Our President, Cassie Monaco, attended FAMM's conference from May 17-19 that was held in Tampa, Florida. Cassie remarked how moved she was by the many stories told from families that have loved ones incarcerated along with returning citizens that came home from extraordinary, unnecessarily long sentences. There were not many dry eyes as a sister spoke of her brother's 40-year sentence as a first time non-violent, low-level drug offender. A father that spent 13 years behind bars leaving behind his four-year-old son, but never wavered from being a good dad also spoke. He did everything he could for his son from behind bars. It was so essential to this father that his son have a good education that he tutored his son from behind bars. A 17 year-old-girl shared her grief and broken heart about not having her dad at home since she was a little girl. It was gut-wrenching to hear her speak about growing up without her dad.
FAMM held four workshops giving advocates tools to be even more effective advocates.
It was an honor to hear Desmond Meade speak as a returning citizen. Mr. Meade is now the current executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, chair of the Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation's Black Men's Roundtable, and a graduate of Florida International University College of Law.
It was emotional and full of love having Rudy Valdez, Cindy Shank, and Cindy's daughter Autumn as they shared their story. Rudy Valdez is the director of The Sentence, a powerful HBO documentary about his sister, Cindy Shank's, 15 year mandatory minimum sentence. Cindy told the audience about phone conversations with her family; she stated: "I did not want to pull them into my sentence I wanted them to pull me into their life." Cassie encourages everyone to watch The Sentence.
Matthew Charles was initially sentenced to 35 years in prison on drug charges. He was released in 2016 after a federal judge ruled that Matthew should benefit from the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act. An appeals court reversed the judge's decision and Matthew was forced to return to prison in 2018 after being back in society for twenty-two months. Matthew had a home, a job, volunteered at a food pantry, and had a church family, but the government wanted him to go back and finish out the remaining ten years of his sentence. The First Step Act, which passed on December 21, 2018, included a provision to apply the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively, which allowed Matthew to come home. Matthew Charles told his story so eloquently and passionately.
Cassie is grateful to have had this opportunity to attend such an empowering event and to be included with so many fierce, passionate, and bold advocates.