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Powerful Stories from the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

Powerful Stories from the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

Highlights from MAIP’s 14th Annual Awards Luncheon

Written by Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project‘s 14th Annual Awards Luncheon, held on June 28, 2023, was an amazing success! This year, our luncheon theme was “Share Your Story.” We heard moving stories from our clients, recognized the storytellers and their important work amplifying the voices of the wrongfully convicted, and celebrated our amazing supporters, without whom none of our work would be possible.

To kick off the program, MAIP clients David Boyce and Ransom Watkins opened with powerful stories. David, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 23 years, shared how he never stopped fighting to clear his name, and Ransom recounted how his mother’s words gave him the strength to carry on during 36 long years of wrongful incarceration.

MAIP client Ransom Watkins shares his story, speaking at a podium. He is a Black man with short black and white hair, wearing glasses, a black tee, and a necklace.

Storytellers ensure that the stories of David, Ransom, and other wrongfully convicted people are brought to light. We were thrilled to honor Jason Flom, Jeff Kempler, and their company Lava for Good with the Champion of Justice award. Through Lava for Good’s podcasts, such as Wrongful Conviction, Jason and Jeff have amplified the stories of hundreds of wrongfully convicted men and women, including MAIP clients Clarence Jones, Thomas Haynesworth, and Keith Harward.

We were also proud to honor Patrice Gaines with the Defender of Innocence Award. Patrice’s brave early writing about the 8th & H case for The Washington Post garnered national attention for this miscarriage of justice and ultimately led to MAIP’s involvement. The eight men who had been wrongfully convicted in the case, including MAIP client and board member Chris Turner, presented the award to Patrice. It was incredibly moving to see Patrice reunite with the men.

One of the most impactful parts of the program was when we welcomed all of our clients in attendance to the stage. Each person stated his name and the number of years he had spent wrongfully incarcerated. Altogether, our freed clients have served more than 889 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Welcoming MAIP's clients to the stage

Finally, we recognized our outgoing board members, Julia Dahlberg and Andrew George. Without Julia’s and Andrew’s unwavering commitment to MAIP, we would never have grown into the organization that we are today.

We are grateful to everyone who joined us, and we would like to give a huge thank you to all of our sponsors, donors, and board members who made the event such a success!

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project works to prevent and correct the conviction of innocent people in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. MAIP has one of the highest success rates in the country for exonerating those who have been wrongfully accused. Visit their website to learn more, stay in touch, and support their work.

Who gets to be in the room where it happens? The DC Justice Lab is changing how we make policy

Who gets to be in the room where it happens? The DC Justice Lab is changing how we make policy

For too long, policymaking in the District has excluded the voices of the people directly impacted by these laws, turning Washington, DC into an epicenter of the injustices that result from a misguided and racially-charged criminal justice system.

DC Justice Lab (DCJL) is making a positive impact to advance racial equity, democratize civic engagement, decrease our reliance on policing, prosecution, and punishment, and establish a more accurate narrative about the state of criminal justice and the changes in our nation’s capital. By the end of the 2021-22 DC Council legislative session, DCJL helped secure checks on police officers’ power, brought attention to how people are being treated in our jails, and made it easier to seal criminal records.

“DC is one of the wealthiest, best-educated cities, but still has the highest incarceration rate in the country. Why?” Patrice Sulton, Executive Director of DCJL, asked the Washington Post. “Because of bad policies. And the reason the policies are so bad is because of a lack of inclusion.”

DCJL is a team of law and policy experts that researches, organizes, and advocates for large-scale changes to the District of Columbia’s criminal legal system. DCJL advocates for community-rooted public safety reform, taking its lead from Black Washingtonians in developing smarter safety solutions that are evidence-driven, racially just, and that will tangibly improve the lives of all District residents.

In the face of recent significant budget cuts and damaging and inaccurate narratives, DCJL is doubling down on the need to democratize civic engagement and improve public education around the process and substance of lawmaking in the District. This summer, it is launching a new intensive training program for 15 residents involved in their communities, who will each be paid a stipend to learn about policymaking and add it to their skillset as local community advocates.

Over the course of one full week, these 15 community advocates will gain a thorough background on the who, what, when, where, and why of local lawmaking, developing the tools they need to effectively advocate for large-scale change — from persuasive writing and speaking skills to research and advocacy training. Experienced DCJL staff will support participants as they prepare a campaign strategy plan and educational materials, which they will share directly with lawmakers and the public at the end of the week.

“There’s a lot to do to change how policymaking is done to democratize civic engagement,” Sulton told the Washington Informer.

This city is living through a challenging moment, with its autonomy being tested by new attempts to roll back hard-won gains to make our communities safer, freer, and more equal. It is crucial to ensure that native Washingtonians and individuals who have experience with the criminal legal system are equipped to turn their expertise into thoughtful law and policy change.

As Sulton said, “Changing policy can’t happen without changing who is changing the policy.”

Attend the Community Safety Fair on July 29 to learn more about the DC Justice Lab’s Policy Training Academy and to hear from its inaugural cohort of community advocates.

If you’re interested in supporting DCJL’s ongoing work and future iterations of this program, visit their website for more information and reach out to Naike Savain.