African in America Network

Alton Pitre

Alton

Los Angeles, CA/Journalist/Poet/Juvenile Justice Ambassador
Business inquiries altonpitre@yahoo.com
Social Media: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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Alton Pitre was raised by his loving grandmother in a neighborhood located in South Central, Los Angeles known as The Jungles. Predictably, as a youth he became affiliated in the local gang which led to his arrest two months before graduating high school, for a robbery he did not commit.  On his last juvenile court date, two years later, Pitre declined a plea bargain of a year and a strike and was sent to adult court where he faced a potential 46 years to life. He was later exonerated in adult court.


Since his release 2010 release, the Jungle native has dedicated his life to becoming an advocate for youth across the nation. Currently, Pitre is a columnist for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, serves on the Member Board for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, and a sociology major at Morehouse College.

Follow Jungletography[LEFT] & Jungletography[RIGHT]

 

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I can’t Breathe – by Alton Pitre – 2016

Alton Pitre speaks on panel Halting the Criminalization of Adolescence – CBCF – ALC 2015 – Washington, DC

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Halting the Criminalization of Adolescence
 

In September, during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 45th Annual Legislative Conference, Robert F. Kennedy Juvenile Justice Collaborative co-hosted an event with honorary host Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-MO-1) entitled “Halting the Criminalization of Adolescence: Youth Perspectives and Best Practices to Improve Youth Health, Justice, and Education.” The event featured two panel discussions, including a first panel of young adults who previously had been impacted by the justice system and who now are working to reform the system as well as tackle other barriers faced by youth, including lack of access to education, health care, and economic opportunity.

The Honorable Don Cravins, Jr. of the National Urban League Washington Bureau and the four youth panelists, Jim St. Germain from New York, Jabriera Handy from Baltimore, Quwanisha Hines from Newport News, and Alton Pitre from Los Angeles, engaged in a gripping discussion about the problems they had experienced with the justice system and the reforms they urge policy makers at the local, state, and federal level to pursue.

The young people highlighted specific policy recommendations that would help remediate justice system failings, as well as improve young people’s access to education, health, and economic success.

The panelists stressed that the justice system should treat youth in developmentally appropriate ways, and incorporate the understanding that young people will make mistakes but that the response to those mistakes should be proportionate.

They also stressed the need to provide pro-social outlets for young people, including access to education (including higher education), as well as mentoring and work opportunities that allow young people to have positive, life-shaping experiences. This captivating, powerful panel spoke to a crowded room of over 60 listeners that included youth, advocates, members of Congress and other key policymakers.

The second panel, moderated by RFK Juvenile Justice Collaborative Project Director, Jenny Collier, took the concerns and recommendations of the youth panel and put them into the context of reforms underway by a range of organizations and service sectors.  Panelists included Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator of the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; Christopher Scott, Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Policy Center; Dr. Jennifer Woolard, Associate Professor, Co-Director of the Graduate Program in Developmental Science in the Department of Psychology at Georgetown University; Rob Zucker of Treatment Communities of America; and The Honorable Don Cravins, Jr., Executive Director of the National Urban League Washington Bureau.

Dr. Woolard kicked off the panel by presenting a compelling summary of adolescent brain development, and reinforced the comments the first panel made about the need for developmentally appropriate justice interventions for youth.

Other panelists contributed by identifying progress as well as needed reforms, including improved access to education, better reentry supports, and the need for more immediate access to health care, including behavioral health care such as substance use interventions and treatment.

Many of the recommendations discussed by both sets of panelists would be supported by reauthorization of theJuvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), such as improved access to education and reentry supports.  Improving the juvenile justice system in these ways would help to secure a better future for young people who are involved in or at risk from the justice system.

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Changing Youth Lives Through Testimony and Awareness|By Alton Pitre

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Campaign for Youth Justice| Published October 1st, 2015|By Alton Pitre

Several years ago I found myself facing adult time as a teen in Los Angeles. I was held in detention for two years, serving dead time fighting my “fitness,” a court process where they were “determining” if I would be tried as a juvenile or an adult for a crime for which I was later exonerated. Presuming that I would be charged as an adult, I was housed separately from other youth in the detention center, even though we were all the same age. Through the years I spent pending my trial and since my release, I’ve learned that the juvenile justice system is failing our youth all over the nation, and it is time for everyone to realize that in its current state it is destructive and ineffective.

I am constantly amazed yet distraught at how America treats its youth who are in essence its’ most vulnerable and teachable citizens. It’s true when people say that our children are the future but how can they ever be if they are often thrown away to die in prison? Sadly, the United States is the only country that does so.

When kids are locked up as adults they are immediately subjected to punishment instead of rehabilitation. Hence, they are deprived of the care and treatment necessary to turn their lives around; instead they are exposed to threats and acts, of physical, sexual and mental trauma and abuse. For their “protection” from this abuse, they are welcomed into the beautiful world of solitary confinement, burying them alive and permanently interrupting healthy brain development.

I have countless childhood friends who have lost the rest of their fruitful lives to the prison system. Yes, children will make mistakes; some will make bad mistakes depending on the type of environment they were raised in and the supports they had (or lacked). However, children shouldn’t be judged solely on the type of crime they committed but also considering the contributing background factors leading up to why they did it.  They should have the chance to learn from their mistakes and choose differently.

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Currently, I am a  24-year-old, full-time student at Morehouse College and ambassador for juvenile justice reform. Through sharing my story of overcoming both the mean streets of Los Angeles and incarceration, I have been able to travel the country writing and speaking about this injustice. I have written op-eds that have gained the likes of U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Michael Eric Dyson, Rosie O’Donnell, and Orange is the New Black’s author Piper Kerman, all, who have shared them on their Twitter accounts.

In California, I participate in lobbying efforts with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), advocating for legislation that provides second chances to youthful offenders. This September, ARC helped passed SB261, which extends parole eligibility to 16,000 offenders under the age of 23. I also visited D.C. with ARC on a policy trip advocating for criminal justice reform at the White House.

This summer, I visited Washington D.C. again, interning with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization where I was able to extend my political advocacy on a national level. There I attended congressional briefings and met with members of Congress, advocating for reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The JJDPA addresses youth in detention by providing funding to state programs that serve at-risk youth, addressing disproportionate minority contact (DMC) and removing status offenders from secure detention and youth from adult jails, or at least ensuring sight and sound separation. You can take action for the JJDPA here.

The practice of locking up and trying kids as adults is harmful to our youth and the world. Youth sentenced as adults are often condemned without a chance to redeem their freedom, even after they have been truly rehabilitated and served many years in prison. It is imperative that awareness of this devastating problem is brought to the attention of everyone in our nation, especially our law enforcement and policymakers. No child should be subjugated to this type of tyranny.

This month is Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM). As fellow caring human beings and advocates for justice, now is the time to challenge ourselves to get involved in this movement. We must use our personal stories and experiences to change the minds and hearts of those in power. Our children deserve to be treated like the children they are.

Written by Alton Pitre, Juvenile Justice Advocate.

Alton Pitre Studies Abroad in 2015|Brazil, South America

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 NBA on TNT – Turner Studios April 22nd, 2015|Atlanta, CA

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Surviving the Jungle – by Alton Pitre

Defying the odds of overcoming violence and incarceration at a young age, Alton Pitre seeks to inspire the uninspired in this short poetry video “Surviving the Jungle” directed by Willie Williams | A.i.A Network. Depicted in this brief film is the gang life of his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood The Jungles.

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Pitre experienced many hardships as a youth growing up in his community which goes unnoticed too often. It is a reality that can not be fabricated; but one that needs to be changed. The success of many natives making it out of the Jungle is rare, but Pitre shows that it is definitely possible by him getting accepted to Morehouse College.

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Alton Pitre throwing up the letter “M” representing his recent acceptance to Morehouse College.

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Four years ago Pitre was an inmate fighting life in a courthouse, now five years later he is a student and man of Morehouse. His recent acceptance to Morehouse College for fall 2014 is true testimony of a dream come true. Overcoming the many adversities of living in the wild Jungles of the streets of Los Angeles, formerly incarcerated minor now juvenile justice ambassador keeps on defying the odds. Morehouse will embark a new beginning for him on his road to success. He sends his thanks out to God, his loving grandmother Mama Nechie, InsideOut Writers and all the countless people who contributed to his achievement.

OP-ED Monthly  Column| By ALTON PITRE | Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

 The Truth Behind Obama’s Juvenile Justice Reform: By Alton Pitre February 3rd, 2016


jjie-logoLately I’ve read so many articles on juvenile and criminal justice reform laws being passed it’s surreal. At first glance these reforms momentarily swept me off my feet.

Last month, in a series of executive actions, President Obama banned the use of solitary confinement for all juveniles in the federal prison system and for inmates who commit low-level infractions. The new rule prescribes that a prisoner cannot be punished with solitary confinement for a first offense for longer than 60 days, instead of the existing maximum of 365 days. Roughly 10,000 federal inmates will be affected by this reform.

While the media labels these reforms as major keys toward unlocking justice, I can’t dwell on this but need to keep working on more reforms.

The truth is, hardly any kids will be directly impacted by this because there arepractically no juveniles in federal prisons. In December 2015, the Bureau of Prisons recorded only 26 people under 18 in federal custody.

This information immediately brought me back down to earth. I am a firm believer in maintaining a positive outlook but I am also a man who understands reality. Even so, Obama’s reform can be a huge blueprint for states to follow.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed by Obama, he emphasized the story of Kalief Browder and the need to rethink the inhumane practices that ultimately led to the 22-year-old’s death. Browder was 16 in 2010 when he was incarcerated at Rikers Island, awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack. He spent nearly two years in solitary confinement enduring all kinds of abuse. He was eventually released, but due to the extreme trauma from solitary confinement he committed suicide.

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The juvenile system failed Browder and his family every step of the way, from his arrest for the minor crime he allegedly committed to the way he was treated and how long he was kept without trial at Rikers Island. But that’s another story.

Our nation’s callous use of solitary confinement, particularly for youth who are at such vulnerable stages in their lives, is the problem that needs to be fixed. Incarceration is no real solution to reducing crime and changing lives, but if a person must be imprisoned they should not be subjected to solitary, especially for long periods.

Secluding a person from human contact in a limited space that way is not at all healthy, whether you are isolated inside a bedroom or even worse, a small prison cell. I don’t even like being by myself inside my dorm room all day here at Morehouse College.

[Related: The Handbook of Juvenile Delinquency and Juvenile Justice]

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About five years ago, I was subjected to this cruel punishment at 18 inside a compound at juvenile hall. Because of my alleged charges, I was considered a “high-risk offender” along with all the other juveniles in Los Angeles County who were being tried as adults. We were segregated from the kids in general population inside a gated prison that housed two buildings with four special units divided by age and sometimes race. Often we were even separated from each other within our own units without any reading material or anything else.

I was already battling the catastrophic predicament of being locked up for a crime I had not been involved in. Having to be crammed into a mansion-sized walk-in closet all day for weeks at a time was not helping my rehabilitation.

There were no toilets inside our rooms. Depending on the senior probation staff in charge that day, we could be cheated of our only hour or two mandated for us to be spent in recreation outside the rooms. My imagination can hardly fathom what it is like to experience solitary confinement in an actual adult prison.

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President Obama’s good intentions are not unappreciated. I love our first black president and the morals he fights for and stands for.

I am just not as overwhelmingly happy as I was when I first heard the news that he banned the use of solitary confinement on juveniles in the federal prison system. I’m glad there are fewer than 30 kids in federal prisons and I know that Obama has limited power when it comes to changing state laws.

But it is astonishing and disappointing to know that only a tiny percentage of juveniles will be directly affected by the new ban.

I will continue to pray and advocate for the ban of solitary confinement on juveniles all across the United States. If America is serious about changing the trajectory of juvenile and criminal justice reform for the better, then state and local governments must act to apply this reform. It is an imperative component to changing and rehabilitating the lives of our youth.

I believe in prevention and alternatives to incarceration for kids, but for those who must be incarcerated, providing the necessary treatment and proper resources will only improve our justice system and ultimately the lives of the kids. Treating juveniles with care while they are incarcerated will enable them to return to society as productive members and reduce the need to lock them up when they are older, saving our country tons of money.

As Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Alton Pitre is a 24-year-old native of Los Angeles. He is a juvenile justice ambassador, serves on the Member Board for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and is a sociology major at Morehouse College.


Cops Crash Kids’ Pool Party, Reinforce Anger: By Alton Pitre June 8th, 2015

jjie-logoTo be young and black in America today is to still fear being brutalized by police at any moment. Police should be trained and mandated to change their approach when dealing with youth because their current one is detrimentally affecting children’s lives.

In a recent video all over the web, a white police officer is witnessed terrorizing a kids’ pool party in an Oscar award-winning fashion. The now-suspended officer was responding to a disturbance call in McKinney, Texas, a predominantly white city (according to the Census).
Only the black kids were harassed and apprehended. This officer cursed at nearly every black youth, shouting at them to “get your ass out of here.”

Furious, he wrestles a 15-year-old girl in a bikini to the ground, pulling her braids, for allegedly not obeying one of his commands. “On your face!” he hollers.

Later he is seen drawing his gun on two other teens. What if the officer had purposely or “accidentally” shot, possibly killing, those kids as has happened many times recently?

In this case, I am happy to say we don’t have to add more names to the list that includes Michael Brown, VonDeritt Myers Jr., Tamir Rice and countless other unarmed black youth who were unjustly gunned down by white police officers.

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McKinney Texas Pool Party.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that this officer’s actions were not only immoral but illegal. He demanded the children get down on the ground but had no justification for that. He immediately caused havoc without asking any questions.

I believe this is when a colleague needs to step in to calm his or her partner. Police officers need to rightfully enforce their peer responsibility of holding each other accountable for their actions, with consequence from their department for lack of effort. This would greatly help to prevent these harsh and unnecessary encounters.

To protect and serve the community is law enforcement’s well-known, traditional motto. However, these occurrences have proven that these officers are not living by that standard.

Watching the cop’s sickening performance in this video, which was difficult to do, was heartbreaking. I was instantly outraged and felt so much compassion for those innocent kids who were verbally, emotionally and physically abused.

I shared the video on my Facebook page and got many responses from people who were deeply angered, expressing their hate toward this cop and others everywhere.

This cop’s behavior reminded me of when I was a teen in Los Angeles: My friends and I would get stopped by police in our own neighborhoods for walking down the street, but were treated like we had just committed a murder. Occasions like this made me feel like I was guilty of something when I actually wasn’t.

As my mentor Scott Budnick says, these kids are victims long before they decide to victimize anyone else.

Alton Pitre is a 24-year-old native of Los Angeles. He is a juvenile justice ambassador, serves on the Member Board for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and is a sociology major at Morehouse College.

OP-ED: California Measure Is Step Toward True Justice: By Alton Pitre June 5th, 2015

jjie-logoIt hurts my heart to know that children and young adults are thrown away to die in prison every day without the opportunity of ever getting out, even if they truly rehabilitate themselves.

But the bill the California Senate passed Tuesday may provide second chances to thousands of youthful offenders.

SB 261 is an extension of SB 260, passed in 2013, both introduced by Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock. The existing law requires the Board of Parole Hearings to review the cases of juvenile offenders who committed their crimes when they were under the age of 18 after they have served 15 to 25 years, depending on their offense.

The new extended bill would offer the same early parole eligibility for offenders who were younger than 23 when they were sentenced to lengthy state prison terms.

Certain offenders, those sentenced under Jessica’s Law, one strike rape, three strikes and life without the possibility of parole, are excluded from SB 261.

The bill recognizes recent research showing cognitive development continues well into the mid-20s, “particularly in parts of the brain relating to judgment, risk assessment and decision making,” said Hancock when she introduced the bill.

Many people may have presumed this bill guarantees an early release but that is not true.

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Alton Pitre(Morehouse College Student) studies abroad in Brazil South America 2015

Since the passage of SB 260 two years ago, there have been 490 parole hearings. Of that total, 155 people have been approved for release and there has been no recidivism thus far, “not one case whatsoever,” Hancock said.

This proves that those juveniles who were sentenced to pretty much rot in prison have changed their lives for the better.

I personally have met and spent a lot of time with a few of those people, some of whom are now part of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), a nonprofit organization that played an instrumental role in the bill’s success. And those men have showed me, as well as society, that they are not the same person they used to be and are using their success stories as inspiration for youth all over the nation.

The California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) is still against this bill. It sent a letter to California senators arguing that “When a person turns 18 (and certainly by the time they are 22), society recognizes that they have reached an age at which they can be trusted to make decisions for themselves. They can vote, they can smoke, they can enlist in the military, and they can enter into contracts. … SB261, however, suggests that a 22 year old who has graduated from college is incapable of understanding that it’s wrong to kill or forcibly rape someone.”

Without a doubt these types of crimes are wrong, but that should not deprive someone of the chance to redeem themselves and earn their freedom after they have served their time and positively changed their lives.

How can our justice system condemn our youth for being the imperfect beings that we all are? We are all going to fail and make mistakes, some will make terrible mistakes, but should we continue to be doomed for the rest of our lives for an error we made 25 years ago?

I believe that true justice provides everyone an equal opportunity at a second chance regardless of their past, race and socioeconomic status. SB 261 is a huge and vital step toward reforming our corrupted juvenile and criminal justice systems that will help make our nation and the world a better place.

Let’s pray this bill succeeds during the rest of the legislative process so that Gov. Jerry Brown can sign it and help change the lives of more youthful offenders.

Alton Pitre is a 24-year-old native of Los Angeles. He is a juvenile justice ambassador, serves on the Member Board for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and is a sociology major at Morehouse College.

OP-ED: Dr. King, His Day, Then and Now By: Alton Pitre January 22, 2015

jjie-logoThe moment you realize the things you used to do were dumb is the divine moment you realize how far you have come.

Attending the parade on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Atlanta this year was the first time I have ever positively engaged in the holiday.

Back home in South Central Los Angeles (sad to say) MLK Day is mostly a “hood day” for all the local gangs to get together, come out and show how tough they are. For awhile, that was me too.

I would dress up in my affiliated attire and go to the parade just to gangbang with all my homies. That was my sole purpose for attending the event; not to honor Dr King but to get into mischief. I didn’t care about the police surveying me, the many families around me, and I certainly didn’t care what any stranger thought or had to say. All I wanted was gang activity.

Our territory was already marked so everyone knew to refrain from entering. If an “enemy” or a member from a rival gang was ignorant or brave enough to walk in our area then we dealt with them accordingly with no hesitation.

But that happened rarely because we were notoriously feared. And whenever we wanted to spice up the event we would start some trouble by leaving our territory to intrude on others’. Many times we would even beat up innocent people for no reason at all.

Now when I see my old peers broadcasting their terrorist behaviors at the MLK parade on social media I finally understand how stupid I was.

But it wasn’t stupid to me then because that was my life. That was all I knew. It was right for me because if I didn’t behave that way I would have been seen as a punk or a lame.

I was blind to the fact that everything I was doing was negative, harmful and exactly the opposite of what Dr. King had peacefully fought so hard for.IMG_5443b

This MLK Day was the opposite: I was of service to myself and the community. Wearing my Morehouse paraphernalia, I visited the King Center where his museum, memorial site and birth home are located. This was where I was able to socially and intellectually interact with many different races. I could finally think about and fully digest what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for, equality and nonviolence.

Not that I didn’t already know that, but this experience was different, special.

The highlight of my day was my impact on others. While at the King Center I came across a big black poster sign that read “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” I carried it with me everywhere I went.

During that time many people came up to me asking if they could take a picture with me and the sign. I snapped pics with kids whose faces shone brighter than the sun.

One parent stopped me to take a pic with her son. We chatted for a few minutes, and after noticing my shirt she told me she wants her son to go to Morehouse when he gets older. I excitedly told him what he needed to do to get there, and his smile was all the confirmation I needed to solidify and pursue my purpose in life.

In retrospect, I used to be young and dumb. I didn’t think consciously about my actions and their consequences.

It took my attending MLK Day years later in another state for me to realize the significance of the holiday and the importance of using our influence in a positive way. You never know the effect you’ll have on others.

I am, as Dr. King would say, free at last.

Alton Pitre is a 23-year-old native of Los Angeles. Overcoming the streets and incarceration as a youth, he now serves as an ambassador for juvenile justice. Pitre currently is studying sociology at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

OP-ED: How it Feels to be Young, Black and Disrespected by the Cops By: Alton Pitre|December 5, 2014

jjie-logoATLANA — For a race oppressed for hundreds of years by the government and by law enforcement, are a couple of recent failures to indict really a surprise?

The nation’s criminal justice system cannot fail black people because it was not designed to protect us. Instead, it was meant to keep us deprived of the rights we never had.

The scariest part about being black in the United States is knowing that your freedom or life can be taken away by police any day, for essentially nothing, and usually nothing will be done about it.

If you didn’t know what I meant by that before, you surely know what I mean by it now that a Missouri grand jury failed to indict a policeman for killing Michael Brown and a New York grand jury failed to indict a police officer for killing Eric Garner.

If you are thinking “this couldn’t possibly happen to me,” you are wrong. It can, especially if you are black.

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Alton Pitre Attends the Millions March event in Los Angeles

So yes, it is racial to the core. But it is also about a law enforcement system that seems to have a built-in disrespect for so many it is supposed to protect.

Not everyone can see it, of course.

Back home in Los Angeles I have a black friend who aspires to be a police officer. He can’t understand why I and so many others have such a distrust of the police. And that’s because he has never personally gotten into trouble with the law. I also have white friends who are Hollywood producers and entertainment lawyers who understand and empathize with these challenges, but they can’t completely feel what we feel simply because they have never been subjected to police brutality, and just plain inhumane treatment by law enforcement.

You see, I grew up in South Central Los Angeles in a poverty-stricken and gang-ridden neighborhood known as The Jungles. This is where I witnessed and experienced police harassment, brutality and corruption. When I was 18, I was locked up for a robbery I did not commit and faced a potential life sentence.

After two years my charges of four armed robberies, two gang injunctions and attempted murder were finally dropped in adult court. Since my release in 2010, I have transitioned from the streets into living a positive lifestyle.

Four years later, today, I am a full-time student at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater, Morehouse College, the number one black college in the nation.

I’m in a good place at Morehouse and in a good place all around. I respect myself, and others, and I’m primed to go out into the world and do good work.

But that’s not the way law enforcement sees me. They don’t see me as one of the bright lights in the nation’s future. No, I’m a dangerous young black man to them, I’m just a hair away from becoming another Michael Brown or an Eric Garner.

Want to know why I say that?

Here’s my most recent reason:

A few weeks age a couple of friends and I went over to an 18-and-over party near Georgia State University, the big urban campus downtown, not far from Morehouse, for their homecoming. Some security guards were working the door so I slipped a 22-year-old friend of mine my ID. (He had forgotten his, still I shouldn’t have done it.) When one of the security guards caught me, I immediately apologized and politely asked for my ID back.

In short, this whole thing escalated. The female security guard started yelling at me, and told me to talk to the sheriff’s deputy in the parking lot if I wanted to retrieve my ID. I walked up to the deputy on duty and asked if he could help. He responded that he had nothing to do with it. I found this odd because I thought it was his job to handle situations like this.

So I walked back to the first two security guards and asked for my ID again. This led to more screaming by the female guard, which brought in about four more security guards who got in my face. The next thing I knew, I was being choked and dragged through the parking lot by those security guards while the deputy and his partner watched and did nothing.

Even then — months after he had died, but way before many knew about him — I thought about how Eric Garner felt when he was being choked to death by the NYPD. I did not know if I was going to die from a choke hold or a gunshot. All I remember is seeing black and not being able to breathe. After I regained my consciousness and balance, a security guard handed me my ID and the sheriffs, batons in hand, demanded that I leave the property.

After all that, I got my ID back. So much could have been avoided with a little mutual respect.

So it was respect, not race, that was the problem during this incident, because all the security and deputies were black. What baffled me was their absence of regard for another person’s rights and life, not to mention common sense.

They did not respect me as a college student nor did they respect their own authority to correctly handle the situation.

These are the things that can demoralize people, affecting their character and well-being for the rest of their lives. If nothing changes and officers are not held accountable for their actions, then we are all guilty of immorality. All forms of authority and law enforcement must be held to a higher legal and moral standard in our system, a system that says there shall be liberty and justice for all.

OP-ED: Our Words Break Down ‘Stern Disinterest’ of Incarcerated Youth By: Alton Pitre | September 18th, 2014


Screen-Shot-2013-12-19-at-2.33.26-AMThis summer I had the chance to visit Rikers Island in New York along with 15 other members of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC). The trip was fortunate because a divine intervention occurred. What was supposed to have been just a tour quickly became our group being able to speak to all the incarcerated youth. New York and North Carolina are the only two remaining states where all defendants 16 and older are automatically treated as adults in the criminal justice system. In other states, adult prosecution for youths 16 and up must be ordered by a judge. An August report from the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York described a “deep-seated culture of violence”against adolescent inmates at Rikers Island. The ARC is an organization of about 150 formerly incarcerated people now living productive lives. Part of its mission is to try to inspire the incarcerated to change their lives, while also being an ambassador for policy change in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.

Alton_pitre2-e1411049465541We arrived in a black corrections van, suited and booted, wearing ties. After meeting the warden and a few other deputies we began our tour of the facility.

After five or 10 minutes, we passed a classroom of six teenagers, ages 16 and 17, studying life skills.

We entered the classroom and talked to them. At first they were hesitant, probably wondering who we were invading their space, asking questions with nice suits on. A few of our members shared their stories, and eventually the youth opened up, sharing some of their stories.

After Winette Saunders, the lead deputy commissioner in charge of our tour, saw the students’ many, unexpected and positive reactions to our inspirational stories, she left to halt every nearby class in session, returning with about 60 more 16- and 17-year-olds.

She apologized for disrupting the informal meeting and urged us to repeat our testimonies, saying, “They need to hear this!” We continued sharing our stories and they did the same.

On the spur of the moment, Saunders then invited us to speak to the 18-year-olds at their housing facility across the street. We thought we would be walking into another small classroom with a few teens, but that was not the case.

We marched into a big basketball gymnasium with about 100 of the 18-year-olds waiting, seated on the bleachers. The staff had chairs lined up for us and were already setting up a microphone and speaker for our presentation.

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As before, the inmates’ first reaction to us was dubious. Their faces were stern with disinterest and discomfort seeing all us strangers walk in dressed in professional clothing. They probably thought we were some high-ranked officials coming to talk to them about lord knows what.

I imagined they saw us as visitors in a zoo peeking at them like animals locked up in a cage. We pitched to them our usual stories, which reduced their reluctance to hear us out and eventually they were all ears.

When it was my turn, I told them of my false incarceration. Because I had been imprisoned facing a potential life sentence for a robbery I did not commit and was granted my freedom two years later, I stressed to them to always keep faith no matter their circumstances and that change starts while they are locked up and not back out on the streets.

An older male inmate also attended the session. He had been asked to leave his cell to help fix and set up the audio devices due to minor technical difficulties. He volunteered to speak, saying he was compelled to also give a testimonial.

He said he had been unaware of the miracle that awaited him in the gym and that it was God’s calling because he was enduring a time of depression but was revived by our powerful words. He also told the teens to change the direction of their lives before they are locked up at his age.

For the last 10 minutes, everyone interacted with each other. We did not want to only testify but to talk to them in regular conversation. So we left our seats and joined the 18-year-olds in the stands where we continued to chat on a more personal level.

Our trip to the notorious Rikers Island was life-changing not only for the youth, elder man and corrections staff but for myself as well.

To know that you can bring hope and incentive to a place that is prominently known for its brutal violence and inmates’ despair using words is truly and remarkably amazing. This visit solidified my passion of wanting to change and motivate the lives of the forgotten and condemned.

Alton Pitre is a 23-year-old native of Los Angeles. Overcoming the streets and incarceration as a youth, he now serves as an ambassador for juvenile justice. Pitre currently is studying sociology at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

 OP-ED: The Uneasy Transition from Juvenile Hall By: ALTON PITRE | May 8th, 2014

 

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 2.33.26 AMExhilaration jolted through my body when I stepped back onto the grounds of Central Juvenile Hall for the first time since my release. I finally knew what it felt like to come back as a free man and not as a detained juvenile. I cherished how different it felt. Now, I was wearing my own clothes and not the dull gray uniform of the hall. My arms dangled freely as I walked without anyone telling me to walk in a line with my hands behind my back. I even had a chance to chat with some of the juvenile hall’s probation officers, who were surprised to see me. The last time they had I was sitting in my cell.

photo-e1399555957243-336x357My first day of freedom after 18 long months of captivity was Oct. 8, 2010. That was when reality quickly settled in. I was sitting at a table with my father and a few friends at a Denny’s restaurant, eating some bacon. My chest was poked out and my shoulders were buffed up. Noticing this, one of my friends jokingly said “Al, you out. You can relax and quit acting hard now.” I found that really funny because I was not trying to look tough. After being in jail for so long I had picked up the habit of trying to look like a thug while sitting at the dinner table. I was institutionalized. I did not even remember the proper way to use a knife and fork to cut my pancakes.

During my time in the halls, I was a student of InsideOut Writers, a nonprofit organization that conducts creative writing classes in the L.A. County juvenile halls with the hope of reducing recidivism. The Monday after I was released one of my writing teachers, Matthew Mizel, brought me to the IOW office. They welcomed me into the family and I joined the Alumni Program, IOW’s re-entry service component for students who have been released. Everyone was so happy to meet me. I had not seen that many smiles in the same place in a very long time. It was definitely what I needed at that point.

IOW showed me the ropes of how to obtain a California I.D. card, complete a job résumé and apply for college. My reintegration into society was not as difficult as it could have been because of the help IOW provided, but I still encountered problems on my own.

I found I didn’t know how to communicate well with others. I would use language that I learned in jail. One time I asked my grandmother if I could take a “sit down,” which refers to sitting down to use the toilet. She asked me what was I talking about and I explained. She laughed and told me I didn’t have to ask her for permission to use the restroom.

Psychologically I was the same high school kid who was sent to juvenile hall, but I was a few years older and eligible to enter the adult criminal justice system. I was still labeled as a gang member and I was now responsible for going to school and keeping a job. My days were now consumed with classes, work and attending special events. I had to man up fast, whether I liked it or not.

The biggest issue I faced was trying to stay off the radar of my peers and the police while still residing in the same community I got caught up in. I had not yet realized that it was a dangerous risk just walking down the street.

I was mostly successful at staying out the way until one morning on my day off. I was in the Jungles neighborhood of L.A., walking by myself to the local park to play basketball when I was stopped by LAPD. This was my first encounter with law enforcement since my release. They hopped out of their car and started asking me where was I going and if I was on probation. I told them I was not on probation, it was none of their business where I was going and that they had no legit reason for handcuffing me.

I remember one of the officers asking me if I was from around the area because they had not seen me before and I did not seem accustomed to the frequent stops. They completed a field card on me and then let me go. That is when I realized that no matter how much you transform or how long you are away, when you come back you are always perceived as a villain. If only they knew that I was really one of the good guys.

However, IOW recognized my personal growth and invited me to attend their annual writer’s retreat as an alum this year at Central Juvenile Hall. I told the kids that I was in their position just a few years earlier and I shared how I coped with that experience. I told them about my acceptance to Morehouse College and I stressed that change can’t begin the moment they are released. It must start now, while they are still incarcerated. They must first prepare mentally and educate themselves before they are thrown back out into the real world where they will be tested constantly. The tables can and will turn for the better but only if they put in the necessary work.

Alton Pitre is a 23 year-old native of Los Angeles, Calif. He is a juvenile justice ambassador, studies journalism at LA Valley College and was recently accepted to Morehouse College.

OP-ED: For a Kid of Color, Unavoidable Contact with the Cops | By: ALTON PITRE April 7th, 2014

 Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 2.33.26 AMI never chose to be raised by my grandmother in a South Central Los Angeles neighborhood filled with injustice, gang violence and police cruelty. This was my home and the kids on the block were my friends, many of whom eventually joined gangs. Being a native of this environment, I have seen many crazy things and have always felt like I was in the midst of a world war. I have countless friends who are either dead, in jail or doing nothing with their lives. Eventually, I became a victim of this society.

graphic2-01My first encounter with the police happened during my sophomore year in high school. I was leaving a childhood friend’s apartment with another friend when suddenly two Community Reform Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) Officers trespassed and entered. Unfortunately, the friend leaving with me was already on their file as a gang member. Due to my personal photos on Myspace they knew who I was before meeting me face-to-face. I was arrested immediately. As far as I could tell, my crime was being with a friend in the vicinity of where we both grew up.

We were taken to Southwest Police Station and charged with a status offense, in this case trespassing. The police were able to do this because of a gang injunction law placed in my community of L.A. known as the Jungles. Gang injunctions are court-issued restraining orders against a gang that restricts one documented gang member from being with another within a defined geographic area. This allowed the police to summarily arrest any documented gang members who were together in a gang area. We were visiting, not trespassing. After that day gang unit cops harassed me wherever I went.

On one occasion, CRASH camped out down the street from my high school then swooped on me while I was walking home with a friend from school. Again I was taken to Southwest for a gang injunction violation, but was later released to my father. I guess, as a teenager, I could not truly accept that I could really be punished or locked up for being around people I had known my whole life.

In the spring of 2009, all of my petty run-ins with the law accumulated into a major problem. I was incarcerated for a crime that I did not commit. It was during those two years that I spent fighting my case that I witnessed racial inequality in the system. The experts call this disproportionate minority contact. I find it disturbing that youth of color make up a distinct minority of the youth population, but make up the majority of kids in detention. Kids of color are law enforcement’s center of attention when we are outside of lockup, but very little attention is paid to us when we are on the inside and in the courts.

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I was eventually transported to Central Juvenile Hall for a court date along with a van full of minors in orange jumpsuits. During the ride, I discovered that one of the other teenagers, who was the same age and who faced the same charges as me, was sentenced to drug court while I was facing adult court and life in prison. The only difference was his use of drugs and the color of his skin. He was white. I was not angry with him but was deeply disappointed with our juvenile justice system.

If the courts must be involved, a thorough evaluation and investigation of both the crime and background of the person in custody should always be fairly considered in sentencing. African Americans, as well as everyone else in the justice system, should be judged individually with empathy and accountability, and not at all by the color of their skin.

Too many kids of color are targeted by the police on the very streets that are in the comfort zones of their own homes, sometimes before they even think about committing crimes. A kid’s concept, then, of men in badges constantly taking him to jail will drive him to believe that maybe that is where he belongs.

Police should not be able to cruise around all day and look for people to pester and kidnap. That is not justice.

Instead of police asking no questions and taking these kids to jail, gang-interventionist and social workers should be the ones hopping out of the backseats of cars to find out what is going on with at-risk minority youth.

That would be justice.

Alton Pitre is a 23 year-old native of Los Angeles, Calif. He is a juvenile justice ambassador, studies journalism at LA Valley College and was recently accepted to Morehouse College.

OP-ED: With Family For Christmas, After Juvenile Lock-Up
By: ALTON PITRE | December 24th, 2013


Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 2.33.26 AMOver the years I have been blessed with having two Christmases every year; one with my mother’s side of the family and the other with the Pitre’s, my dad’s side.
Being raised by my charitable grandmother Mama Nechie my entire life, Christmas was every time she went to any store. Whether it was a grocery store, expensive department store or cheap thrift store, Mama Nechie would always bring me back something nice. Now that I think about it, that’s probably why I did not receive many gifts on Christmas.

Christmas at home with her was just another regular day. No large Christmas tree, no wrapped presents under it and no Santa Claus decorations or Christmas lights. Mama Nechie is a firm believer, but my guess is that maybe in her aging years she lacked the motivation to still celebrate the holiday in that fashion. For dinner, Mama Nechie would sometimes order a party size of fried chicken, potato salad and other side dishes from our local grocery store, or some barbecue ribs from Costco for the few family members that would come over to visit.

Christmas with the Pitre’s was the opposite. Pitre tradition is that the family gathers together on the night of Christmas Eve at my Aunt Cecelia’s house in Riverside, Calif., and celebrate into the early morning. The exterior of the house would be beautifully decked with Christmas lights and ornaments. The Christmas tree in the living room was equipped with tons of gifts, a handful with my name. Christmas with the Pitre’s is truly a wonderful time.

Back in 2009, a robbery accusation earned me the “unfortunate fortune” of spending one Christmas decking the halls inside of a juvenile hall. This was not your typical juvenile hall either. I was housed in what was called “the compound,” which is basically a jail within a jail. This is where every juvenile being tried as an adult in Los Angeles County was detained while fighting their cases.

We were considered high-risk offenders and were always segregated from the general population of minors in regular units. Every time we exited the front gate of the compound for any reason, under any circumstances, we were chained, handcuffed and shackled at the waist, wrists and ankles.

Every time I stepped out from the front gates of the compound, the minors in regular units would stare at me in fear and sorrow. The fear came from knowing that we were probably tough (based on our high level of charges) and the sorrow they felt was from knowing that most of us would be going to prison for a very long stint. It was a sad thing but it was the truth.

I was released in late 2010, but being locked up during that time in my life was a valuable lesson. I say it was an unfortunate fortune because although my freedom was deprived at a time I would have been with my families having fun and enjoying life, I realized how things can go from wonderful to tragic in an instance no matter who you are.

I was reminded of how many people there are who spend Christmas and the holidays every year lonely and confined within four walls, away from society, with nothing. These acknowledgements caused me to cherish my freedom more than ever. This lesson enabled me to love my family strongly, knowing that I could have been away from them for the rest of my life.

That thought added horsepower to my motivational engine. I wanted to live positive and I wanted to help those who have been in that position not to return to it.

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This year once again I’ll be spending Christmas with both families, instead of without them in a lock-up facility. I am grateful for having a family to spend Christmas with, especially since there are so many people who do not. It helps me appreciate life a little bit more.

OP-ED: IOW: A Program of Change for Re-entry Youth
By: ALTON PITRE | November 5, 2013


 I was born while my mother was in jail. Immediately, my grandmother took me in to her home, as she did with three other of my mom’s six kids. My mother was unable to care for us due to her drug use.

My childhood was spent in the wild hood of “The Jungles,” a neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles, off of Crenshaw Blvd. Growing up in the Crenshaw area was heart-hardening even with the blessing of my loving grandmother as my primary care taker.

For the first 10 years of my life, my grandmother, Mama Nechie, did an excellent job of keeping me sheltered from the streets, although the gang life literally surrounded us. I excelled in my school courses and spent most of my days playing basketball at the YMCA down the street.

photo 3In junior high, I was first introduced to the dangers and thrills of the gang life. Fast forward to the game-changing era of my high school years: I now had a moniker and a street reputation, police knew me on a first-name basis, the thugs were tougher and the consequences of my affiliation were riskier than ever. In 12th grade I was cut from the varsity basketball team. Afternoons and evenings that would have been occupied with basketball became idle time that was soon given over to the streets.

It seemed as if every time I looked up, I was repeatedly getting stopped or arrested by the same officers for the “gang injunction crime” of simply being with or around another documented gang member in the vicinity of our gang territory. These members were my neighbors and the territory was where I lived.

Then the inevitable happened. I was arrested at the age of 18, about two months before my high school graduation, for a robbery that I did not commit. I spent a year and a half in jail between that first court hearing and being set free. Usually I would say that I was locked up for nothing because I was innocent of the crime, but that is not so because I was guilty of the lifestyle.

While I was locked up I found an organization called InsideOUT Writers (IOW) — or shall I say IOW found me? IOW is a nonprofit organization that conducts weekly creative writing classes in all three juvenile halls of Los Angeles County, in hopes of reducing the recidivism rate among these at-risk youth. Attending these classes reignited my love for writing, which helped me to positively self-vent. IOW kept me out of trouble while locked up because I would purposely do well just to continue these 90-minute classes.

Directly following my release, Matthew Mizel, one of my IOW teachers, brought me to the office where I was greeted with warm and welcoming hands. I then joined IOW’s Alumni Program, a re-entry program specifically for IOW students that have been released from jail.

Being a part of the Alumni Program after my release was truly a blessing from God. IOW showed me how to apply for college and financial aid and make a resume. IOW even helped me with the little things like getting a California I.D. and Social Security card. Not to mention the continuance of the weekly writing classes.
Through IOW, I have attended many events. I have had the honor to speak to youth in juvenile halls, potential donors at fundraisers and future criminal justice students on college campuses, along with advocating to the masses on panels at national conferences. I am always honored to tell my personal story as well as the great works of the program. Through networking, I have met many good people who have sometimes granted me new opportunities.

I have been free for three years now, and that lifestyle is behind me, although I still reside in the same neighborhood. I work for the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, and I work with kids in the after school program coaching basketball. I also attend Los Angeles Valley College studying journalism and writing for the school’s newspaper. I am an advocate for juvenile justice, and everyday I pursue my road to success in a positive manner. Anytime I have a setback, the people at IOW are always there to keep me on track providing moral support and/or resources.

IOW came to me at a crucial moment in my life. This was very fortunate because not every kid coming home from being locked up is lucky enough to have access to such a wonderful program that works to renovate our deconstructed and ill-labeled lives. IOW helped to make this transition very easy for me.
Programs like IOW are essential for ALL persons returning home from incarceration. There is nothing like having a family who cares for you, no matter your past. All alumni have been formerly incarcerated, but you probably could not tell based on our unbelievable transformations. If it were not for IOW, I can surely say I would not be where I am today.
Alton Pitre is 22 years old, resides in Los Angeles, Calif., and attends Los Angeles Valley College where he studies journalism. Pitre is also an advocate for juvenile justice and loves hip-hop.

3rd Annual InsideOut Writers Crawfish Boil Fundraiser

June 7th, 2014

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32nd Annual Liberty Hill Upton Sinclair Awards Dinner – Beverly Hilton Hotel.

April 22nd, 2014 

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2014 Orange County Public Safety Re-Entry Conference

March 30th, 2014

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Pitre sits panel with fellow ARC members sharing their personal stories and environmental risk factors that led them to find refuge in destructive peer relations resulting in incarceration and community disenfranchisement. Their inspirational stories of healing and courage of reentering their communities provided insight into understanding deductive policies and practices among service providers.

An evening with Piper Kerman author of Orange is the New Black – IOW Fundraiser 2014

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InsideOut Writers collaborates with Piper Kerman, accomplished author of book and now original Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” on a fundraiser event where IOW alums read personal written pieces on a shared panel. The cause of the event was to raise funds to continue the support and great work IOW does for those coming out of incarceration into the Alumni Program.

LA Talk Live Radio DANE’Z WORLD | The New Freedom

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I would like to thank Dane’z World for having me on the show for my first ever, live radio interview appearance and the African In America organization for capturing the epic moment. The New Freedom is a revolutionary poem describing the injustices of our people and the criminal system. Dane’z World was the perfect opportunity needed to televise the revolution and help get my name out as well. This is just a new beginning step stone in the movement of The New Freedom.” – Alton Pitre

The New Freedom| by ALTON PITRE – “Orange is the New Black”

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“ARC’s 2014 Annual Retreat at Canyon Creek Sports Camp” (Jan. 10-12, 2014)

ARC teams up with the Harold Robinson Foundation to host their annual retreats. ARC has collaborated with HRF on many of their past events bringing out youth to the camp from the inner-city Los Angeles areas.

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Early parole eligibility gives juveniles a second chance

by Alton Pitre, Staff Writer
October 19th, 2013

Our youths deserve a second chance at life. Thank you, California.

Recently, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 260, introduced by Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock, which offers early parole eligibility for juvenile offenders who have been sentenced to draconian prison terms. Offenders are only eligible for parole after serving 15 to 25 years, depending on the type of crime of which they were convicted.

“There is no mandate to a reduced sentence or release on parole on this bill, only the opportunity for a parole hearing,” said Hancock, clarifying SB260 on her website. “This bill gives young people hope and incentive to reform, reflect and improve their lives.”

The bill will affect more than 6,500 juvenile offenders, many of whom are now adults. Prior to the bill passing, those 6,500 juvenile offenders possessed no hope of ever getting out of prison. Now, there is inspiring purpose to convert their troubled minds, pasts and experiences.

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What needs to be understood of these minors is that they are different from adults. Their brains are not fully developed yet, and consequently, their proper decision-making abilities are inadequate compared to adults; it is a proven scientific fact that as the years progress, times change and people change. A 40-year-old person is not the same person they were at the age of 15—not in appearance or mindset. The capacity to change is usually doubted in these convicted juveniles but is absolutely possible.

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, is a non-profit organization based in the Los Angeles area whose members are made of formerly incarcerated persons. Many of those individuals were convicted and handed down adult sentences as juveniles but are now released and in school, working and doing great things in their communities. ARC heavily advocated for and was influential in the passage of SB260.

Former gang member Ramon Escobar, 23, born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, is a member of ARC who was incarcerated for crimes committed as a juvenile but has transitioned his life post release. First arrested at 12 for attempted murder, Escobar served 18 months in a juvenile camp because he was too young to go California’s Youth Authority, a prison for juveniles. He was released at 14, only out for one week before he was arrested again for another attempted murder. He was charged, sentenced to five years as an adult and spent his time in CYA, Chino, Ironwood and Delano prisons.

Ramon is now an ambassador for juvenile justice and is involved in mentoring youth in different re-entry programs. He is also a full-time college student and works at a prestigious entertainment law firm in Century City. Ramon turned his negative situation into a positive one and is a prime example of a juvenile offender who has drastically changed his life for the better.

“We are breaking statistics and chains that, by political standards, was impossible,” said Escobar on behalf of ARC.

Our country’s constitution is based on equality and justice, but repeatedly our courts fail our society in doing so. This bill is tremendous towards reforming our corrupted criminal justice system. Now given the chance by the state of California, juvenile offenders acquire the faith and motivation to completely rehabilitate themselves in hopes of possibly returning home from prison in the future.

– See more at: http://thevalleystar.com/2013/10/19/early-parole-eligibility-gives-juveniles-a-second-chance/#sthash.aXnRsAww.dpuf

Senate Bill 260 Assembly Floor Vote

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition visits Sacramento lobbying for Senate Bill 260, introduced by Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock, which offers early parole eligibility for juvenile offenders who have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. September 6th, 2013.

“UC Davis 5th Annual SAYS Summit Event” – May 4th, 2013.

This event brought out under achieved junior and high schoolers in the Sacramento and Bay Areas to UC Davis and treated them to skilled workshops along with special key note speakers.

Alton Pitre on a panel along with fellow ARC members, Dr. Vajra Watson (UCD director research and policy) and the event’s mediator.photo 1-5

Pitre shared with the kids an insightful testimonial of his past life and how he transformed to who he is today.

UC San Marcos – Jan. 24, 2013

Pitre speaking to a criminology class at UC San Marcos. He shared with the class a testimonial of his past life and how it led to who he has become. Pitre’s advocacy changed the typical perceptions of people living the gang and street lives which greatly raised the awareness of these future lawmakers, lawyers and police officers – Jan. 24, 2013.

Children’s Defense Fund 2012 National Conference

Members of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) advocates for juvenile justice at the Children’s Defense Fund in Cincinnati, Ohio. July 22-25, 2012

 

Alton Pitre(Above/Right) with (Actress Jurnee Smollet-Bell) at the Beat the Odds dinner ceremony at the 2012 Children’s Defense National Conference.

LA Opera Perform “Free At Last” by Alton PitrePrintLogo

LA Opera Performs Stories by Incarcerated  Youth at Juvenile Hall
Fareeha Molvi | 

An enthusiastic group of incarcerated minors were treated to cupcakes and high-energy performances by the L.A. Opera in the auditorium at Central Juvenile Hall Friday. The performance pieces were based on original works by the detained youth.

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Alton Pitre, a formerly incarcerated minor and alumnus of InsideOut Writers, talks with Gary Murphy of the L.A. Opera after hearing his words performed.

The performance, titled “Words & Song,” was a collaboration between the opera, the L.A. County Department of Probation and InsideOut Writers (IOW), a nonprofit that organizes writing workshops within the L.A. County Juvenile Hall system.

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L.A. Opera baritone LeRoy Villanueva performs an original piece based on the writing of an incarcerated youth at Central Juvenile Hall.

Four members of the L.A. Opera were at the facility to perform: Baritone Eli Villanueva, baritone LeRoy Villanueva, mezzo-soprano Nandani Sinha and pianist Daniel Faltus. Eli Villanueva composed the work;

LeRoy Villanueva is his brother. The quartet took on opera classics as well as five original pieces, each composed from the writings of students from the juvenile hall.

“It brightened up people’s faces to see that people actually care about those who are incarcerated,” says LaNisha, who was in the audience. “It brings us hope to have a better life.”

The performance culminated with a work titled, “Free at Last,” written by Alton Pitre, a formerly incarcerated youth and alumnus of InsideOut Writers. He wrote the work to express his feelings about his release.

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Click Above: Lyrics by Alton Pitre/Performed by LeRoy Villanueva

AFRICAN IN AMERICA NETWORK[A.i.A] – THE COST OF LIVING [IMPROVISATIONAL FILM]

Richard “Dick” Gregory – [OCT 12, 1932 – AUG 19, 2017] – African civil rights activist, comedian, and Entrepreneur

Richard “Dick” Gregory – [OCT 12, 1932 – AUG 19, 2017] – African civil rights activist, comedian, and Entrepreneur