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Mail Call

Greetings, November Coalition.

I have and will always enjoy reading the Razor Wire. Now, here is something I'm facing. I'm on supervised release with the USA from an FCI.

I was in my parole office the other day, and the officer was flipping through my files. Where I put a letter to the editor in the local paper, he has kept every one. In my files it's about 10 to 20, mostly about prison and no justice. This parole officer is always telling me I need a better job, that the one I have really doesn't pay enough.

But here's the new thing: I have to give up my DNA for federal files. My charge was a 922-gram possession of drugs plus felon-in-possession of firearms. That puts me in the category with murderers, bank robbers and child pedophiles.

I ask if I turn down the DNA deal, what would happen? I was told I would be sent back to FCI, and they would get it (DNA) the best way they can-even if they had to tie me down.

So I have no freedom of speech, because a parole officer monitors what I write. No privacy out here, still in an invisible prison. Just letting others know what they might expect when leaving FCIs.

Keep up the good work! - Raydeen

I am a federal prisoner at FCI Phoenix (AZ) serving 16 years for selling one firearm and selling 1.7 grams of a controlled substance. I am also a member of November Coalition.

The reason I'm writing is to seek support for the pieces of proposed legislation sitting idle in House and Senate committees now. I'm sure more bills will be proposed. Right now I can see a lot of prisoners are not aware of the proposed bills, or the avenues to take in order to get our loved ones to write-to urge our lawmakers to remedy the injustice of federal sentences - and to write letters to newspaper editors on relevant topics.

Many men that I know in here are not aware of what one letter can do to help gather attention of lawmakers. I know we can't do it alone; we need prisoners, loved ones and all citizens to help with the movement of prison reform.

I could use some rough drafts of tips on writing to editors and representatives and congressmen. I need more insight on writing about our topics. Please provide me with any materials I may provide to the prisoners for passing on to their families for learning.
I support what you all are doing - just some advice, guidance and direction would be good for me. - Adam Miranda

Getting your Message Through is Your Highest Priority

By William D. McColl, Director of National Affairs, The Lindesmith Center - Drug Policy Foundation, Washington D.C. (2001)

As a professional lobbyist, I would like to make some suggestions about how to respond to an offensive letter from legislators, or help you as you begin communicating in letters and visits to your federal and state legislators. If your legislator has made you angry, and you respond in anger, you have taken their bait. An angry 'rant' in response, verbal or in writing, allows them to dismiss you. Your job is to make it extremely hard for them to dismiss you.

Essentially, the reason for any contact with a legislator or a legislative staff should be to further your goal. When you write a letter, or visit your leaders, think carefully about the goal of your communication. Put yourself into a legislator's shoes and ask some basic questions of your goals. Would this communication have support from other constituents of this leader? Are there other people with the same issue and requests? If not, then perhaps your issue or request isn't reasonable, or something that has enough support to interest a legislator.

One thing you will need to do is develop several lines of arguments. If you are talking to a conservative, your message is different than if you are talking to a liberal, or to a moderate or to a libertarian for that matter. Considering all you know about your legislator is important. You may have initial correspondence, or news quotes that reflect their opinions about your issue.

If you 'strike-out' with a message, go back and consider why it failed. In light of the reasons why it failed, try to further communicate your position a better way. If you can't think of a better way to communicate your message, do not respond angrily. Let things calm down before you go back to visit, or write again.

Give some thought to how you can successfully reestablish lines of communication. Whatever you do, the very first rule of lobbying (well at least my first rule) is that you never burn your bridges. Respect people, making the best argument to them; your message is the highest priority. It is more important than getting 'something off your chest.'

Since September 11th, Americans have been told that they are at war, that they need to accept a reduction in their civil liberties, and that they must stand united. Anything that detracts from those goals, may appear divisive and will have the effect of placing us in the category of "the enemy." We must be extremely cautious in all of our actions and in our letters, but this does not mean that we stop lobbying visits and letters to our government's leaders.

One thing that I've learned is to lower my expectations. There are a lot of people on all sides of every issue. You may need to accept that it might take years to demonstrate responsibility and win legislators over. Have others make your case for you or with you, enlisting family and friends to write letters on your behalf, or take them with you when you visit your leaders to illustrate you have support for your request or issue. Show them that you have a large (preferably responsible) and active constituency behind you.

(Editor - Other help with writing, public presentations, press releases and more is available for viewing and downloading from Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism.)

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