Confusing Rollout for Pawtucket’s Free Summer Meals Program

by Jessica Stensrud

The Free Summer Meals Program is state-wide, federally-funded program that takes place all across Rhode Island, providing children 18 and younger with breakfast and lunch (and sometimes snack) at no cost. In RI, the program is supposed to provide an average of 450,000 meals over the course of the summer.

In Pawtucket, however, the rollout has been confusing and disjointed. On Friday, June 23 at Slater Park, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien introduced the Free Summer Meals Program, while at the same time tweeting calendars with the menu items for breakfast and lunch. These calendars noted the program would start on June 26 at all open meal sites, which include libraries, schools, and parks.

But on June 26, when I and fellow activists visited the sites, what we found surprised us and left us frustrated and disheartened: every school site was empty of children and no food was being served or was set up to be served. Staff we could find on site hadn’t heard of the program.

We decided to head to the Pawtucket School Department, eventually getting a meeting with the Assistant Superintendent Secretary Sue Lozy, who explained that the actual start date for many of the sites was July 5, not June 26. She acknowledged that the schedule tweeted by the Mayor had been confusing, and that she would create an updated, more accurate schedule, which has now been posted to the Pawtucket city website and to the Pawtucket School Department’s website.

Lozy also promised that information banners would be put up at all schools and robo-calls in relevant languages would go out across the community.

On July 5, we visited the various sites again, and this time were pleased to see that the schools we visited were set up and serving food. It did still seem like not many children were showing up. We aren’t sure if Lozy or the School Department or the schools themselves are doing the appropriate outreach to let families in the area know that there is free food available to them.

We need to make sure every family in Pawtucket worried about putting food on the table is aware of the program, and make sure that we roll it out better and in a more organized way.

Please call, email, write and/or fax Mayor Donald Grebien’s office, as well as the two Assistant Superintendents and their secretary (all contact information is below) and say:

  • “I want to ask that the [Mayor, Superintendent, etc] appoint someone to make sure the Free Summer Meals Program is operating in an organized way, to ensure that the benefits of the program as being seen by the impoverished children in Pawtucket who depend on it.
  • I want to ask that more is done to inform the people in the neighborhood of the program, so that their children are able to eat the free food available.  What effort is being made to ensure people know about the program?

Mayor Grebien
Address: Pawtucket City Hall, 137 Roosevelt Avenue, 2nd Floor Room 200, Pawtucket, RI 02860
City Hall Main Number: (401) 728-0500, ext. 281
Mayor’s Office Fax: (401) 723-8620
Email: dgrebien@pawtucketri.com

Sue Lozy (secretary to the assistant superintendent)
Phone: 401-729-6328
Note: We were told Lozy is due to retire soon so we’re not sure how long she can be reached.

Assistant Superintendent Lee Rabbit
rabbitl@psdri.net
Phone: 401-729-6328
Fax: 401-727-1641

Assistant Superintendent Kathleen Suriani
surianik@psdri.net
Phone: 401-729-6328
Fax: 401-727-1641

Jessica Stensrud is a social justice activist and advocate. She is a co-coordinator for the [Anti-Bullying] Rhode Island Healthy Workplace Bill and has been active in fighting lunch shaming issue in Pawtucket.

How To Be An Ally to Sex Workers

by Bella Robinson

1) Don’t Assume. Don’t assume you know why a person is in the sex industry.  Most people make a choice to enter the sex industry because it is the best option for them.  Many sex workers only have to work a few hours a week because sex work pays a lot more than the majority of other jobs in the US.  Sex work allows sex workers a flexible schedule so they can attend college or pick their kids up at the bus stop after school.  Sex work allows sex workers to pay their rent and to put food on the table for their families.

2)  Don’t Judge. Know your own prejudices and realize that not everyone shares the same opinions as you. Whether you think sex work is a dangerous and exploitative profession or not is irrelevant compared to the actual experiences of the person who works in the industry. It’s not your place to pass judgment on how another person earns the money they need to survive.

3) Address Your Prejudices. If you have a deep bias or underlying fear that all sex workers are bad people and/or full of diseases, then perhaps these are issues within yourself that you need to address.  In fact, the majority of sex workers practice safer sex more than their peers and get tested regularly.

4) Respect that Sex Work is Real Work. There’s a set of professional skills involved and it’s not necessarily an industry that everyone can enter into. Don’t tell someone to get a “real job” when they already have one that suits them just fine.

5) Don’t Play Rescuer. Most sex workers are not trying to get out of the industry or in need of help.  Many sex workers have reported that rescue attempts which usually includes them being arrested,  traumatizes them and leaves them further displaced.  Most rescue efforts do not include offering sex workers any real services like child care, subsidized housing, or jobs that pay a living wage.  Sex workers have been rating these experiences at http://ratethatrescue.org/

6)  Remember “Our Lives Are Not Your Fundraising Material” Many trafficking and rescue organizations exploit sex workers who have been arrested.  They highlight the few rare horrific stories of abuse and exploitation for their fundraising campaigns. They stigmatize sex workers which is known to increase violence towards sex workers.  They create hysteria about phantom pimps and traffickers that rarely exist,  while they profit off the criminalization of sex workers.  Trafficking NGOs are being funded at over 600 million a year just to create awareness about sex trafficking.  Yet 80% of human trafficking takes place in other labor sectors.

7) Watch Your Language. Cracking jokes about rape and dead hookers is not acceptable.  Calling sexworkers derogatory names is not acceptable,  However some sex workers have “taken back” these phrases to show the world that they are proud sex workers who will not be shamed; thus helping to help reduce stigma and change social perception.  (whore, ho, hooker)

8) Do Your Own Research. Most mainstream media is biased against sex workers and the statistics you read in the news about the sex industry are usually false.  Be critical of what you read or hear as most of it won’t be based on evidence based research.  If you want to learn about sex workers, contact your local sex worker rights organization and ask them to provide you or your organization with a free training.

9) Be Discreet and Respect Personal Boundaries. If you know a sex worker, it’s OK to engage in conversation in dialogue with them in private, but respect their privacy surrounding their work in public settings.  Don’t ask personal questions such as “does your family know what you do?” If a sex worker is not “out” to their friends, family, or co-workers, it’s not your place to tell everyone what they do.

10) Show Respect. Realize that sex work transcends ‘visible’ notions of race, gender, class, sexuality, education, and identities; sex workers are your sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, lovers, and friends. Respect them!

11) Be Supportive and Share Resources. If you know of someone who is new to the industry or in an abusive situation with an employer, by all means offer advice and support without being condescending. Some people do enter into the sex industry without educating themselves about what they are getting into and may need help. Despite the situation, calling the police is usually never a good option. Try to find other sex worker led organizations that are sensitive to the needs of sex workers.

12) Stand Up. As you learn the above things, stand up for sex workers when conversations happen.  Don’t let the stigma, bigotry and shame around sex work continue.  Remember it’s important that sex workers be allowed to speak for themselves and for allies to not speak them.   If you want to help be an ally to sex workers, please consider donating or volunteering with your local sex worker rights organization.

Bella Robinson is the founder and executive director of Coyote RI.  

Coyote RI provides support to sex workers and trafficking victims, to include providing non judgmental and compassionate crisis management services.  Coyote provides support services to incarcerated sex workers and we provide case managers to help sex workers access reentry services upon their release.

Coyote strives to provide adequate resource referrals to sex workers.  We have documented the discrimination that sex workers endure when trying to access public services.   We continue to educate services providers and government officials about the best way to help connect  “people involved in the sex industry” to services.

Starting in August 2017 Coyote RI will be providing free HIV & Hep C testing, and condom distribution to sex workers and to the general public.

Coyote strives to reduce stigma and violence against sex workers and we lobby for policies that promote the health and safety of sex workers.  We acknowledge that sex work is acceptable form of labor.   We recognize that the criminalization of prostitution is a form of state sponsored violence and systemic oppression against a highly marginalized population.

Coyote is also one of the 6 local organizations that created the AMOR network, which is a coalition of directly affected people and “people of color” led organizations, building a Rapid Resistance Network to protect our community. 

Want to learn more about the systemic oppression of US sex workers?  Visit http://coyoteri.org/

End the Practice of Sentencing Children to Life in Prison Without Parole

H5183, the Act Relating to Criminals – Correctional Institutions – Parole, is sponsored by Reps Blazejewski, Barros, Ajello, Amore, and Ranglin- Vassell. It would require children sentenced to life in prison to have the opportunity for parole after (a maximum) of 15 years. The Senate passed the companion bill, S0237, and now it’s time to pressure the House to make this bill law.

In January, the house recommended measure be held for further study in the Judiciary Committee  The members on the committee must be contacted and told to bring the bill to a vote.

If your rep is on the committee, CALL THEM and tell them to vote H5183 out of committee. (Find their contact information here.)

Script if your rep is on the committee: I’m (name) and I live in your district at (address). I’m calling to tell Rep. (name) that I expect them to help bring H5183 to the floor for a vote. Children should not be sentenced to life in prison without parole, and this bill will ensure that they are given a chance at a true life outside prison walls. Rep. (name) should stand up for children, and vote to pass this bill.

If your rep is not on the committee, CALL THEM and tell them to pressure their colleagues to bring it to the floor, and to vote for it once it arrives. (Find their contact information here.)

Script if your rep is not on the committee: I’m (name) and I live in your district at (address). I’m calling to tell Rep. (name) that I expect them to vote H5183 out of committee and to the House floor for a vote. Children should not be sentenced to life in prison without parole, and this bill will ensure that they are given a chance at a true life outside prison walls. Rep. (name) should stand up for children, and vote to pass this bill.

The United States stands (almost) alone

International law prohibits sentencing children to death in prison. Yet the majority of states in the US, including Rhode Island, continue to allow the sentence of life in prison without parole for children of any age. The United States was the only country of 197 countries that did not sign on as a “State Party” to a the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which made the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without parole forbidden.

Sentencing minors to life terms sends an unequivocal message to young people that they are beyond redemption, but research on a child’s developmental and emotional state has proven this false. The US Supreme Court has used research on children in overturning cruel and unusual sentences, noting that adolescence is marked by “transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences.”

Under the proposed legislation, H5183, juveniles who are sentenced as adults would automatically come before the parole board after a maximum of fifteen years, regardless of the length of their sentence, giving these young adults the chance to prove their fitness to return to society.

Many children who have been sentenced to die in prison for crimes come from violent and dysfunctional backgrounds. Research has shown that juveniles subjected to trauma, abuse, and neglect suffer from cognitive underdevelopment, lack of maturity, decreased ability to restrain impulses, and susceptibility to outside influences greater even than those suffered by normal teenagers.

The Campaign for Fair Sentencing for Youth, Rhode Island Parole Board Chairwoman Laura A. Pisaturo, and representatives of the Diocese of Providence and the American Civil Liberties Union all testified in support of the bill. Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski, D-Providence, is sponsoring companion legislation (2017-H 5183) in the House.

Learn more about juvenile justice, and children sentenced to life without parole in the video below, featuring Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.