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SINCE I BEEN DOWN – And recommended actions from Washington Poor People’s Campaign

by January 24, 2023 0

On Thursday, January 19th, Mt Baker Meaningful Movies and West Seattle Meaningful Movies hosted an event for the documentary, SINCE I BEEN DOWN.

The powerful film, SINCE I BEEN DOWN spotlights prisoner Kimonti Carter and follows his efforts, as well as a wide group of prisoners, as they create a model of education that is transforming their lives, their communities, our prisons, and our own humanity. Kimonti was given a life sentence but his sentence was commuted by Governor Inslee and he was finally released last summer. He continues to devote himself every day to educating and helping people understand the perspectives of his fellow prisoners. Carter is a member of the #BlackPrisonersCaucus and started the prison led education program, T.E.A.C.H which is now in multiple Washington State Prisons.

The film, told by the people who have lived these conditions, unravels intimate stories from interviews brought to life through archival footage, cinema verité discussions, masquerade, and dance, unraveling why children commit violent crime and how these children – now adults – are breaking free from their fate by creating a model of justice that is transforming their lives and the quality of life for all our children.

After the film screening, Director Gilda Sheppard & Activist Kimonti Carter (featured in the film) joined the event and spoke powerfully about the ways in which our society fails young people who are left to fend for themselves in the midst of gangs and violence. They spoke compassionately of the youth who are unable to resist that cycle of violence and are eventually imprisoned. Dr. Sheppard and Mr. Carter both spoke of the  transformational power of art and education to build community and bring healing.

For this event, screenings of the film occurred both online and in-person. After the screenings,  there was discussion about this movie and movement at the Mt Baker Community Club which was simultaneously shown on Zoom.


We are grateful to Kimonti Carter and Gilda Sheppard for speaking at this event. We are also grateful to all of the volunteers as well as to the Washington State Poor People’s Campaign who provided us with the below information about some of the key bills which are going through our Washington State Legislature this session.


HB 1024: Real Labor Real Wages Act
This bill ensures that people who are incarcerated are paid a fair wage for the labor they perform and ensures that people are not required to pay for the cost of incarceration. It also increases the amount of earnings that will be placed in a savings account for each incarcerated person. This bill has been referred to Appropriations.


HB 1025: Private Right of Action for People Harmed by Peace Officers
This bill authorizes a private right of action for violations of the state Constitution or state law by peace officers—the state equivalent of a federal §1983 action. It does not allow peace officers to rely on the qualified immunity defense to avoid liability—i.e., it is not a defense that the law was not “clearly established” with respect to the acts or omissions at issue. The bill has been scheduled for public hearing in the House Committee on Civil Rights & Judiciary at 8:00 AM  on January 25 (Subject to change). (Committee Materials)


HB 1087: Ending Long-Term Solitary Confinement

This bill recognizes that long-term solitary confinement constitutes torture under international law and causes severe psychological trauma. It states that people who are incarcerated may not be placed in solitary confinement except for emergencies, medical isolation, or when requested by the person who is incarcerated. People cannot be held in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days or 45 days total during a calendar year. And vulnerable people, such as those with mental or physical disabilities and pregnant people, cannot be held in solitary confinement. Jan 23 Referred to Appropriations.


HB 1174: Ensuring Access for Voters in Jails 

This bill requires county auditors to create a jail voting plan for each jail in the county and requires jails to provide access to voting materials to people in jail in accordance with the voting plan. It also mandates that jails allow election officials to enter the jails at least 30 days before each primary and general election to provide voter registration outreach and education. Jan 25 Scheduled for executive session in the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations at 1:30 PM (Subject to change). (Committee Materials)


HB 1080: Release of Body Camera Recordings

This bill authorizes the release of unredacted body camera footage, subject to potential restrictions on use and prohibits law enforcement and corrections agencies from charging for unredacted recordings. Jan 27 Scheduled for executive session in the House Committee on Civil Rights & Judiciary at 10:30 AM (Subject to change). (Committee Materials)


SB 5046: Expands Postconviction Access to Counsel

This bill expands the circumstances in counsel may be appointed at state expense to someone who has been convicted and requires the Office of Public Defense to study the barriers to providing postconviction counsel to indigent people. Jan 20 Referred to Ways & Means.

SB 5128: Increasing Jury Diversity

This bill requires collection of data on juror demographics and provides additional compensation for jurors who qualify for certain low-income programs. The bill passed out of the Senate Law & Justice Committee on Jan. 12 and has been referred to the Ways & Means Committee.


If folks are interested in supporting the work of the BPC you can contact:


We are also grateful to Rabbi Rosenbaum for providing the following suggestions when talking to legislators: 

Sample Talking Points   2/1/23



Representative (Senn),

Thank you for taking the time to meet with us at what we know is an especially busy time for you.

  • We are a part of a Multifaith Coalition who want to see deep changes in Washington State’s system of incarceration: in the way we think about incarceration and in the way we do it.


  • We have been moved by the story of Kimonti Carter in the documentary SIBD, a man who became an inspirational leader after he was sentenced to life in prison.  We believe changing how we do incarceration will release the blocked human potential that Kimonti represents.

  • We are advocating for legislative change in 4 areas (decriminalizing drug possession; restricting solitary confinement; sentencing reform; minimum wage for prison labor)

Decriminalizing Simple Drug Possession


In the Blake decision, the State Supreme Court held that the WA statue making unknowing possession of illegal drugs a felony, was unconstitutional.   In response, the  Legislature passed a law adding the element of knowledge (a person has to know that they possess illegal drugs) and set the criminal penalty as a misdemeanor (not felony).   Further, In lieu of jail booking and referral to a prosecutor, police are required to refer a person knowingly in possession of illegal drugs for assessment and services created under this new law.  This is required for the first two encounters; on the third the police have discretion. 


The part of the law that makes knowing possession of an illegal drug a misdemeanor is set to expire on July 1, 2023.  

Consequently, this session, the Legislature is debating whether to: 1) decriminalize drug possession; 2) keep it a crime, at the level of misdemeanor; or 3) keep it a crime, at the level of felony.   

Our goal during this legislative session is to advocate for the Legislature to completely decriminalize simple drug possession and to substitute treatment of addiction for punishment by greatly enhancing social services available to drug users.

  • Addiction is an illness, not a crime. Punishment or the threat of punishment is an ineffective way of treating addiction. Any involvement of the police or courts in the treatment process sets up unrealistic goals for a very complicated illness and simply adds trauma to people whose suffering of trauma is an underlying cause of addiction in the first place.
  • It is not enough to treat the addiction. We must treat the whole person. We will be more effective if we treat the underlying conditions that make addiction more likely, such as homelessness, joblessness, lack of education. Seattle programs like JustCARE which use this approach have been very successful.

In the event that the bill that moves forward does not result in decriminalization, we should advocate for retaining the misdemeanor status, rather have it revert to felony.   Further, we strongly advocate for the implementation of the SB 5476 Task Force recommendations.  The Task Force created after Blake was charged with making recommendations to the Legislature.  The task force recommends decriminalization of drug possession.  The Task Force also recommends creation and expansion of a web of services and actions to support people who suffer with drug addiction.  We strongly support the implementation and funding of these recommendations. 


Restricting Solitary Confinement HB1087, SB5135

  • In 2015, the UN adopted standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, which defines prolonged solitary confinement as solitary confinement for a period exceeding 15 consecutive days.  


  • This bill would restrict the use of solitary confinement in state and local correctional facilities.  


    • Except in cases of a facility-wide lockdown, medical isolation, or protective custody, an incarcerated person may not be placed in solitary confinement unless the person would create a substantial risk of immediate serious harm.  
    • Except in cases of a facility-wide lockdown, an incarcerated person may not be placed in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days, or for more than 45 cumulative days during a single fiscal year.  
  • An incarcerated person may not be denied access to food, water, or any other basic necessity.


Why Should We Support HB1756?

  • Solitary confinement leads to long lasting psychological harm, anxiety, and trauma.
  • Its impact continues to haunt individuals many years after release from incarceration.  
  • It is a form of sanctioned torture that dehumanizes society. It is time to move beyond this practice.


Sentencing Reform

  1. Expanding Clemency (Rep. Hackney) HB1189

First, we’d like to draw your attention to SB5036, expanding clemency, because we believe it addresses what is fundamentally wrong with the whole system of incarceration we have today:

  • SB 5036 expands the number (from 5 to 10) of the Clemency & Pardons board (CPB) membership.  It will increase the number of incarcerated who can petition to receive a hearing and makes the CPB more racially equitable by adding community representation to the board


Why this bill is important to us:

  • The elimination of parole in Washington State reflects a marked shift in orientation in the justice system away from rehabilitation towards punishment. This approach to criminal justice:
  • Has resulted in longer sentences for many more people
  • Has taken away discretion from judges who would prefer to find alternatives for incarceration
  • Has disproportionately and unfairly impacted People of Color
  • Ignores the humanity and the human potential of the incarcerated. It has given up on a large group of people who have the potential of changing their lives for the better

  • Expanding clemency, as proposed by Bill 5036
  • Is rooted in the belief that people can change
  • Reflects the belief that even people who have committed serious crimes deserve a chance at redemption


  1. Sentencing Enhancements (Rep. Goodman)

The second bill we are supporting is Bill 1169, regarding Sentencing Enhancements

    • Enhancements is a legal word that applies to adding on to a sentence for certain crimes.
  • Sentences can be ‘enhanced’ for a variety of reasons. This bill eliminates some of those enhancements, thus insuring that sentences are not longer than they should be.


Why Should We Support De-Stacking Enhancements?

  • Incarceration rates are too high and sentences are too long, disproportionately affect people of color, and do not increase public safety.
  • Some of the main drivers of increasing sentence length are these enhancements, with some quadrupling the base sentence.  There is poor justification for this sentence lengthening.
  • Sentencing reform is not a get out of jail free card.  It is much better for public safety to provide an incentive for good behavior through more reasonable and humane sentences.


Minimum Wage for Prison Work (Rep. Simmons) HB1024

  • Provides that incarcerated persons are not required to work or otherwise participate in correctional industries work programs, except when ordered for community restitution by a court. Provides that incarcerated persons may choose to participate or refuse to participate in work programs.
  • Requires the wage or gratuity paid to an incarcerated person participating in a work program (correctional industries) to be no less than the state minimum wage. 
  • Modifies the amount of money that may be deducted from an incarcerated person’s wages.

Why should we support this bill?

  • Paying incarcerated people minimum wage for the work they do in prison enables them to accumulate savings so that when they are released from prison, they have something to start with. The more we can bolster the economic stability of the newly released, the less likely they will return to prison.


  • All of the bills share two underlying assumptions: First, no one is born a criminal. And, second, people can change.
  • We realize this view is not universally shared in our society. And, that is why since the 1980’s our system of justice has been driven by the assumption that certain people are inherently bad actors. And, if we just get rid of all the bad actors—lock them up and throw away the key—we’ll all be safe from crime. 
  • But these are faulty assumptions. Our group was among the 700 households that signed on to learn the story of Kimonti Carter in the film “Since I Been Down.” At age 18, Kimonti committed a terrible crime. But, at age 41, Kimonti is an inspirational leader, an educator, a racial harmonizer. Look at the Kimonti of today and it’s clear there is nothing inherently criminal about him, never was. 
  • But, the more we take the quick and easy road, and see  the solution to criminal behavior as throwing away the bad actors, the less incentive we have to ask ourselves: How can we make sure the Kimonti’s of today do not end up in prison, and instead fulfill their true potential?


  • So, we want shorter and more reasonable sentences
  • We want more humane treatment inside the prison
  • We want legislation that removes the obstacles from the formerly incarcerated  to make it in society,.


We appreciate your spending time with us today, and we would greatly appreciate hearing your comments.

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