Help Native Americans like Travis win Justice

Help Native Americans like Travis Win Justice
Our nation’s criminal justice system has failed many Native Americans-- favoring punishment over accountability.
Who Are We?
My name is Heather Dew Oaksen. I’m a filmmaker, and first met Travis Ray ComesLast, an Assiniboine/Hunkpapa Sioux, 26 years ago while making a documentary. I'm raising funds to help my good friend tell his story of personal transformation from a reckless teen into a responsible, compassionate leader. A model prisoner at Airway Heights Correction Center in Washington State, Travis, who is 45, is seeking clemency for a drug related murder he committed at age 20.
“Changing my life was a way of showing remorse, taking responsibility, and making amends,” “I have always believed ‘sorry’ means nothing if you don’t do anything to make sure it never happens again.”
Travis has over 27 more years to serve on his 51-year sentence. If he were sentenced today, he’d likely face only a 20-year term.

Today, after many years of observation and friendship, I can confirm without reservation that Travis has become the man he had hoped to be at 18. Despite the lack of parole in Washington State, and the daunting reality of a virtual life-sentence, he has demonstrated through his actions, that he is worthy of and prepared for a second chance at life outside. His impeccable prison record, his Native leadership, guidance and mentoring activities, and his desire to give back to the community reveal his integrity and solid commitment to change.
As many of his fellow inmates’ letters attest, he’s definitely the “real thing”. Travis is a devoted husband married to Debra for 11 years, and loving father of his adopted nephew, Armando who is 7.

What Are We Funding?
Travis’ petition for clemency was summarily dismissed by the state’s Clemency Board in March despite his record as a model prisoner and the over 140 letters of support from diverse people including the retired Police Chief of Seattle, Norm Stamper. He has been blocked from reentry despite his sincere remorse and rehabilitation!
As a member of the “Justice for Travis” team, I am raising money to fund the production of a short professional film about Travis by an expert (not me) who specializes in the criminal justice field. The film will be used to tell Travis’ story by those who support his release, as well as the story of Native Americans like him whose extreme sentences no longer serve the interests of justice. We understand this film will be essential in the next stage of Travis’ appeal for clemency that begins in January. 
We will also use a portion of the funds to organize a public campaign around the petition to focus on Travis and the issues raised in his case, including the need for criminal justice reform to address the plight of indigenous people and people of color who committed crimes before the age of 25, and were sentenced to de facto life sentences in Washington state prisons.
Like so many Native Americans growing up in this country, Travis faced enormous challenges of poverty, racism and intergenerational trauma not of his making. He is a prime example of the many Native Americans over-represented in our prisons . This is especially true for emerging adults (under 25 years) ensnared in the violent world of the illegal drug trade, when they saw few other options. Neuroscience tells us that many offenders under 25 lack sufficient brain development to control impulsive behavior.
Next Steps
To win Travis’ release, our next step is either to file a petition for clemency with Governor Jay Inslee or re-file with the state Clemency Board that currently lacks any representation from the Native American community.
Please join me in this effort to help Travis and Native Americans like him win justice. Our nation bears a shameful legacy of the brutal history of eradication and oppression of Native peoples in the U.S.  This is one small but meaningful way to take action. Please donate now--you CAN make a difference and give Travis a second chance!

Your kindness today will change my tomorrow. Thank you for finding it in your heart to give and support my cause! Truly the world is a much better place for individuals like you! They say we are not promised tomorrow... so Today I will give my best! THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!
           Pilamaya, (Thank You)
           Travis Ray ComesLast

I met Travis 26 years ago at Green Hill School, a maximum-security prison for minors while teaching video production. I began interviewing my students for a film about their lives. Many of us have never come into contact with a felon. I hadn't. I found that the stereotypes just didn't fit, and the labels needed a human face.
I never intended to make a film (Minor Differences) that would take 18 years to complete. I did not expect to visit prisons throughout this country or to learn that mass incarceration of kids is a terrible crime against youth and does not work.
My plan was simply to teach inmates video production. I also thought I'd conduct interviews and do a film of my own.
The 10 boys in my class were ages 16 to 19. They entered the justice system as early as 10 or 12 and it wasn't more than a few years later that all but one were sentenced to prison. Most had committed serious crimes. Some also battled hard-core addictions. I saw plenty of gang tattoos and bravado but when I filmed these kids talking about their childhoods, I realized there were only minor differences between them and my own son who was then 15. I anticipated following the boys for 3 more years after their release from Green Hill, but once I got to know them, I cared about them, and I couldn't walk away.
MINOR DIFFERENCES, a feature documentary, produced by Caroline Cumming, follows five juvenile offenders on their journey from adolescence to manhood, and challenges the viewer to see them and their circumstances in new ways.

Travis’ segment is the fourth in the series and will give you an idea of who he is today and how dramatically he has changed over time.

Minor Differences documentary


Heather Dew Oaksen
Eastsound, WA

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