In 2022, Alabama, Tennessee, Vermont, Oregon, and Louisiana were the states with ballot measures to abolish slavery after 150 years of emancipation. Four out of the five states have passed this ballot measure, but Louisiana is one of the many states in this country that is still holding onto the legacy of slavery. Louisiana did not pass this ballot measure. The ballot measure left Louisiana voters confused regarding voting in favor of keeping slavery and involuntary servitude on the books or approving a flawed measure that some feared would have expanded slavery. Californian legislators, on the other hand, have no excuses: Assembly Member Sydney Kamlager’s “End Slavery in California Act” died after California’s Department of Finance estimated it would cost the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) $1.5 billion to pay the state’s almost 65,000 incarcerated workers minimum wage ($15 per hour). Dorsey Nunn, the Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, proposed ACA6, but it failed to pass through the California Legislature.

Our country’s continued reliance on slavery and involuntary servitude is absolutely unacceptable. Our country is continuing to exploit people’s labor instead of providing rehabilitation. For me, after losing my son and not knowing how to deal with grief, I was incarcerated for using drugs to manage my grief. While I was incarcerated, I was worked like a slave in the California prison system. Me and thousands of other people in California had to experience this. I was one of those workers who made less than 52 cents per hour generating billions of dollars each year in goods and services for the government and corporations. I was one of those workers who did not have the right to rest, who was forced to work while sick, and forced to work jobs that put my life at risk like fire camp—all with little to no pay. The money that is being put into these prisons could be put into schools for our children to provide them with more opportunities. What will make our communities safer and healthier would be a strong well-resourced school system, art and music programs, museums, parks, and mental health and health centers. It is shocking that we continue to pour our resources into the prison system while we neglect the investment of our children and our schools and community resources and solutions.

I founded A New Way of Life through my own experiences which led me to work towards transforming the lives of previously incarcerated women. Leading women to freedom and transforming the system has been a part of A New Way of Life since its beginning. We work to break the chains of incarceration and oppression. There should not be a system that chains people and put them in cages. We must work with our communities to provide solutions that are going to support communities to thrive. As we work towards freedom for all, we are laser focused on ending slavery in this country.

The Thirteenth Amendment states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to jurisdiction”, yet slavery is still alive and well. We must use our voices and come together to help change this system once and for all. We must work towards removing it.

Doing freedom work has been my life’s objective since I established A New Way of Life Reentry Project in 1998. This is not a win for us, but this is a first step of many. I founded A New Way of Life for the sole purpose of working towards changing bad public policy and ultimately eliminating mass incarceration. A New Way of Life also does voter outreach in our communities and jails to help voters understand complex ballot propositions. We work towards restoring the vote for formerly incarcerated people. We have the right to impact laws and policy with our collective voice and collective vote. Our vote is important, if it wasn’t important they wouldn’t try to take it from us.

The lives of people incarcerated are valuable and they do have a life after incarceration. The prison system is not their final fate in life and treating these individuals as such is unacceptable. Our country and our society is so quick to throw people away after they make a mistake, but at the end of the day they are human. Again, this is not a win, but a first step. We must come together to help continue this fight for those incarcerated and those experiencing modern-day slavery. We must continue to educate ourselves during times like this to be a part of this never-ending battle of wanting freedom. At A New Way of Life, we work towards changing laws, policies, and regulations through advocacy and community organizing around these issues. As a pioneer in the reentry movement, I found A New Way of Life to lead women to freedom. Slavery should be abolished once and for all for this country to be “free”.