OAKLAND, Calif. — Even by the standards of the Bay Area, where sourcing local, organic chicken feed is seen as something of a political act, the spectacle of 30,000 fruit and nut trees being tended by formerly incarcerated orchardists is novel.
The green thumbs are there because of Planting Justice, a nine-year-old nonprofit that combines urban farming with environmental education and jobs for ex-offenders. From its headquarters in a pair of salvaged shipping containers on a dead-end street in East Oakland, Calif., Planting Justice has forged a trail in which revenue-generating businesses help subsidize the group’s core mission: hiring former inmates, many from nearby San Quentin State Prison, and giving them a “family sustaining” wage, along with health benefits and a month of paid leave annually. About half the total staff of 30 have served time in prison.
Two years ago, the group’s founders — Gavin Raders, 35, and Haleh Zandi, 34 — established an orchard on a weedy, vacant lot in this area of stubborn poverty, where the pruning is serenaded not by birds but droning trucks from the adjacent freeway. Planting Justice’s Rolling River Nursery now sells and ships some 1,100 varieties of potted trees and plants — among them, 65 different kinds of pomegranates, 60 varieties of figs, and loads of harder-to-find species such as jujubes (Chinese dates), Japanese ume plums and rue, an aromatic herb used in Ethiopian coffee. Signs warn visitors that they have entered a pesticide- and soda-free zone.
Though still young, the organic orchard generates roughly $250,000 of Planting Justice’s yearly $2 million operating budget. Another $250,000 comes from an edible landscaping business, in which roving horticulturalists hired by well-off clients install beehives, fruit trees, chicken coops, massive barrels for harvesting rain water and “laundry to landscaping” systems that funnel used washing machine water into the garden. The money helps subsidize pro bono edible landscapes in low-income neighborhoods.
In addition, there are the 2,000 or so “subscribers” who make monthly pledges to Planting Justice, which brings in another $450,000 annually, and grants from a variety of nonprofit organizations, among them the Kresge FreshLo program, the Thomas J. Long Foundation and Kaiser Permanente’s community benefit programs.
Planting Justice cultivates metaphors along with the food. “We’re composting and weeding the things in our lives we don’t need and fertilizing the parts of ourselves we do need,” Mr. Raders explained, sitting on a eucalyptus stump.
Jay Z is tackling race in the Trump era. The rap mogul is currently working on his third docuseries, “Race With Jay Z,” with National Geographic. The project, produced by Hov and The Weinstein Company, will explore systematic injustices such as incarceration and the wealth gap, social media, activism and family, Variety reported. It will look at how race became “the most pressing issue in the nation” following the election.
The six-part docuseries, hosted by Jay Z, will include documentary, animation and archival footage. It will also feature diverse voices from immigrants, first-generation Americans and others.“National Geographic and Jay Z are the world’s foremost storytellers in their own right, and we’re thrilled to be working with them on such an evocative and meaningful project,” Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of The Weinstein Company, told Variety.
“By using highly cinematic storytelling techniques along with Jay Z’s singular point of view, the series will tell a dramatic, thought-provoking story on race in America.” “Race With Jay Z” is the artist’s latest reported docuseries. His first effort following the story of a teen unjustly incarcerated at Rikers Island, “Time: The Kalief Browder Story,” premiered in March. It was also recently announced that Jay Z is working on a project about the 2012 shooting and killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Singer Sharon Jones, the lead singer of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings who found success after working for years as a prison guard, died Friday of pancreatic cancer, according to her Facebook page. She was 60.
The soul and funk singer was recently the subject of the documentary “Miss Sharon Jones!” directed by Barbara Kopple. Jones released her first album at the age of 40, and was nominated for her first Grammy in 2014 for best R&B album for “Give the People What They Want.”
Born in North Augusta, South Carolina, she moved to Brooklyn as a child. Though she worked sporadically as a session singer, she worked for many years as a corrections officer at Rikers Island and an armored car guard for Wells Fargo Bank.
In 1996, she appeared on a session backing soul singer Lee Fields, recording the song “Switchblade” which appeared on the Soul Providers’ album “Soul Tequila.”
To ensure that no other prisoner kills themselves like teen Kalief Browder, the New York legislature recently passed a bill known as “Kalief’s Law,” to ensure that persons arrested receive a speedy trial, the Amsterdam News reported.
“For too long, the constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial has been denied in New York. Our broken Rockefeller-era law does nothing to guarantee to a speedy trial for the accused,” stated New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, who cosponsored the bill with Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry.
“In fact, it does the exact opposite, protecting a system that too often delays justice at the cost of defendants, victims and the taxpayers,” he added.
Browder was accused of stealing a backpack and spent more than 1,000 days in Rikers Island’s pretrial detention center, which included approximately 700 days in solitary confinement, the newspaper reported. Even though Browder was released, his depression from his experiences in Rikers prompted his 2015 suicide.
Activists are praising this new legislation as a progressive step forward.
“The bill’s passage in the Assembly by the overwhelming margin of 138-2 shows that our lawmakers are finally hearing the voices of the many organizations and thousands of activists who have been fighting for a more just criminal justice system,” said Glenn Martin, president and founder of JustLeadership USA. “We call on the Senate to take up and pass S.5998-A as soon as possible and make the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution’s promise of a speedy trial a reality in New York.”
John Legend hasn’t been keeping quiet on police brutality or mass incarceration. Now, he is taking it a step further with his essay for Vulture speaking out on the suicide of Kalief Browder, the young man who spent three years on Rikers Island without a conviction.
Legend is justifiably upset about Browder’s treatment while incarcerated, and he recalls meeting him in 2013 after seeing him in a television interview.
New York failed Kalief. The list of things that went wrong in his case begins with his first encounter with the NYPD, whose practice of targeting black teens is well documented. The idea that being accused of stealing a backpack would lead to his arrest and detention would be absurd if it weren’t actually tragic. He should not have been tried as an adult, or had prosecutors, defenders, and judges so overwhelmed with cases that he waited three years for trial, violating his constitutional right to swift justice. He should not have been held in an adult jail where he would spend 700 to 800 days of those three years in solitary confinement. He should not have spent one day being abused by guards or the others incarcerated there.
This Martin Luther King Day, Governor Cuomo publicly released findings from a task force he began last year to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice found that the patterns and practices at Rikers violate the human rights of adolescent males in jail. Rikers shouldn’t even have a youth unit. The RNDC, where Kalief spent three years, where 18-year-old Kenan Davishanged himself this week, should not exist. Right now legislators in Albany are considering legislation that would end the automatic prosecution of 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, and remove youths like Kalief from Rikers and other jails throughout the state. Kalief died because our system is broken, and lawmakers can act now to stop tragedies like this in the future.
NEW YORK (AP) — A group of young people at a New York City jail complex got some words of encouragement on Thursday from hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and actor/rapper LL Cool J.
The two visited Rikers Island to mark the launch of a national anti-violence program from Simmons’ RushCard, a prepaid debit card. RushCard’s Keep the Peace initiative is giving grants to neighborhood organizations. One of those is LIFE Camp, a Queens organization that works with young people, including those at Rikers, to reduce violence.
Cool J told the audience that his rough upbringing could have had him where they are if things had worked out differently, and he encouraged them to believe in themselves. “You can absolutely without a doubt do anything you put your mind to,” he said.
Simmons told them to focus on what’s inside them. “It’s your spirit you’ve got to work on,” he said.
Deputy Warden Clement Glenn said partnering with programs like LIFE Camp is among the ways the Department of Correction tries to get young people to change their behavior.
“We’re trying to encourage them not to come back into the system, hoping they will integrate into society and become contributing members of their community,” he said.