A former inmate and a former corrections worker will get together tonight in Albany to talk about their shared experience behind bars. In 1973, New York Legislators enacted statutes that created mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life for possession of four ounces of narcotics—a comparable sentence to second-degree murder. Those statutes became known as the Rockefeller Drug Laws and they prompted an unprecedented expansion of New York’s courts and prison system. Rockefeller’s hard-line approach set the tone for the nation’s “war on drugs.”
Brother Yusuf Abdul-Wasi was convicted under the Rockefeller Drug Laws over 30 years ago. Joe Hackett is a the North Country writer and outdoor guide who served as a recreation counselor at Camp Gabriels, a minimum-security facility in the Adirondacks. The two are reuniting to talk about the impacts of the drug war on their lives, families and communities.
Abdul-Wasi is now an environmental educator - he says the discussion will be engaging. "Joe is talking more about the impact of the jails being closed down up in the Adirondacks and what that means to the population there. My dialog is more about the impact on families and individuals coming home and not having any re-entry programs, not having the counseling and programs se ot reunite and reintegrate families. Jobs not being available for them and housing and all the other things that aren't there. When in fact, I believe the state is saving a lot by these jails closing up."
Abdul-Wasi notes the conversation raises issues seldom publicly discussed unless a prison is threatened with closure. "What the audience can expect is a dialog in regards to the mass-incarceration and how the drug wars created places like the Camp Gabriels institution that I came out of, which was just being built as a place because there was overload in the correctional facilities where they were double-bunking and looking for more space because the drug policies had made mandatory drug-sentencing that were crowding the jails. It was a way of ridding the streets in the communities of a lot of African-American and Latino males and females that were in the cities, creating a lot of jobs and job security for folks in the North Country, who had a legacy of first and second-generations of correctional officers families working in correctional facilities."
The Rockefeller Drug Laws were partially reformed in 2009, and the nation is beginning to rethink its drug laws and criminal justice system. The event, entitled "THE CORRECTION," is a project of John Brown Lives!, a freedom education and human rights project based in the Adirondacks where the famed abolitionist is buried and where many of the New York’s prisons are located. The Albany-based Center for Law and Justice is co-sponsoring the event, scheduled to begin at 7pm at the One Hundred Black Men Center at 388 Clinton Ave.