Eppchez Yes and 8 others are organizing this fundraiser on behalf of Denise Alexander.
“We, as formerly incarcerated people, deserve the right to take care of our own community. In this moment, we are asking that folks who care about this movement, and who have been energized by the protests and Movement For Black Lives, help us to ensure that this business and service to the community is sustained beyond our present moment. Everyone being released from jail deserves a safe ride to where they need to be, and it is the responsibility of those who are not directly impacted by the racist and violent police and prison system to support and empower those of us who have been doing this work for years so we can continue to do it safely and effectively. This work is life saving to us—not only for the individuals we’re providing help to on State Road, but to all of us who are directly impacted that are able to work together to build a better future for ourselves and our community.”
For much of the past nine years, Brian Watson, a formerly-incarcerated Black man, has spent his days waiting with his van next to the bus stop on State Road in Philadelphia. This bus stop is where people being released from jail are dropped off after being held at any of the four detention centers along this stretch of road. Brian greets each person with understanding, as someone who has experienced incarceration himself. Brian, facing many employment obstacles as a formerly-incarcerated person, has been able to generate a small amount of income providing safe and often free rides home to those being released.
If you’ve never been to State Road, it is severely disconnected from public transportation. Further, since the pandemic, it has not even been possible to get Lyfts and other ride shares to come to the bus stop. Brian’s service is often the only means home for many people who have been released. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brian has teamed up with LaTonya Myers from the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund. This partnership allows PCBF to better meet the needs of the community members that they are bailing out and supporting, as well as provides Brian with more stable income for his services a couple days a week.
However, this arrangement has been complicated by recent events. In the wake of George Floyd's death and related protests, the Philly community stepped up to support those being bailed out of jail by offering free rides home from State Road. Though we are grateful for the community's support, this disrupted the work Brian has been doing to care for those coming home and the foundation that he built for his community to be supported by those who are most impacted by the Prison Industrial Complex. When well-meaning efforts are out of touch with pre-existing community-led infrastructure, harm occurs. Brian’s work should not only be protected from this harm, it should be further uplifted. Brian and his comrades are a source of care and a beacon of hope for those coming home. As a community, we need to support Brian the same way he has supported those coming home for the last nine years.
To make this happen Brian, Chris Wimberly, and a growing team will need $150,000 to provide full-time jail support, including free rides home, at $30/hr for two years. PCBF and Philadelphia Bail Fund will each pitch in substantial funds towards that goal. This fundraiser is working to raise the remaining amount needed to make this dream possible. Any funds raised over the goal will allow this partnership to continue farther into the future. Brian has now teamed up with Goldenrod Transportation, a company owned and operated by Denise Alexander, a formerly incarcerated Black woman. Denise has provided this endeavor with the administrative support it needs to thrive and grow into the future. This fundraiser is to secure a salary for both Brian and the other formerly incarcerated drivers hired by Goldenrod for this work.
Drivers provide those being released with information about resources, pertinent hotline numbers, a mask, hand sanitizer, and a free ride to wherever they need to go. Our drivers also provide access to their phones so people can call their loved ones. All drivers receive training from LaTonya Myers, the Support Coordinator for the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund. We prioritize trans and gender nonconforming folx, women, and those with medical or mental health issues.
A sweet reunion on State Road!
What is jail support, and why is it important?
When an incarcerated person is released, they are usually either dropped off at a bus stop or even just sent out from a side or back gate. They may not have money to get home, or a means of transportation. They may be wounded, thirsty, or hungry. They may be disoriented or traumatized. They may not have anywhere to go. They may have been in jail for a day, or in prison for decades. Jail support is a vital, two-part practice: the first part is tracking, which means finding out where people who were arrested were taken, and calling to check in on their bail hearing and arraignment, i.e. when they get charged, and if they’ll need bail. This aspect of jail support is usually carried out by bail funds, criminal justice advocates and legal collectives. The second part is providing a comforting, well-resourced presence to folks who have just been released, regardless of if they were on a bail fund’s list of people to expect. Jail support must be trauma-informed and adaptable to each releasee’s emotional state and immediate needs. It can look many ways, but includes: celebrating as folks get released, offering moral support; holding space for the person to feel whatever they are feeling about their ordeal; providing food, water, medical attention if needed, and sanitation supplies and PPE in the COVID-19 era. Once they are comfortable, jail support connects the individual to any necessary legal services, or other needed services such as housing, or in these times, a place to quarantine. Lastly and vitally, effective jail support offers a safe, hassle-free ride to the destination of their choice. Without this support, our community members are left to fend for themselves.
Maybe you learned about jail support recently because of the arrests in connection with the Uprisings. Perhaps you have known for a long time about this vital work supporting people as they are released from jail. Regardless, jail support is not just a need that pops up with mass arrests during demonstrations. It is a mutual aid practice with a long history in Black and brown communities. To be done well and respectfully, it must be grounded in community connection. In addition to the services outlined above, jail support means understanding who is missing in the community; finding people inside the jail system; letting families know that their loved ones are accounted for; making sure folks inside know that they are not forgotten and that community is here to support them when they are released; and finally, showing up to keep that promise. Releasees have just come through a traumatizing experience, designed to dehumanize and isolate. Whether they are a protester, someone surviving in street economies, someone in need of mental health support, or someone arrested just for living while Black, everyone deserves to be welcomed out with emotional and physical support and nourishment, a ride home to somewhere safe, and resources to face whatever legal battle lies ahead. In a world that refuses to acknowledge that crime is the result of failing societal structures much more than any individual’s actions, all prisoners are political prisoners.