Pardon People, Not Turkeys, White House Vigil for Prisoners Saturday

Pardon People, Not Turkeys — White House Vigil for Prisoners Saturday

We’re all familiar with the presidential turkey pardon. The made-for-TV presidential photo op happens annually. The president pardons a couple of turkeys — or spares them — so they can spend the holiday at a farm rather than on someone else’s table with all the trimmings. Nice visuals.

That kind of thinking is outdated, argue prison reform advocates — and former prisoners — from The Weldon Project’s Mission [Green], the CAN-DO Foundation and Freedom Grow. That’s why they’re holding a a vigil in front of the White House this Saturday. They hope to remind President Joe Biden — and the rest of us — that our society should prize human life over any other. That’s why they hope the president seriously considers pardoning people, not turkeys, as we head into Thanksgiving week.

Photo courtesy of Falkenpost

Presidents have been absolving turkeys for decades, but it was President George W. Bush who institutionalized it. And these groups are saying it’s time to do something different. They want to use the holiday to help those institutionalized, separated from their families and loved ones due to being slapped with a long sentence for a victimless crime. Why not let them out rather than “pardoning” birds.

“Every year the president pardons a pair of turkeys while there are real human beings deserving of the president’s pardon power,” Weldon Angelos, one of the organizers, told The News Station. “This is why we are urging the President to eat the turkeys this year and pardon people, especially those who are serving prison time for cannabis or living a second class life because of a felony conviction while state after state continues to legalize and fatten the pockets of entrepreneurs. This practice is disgraceful.”

Angelos, a former hip hop producer and prisoner who won his release in 2016 and then a full pardon in 2020 after spending 13 years in prison. Since his release, he’s devoted his freedom to the cause of getting others serving long, mandatory sentences out of prison. 

This practice is disgraceful.

The plan for Saturday is to have four rotations of posters during the vigil. The first two include specific individuals for whom Angelos is advocating, the third for prisoners for all drug — and a few non-drug cases — and the fourth rotation being recipients of the CARE Act who need clemency so they don’t have to re-enter prison after being allowed release because of COVID-19.

“We will hold up posters of people seeking clemency who were convicted on a variety of charges, mostly for drugs, but some white-collar cases as well,” Amy Povah, founder, former Clinton-era clemency recipient and now head of the CAN-DO Foundation that has successfully advocated on behalf of over 125 people who are now free, told The News Station.

“Most of these individuals are victims of the trial penalty phase. They exercised their 6th Amendment right to a trial, and as a result were subjected to a mandatory sentencing structure that cooperating defendants can escape if they testify against those who go to trial. We believe those cases to be unduly harsh and deserving of justice through clemency.”

Povah, who has participated in these kinds of vigils before, said CAN-DO is particularly excited about this one. 

Don’t miss our 50 at 50 series: one current or former prisoner published a day until New Year’s Day 2022.

“We hope the vigil will stimulate dialogue as to why the president can find time to pardon a pair of turkeys when human beings are unnecessarily suffering, during a pandemic no less, who were told they would be set free by the incumbent administration,” she said. 

Kristin Flor, an executive board member with Freedom Grow, says the goal is to make people cognizant of the fact people are in prison for extended sentences which are punitive on both the prisoners and their families.   

“Our goal is to bring attention and awareness to the cannabis prisoners who are seeking clemency such as Edwin Rubis,” Flor says. “Edwin has been incarcerated for 24 years, he spends most of his time in prison praying that President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will follow through with their promises and commute Edwin’s sentence as well as all cannabis prisoners. Edwin is non-violent and never hurt anyone, I believe he deserves to live his life like we do.”

‘The vigil will be held in front of the White House this Saturday, Nov. 20. It will begin around 11:30 am and end at approximately 2 pm. Find out more or contact Mission [Green] here, The CAN-DO Foundation here or Freedom Grow here.

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