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Transcript: Season 1, Episode 2, Decriminalizing Drugs with Eunisses Hernandez

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Eunisses 0:00 I’m really excited to be joining y’all, and it sound it feels like you have a flow. Your voices, you know, balance off each other so I’m excited being in this convo.

Lee 0:11 You bring a lot of energy to the room too. I could just feel it from here. I don’t know if it’s the flowers going on behind you, but whatever. Like, you have really great energy. 

Eunisses 0:19 Thank you, and we’re gonna talk about decrim, so Ima say drugs, JK. JK and not JK. My name is Eunisses Hernandez she, her, hers, the co-executive director and co-founder of a C4 nonprofit called La Defensa, and I’ve never been incarcerated but I have had a lot of loved ones incarcerated in regular jails and prisons and immigration jails, a lot of times for drugs and drug use. So yeah, this is very near and dear to me.

Lee 0:46 So, we’ve had like other conversations around like the decriminalization of drugs and I know that there’s other other topics along those lines, while I was inside, Eunisses, I was inside for 25 years, since I was 17 years old and then 25 years later I was able to extract myself from from that situation. I did a lot of work with folks inside and drugs was like a common denominator- 

Ra 1:15 For sure.

Lee 1:16 of what was going on in their lives before incarceration, and even while they were incarcerated, I personally had a, an issue with marijuana kind of growing up. I was surrounded by alcoholism, I was surrounded by, you know, people that were addicted to methamphetamine, cocaine, those types of substances and it always came down to, there was so much going on in their lives that that was the way that they were able to numb it, right? And the same thing with me, I was having so many traumas that were going on in my life that marijuana was like the thing that kind of like slowed my life down for me. I started smoking, like, I’m embarrassed to admit this but like at the age of seven. And so I was like, very very young, smoking cigarettes, smoking marijuana, taking sips of alcohol from the family members and it really became like a dependent for me to be able to say, you know, I not only fit in with the people that were around me, but I also was able to kind of like, forget about the things that were also going on around me and so when I went into prison, you know, that was something that I’ve noticed like right off, did you have that same experience Ra?

Ra 2:22 Oh yeah, absolutely. Drugs are center points in people’s experiences, whether or not they lead to anything or whether they were responses to trauma, I think was the most common. I mean, I was obviously I was in a women’s facility so a lot of the main source traumas were loss of a child, similar type of things and many of those were self treated with drugs, and in jail, particularly because you see the come downs, still, you know after someone’s in prison for some time, there’s less access, but in jail particularly you’d come in on a pretty, pretty bad high and I had no experience with any any kind of drugs I didn’t drink at all and it was shocking. I learned a lot really fast. You had to learn a lot really fast. People were going through withdrawals around  you and right and I don’t know, I was fascinated by the conversations around drugs in this country and how we deal with them. And even, even the people inside I know who, who were addicted were fascinated by the concept of decriminalization particularly like in countries that are doing that more and more. You’ve had some personal experience visiting some of those countries and obviously implementing that work here, what, what is the vision of that look like.

Eunisses 3:30 I mean, I’ve been to Portugal, where you know, they have criminalized drugs and then they reversed their ways, but like to take a step back real quick is that their laws were criminalizing folks for different things. Our drug laws are racist, and that’s why they came out and that’s why they were created. Like, you know, the prohibition against marijuana. When you look at tradition the way that folks were sentenced with crack and cocaine, essentially is the same drug, but at the federal level before Obama came in the sentence was 100 to one and disparities. Even if you had the same amount you would get the punishment would be 100 times more if you had crack and Obama only changed it to 18 to one. In California it took us 10 years to make it equal and so that’s what I want us like, let us start off with that in Portugal, you know, a lot of the folks that are criminalized now are African immigrants, but you know, when they started changing their trajectory from criminalizing people who use drugs. A lot of the drug users were white. A lot of the drug users were European and so they created this model where a person goes in front of like, a group of clinicians, doctors and you know, they talk with the person and say okay, there’s different areas where we can get treatment, but there’s no criminalization of the drug use. What we still see though, is like, especially African immigrants being like, kind of forced into drug treatment, right? Like, like when I say forced, I mean coercion and, like, there’s programs where you can go in like their harm reduction based and meet people where they’re at, but what you see in Portugal is really a system shifting from criminalizing folks to not criminalizing them, putting them in front of healthcare conditions and getting them into services. There are a couple things that are missing from that model that don’t make it as impactful, such as the leadership of people directly using drugs, or that have formerly used drugs, you know, they call them those people, but they don’t put them in leadership roles to keep informing, you know, the process of drug treatment. And so, I will say it was fascinating to see how, you know, they had different places where people could go to treatment throughout, like the little area that we traveled in in Lisbon yeah Lisbon Portugal, but there was plenty of places where you can just walk up and get clean syringes, you can get food, and it was great. Like, there’s places you can sit down and we have like some spots here, but it’s pretty wild how they shifted their mechanisms. And also, it was really driven also by the overdoses that were happening to white folks in Portugal around drug use, and we’re like oh you know why people are dying of drug use, like, what, what do we need to do how do we figure this out, it’s like, well let’s get them access to treatment so I will say there’s a huge difference in that but they’re, they’re doing it good. And in Spain, they never even criminalized drug use, you know, so they didn’t haven’t had to reverse course, they just, you know, ticket people or give or give them access to services. 

Lee 6:22 Yeah, I think the introduction of like drugs into people’s lives happens in many ways right? And, and obviously the introduction of these Harm Reduction Centers or these alternative methods at least alternative to United States in dealing with folks that have addiction to drugs, I feel like it’s starting to be examined more and more because we can’t continue to do the same thing over and over and expect different results right? The criminalization of of drug use and folks that are continuously battling their own personal demons and their own personal addictions in the way that we deal with it just it just doesn’t work. And so, to hear other stories about the way that other countries are doing it and I know that we talked about prison and we talked about Norway, and now we’re talking about Portugal and we’re talking about how they deal with their criminalization of drug use, it’s really this holistic approach, and I think that goes back to, like the points that we’ve had before about abolition, you know everybody has their own ideas, but and the commonality of it all and the bottom line of it all is like we want to come from a place of kindness caring understanding, empathy and love, right? And as long as we can continue to approach these issues that are happening within our communities with those foundational like morals and principles, I think we’re going to be fine moving forward, but it’s going to take more people like a Eunisses to be able to kind of like bring these different perspectives to the table, and like, people that are impacted by them because she was talking about like in Portugal right they don’t have folks in leadership roles, actually leading these programs that have dealt with those circumstances themselves and I think that’s a big thing about like IJ and what IJ does is, people that are directly impacted by incarceration are the people that are actually in the leadership roles. It’s super important and can you talk a little bit more? I would love to hear about like your take on having folks and why it’s so important for folks to be at the table, that are directly impacted or that have that experience.

Eunisses 8:24 You know, Portugal, like a lot of the folks who are directly impacted were the ones doing the labor day in and day out right? So, they’re out in the streets, they’re out in the forest, literally connecting with folks and had really good solutions to say you know what I went through treatment through this Portugal model, but it didn’t help me even get off of like medicated assisted treatment. So there’s a lot of gaps that people don’t use drugs like you’re not going to see what’s missing or what could help. I think this goes for the whole system, right? Like people directly impacted, you know, are closest to the solutions because they lived it, and it’s the same for drug use, like if you’ve never gone through withdrawals if you’ve never, you know had an issue with substance use, whether it was alcohol or any type of drug, like the way that it consumes your mind, you know, and dictates your every move like that is real, but it’s also like the mindset that helps develop the most innovative solutions right? Like, the solutions that folks who aren’t like using drugs, or aren’t having been impacted don’t have even an inkling. Like, their solutions are what we’ve seen in the past, things that have failed, things that we’ve done for decades, but what we’re starting to see now, especially that folks are getting like IJ is investing in folks in their leadership, now we’re starting to see even better policies come out even though CG reform has been happening for a while now, right? And saving Portugal like, once they started relying more on people who use drugs to like inform their program like that it did eventually get better, but folks have to be put in leadership roles to make sure that that also, it’s a career pathway right? Like, you’re not just used for the labor, you’re not just used to speak like that you get to actually inform what this institution looks like from the get go, and it’s a game changer, especially we’ve seen it, like, change the game also in LA with the alternative to incarceration work- Measure J.

Ra 10:04 Yeah I was gonna ask about that like how you see that relating to the work we’re doing here, you know what we can do? I know you were involved in Prop 64, and you work with La Defensa that kind of goes to this as well. I think kind of everything, everything you do centers back to this point, how can we do that here? How can we make sure we build a more robust model like you keep talking about?

Eunisses 10:25 The robust model, we have that model. We just that just hasn’t been the political world to invest in and out and I’ll talk a little bit more about that model, but you uplifted Prop. 64 and I think that’s important because a lot of folks saw that as the golden standard of marijuana legalization, and I was a part of their campaign, but looking back and doing an analysis like, the people that wrote the law weren’t people who were directly impacted. The people who wrote the law weren’t buying weed every day in like, dispensaries right? Like they weren’t consuming, so when I look back at Prop. 64, it helped us get hundreds of people out of the state prisons. It helped us get 1000s of people out of the county jail systems, but it reinforced carving people out who have serious offenses from not being able to benefit, and also the level of taxation makes it impossible for people to buy weed. Like, you have three layers of tax on on this particular substance, and it’s important to bring up because Oregon just decriminalized, California is talking about putting a ballot initiative in 2024 to decriminalize drugs, but if it is anything like the process that informed Prop. 64, then they’re going to fail, because it’s lawyers, it’s these academics, right? That have the capacity, because they’ve had the privilege of knowing how to write ballot language from the from the get, like that are informing this and so as much as I am proud of Prop. 64 and all we’ve done, like it could have been a lot better if directly impacted people were at the table saying, yes, we understand you want to collect taxes, but we could never be able to afford you know this level of taxation, or this is going to create a continuation of an underground underground market so that’s what I say about Prop. 64, a lot to say. 

Ra 10:46 Thank you for that note because I think so many times we, we like celebrate a step and we don’t, I know behind the scenes we’re deeply analyzing everything we did, but listeners don’t necessarily get to hear that.

Lee 12:15 Right?

Ra 12:15 I’m glad that that was like transparent conversations.

Lee 12:18 No, and it was a big moment, like in, not only like California but LA, and especially like Measure J. Like, this was like a real moment as people started to open their eyes to abolition and what it, what it means, and the prohibition and like, I know you talked a little bit about that and we can go all the way back to like alcohol, like the prohibition of alcohol, and and these things. It’s like, until there is people that are like brave enough to step up and this is why it’s so important with the Institute of Impacted Leaders, this is why it’s so important for IJ and when we’re teaching folks inside about the legislative process and about how to write these bills and how to how to get involved in their communities because civic engagement is truly the solution to be able to break down a system that is built around oppression and racism, right? We cannot break these down without being able to have a seat at that table, without being able to go to these meetings, without being able to talk to the people that are in power and become those people in power, to be able to listen to the folks in our community members in a more clear and concise way. And so, when we’re talking about Measure J, like, I know for one like, not only were the folks inside talking about it a lot, but everybody on social media was talking about it. I don’t go on social media and I was still hearing about it because through my girlfriend and family members and loved ones, and you know, there’s the other side, I guess, or the people that I feel like they haven’t had their awakening yet that don’t know about like the importance of starting to decriminalize and to move the money away from the folks that are directly responsible for oppressing you and your community. They’re like creating more harm in your community, than your community members by far. And so, to be able to kind of see or hear the folks from that other side was like holy important because it started to like, blur the lines and started to move people over into the space of like, oh yeah, we should invest more money into our communities. We should like, we shouldn’t have, you know, officers running around with body cameras and assault weapons and tanks in our communities, right? This isn’t the solution on on how we actually create safer communities for one another, it’s at the onset of creating these programs, and I would love for you to talk more about these programs and how it connects to abolition and what we’re doing for folks that- abolition is like the demonized word, and they’re like, oh no, I can’t like that’s that’s too scary. We can’t talk about abolition, but we can talk about the programs that actually connect to abolition. And so, if I can meet them where they’re where they are, where they’re at. Okay, let’s meet there, and your idea of creating a stronger community is actually lending to abolition, so you don’t need to jump make that leap yet, but the trail will definitely lead to it.

Ra 15:03 I feel like Eunisses’ works in in decriminalizing drugs, so if anyone’s familiar with people panicking when you explain what you do, I feel like we’re talking to an expert. I’m sorry I’m gonna let you answer Lee’s question I just.

Eunisses 15:16 No you’re right, when Prop. 64 was happening everyone was like, oh, the kids are gonna be smoking. The fire is gonna come down from the skies, and we’re like, we’re not introducing a new substance, weed has been here for hundreds of 1000s of years. We’re just trying to regulate it a little bit so we can tax it and so you know what you’re smoking, but yes abolition and Measure J, and I like to call it a finesse, because we are the defund the police people, right? Like, that’s our goal to dismantle to defund to make non existent. And that is a little bit scary for people. And so, that’s why it does require a little bit finesse to talk about, you know, instead of focusing on how we’re going to do it. Which is defunding the police, by focusing on what we want to see. Like, you know, right now, if you had someone who was suffering from substance abuse disorder or mental health crisis, do you know somewhere in your community where you can take them right now. No, right? You might call 911 and the response most likely would come after the crisis or harm has happened, and most likely will be showing up with a badge and a gun, right? Destroying families, separating folks, incarcerating them. That’s what the response is now, and also the lack of accessibility to services, the way we talk about it is like, what do we envision in the future, when you have these, you know, moments like we should be able to have somewhere in our community where you can drive your loved one to, right? To get access to service 24/7. We should be able to call a hot like, the 911 number and get us a life affirming response to our crisis, right? That looks like maybe psychiatric mobile response teams. We have the largest jail system in the entire world, most of the folks in there are there because they can’t pay a bail to get out, just let people go and give them text reminders, and if they need housing, then let’s offer them community based access to housing. All these things are plans that we’ve developed with, you know, alternatives to incarceration report the Measure J stuff. Like, in order for us to get to abolition, all these dominoes were lining up so that we can create the landscape where we don’t need to rely on the jails and don’t need to rely on cops, but we are the defund the police people, we just got to finesse it. And abolition for us, the way that we also describe it is, ask yourself these questions. Are you leaving anybody behind whatever next step or policy move you’re gonna make? Are you giving more money and more power to the system? Are you building something that we’re gonna have to go back and destroy in the future? If it’s yes to any of those questions, then you should really reconsider your move and policy move, because we don’t want to leave people behind. We don’t want to clean up the mess in the future that we’re making now, and we don’t definitely want to give more power, more money to the system. So there’s different ways to talk about abolition that we’ve created, so that we can convince you know, people in power, that this is the right move. That’s how we were able to cancel the jail contract, you know? You can’t get well in itself, that’s how we were able to develop, you know the 115 recommendations and pathway for alternatives to incarceration, aka safety vows to keep people out of the system, keep cops away, and get people out once they’re in the system, and then Measure J to make it happen because the system wasn’t going to give us the money, so we need to create a pathway for us to be able to get that money and be able to take it from the people who harm, such as sheriffs, probation, DA’s.

Lee 18:19 Yeah and again, it’s those systems right, that are in place and I think, I think that’s a big step in just the education and the awareness of our community members. It’s like, because they know people that are in those fields, right? They know people that are law enforcement, they know people that are in the probation department, they know people that are that are CEOs or correctional guards or whatever the case may be, they know people. And I think when we start to like, separate it, meet them where they are, right? We go after the system. We’re not going after the cousin, we’re not going after their aunt, we’re going after the system and the way that the system is set up, and the way that it is operating, is again, we’ll say it’s designed to operate this way, but it’s it’s it’s coming on the, on the backs of all of these other things. Oppression, racism, fear, control, power, like all of these things that are not including the rest of the folks and I think that was a key point that you just made is like if people are not benefiting or if we’re leaving people behind, then it’s not the correct solution. And there will be people that will say, like, okay but yeah, we’re making steps in the right direction. We’re making, we’re knocking down a couple of these dominoes, yes, it doesn’t connect right now, we are going to have to go back and probably do some more tinkering and tweaking. How does that like, with you Ra, in particular like when you’re faced with those types of questions like where does that like land with you because it’s one of the things that I struggle with when I’m actually having a conversation with folks that they’re like, they’re reformist or, you know, they’re, they’re transformist, or that type of thing, and they’re not necessarily bought in on like this, the system and not tweaking the system. 

Ra 19:53 Yeah, I think the first thing you said was, it’s an issue of education, and I talk about that a lot, you know, the literacy levels in this country about any serious topic you know incarceration, drugs, grief, trauma, and any of those things we really just don’t know. And I think being honest about the level of non information we have is probably the most important thing I know for myself. Like I said, I came from a family that didn’t really drink, and I didn’t drink myself, I mean, I drink my weight in diet sodas, so it’s I’m not miss health queen over here, but I just just didn’t drink alcohol and at the time my husband was diabetic. I didn’t even eat sugar, you know, so there was really nothing like that in my system, and I learned, you know. I’d also never done sex work, and when you’re incarcerated in a women’s prison you’re you’re with a lot of sex workers, and you learn. And you learn the nuances of a life that is just a breath away from your own, really, you know, everybody’s just a paycheck away from homelessness. Everyone’s a couple of better choices or different choices or worse choices just depending on your scenario from sex work or from drug use or from drug addiction, you know, and when you start realizing how, how close we are all packed in this system, it makes it very hard to be willing to leave. There’s, there’s really no such thing as leaving somebody behind. You’re leaving everybody behind because we’re all in the same boat, you know? We’re all in the same boat, if you say don’t pick up the boat with the drug addicts, well we’re all in that boat too. So, what we do, we just stay here, stuck in the middle of the ocean. It’s not a reasonable response. It’s kind of a natural one, it’s an instinctual one. I understand it, we’re afraid we want to make whatever steps we can, but yeah, I just don’t see it as a, as a very reasonable thought process, but Eunisses I mean, obviously you do this work all the time. What if, what about you, how do you answer that to people, why do we not leave people behind. 

Eunisses 20:00 Because we never, we haven’t gone back for them. There’s been laws that have been passed in the last five, six years.

Lee 21:49 Because we haven’t gone for them, right? It was one of those things that like, it almost felt like you rang a bell in the head right? It really does it’s one of those jarring things of like, hold on, we, we haven’t gone back for them? 

Ra 22:04 You see that in the carceral system all the time. 

Lee 22:06 Yes, go ahead. I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but I want.

Eunisses 22:08 Yeah, and that, that’s really what I answer when folks is, we get asked that question, you know like, what, why not, why can’t we just carve these folks out? Mostly though, it’s around people who have serious or non serious cases, and it’s like always fighting for making sure that we don’t leave people behind even if they have serious cases, but you don’t want it to compromise one group over another. One group is not deserving of relief more than another group. And so for us, that’s why we ask ourselves that question like, are we gonna leave anybody behind? And if that’s a yes, then we won’t do it, because then that forces us to challenge and challenges us to develop a different solution or a different pathway that doesn’t require us to leave anybody behind. And I push that very hard, because I’ve worked on bills in the past on sentencing reform where folks have been carved out, and we haven’t gone back for them. No one talks about going back for those folks, that’s what my response is to that we, there’s so many people left behind, right now, because of those choices of folks, not wanting to challenge themselves even more to find different pathways. The system always give you the same response, there’s no money, people are violent, and so it’s not like they’re coming up with anything innovative, so if that requires us to find different solutions so that we don’t leave people behind.

Ra 23:20 Creative work that we do, you know? All of this is so creative and that was one thing I was really struck with when I was inside was the creativity of the solutions was like nothing you even see in a university, you know? We came up with with every possible answer. We there, was a recent Initiate Justice event and Lee and I were trying to put together this thing, and there was no rope, and we’re like grabbing trash bags and making rope out of it and we’re like this is just some prison stuff right here like this, no reasonable person is out there trying to make rope out of trash bags you pulled out of a community bag, but it works you know? The rope holds, and the problem is solved. And I saw that all the time inside. Just the incredible creativity that people are called to and they they rise up to meet, you know, because, like our systems like you said are never going to come up with something more creative. We put the same data in them constantly, you know? It’s it’s a lot of rhetoric and it’s a lot of old data, and they don’t have personal experiences to lend to it and when you put that into a machine, a computer, it’s going to come out the same every time you know? We need, we need non computer heads on these things.

Lee 24:21 Yeah, and different people that have have like different experiences with current circumstances. And so, when we have like, the position of power and we have people that are making these decisions, they’re like, I think they’re coming up with solutions that were tried, you know, many years ago.

Ra 24:38 Right.

Lee 24:38 They haven’t been effective and they’re not effective now. And so, again, this is so important that as we continue to develop pathways to solutions to the issues that we’re currently faced with, that we have everybody. It’s opening up a collective voice at the table and making sure that everybody is like, heard, and I really love the point where, if we’re going to have to go back for somebody, then it wasn’t the correct solution in the first place, right? And so, like if we can come up with ways to tweak the solution that we’ve just come up with, then that’s not the solution that we want that we just come up with. We want the one that it’s, we don’t have to, we don’t have to step back. You said something, I think, in, in one of my notes is like abolition is decriminalization. What does that mean to you and how, how does that connect for the wider world to be able to be palatable to them.

Eunisses 25:30 Decrim for folks to know that this is decriminalization. It means that you’re not going to get a criminal penalty for that particular action. There’s also legalization, like that’s what happened with marijuana with Prop. 64- legalization and regulation. And so, with legalization and regulation, there still exists criminal penalties, there still exists a system of criminalizing folks for the possession for the distribution of marijuana, even though it’s legal right? And so, when we talk about decrim, it’s about not criminalizing folks for drug possession, drug use, like being houseless because of drug use. So that’s what decrim is. Also, being able to support people through alternate systems and support, so it’s not replacing like the carceral system with the health system. That’s not what we want. We want to create opportunities for people to access services because right now the way that the system exists, you are, let’s say you get caught for whatever case, you go to jail, you go to jail, you have a problematic substance use disorder, you generally have to plead guilty in order to get access to services, right? Which puts you in jail for a while, puts it’s a conviction on you, and then when you get out, you get forced into these programs that are like 12-step programs, they’re coercive programs that force you into sobriety and they, those don’t work for everybody, for the most part they don’t. And so, I’ve worked at facilities that are reentry facilities for men and women coming out of prison and jail. They were 12-step programs, and folks were just falling through the cracks because they weren’t being met, where they were at, you know? They were forced into staying in places where you’re locked up for 30 days and you can’t go anywhere. We’re going to strip search you, even in this residential facility, and drug test you. That doesn’t do anything for people. The five top trends that drive women, at least in LA county to jail, are all related to substance use or driven by substance use or possession. And so, decrim really means not criminalizing folks for drug possession, drug use, and also supporting them with support systems that are harm reduction based. They meet people where thet were at and don’t require people for their goal to be sobriety, like the journey to sobriety and I’m I’m preaching to the choir and all, like, that’s not a linear journey, you know? There’s going to be lots of times where folks are going to get bumps in the roads, those models, acknowledge that. And you won’t drug test people, right? Like, you won’t throw them away if they start using again, it’s okay, so what do we need to go back to to help you get back on track? And I think we don’t talk enough about harm reduction programs. We talk a lot about 12-steps, but we don’t talk about how some of those coercive drug chain programs really lead  people to fail and don’t address the root causes, whether it’s trauma, or other things that cause people to use substances. And also, just to say that most people use drugs and they don’t have an issue with it. 90% of people that use drugs are okay, they can use drugs and they’re partying fine. It’s a small subset of people, around 10%, that get problematic substance use, that have substance use issues that do impact other aspects of their life, and that’s the 10% that we’re heavily criminalizing. That are, you know, getting incarcerated, not just once in a year, but maybe 2, 3, 5 times through that county jail system, right, that we’re just failing and cycling and out paying Sheriff salaries to just incarcerated people who are, who have problematic substance use.

Lee 28:52 You know, I get this image in my head about these types of like, programs or we talk about these solutions in our communities, and even inside when I was inside I used to tell folks they would get so frustrated because they wouldn’t get laid out for classes, or they wouldn’t get laid out to go to, you know, to meet in an area with folks that were dealing with the same types of issues as them. And I said, you have to look at it in a different way, like we are creating space that is making this monster eat itself, right? It cannot be sustainable, if we don’t give them reasons to make it sustainable, whether it’s them like having all these extra unlocks and pat downs and these types of things. If we can create space to where this system continues to eat itself pretty soon it’s going to be starving because it’s not being fed the same types of programs that have kind of led to its development and I think it’s the same thing with community, and the same thing with abolition, the more types of community based solutions that we can come up with, this system is not going to be needed and what I mean by this system- this system of policing, over policing, the justice system, it’s not going to be needed anymore, right?We’re not just going to be able to snap our fingers and wave a wand one day and have this utopian society and community. It’s an, like you just said, it’s not linear, right? And there’s always things that we’re going to need to do in order to create space for folks to be able to be healthy, to be able to heal, and to be able to contribute to their communities in a way that is pro social and healthy building a, like, our vision of what a utopian society kind of looks like and that doesn’t mean that there isn’t ever any types of violation against our social norms and our community norms, it means that we deal with it in different ways.

Ra 30:39 Yeah, and to go back to a point that Eunisses made earlier about those robust models already existing. That was probably one of my favorite things about all the Measure J conversation on social media was hearing all these smaller organizations say like hey, I’ve been here 15 years, and you know, and I do this on my own dime, so if you gave me some real money, I could reach this out into the larger community. And hearing how much of our community has been stepping up to very specific issues that they know best for all the state criminalization that they get, if they had a fraction of state support, you know, that that would just massively change the efforts and as it is they’ve changed communities, they’ve changed so many people, you know? There was that meeting about where the money for Measure J should go. And it was just, it was like, overwhelming for me to see just these hundreds of people who are like I’m doing this work and it’s so important and look at my results and I was just like, look at us, we’re all in the same room, they got us all in the same room. It was so exciting. 

Lee 31:31 Let’s unite and network.

Ra 31:33 Right. 

Lee 31:33 Hey, let’s come together.

Ra 31:34 That’s what things like that do when you when you can fund them all but that unites them, that connects them, that brings everybody together. The work is very important and I and I love that in those spaces, it’s important to note that people don’t get left behind. You know, there are groups for every group of people because when you talk to the community that’s how they see people as their community members, if they’re serving a life sentence they still belong to the community they belong to, and yeah, I just, I love how we hold them, you know?

Eunisses 31:58 You know, just want to emphasize what you both said like, it is essentially just cutting off a tunnel of people that use drugs and are involved with drugs into the, into the system, right? Obviously, I believe, we want to do that for everybody. When we talk about drug decrim that’s really it because we rely so heavily on our jails for people to get access to treatment. There are treatment programs in the community. A lot of them are great, that don’t have capacity, some of them are really terrible like the coercive ones that I’ve talked about, but it really is like just deleting penal code sections. Just deleting them. You don’t need to criminalize someone for this. You don’t need to give people felonies for this, or misdemeanors, or even infractions. Just just stop that, and we’re gonna get there. I’m very hopeful we’re gonna get there soon. There’s just so many things moving on the ground locally that, at least in LA County, is lining up to end incarceration of a lot of folks,

Ra 32:48 Eunisses we always, we always like to give people time to talk about their projects or ways that we can support. 

Lee 32:53 Yeah.

Ra 32:53 Is there anything that we can do for you and your work?

Eunisses 32:57 I mean, we’ve talked about Measure J. Measure J year one process that is like three quarters in. Our ask locally is $179 million for year one. The Chief Executive Officer of LA County right now is estimated that she can put in 100 million, but that’s going to be really where the fight is. Measure J is amazing, but this process has been one of the most difficult processes that I’ve ever been a part of. The county has tried to finesse us at every single step. Has tried to take all of our power and recommendations and money at every single step, so if folks want to plug in, year two of Measure J is starting this year, so I think that if folks want to plug in, that’s probably our most critical work happening locally. Also, working on repealing Three Strikes, so there’s a coalition there at the state level that I think is bringing in a lot of the pieces that a lot of us have been working on throughout the locally around justice reinvestment. Also like, really abolition. Like how do we just delete like if you, if you look at the thing it’s just a lot of deletion of penal code language that exists. So Measure J, Repeal Three Strikes, and I would say for folks locally in LA to just be on the lookout on how houselessness and people who are houseless are being addressed right now. I don’t know if you have seen what’s happened in Echo Park, where LAPD just launched a friggin army against people who are houseless there. There’s a lot of rhetoric of like, well, people don’t want to go into these housing, they don’t want to go into shelters, then you know that the sheriff is in LA County is now saying well I have 2000 beds where we can put people that don’t want to go into shelters, but then we like folks don’t understand that being in the shelter like you can still get sexually assaulted in the shelter like you can receive a lot of harm there. It’s not safe, and there’s a lot of policies that make it a carceral setting like, you know, they say all these people just don’t want to follow the rules, but that’s bullshit because your rules are inhumane your rules are treating people like if they’re, they’re worth nothing. And so, that’s something I hope folks can look at because that is really the next phase of like how the system is trying to keep its power. How it’s trying to keep its money spending all of its budgets on doing things like this and taking away a budget that we could have into building alternatives to incarceration. So, that’s where I’ll leave it that people just stay on the lookout because that’s going to be. I think that’s something that’s going to blow up, it’ll get worse before it gets better. I just really look forward to see what y’all keep building and to keep sharing, you know, different perspectives and different political like visions, because there’s a lot that can we can do if we’re all on the same page and that the system is not trying to separate us.