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OneRouge Community Check-In - Week 104

Week #104

'End the Exception: Pay Equity for the Justice Involved'


Speaker Notes

Akeil Robertson (Advocate, Philly Mural Arts / Reentry Guild / End The Exception)

I’m working on the End the Exception campaign and the Philly Mural Arts program. I’m also a photographer and a painter. I came into this after doing 10 years in prison myself. Today I work in restorative justice and criminal justice. We are doing a series of teachings in Baton Rouge in June. Our expertise is in mural making. We love your program and can’t wait to do some images. Lack of equality and ability to advance after prison. My collaborator is Phoebe Bachman.

I came into the art setting. There’s a decreasing interest in the arts in the school system. Through my incarceration I had the time to sit down and experience art again. What’s important to me is it breaks down party lines and the ability to shut down minds. There’s less barriers for entry for the artists. When the average incarcerated person goes to a job there’s a box you have to check. It’s a discriminatory box. It’s been banned in Philly, but there are ways of getting around that. I am excited to work with you all. We’ve collected some great images from across the country and we’re excited to do a workshop with you all.

Phoebe Bachman- We’re working in several states to bring in artists who are currently and formerly incarcerated. We’ve been able to focus on how unequal the labor market is when you’re exiting the carceral system. We will have public artwork going up after the teachings in September.

Beyond the box, can you quickly speak to other barriers?

Akeil Robertson - The prison industrial complex is in rural areas where industry is highly specialized, so they’re not learning the skills necessary to compete in the larger workforce when they come out. The proximity to large city centers is a real thing.

Claude-Michael Comeau (Staff Attorney, Unanimous Jury Project / The Promise of Justice Initiative)

I’m part of the Jim Crow Jury Project and the Promise of Justice Initiative. How do we get free black labor in these systems again, without worrying about the federal government saying they're violating 13th amendment rights. Instead of requiring a unanimous jury they said you only need 9 votes, and then later 10 votes. We know this had a disparate impact on these conditions. Those being convicted are all black. This went on until Louisiana voted on a constitutional change that would require it to be unanimous. Right after that the supreme court ruled that it was always unconstitutional. That only affected those under direct review and today we’re still fighting for 1,500 people who are still in prison with no lawful verdict at all. We have a supreme court case coming up on Tuesday. We’ve been sending public record requests out to prison systems that have people working on projects that don't help them when they are released. License plates, for example. A lot of money flows into Louisiana comes from those projects. We’re working to change those conditions in those prisons. You have men and women working in fields with guards on horseback and shotguns. You have no labor protections. When it comes to wages, you get paid .02 an hour, and for a lot of people that’s all you’re going to see. Children get no child support. Families have to pay and subsidize those prison stays. A lot of people say their families had to help them survive, because you can’t afford prison. YOu have high commissary costs. If you’re sick and you don’t get to work, then you don’t get that .02. Many people die in prison because they simply cannot afford it. Extreme prices for phone calls. The impacts aren’t on just the incarcerated individual, but on the entire community. It’s important to make the change to these systems. If I have a call to action, it’s important to talk to your city or state and say this is unacceptable. People should be fairly compensated for the work they’re doing and make sure it’s connected to their success in the future.

Dissolving that amendment?

The legislative proceedings - they have a lot of power in these proceedings. I’m from Shreveport and one of our Sheriff’s had a big news event and he was complaining about the sentencing reforms because they wouldn’t have anyone to wash their cars. They just have so much power.

Rev. Alexis Anderson (Advocate, PREACH / The Justice Alliance / East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition)

The history of convict leasing. My thesis statement is that this is an economic model. Convict leasing was the story about getting ex slaves back iinto the fields. It was also about in order to do that, criminalizing no public safety issues. If we can’t get them one way we’ll get them another. It’s about the issue of the human body being dehumanized in slavery. The united states is still a slave entity. People who are incarcerated are enslaved. Louisiana operates on a user pay system. The goal of public safety is enough bodies to keep this system running. The goal is never public safety. No one gets paid if there’s no crime. Prison labor operates to exploit the incarcerated and their communities. The reason for having these in rural areas is because they become the dominant industry. Prison guards are some of the lowest paid in the country. The reality is that prison labor always devalues the incarcerated and their families. The macro issue is it shuts off industries that will not come to a slave state. I want to bring it back to Baton Rouge. 50% of DOC inmates are housed in local jails. Louisiana is one of the largest in the world. IT is a huge industry here. Even in the jail, which is a pretrial detention facility. If it weren’t for poverty and addiction, they wouldn’t be in these facilities, but while they’re there, they are churning money into the system. When those folks get out, they are often by policy and staff. Oftentimes people who go to jail, even when they go in for minor things, they have skills and they are wanted for those skills. We are about to go into hurricane seasons, fire seasons, the state sees them as tools, not people. How do people lose their driving privileges, one of the penalties if you lose your driver's license. If you can’t drive, you can't get to work because we have a horrible public transportation system. Do I want to come into a parish that has a higher incarceral system than anywhere in the country? Even when you think it doesn’t impact you, it does. If they are doing work in a carceral facility, they should be credited with the minimum wage. EBR Prison is not a prison, it’s a jail, and it’s over 90% pretrial detainees. When we don’t address excessive bail and bail industry, we are going to be operating at this slave labor that impacts the children. My call to action is to vote. HB 812, the jail data bill. You cannot make good policy without good data. Tell your legislators to end slavery in Louisiana.

Ashley White (Advocate, The Bail Project Baton Rouge)

We are a national bail nonprofit. Baton Rouge is one of those networks. I’ve been doing this for three years now. The bail industry drives mass incarceration. Nearly 90% of the population is driven through pretrial detention. It’s the driver or the gateway to the prison system. Everything we do is around the community system. We are working to abolish cash bail. Money can both fix the problem but is not related to the problem. My call to action is to support everything that has been said. We are just one cog into abolishing these exploitative systems.

Verna Bradley (Advocate, Capital Area Re-Entry Coalition)

This coalition helps once someone is released from prison. This is needed for more than one reason. When someone is released there is a mass of things they need that may not be at their disposal. We are an organization of nonprofits, government agencies and companies. These are the workgroups we have and the basic foundations someone needs when they come home. They work as a network of references or referrals. If someone comes out and they go to their moms house, they’re operating like they’re on vacation. There is the mindset that they’re transitioning from prison to being back in society to get a job. Things happen differently. We need partners in this. We need more people at the table to help people with the transition. If we don’t come together and build a stronger network of providers, the same thing is going to happen again.


Is second chance month annual?

Verna Bradley - It started in 2017 where it was every April, but President Biden has signed a proclamation that every April is going to be Second Chance Month

Rev - OneRouge was one of the first organizations to recognize Second Chance. The month of April is our kickoff, the beginning. We need people to tell people in the legislature to tell them that we have people who are impacted and I don’t need you to keep saying that they cannot be redeemed.

Laramie Griffin - If they can't or refuse to work their beds are taken away for the entire day. That’s at Hunts. Solitary confinement is also their punishment. They get .07 cents an hour, but a honey bun is .75. It’s very inhumane and no one should be treated that way.

If someone dies while incarcerated does that impact their life insurance policy?

Yes. There are carve outs while you’re incarcerated. They will not get their money. The penalties for not working are quite harsh, even at the pretrial. It’s not uncommon for people to be shipped out 200 miles from their family as a punishment. They have no system for asking for help.

We’re talking about fringe healthcare.

Tammy Jones - The medical copay - we’re already paying for this, but when someone is sick or not feeling good, they can be charged with malingering. People who don’t have the medical co-pay, they get a big debt, so when they do get money in their account, it’s snatched up. A prescription is $2, a medical request is $3, and an emergency request is $6, which is 19 days of pay. It’s really sad because a lot of these people are not getting their medications and their conditions are not being treated.

Flitcher Bell - Follow the money, you can find out why our system is the way it is. If you look at the budgets of these places, you’ll see a lot of this money is from people incarcerated. What’s stopping them from being paid more? Private greed. The people do not choose it because they are getting slave labor for almost no cost. Until you’re adjudicated, you’re innocent until proven guilty. A lot of people in EBR are innocent because they cannot afford to pay bail. These are people who are innocent. When I was a prosecutor, inmates would have 3 or 4 driving under suspension and they want to plead guilty and use time served, you then lose your license for a year, so if you have three or 4, you end up without a license for those years. So it’s just a rotating system.

Akeil Robertson

Reentry guild - I’m thankful to have been incarcerated where I was after hearing you all speak. Like you, we have some disturbing records. I was incarcerated with a lot of men who were in their 40s, 50s, up to their 80s. They do flat life sentencing, which means there is no chance for life. The guild program is art based and teaches people basic skills and get them networked. We’re very entrenched in the city government. We have the ability to get people started on their path or journey. I came out in December and I was in the program. We're a part time program so we’re encouraging people to go out and get careers rather than staying with us. We’re doing some great things, we still have a way to go. I was making .19 an hour. We had medical co-pay as well. I was cleaning showers and I was in a lower prison, so I trained the guards to think I was in the mural arts program. Eventually, the director took notice of me and I was hired. That’s not the case for the vast majority of people. COVID had a horrible effect on the prisons. Our ability to connect with our families and move forward. Mural arts was kicked out of the prison. We’re about to go back.

Alfreda Tillman Bester - it’s not that we have a lot of criminals, it’s what we criminalize.

Zoom Chat

From Manohar Ramkumar Patole to Everyone 08:28 AM

Or Guess Who?

From Me to Everyone 08:29 AM

The Morgans match

From Helena Williams to Everyone 08:29 AM


From One Rouge to Everyone 08:29 AM


From Lindi Rubin Spalatin to Everyone 08:29 AM

I’m too competitive so I won’t even do it.

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:29 AM

Go Morgans!

From Helena Williams to Everyone 08:29 AM

Puzzles are my jam, but board games where I have to wait my turn I can’t do

From Manohar Ramkumar Patole to Everyone 08:33 AM

(FYI I am heading out at 9am for another meeting so apologies in advance)

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:33 AM

Bummer, Manny! See you on Monday though

From Kim Mosby to Everyone 08:34 AM

Good morning all! Hope you've had a good week so far.

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:34 AM

How festive!

From Phoebe Bachman to Everyone 08:34 AM

I’ll be sending links on behalf of Akeil! We’ve got a couple on Mural Arts & End the Exception

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:34 AM

“The most direct way in which the criminal justice system affects the labor market is by removing more than two million people, overwhelmingly of working-age, each year from the labor market…Meanwhile, the main government survey of the labor market, the Current Population Survey, which provides official monthly estimates of the unemployment rate and the employment-to-population rate, does not gather data from residents of prisons and jails. As a result, government labor market statistics systematically exclude the incarcerated population.”

From Dauda Sesay to Everyone 08:34 AM

Hello Everyone, Dauda Sesay, Founding Director, Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:34 AM

Thanks Phoebe

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:35 AM

Welcome, Dauda

From Phoebe Bachman to Everyone 08:36 AM

Restorative Justice Program:

From Laramie Griffin EvolvE to Everyone 08:39 AM

Laramie Griffin/ Baton Rouge/ Decarcerate Louisiana/ HB298 in the Louisiana 2022 Regular Legislative Session/

Yes of course. 225-266-9740 I'll get the director of Decarcerate Louisiana also if that's ok

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:40 AM

Beyond the incarcerated people, the prison industrial complex employs the rural residents who also have limited opportunities

From Ashley White to Everyone 08:40 AM

Yep, it’s an industry.

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:41 AM

post civil war louisiana wanted to get back to pre civil war louisiana ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:42 AM

The prison industry being the primary employer/producer on both sides of our economic system makes it hard to get people to let go of this carceral system.

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:45 AM

^^^so much that, @morgan

I thought (incarcerated people making license plates) was a wives’ tale

wait - they are STILL watched over by people on horseback with shotguns?!?!??!!?

From Kim Mosby to Everyone 08:45 AM

Yes indeed! Still working the plantation.

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:45 AM

Most of our prisons were former plantations

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:45 AM

i have no reason to believe this, but I thought that practice ended YEARS ago

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:46 AM

I think it just got quieter

From Kim Mosby to Everyone 08:46 AM

I'm having my team create a map about that right now. @Morgan

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:46 AM

Thanks Kim. Interested to see that.

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:46 AM

is it true that incarcerated people have to pay for their own healthcare?

From Manohar Ramkumar Patole to Everyone 08:46 AM

@Kim, that is an AMAZING interpretive program! Should consider NEA/Smithsonian or other programs.

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:47 AM

is it true that life insurance benefits do not pay out if the incarcerated person dies?

From Kim Mosby to Everyone 08:47 AM

I'll email you to follow up Manny!

From Phoebe Bachman to Everyone 08:47 AM

FYI - this is an amazing curriculum on the PIC

From Manohar Ramkumar Patole to Everyone 08:47 AM

FYI - Roddenberry foundation fellowship application is open and folks like the speakers today should apply to help augment their voices:

From Phoebe Bachman to Everyone 08:47 AM

Chapt 5 is on Prison Labor

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:48 AM

thank you, @phoebe

wasn’t there a “ban the box” movement?

From Rinaldi Jacobs Sr to Everyone 08:48 AM

Be aware the prison industrial Complex. I have 3 cousins in jail oldest brother, younger Brother and nephew. yes it can cost families monthly cost

From Kim Mosby to Everyone 08:49 AM

I'm now with Vera Institute of Justice ( in their Louisiana office. I'm the Associate Director of Research. Very excited to connect with those of you doing similar work in BR.

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:50 AM

Rev. Anderson has a face!!!

From Casey Phillips to Everyone 08:50 AM

To be part of the upstream solution on the call today here is an opportunity - - - Equal Justice USA (EJUSA) is hiring a Baton Rouge Advocate for Violence Reduction Initiative team (salary starts at $70,000-73,000 -

From Manohar Ramkumar Patole to Everyone 08:50 AM

Mellon has also had a pivot in some of their funding programs. Not sure it is part of this conversation but it is related to higher education/carceral system collaborations:

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:52 AM

Thank you again Claude! Curious to the primary narratives being used against ending the exception…

Capitalism does not function without an exploited class

From Rinaldi Jacobs Sr to Everyone 08:52 AM

Why is the 13th Amendment Unlucky for People of color

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:53 AM

Its a self-funding system

REV is breaking it DOWN!

From Sherreta R. Harrison- MetroMorphosis to Everyone 08:53 AM

All the way down!

From Claude-Michael Comeau to Everyone 08:53 AM

In addition to letting your representatives know that:

No one should be forced to work against their will.

No one should do work that is unsafe or in unsafe conditions.

People should be compensated appropriately.

Work should contribute to the person’s success in the future.

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:54 AM

👀 naming names and calling them out!

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:55 AM

I’m currently doing a pre-trial art therapy class at EBRPP. There are women who have been there pretrials for 4-5 years.

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:55 AM

i LOVE andrea armstrong! she taught me criminal law 🥰

From SK Groll to Everyone 08:55 AM

And the legislature uses the division between local and state facilities as a wedge to separate organizing, shut down reform efforts, and obscure data

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:55 AM

@morgan, i don’t think most people understand that you may be innocent until proven guilty, but you may may not be free until you get a hearing that could take YEARS!

From Claude-Michael Comeau to Everyone 08:56 AM

If you know anyone formerly incarcerated who would like to tell their story on labor in prisons please feel free to contact me at

From One Rouge to Everyone 08:57 AM

@sk so true! without communication across government entities, we create gaps that can be exploited

why do incarcerated people lose their drivers’ licenses? that seems unrelated.

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 08:59 AM

“By ordinance, by policy, by conviction”- Rev Anderson

From Alexis Phillips to Everyone 09:00 AM

Once an incarcerated person gets released…there are rules and gatekeeping that keeps people from opportunity so that they can be trapped again in the same system and never get out… and even unfortunately become incarcerated again because they have no support.

From Morgan Udoh (She/Her/They) to Everyone 09:00 AM