CP: What inspired me to turn my personal tragedy into a catalyst for action was the fact that I had to move on beyond my grief. I felt I had to honor my sister Patricia’s life by picking myself up and actually living. I knew at a very young age that I had a purpose in life, however, when my sister passed, she re-awakened my purpose. She gave me the strength to my move beyond my loss and provide others the same opportunities I had – especially the most marginalized who are impacted by incarceration and/or poverty.
RJJ: What keeps you going when progress is hard?
CP: My belief in a higher being and spiritual connection keep me going. I’m deeply grounded in spirituality, the vibration of the earth and the energy that propels human beings forward. I also often think about the many individuals who don’t have the same opportunities as myself, especially our brothers and sisters who are locked up. And the fact that I have 16 nieces and nephews who I have to be a positive role model for, it’s kind of hard not to keep going when progress is hard.
RJJ: How does the criminal justice system specifically affect women and girls? How can we better bring a gender lens to this issue?
CP: The criminal justice system specifically affects women and girls in so many ways and often their needs are not met by the system. The policies and practices that our country implements often re-traumatize and or re-victimize women and girls in the system. The majority of women and girls in the system are victims of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. The subsequent trauma experienced by girls who have been abused has far–reaching implications for system providers, but the system has not adequately attempted to understand, address, or provide meaningful and/or gender responsive programming and support for women and girls’ abuse issues, particularly sexual abuse. Abuse trauma can affect every aspect of women and girls’ lives but what’s also important to understand is that the system focuses on an individual’s crime versus getting to the root cause of of why that individual ended up in the system in the first place, hence, never addressing or providing the appropriate rehabilitation.
In 2005, I was a part of a task-force in Santa Cruz County that provided gender responsive programming and services for all girls in the county regardless of probation status. We were able to provide a menu of services that incorporated sexual trauma counseling through art therapy, non-invasive drug testing, an evening center where we ran a girl’s circle curriculum among other services. It took a dedicated group of women to amplify the work that needed to be done in the county and if we as women came together to ensure that the needs of our sisters behind bars were met in a holistic way, we would see a decrease in recidivism.
RJJ: If you could do one thing to change the criminal justice/mass incarceration situation in this country, what would it be?
CP: My first priority would be to release all juveniles (18 years old and under) from adult facilities and place them in age-appropriate and culturally-appropriate facilities and/or programs.
RJJ: Do you consider yourself a person of faith? If so, how does faith play into your work? How do you see the broader role of faith and faith leaders in justice work?
CP: I wholeheartedly consider myself a person of faith. I was raised in a family where culture and our faith were the two most important things. I was able to participate in different faith-based practices, which has given me the ability to be open to different belief systems as well because I have a strong religious foundation. A lot of our work is grounded in spirituality. We include different faith-based leaders in our convenings and our work – whether it be our Dream for Justice March on MLK Day or Chokehold on the City, the one year of the non-indictment of Officer Daniel Pantaleo who was responsible for the death of Eric Garner. We believe that being connected to something larger than us allows us to connect to spirit and to one another.
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