Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
The Denver Women's Correctional Facility houses nearly 1,000 maximum-security inmates.
Six of them arrive at Manny Martinez Middle School around noon on a recent weekday. They are accompanied by two correctional officers and several others, who also provide supervision. The women sit at a table, eating a lunch of fried chicken, waiting to meet the students of this charter school housed inside West High School.
The inmates wear prison greens over yellow T-shirts. Colored paper bands designating the women's housing unit hang from their wrists. The students later will ask a question about the bands. They also will ask: Do you miss your family? What's jail like? Do you remember the pain when you got shot? How did you feel when you did drugs? Have any of your real friends come to see you?
The women will answer the students' questions in a direct fashion, though some of the inquiries appear to cut them to the quick. It's hard to say whether it's the question that makes their eyes well up or the questioners, whom the inmates tell me later remind them of their own children and grandchildren, remind them of themselves before they learned you can pick your choices, but not your consequences.
But before the presentation, the women are nervous. No matter how many groups they talk to as members of the Women Advocating Youth program, they still get nervous. "You want the kids to get something out of it," inmate Stephanie Timothy says. She went to prison at 19 for shooting and killing an ex-boyfriend. She then tried to kill herself. Timothy is 31 now.
"What we're saying is real. It's not acting. This is our life," says Gena Coggins, 43. She's served four years of a 12-year sentence for second-degree burglary.
"I just prayed to God, 'God, if I do anything today, let me reach one person," says 51-year- old Sharee Wilson, who has been in and out of prison since she was 25.