First Year as a Hub: Welcoming the We Resolve Hub from St. Paul, Minnesota
by Damon Drake of We Resolve
Editor’s Note: Over the last two years, we started to train families and community groups from around the country all online due to the pandemic. Despite COVID keeping us apart, the need for this work became even more urgent and now there is a new generation of hubs that started during the pandemic. WIth that said, we want to introduce the amazing folks at the We Resolve hub in St. Paul, Minnesota and hear from them how their first year was.
We Resolve is Minnesota’s first participatory defense hub. Our goal is to tip the scales towards community healing and away from discriminatory punishment. We Resolve started our first weekly meetings September 25, 2020. Due to the pandemic, we received all of our training online. Although we started our first meetings at a public park, almost all of our meetings since then have been over zoom.
Within our first three months, we stood with a young man who was facing 15 years in prison. After standing with his family as they went through the process, the young man was released and that was our first time standing with a family as we experienced time saved. Because of prior convictions, if he didn’t win, he would have to serve 15 years in prison and also be labeled as a violent career criminal. We started to think that this label is almost as damaging as the time itself. The label lasts long after the time has been served. It lasts in the hearts and minds of the individual, his family and his community. It is burdensome and prevents him from obtaining employment, housing and education. Because of this, we have started to collect not only the time that has been saved but also the labels that have been avoided. In our first year, we have stood with families and helped to avoid 33.3 years of incarceration. By not incarcerating these individuals, our efforts have also helped taxpayers avoid paying $1,900,000 which would have gone to warehouse our loved ones.
After the public execution of George Floyd, it put a spotlight on the racist criminal punishment system here in Minnesota. We have met with the public defender’s office, the county attorney’s office, and numerous community base groups and organizations. No matter the group, it has been unanimous that everyone believes that participatory defense is vitally needed and that communities participation in the systems is long overdue. The level of gratitude and appreciation that we receive from loved ones and community members cannot be measured. Our hope is that we empower our loved ones to be strong advocates for themselves as they maneuver through the system.
One of our toughest cases was with a young man by the name of Frederick. Fredericks mother attended our weekly meetings. We worked together to build a social bio packet for his sentencing hearing. The family worked with Nusaybah Drake, our social bio designer and the youngest member of our court team. A bond was quickly formed with Frederick’s niece Essence and Nusaybah. Essence wrote a letter to the judge talking about the close relationship that she had with her uncle. The judge was so moved by that letter that she read it at his sentencing hearing. The letter was so impactful, the whole courtroom was holding back tears. Through these efforts, these two young ladies have resolved to build and to be involved in the next generation of organizers that will stand to protect our people.