By Pam Whalen
David Moss was arrested 14 times but never treated for his drug addiction. He has since rehabilitated himself and created a one-man play that highlights his experiences in the broken California prison system. Sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Prison Moratorium Project, Moss will perform in a number of events in Fresno and Merced in April.
His presentation confronts the expansion of the prison industrial complex and federal drug policies that have resulted in the mass incarceration of African Americans and Latinos. This tour complements the work that activists have been doing around the implementation of AB 109 to support alternatives to incarceration. Activists in Fresno and Merced have been pushing for more funds for drug treatment and rehabilitation programs.
“The community needs to hear from formerly incarcerated people. These folks are our neighbors—people in our community. They can be rehabilitated. We need to tell our stories and to add a human face to this debate,” said Debbie Reyes, an organizer with the Prison Moratorium Project.
Although officials in Fresno have allocated millions of dollars to reopen beds in the county jail, barely 6% of the budget is allocated for treatment programs. According to Bill Simon, the volunteer coordinator for the Fresno chapter of the ACLU, this is unwise. “What we have is a revolving door between putting people in jail and returning them to the streets to do what they have always done. If we use AB 109 money to actually treat people for their mental illness and drug addiction and give them job training and other rehabilitation, we will all be much safer.”
In Merced, local activists are working with the County Community Partnership to expand programs for reentry into the community. Kelly Turner of the Merced Prison Reform Advocates commented, “I really don’t believe that those incarcerated don’t have a desire to change. They don’t know the steps to take. If change is presented to them on a silver platter, they will feast off of it and return to society as productive members.”
Pam Whalen is a longtime labor and community activist and a member of the editorial board of the Community Alliance. Contact her at email@example.com.