15 Years of People-Powered Change: No More Lost Lives
This blog is part of our series celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. You can celebrate with us at the 2011 Ellas: 15 Years of People-Powered Change, or submit your own anniversary memory or wish to email@example.com.
I remember my first day at the Ella Baker Center. I was fresh out of law school, and fresher out of the California Bar exam. Books Not Bars was busy preparing for a 300-person “No More Lost Lives’” march on the youth prison complex in Stockton on September 5, one year after the unexplained death of Dyron Brewer in CYA. It would commemorate the four young people who lost their lives in the past two years in CYA. I watched System Failure, and cried about those lives lost.
Zachary walked up to me after I finished, saying he had “bad news.” With tears in his eyes, he said, “Another youth passed away yesterday in CYA.”
Over the next few months, we learned more details. His name was Joseph Maldonado. He’d spent eight weeks in solitary confinement before finally taking his own life.
The Books Not Bars team had to work through their emotional response to the news. “We said no more lost lives. But here’s another one. It’s a diss on Dyron that another young person has died.” He became one more, urgent reason for us to march.
We added Joseph to the names we called out during the march, and when pouring libations.
We sang, rows of people in white, marching in the heat and dust.
When we reached the prison complex, we joined hands again to remember Dyron and vowed that Dyron’s and Joseph’s deaths would not be in vain. The Brewer family delivered a wreath in Dyron’s honor to Chad prison officials. The head guard received the wreath with respect, and even voiced support for the Brewer family.
As we headed back to the park, some marchers saw youth in the yard for their recreation. Across barbed wire and yards of bleak field, marchers waved and called while the youth twirled their shirts. Although the guards were soon back to herd the youth back inside, we knew we reached them.
Since then, four youth prisons have shut down. A fifth will close in January.
Just last month, we took families and youth to Ventura youth prison, where we chanted directly at prison officials. We again made sure the youth heard us.
In my five years with Ella Baker Center, we’ve come a long way, but we’re not done yet! I think of what we can win together in the next 15 years, and it gives me chills. To 15 more!