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Welcoming Resilience OC to the Participatory Defense Network

Another amazing group that recently joined our family is the youth organization Resilience Orange County. We went out to Orange County, CA in the Fall and met with a group of young organizers eager to learn how to incorporate participatory defense strategies and increase their support of young people caught in the crosshairs of the juvenile and immigration systems.

“Too many of our families are taking deals instead of going through trial, denying our families justice. Our families in Santa Ana and Anaheim are being ripped apart through arrest and deportations”- Dulce 

During the second day of our visit, we helped lead their first meeting with the parents of a youth that they were already supporting.  Because of their efforts, that youth was not transferred over to be charged as an adult, a glimpse of the power that Participatory Defense holds in the community.

To welcome them in, Sheri Costa from South Alameda County’s A.L. Costa Development Center shares her experiences as a participatory defense practitioner. Read her letter below!

Dear Dulce, Ramon and Abraham;

I am honored to say WELCOME Resilience OC to the National Participatory Defense Network Family! As with any family I believe the love each of us has for our perspective communities is the energy that brings us together naturally. My community work started in 2001 when my son was assaulted by a police officer and decided to put my anger into addressing the issues he and his friends were facing. I began facilitating know your rights trainings in the neighborhood with my son’s friends and other neighborhoods followed as word of mouth spread. It was in these meetings youth shared the need for help as many had criminal cases pending. In this moment my personal experience was brought to the surface as the daughter of a man who cycled in and out of jail more than half my life. So, I made the decision to start attending court and supporting these young men and their mothers through the court process.

Our community is primarily Latino, so most cases our youth faced were gang related, direct filed and enhancements were piled on. When I started meeting with the youth and their parent(s) I learned most had no idea they had the right to be in the courtroom or speak to their child’s attorney. Court room boot camp for families and youth was now in session and I was determined to stop feeding the beast, the Prison system. The simplest things were a battle for us in the court room, but we stayed ever present. The first move was to be present, so the judge saw the youth had family and community support. The second was to compile the life story of the youth with photos, letters, report cards and letters from employers. We informed youth and parents to not speak about cases on the phone or in letters. A Probation report is another area we touched on of what to share and not share for the best report outcome. The sad fact is families had to be informed who the players were in the criminal justice system and the boundary lines to follow.

The need for emotional support was critical as mothers watched their child come into a court room shackled hand and foot. I understood this pain firsthand as I had been in their position before, I opened my home as a safe space for them to come together. The ladies shared their experiences, received support, hugs, smiles and even some laughs. This relationship building helped us identify and create change in our community. Families appreciated the support, knowledge gained and the fact they were able to bring their child home or save time. These are Participatory Defense actions and principles which I am proud to possess and continue to learn about as we evolve as a network.

The network has grown over the past couple of years in considerable numbers doing the work to protect our people. We share all we have with each other, knowledge, power, resources and most importantly time saved. I am always inspired by the updates on time saved from various members, it’s a reminder of how priceless this work is. There are monthly webinars where we can share our cases and receive input from each other. This provides a great platform for us to learn from one another as we all have various experience we bring to the table.

As a powerful collective we can bring real change locally and nationally to the forefront. We are currently doing this in Alameda and Santa Clara County by supporting our loved ones behind the walls as well as their families. PRISONERS UNITED in Alameda and Santa Clara County Jails are being deprived of their human and constitutional rights of due process and inflicted with cruel and unusual punishment, inhumane living conditions, and the torturous practice of solitary confinement. On October 15, 2017, PRISONERS UNITED in Glenn Dyer Detention Center courageously led the way in a Hunger Strike that spanned across 2 counties and 4 jails. Santa Rita Jail, Santa Clara County Main Jail and Elmwood D.O.C. continued the strike in solidarity on October 22.

We share the belief all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity, Justice is for all and innocent until proven guilty. With each new addition to the Participatory Defense family we gain knowledge, power, tools, share laughs and most importantly share saved time victories. I will close in sharing don’t hesitate to call, text, or email me or anyone else in the network if you have any questions. As with any family we support one another in many ways and I am excited to hear about all that you do, have done and what we can learn from you.


Sheri Costa

A.L. Costa Community Development Center

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