Throughout her upbringing in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Andrea James was no stranger to misdemeanors and imprisonment. Her exposure to gang activity and criminal activity influenced her to become actively involved in justice, starting locally in Roxbury and ultimately becoming a criminal justice attorney. Even after 25 years of representing community members facing legal interference and working directly within the penal system, James could not have predicted the experiences she would encounter when she was sentenced to a 2-year federal prison incarceration (2009). In the 2016 American Justice Summit, James stated, “I didn’t think there was much anybody could tell me about how broken and in need of fixing the system is until I walked into that prison as an incarcerated woman...With all of my personal and professional experience, I was still so stunned when I saw the warehousing of these women and the pain of separation.” Inside the Federal Correctional Institute of Danbury, James felt particularly outraged by the struggles she and her fellow imprisoned mothers faced. She noted, “During my imprisonment, I was deeply affected by the great number of women who are in prison. Most of these women are serving very long mandatory minimum or guideline sentences for minor participation in drug possession or sales. Most of them are mothers. Their sentences are unreasonably long, the average being ten years. They have been in prison long after what should be considered fair sentences. They are provided limited educational opportunities. The women have managed to hold it together while psychologically and physically enduring such long sentences. They remain positive and hopeful amidst a torrent of regret, heartache, remorse, alienation, loneliness and a host of other problems mostly related to being warehoused in prison while their children struggle to survive.” From her painful experience, she helped establish FJAH (Families for Justice as Healing) to educate the public on the truths and lives of female prisoners, explain how separation (of inmate and community) can affect not only the said inmate and his/her family, but the entire community, and address the stigma associated with formerly-incarcerated women. In addition to founding FJAH, Andrea James is the author of Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts On the Politics of Mass Incarceration as well as coordinator of Coding for Justice, Real Women Real Voices, and EveryDay Shift.
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