Late last month, Osborne’s Youth Action Council (YAC) - young people ages 15 to 19 who have been affected by parental incarceration - hosted its annual Advocacy Day. Seven young advocates traveled to Albany to meet with New York State Senators and Assemblymembers to urge them to pass the Protect In-Person Visiting bill (A6488/S3318). I was thrilled to join them, alongside other Osborne staff and members and youth from ally organizations.
Rafiq is a YAC member who was introduced to the program through Osborne’s Family Ties, which aims to support and maintain the mother-child bond during incarceration. Rafiq and his twin sister stayed connected with their mother who was incarcerated at Albion Correctional Facility thanks to Osborne’s free video visiting service. At a meeting with Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Rafiq expressed the meaningful impact of being able to see his mother in-person at Albion after “feeling separated” for two and a half years. “I was so relieved to see my mother laugh and smile … Televisiting is not the same as seeing my mother in-person,” he said.
Assemblymember David Weprin, Assembly sponsor of the Protect In-Person Visiting bill, invited the group to the New York State Assembly Chamber, where they were greeted with a resounding round of applause for their tireless commitment.
The young people later had an insightful conversation with Assemblymember Eddie Gibbs – the first formerly incarcerated person to be elected to the New York State legislature. Jamila, a YAC member making her second trip to Albany, asked AM Gibbs, “Why do you wake up every day to do what you do?” He attributed his new purpose as a public servant to his own experience with incarceration in an honest response, saying, “Being in prison helped me reawaken my dormant feelings about life, about my community, and more importantly, about my family. Instead of repeating the same behavior that got me [in prison], I chose to do something better.” Gibbs concluded the conversation by telling the young changemakers that their unique perspectives are valuable in advocating for and representing system-impacted communities.
As a result of the YAC’s efforts, eleven additional members of the New York State Assembly have committed their support for the Protect In-Person Visiting bill. More than 105,000 children whose parents are incarcerated in New York and hundreds of thousands of family members are counting on the immediate passage of this bill to protect the critical lifeline to their loved ones.
On the bus trip home, a few members reflected on a productive day rallying support for their bill. “It was so fulfilling. I think it was more than what we actually expected it to be,” said Jamila. Jaiden, making his first trip to Albany, took inspiration from the meeting with Assemblymember Gibbs. “It was a really great story about people coming up from their trauma and upbringing,” he said. Genesis, a long-time YAC member who will attend college upstate this fall, half-jokingly remarked, “If this bill doesn’t get passed, we’re coming right back.”
You can join us tomorrow at YAC’s rally in support of the Protect In-Person Visiting bill, just ahead of Mother’s Day. Learn more here.