Sunday, November 15, 2009

Founder and Director of RAE in the news

"'I had a remarkable supporting case of people when I came home. When I first came home I started working for the death penalty law firm that represent guys on death row...I was blessed, but not my other exonerated brothers. They wasn't as blessed as I was when I came home.' It was this experience that drove him to set up his charity helping wrongfully convicted death row inmates to fit back into the outside world. The group provides housing, education and work opportunities to people who are otherwise shunned by society."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We've got a new team of volunteers!

The Mississippi Project gives a warm shout out to its newest members from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year classes at CUNY Law:

Renee Murdock, Lisa Zayas, Kimberly Sandberg, Julia Hernández, Robin Gordon-Leavitt, Emily Poppish, Angela Torregoza, Laura Girdwood, Richard Semegram, Phillip Azachi, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, Alejandro Lurati, Maggie Zambolla, and Kate Watson!

These folks will be heading down south in January of 2010. Stay tuned to this blog for their thoughts, experiences and ways you can help support them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

2010 Delegation Committment Forms Due Thursday 9/17/09 at 5pm!

Committment Forms for this year's delegation are due to the Mississippi Project Mailbox by 5pm on Thursday Spet 17th.

Blank forms can also be picked up in the mailbox, please place your completed form in the manilla envelope. Or send an email to and we'll send you an electronic form.

Stay tuned to news on the upcoming delegation and the projects the student volunteers will be working at!
In the meantime, here is some now-old news on a New Orleans public defender.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Recruiting for 2010 delegation!

Email to become part of the 2010 Delegation. Or come to the report back. Dates to keep in mind:
This Thurs, March 26 SIT time report-back and involvement meeting
Tues., April 14 1-2:30pm drop in Miss Proj recruiting session - Second Floor Lounge
Tues., April 21 5pm April Commitment Forms due
Tues., April 28 3-4:15pm first meeting of the 2010 Delegation with the advisory board


MARCH 27 - LSA budget due

Recruiting of 2Ls and 3Ls

Board of Visitors Event in the Hamptons

Recruiting 1Ls

A student - usually the volunteer from the previous year - will contact each Mississippi-host organization in early October to confirm that
(1) the organization is interested in having a CUNY intern for 2 weeks in January 2010,
(2) how many interns the organization would like to have/can use,
(3) what projects/initiatives/assignments the intern(s) will either have to work on or be able to choose to work on and who the supervisors are for these potential projects. This does not need to be an overly detailed description but knowing who is in the supervisory role for each project will be crucial! The student will take this information back to our student committee at CUNY.

The student committee will examine the needs of ALL the host organizations and decide who and how many students will be assigned to each host by November 1.

In November, the CUNY student(s) who plan to come to each organization will contact the organization and the supervisor(s) they want to work with directly to confirm and should hear back from supervisors at the organization by November 16, leaving students ample time to make travel arrangements.

Between November 16 and the end of December, the student(s) and their placement supervisors should be in touch in preparation for a really productive 2 weeks. This is a great time for supervisors to share any preliminary or background materials about projects that they would like the student(s) to have so that they can hit the ground running.

The internship - Each volunteer is agreeing to work 8 hours a day, Mondays thru Fridays, with 1/2 for lunch. The volunteer may request additional hours/work, but we respectfully request that the supervisor refrain from requesting that any volunteer work more than 40 hours each week, or on the weekends.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sex Ed Bill Died In Senate Committee on 3/3/09

But getting the Bill through the house at all is a great step forward for sex ed in Mississippi.

Friday, March 6, 2009

MIssissippi Project 2009 Report-Back

Come find out about what we all did during winter break, the state of human rights and civil liberties in the Delta, and how you can be a Mississippi Project rock star in January 2010.

Thursday, March 26, 12:15pm - 1:45pm (SIT time)
Room 250 (***NOTE THE ROOM CHANGE***)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mississippi House passes comprehensive sex ed bill!

The bill text, as passed the house is here: . Note that it requires boys & girls to be taught about sexuality seperately.

I wonder what the Senate will say...

Mississippi State House Passes Comprehensive Sex Education Legislation

Legislation passed late last week in the Mississippi state House that would allow the state's Departments of Education and Health to test a comprehensive sexual education pilot program in two school districts. The bill is, in part, a reaction to a recently released Center for Disease Control report that shows that Mississippi has one of the sharpest increases in teen pregnancy rates in the nation, a higher teen birth rate, and rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

The proposed program would require parental consent for students to participate. According to KSLA, the program would require that female and male students be separated to discuss certain topics, including sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Abortion would not be addressed under the program outlined in the bill.

Sex education of any kind is not currently required in Mississippi schools, but there is a focus on abstinence-only programs. Democratic state Representative John Hines told the Clarion Ledger that the state's focus on abstinence is not working because "babies are having babies and they can't take care of them."

Media Resources: The Commercial Dispatch, 02/13/09; The Clarion Ledger, 02/13/09, 02/12/09; KSLA 12, 02/12/09; Feminist Daily Newswire 1/26/09

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Back in NYC, Remembering NOLA

Ebette, AJ & I were living in the upper 9th Ward and as such, were immersed in the absolute gentrification of that area. As we walked through our neighborhood, we saw endless homes with the infamous spray-painted X, detailing the date the home was checked, and the number of dead people found inside after Katrina. There were a lot of zeros, thankfully. But at the same time, there were so many small cafes and bars and restaurants popping up. It was such a rich neighborhood, but it had a sense of Williamsburg to it. It was becoming overrun with young, white hipsters. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to several long-time residents of NOLA, who all said the same thing: as rich and diverse as the city is, it lost half its population after Katrina. The people returning are not the original residents.

I was conflicted because I fell in love in NOLA. I fell in love with the people, the city, its rich history and culture, as well as with the Innocence Project. The city is dripping with culture and full of people who want to share their stories and have a slow morning conversation with you as you try to break the habit of rushing to work. I could see myself living there, demanding justice. Yet I don't want to add to the gentrification and social injustice. I don't want to start building my life where someone else was forced to abandon theirs.

The most memorable moment of my time in NOLA was during our second weekend. I had wanted to bike down to the lower 9th Ward for a long time, but found myself hesitating. I had reservations about going b/c I didn't want to be a disaster tourist, and because I was scared of what I knew I was going to see. I did not know how to prepare for it and I did not know if I would be able to deal with it. All I knew is that I wanted and needed to see what the neighborhood was really like today, over 3 years post-Katrina.

Ebette, AJ & I biked down to the lower 9th together. It was empty. It was silent. It was so silent. It felt like another country. On the Industrial Canal side, where the levee broke, there were very few homes. Maybe 4 or 5 homes left standing -- barely standing -- over a span of several blocks. It went on like this for as far as I could see. These X's did not have zeros. They had numbers. The first number I saw was 8. Eight people had been left to die. It was a small two-family home. It looked like the family downstairs had sought refuge with the family upstairs. But nobody came for them.

The homes that were there were no longer homes, either. They were just empty structures, destroyed shells of what used to be people's homes. Mostly windowless, some with broken windows. Remnants of what used to be somebody's living room furniture, piled up as garbage, awaiting a pick up that has yet to happen -- over 3 years later.

In that pile of "debris," I saw a small piece of brick. I picked it up, held it, and imagined that it must have been a piece of somebody's home. A solid structure once, containing warmth, love, fights, laughter, tears, family dinners, a place for people to feel safe. A home. I held a chunk of what was left of this home in my hand. It got very hard to breathe. That piece of somebody's life that had been swept up into a pile of "garbage," I took with me. I will never forget.

It was utter destruction. I had a really hard time being there, seeing it all, yet I didn't want to leave. I felt like I shouldn't leave, like there was so much that needed to be done, and since no one was doing anything (with the exception of Brad Pitt's Make it Right New Orleans foundation -- I'm disgusted that our government has abandoned this neighborhood -- these people -- and it takes an actor's money to help them), that I should stay and do it.

I wondered how the government would have responded to the same situation had it happened on the Upper West Side. I know it wouldn't have abandoned those people.

A few days later, back at the Innocence Project office, I heard breaking news about the airliner landing in the Hudson River. Maybe I should have been full of joy that all of those folks had been promptly rescued. But through my relief, my mind kept returning to the same thought: this is what emergency response should be for everyone.

They were rescued within moments. Residents of the lower 9th Ward are still waiting.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My favorite Miss. Bill Introduced Today

There is a bill before the House protecting,

"(ii) The right of the teacher to reasonably defend
himself or herself in the classroom if a student strikes or uses other physical force, or attempts to strike or use other physical force, against the teacher. In defending himself or herself, a teacher may use only so much force for a period of time as may be reasonably required to protect the teacher from apparently impending bodily harm or further bodily harm. Under no circumstances may a teacher use an amount of force that disproportionately exceeds the force threatened or actually used by the student against the teacher, and under no circumstances may
a teacher use any force against a student for a period of time longer than reasonably required to remove the threat of bodily harm caused by the student."

For Goetz fans, note that this is all based on the teacher's understanding that there is "impending bodliy harm."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Resurrection After Exoneration

The Innocence Project is housed in a beautiful old building in the upper 9th ward here in New Orleans. Downstairs, Resurrection After Exoneration (RAE) is run by John Thompson, a death row exoneree who has begun to share his incredible story with us. RAE is a nonprofit that helps exonerees from Louisiana and Mississippi readjust to normal society after incarceration. John keeps getting phone calls and has been running off and now we understand why. His story is all over the news as the New Orleans DA is threatening to file for bankruptcy instead of paying John the compensation he was awarded in civil court - $15 million.

John spent 18 years in prison, 14 on death row, and evidence proving wrongful conviction of an armed robbery, which lead to his murder conviction, was uncovered only weeks before he was to be executed. This got him a new trial for the murder and he was found not-guilty. I'm unsure if there can ever be just compensation for 18 years of a person's life spent imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit - but I'm absolutely sure that the DA's office that blatently heaped false charges on John in order to get a murder conviction should not be able to worm out of paying up.

Read the AP story that has been picked up all over the country here.

And click here to see John on the news last night.

Legislative Session Notes

This has been an eye-opening experience of America for me so far. The legislative session opened yesterday for Mississippi. This means that Senators and Representatives are presenting bills. They have until Monday, January 19 to present all bills and constitutional amendments for consideration. Some of the bills are the kind of thing I didn't realize was still open for discussion in this country. Apparently, everything is up for grabs.

What makes this more surreal is that as the bills are presented, they silently appear on the Mississippi legislature website. I have been checking compulsively. To get a flavor of what politicians in Mississippi have on their minds, you can join me here: . Follow the link for Bill Status for the by House or Senate Committees.

Here is the text of my favorite bill of the day - it's short enough to include the whole thing here:

House Bill 25:
The State Board of Education shall require every textbook that includes the teaching of evolution in its contents to include the following language on the inside front cover of the textbook:

"The word 'theory' has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations.

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered a theory.
Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record; the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record; and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things. Study hard and keep an open mind."

To see how this bill is doing later in the session, click here:

MIssissippi is Number 1 in the Nation in Teen Births

The Centers for Disease Control released a study today of vital statistics for 2006 (the most recent available.). Mississippi is now number one in births to teenagers ages 15-19. In 2005, it was third in the nation.

I spent some of my time today responding to this news by creating a fact sheet about sex ed and take-action letter with Shawna Davies, the Reproductive Freedom Project coordinator.

Here's the content we put together. It's a pretty shocking picture of the state of sex education in Mississippi:

January 7, 2009

To Members of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Coalition:

Mississippi is failing its youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a report published today, ranked Mississippi FIRST in the nation in teen birth. Nationally, 41.9 teenagers 15-19 per 1,000 gave birth in 2006. In Mississippi, 68.4 teenagers 15-19 per 1,000 gave birth in 2006. There was a one-year increase of approximately 1,000 teen births between 2005 and 2006 in Mississippi. Additionally, the Mississippi State Department of Health Public Statistics office reports that 173 girls aged 12-14 in Mississippi gave birth in 2006. In 2006, there were 212,411 girls aged 10 to 19 in Mississippi; 8,701 of them became pregnant.

Mississippi law currently encourages harmful practices in the public schools. Sexuality education in the public schools is not required. Where schools opt to have sexuality education, the law requires that all programming emphasize an abstinence-only-until-marriage philosophy. The law does not allow in-school sexuality education classes to include demonstrations of how to use condoms or information about other forms of contraception. Despite abstinence-only-until-marriage programming, Mississippi’s rate of birth outside of marriage is striking: today’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study reports that nationally, 38.5% of all births happened outside of marriage in 2006; in Mississippi, 52.8% of all births happened outside of marriage.

Without legislative guidance, school districts are wasting resources. $5,971,147 in taxpayer dollars were spent on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Mississippi in 2006. As of 2006, approximately 8 Mississippi school districts—the only districts in the state to have implemented a sexuality education program at all—were receiving federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding. Districts that receive this funding do not teach our young people what they need to know about reproductive health and contraception to make educated choices if they are sexually active.

Congress has allocated a billion dollars since 1996 for programs that focus exclusively on abstinence-only. This funding censors vital health care information about contraceptives. As a recipient of these federal funds, the Mississippi Department of Human Services is not allowed to discuss contraception with teens except to emphasize failure rates. We’re missing the chance to have our government use our resources to maximize learning, safety, health and happiness.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programming does not work. A Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study published on January 1, 2009, in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Pediatrics found that, when researchers controlled for variables such as attitudes about sex teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage do not differ from their non-pledging peers regarding levels of sexual activity. They are just as likely to have sex outside of marriage, had sex for the first time at the same age, and have the same number of sexual partners. The study also revealed that teenagers who took the pledge were less likely to use any form of birth control or protect themselves from disease and infection.

Mississippi needs comprehensive sexuality education. Comprehensive sexuality education teaches that not having sex is the best and only fail-safe way to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of STDs; it also teaches students how to make well-informed decisions about their health if they decide to become sexually active. Mississippi youth make tough decisions on a daily basis. Adult leaders should provide medically accurate information to help them make decisions that protect their health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research has clearly shown that the most effective programs to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS are comprehensive ones that include a focus on delaying sexual behavior and provide information on how sexually active young people can protect themselves. Curricula that stress waiting to have sex and provide complete information about using contraception can significantly delay the initiation of sex, reduce the frequency of sex, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase condom or contraceptive use among teens. In a 2008 peer-reviewed scientific study, 15-19 year olds who participated in comprehensive programs that stressed the importance of delaying sex and provided information about contraceptive use were significantly less likely to report teen pregnancy than those who received either no sexuality education or attended abstinence-only-until-marriage programs

Major medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine, support comprehensive sexuality education. King County, Washington, has made its comprehensive sexuality education curriculum and lessons available for free on the internet at . Follow the link or type this address into your web browser to see a curriculum that works.

“Nationwide polls show an overwhelming majority of parents want sex education programs to cover where to get contraception and how to use it,” said Valencia Robinson, who works with teens as the AIDS Action Mississippi Director. “It’s time for Mississippi to do the right thing by its youth.”

No districts in Mississippi currently teach comprehensive sexuality education. You have the power to change Mississippi’s status from a state in crisis to a national leader in sexuality education. Support funding for sexuality education in Mississippi schools. Demand that our students receive effective, comprehensive and medically accurate information. Help make Mississippi safe for our youth. The legislative session has started. Contact your House Representatives and Senators today to let them know that you are alarmed by the recent Centers for Disease Control study and urge them to support sexuality education reform. You can contact your Representative at (601) 359-3770 and your Senator at (601) 359-3770 during the legislative session. If you can’t get through to them directly, contact the ACLU of Mississippi at (601) 354-3408.

You can also get involved in your local public school board. Current Mississippi law allows a school board to elect to implement comprehensive sexuality education by voting for it. Contact your school board members, share what you know about the state of sexuality education in Mississippi and the startling results, and urge them to give youth in their districts the education they so desperately need.

Please contact the ACLU for materials and sample letters to use when contacting public officials.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

IPNO Arrival

I am thrilled that we finally arrived in New Orleans to work with the Innocence Project of New Orleans (IPNO)! I am looking forward to learning more about the cases we will be working on over next few weeks.  Monday, we are headed to Jackson, Mississippi to begin research on 4 cases. Hopefully we will find information that is valuable to IPNO. 

It is quite disheartening, however, to see that this great and unique city still has not recovered from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. It's three years later and to me, it looks like Katrina happened less than a year ago. This is just unacceptable! I have already learned so much about about the city and am sure I will come away from this trip with more experience and reinvigorated for the second semester. Work like this reminds me of why I am in law school!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hello From Jackson MS

I have arrived in Jackson MS with my partner Dylan. There is a great community here bubbling with activism. We are staying with a couple who moved here a few years ago from California: Sage and Brad (and their dog Ziggy). Sage works at the Jackson Free Press ( - an awesome independent free weekly newspaper. Brad is the manager of the High Noon Cafe in Jackson's Rainbow Food Coop ( They live in a little house in Fondren with chickens and bees in the yard. It is nice to be so welcome.

Here's how I know we're in the South: catfish, no sidewalks, Sage was telling me about a friend of hers who grew up in the northern Delta and had segregated prom.

Looking at the Winter MS ACLU newsletter I was struck by an article about student speech after the Presidential election: the ACLU is respoding to multiple reports of students being disciplined for saying Barak Obama's name in school or discussing the election. Read the newsletter here: .