s story of difficulty finding housing after reentry.
Our video series, “Let Me Explain: Stories from a Broken Justice System” continues this week with four more stories. Larry describes what it’s like for his son to spend 26 years behind bars, despite not pulling the trigger in the murder he was charged with. Priscilla explains how it felt to receive a 15-year sentence at the age of 12, and how her life has changed since. We closed out Women’s History Month with Allison’s story of surviving commercial sexual exploitation and becoming a Survivor Leader who helps other women in that position. And we begin Second Chance Month with Jose’s story of entering the system as a kid who didn’t have enough access to counseling, and eventually growing up to become a counselor himself. You can watch every video in this series through our playlists on YouTube and Facebook.
As I’m sure you can tell, Justice Week 2021 was a huge effort from so many members of TCJC’s team. We’re grateful to all of them, and we’re also grateful to everyone who participated in one of our events, asked a question, or shared our videos. We hope these stories of system impact and legislative advocacy are as meaningful to you as they are to us!