WISDOM Commissions EXPO Ex-Prisoners Organizers

Posted by: Gordon on 8/2/2015
Leaders of WISDOM EXPO and trainers

19 leaders participated in WISDOM's first-ever EXPO training in June.

At the end of June, PhD candidate and WISDOM leader Mark Rice was among the first EXPO 11x15 Fellowship Interns commissioned by the Wisconsin statewide organization.

This week, he was in Washington, D.C. to join a national group of leaders calling on President Obama to ban the box on federal job applications that ask people whether they have a criminal record.

So he was just stating the simple facts when he reflected on his involvement with the organization: “Training helped me develop skills I can use immediately,” he says. 

EXPO – for Ex-Prisoners Organizing – is the name WISDOM’s formerly-incarcerated leaders, who help drive the organization’s criminal justice campaign in Wisconsin, chose for themselves and their work on a constellation of issues to change the narrative around criminal justice in the state and beyond.

“We can have an impact on policies that affect us – especially in places with a large concentration of formerly incarcerated people,” says Rice, who is studying community organizing at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and chairs WISDOM’s revocation task force. "I think EXPO will eventually build enough power to get policymakers to invest less in unnecessarily incarcerating individuals and more in programs that attack the root causes of crime.

Rice has blogged about his own experiences with revocation in a state system that gives probation officers total discretion and little guidance in when to revoke probation and return someone with a prior record to prison.  

Rice adds that highlights of the training week included developing organizing skills, identifying what personal barriers were holding him back, as well as attending a vigil for the victims of the recent killing in Charleston at the Oak Creek Sikh temple that was the site of an August 2012 shooting spree.

“In stories they each told about their path to power during the training, you could clearly see their disempowerment and how it happened,” Angela James, one of the trainers for the group, recalls. “We teach about power and self interest and they clearly understand the self-interest of the system and how it tried to crush their power.”

She is looking forward to a second EXPO training planned for January, because the group is one of the most serious and focused she’s ever worked with: “They don’t have time to play games.”

WISDOM also plans to have an EXPO group within each local WISDOM organization and a statewide EXPO infrastructure, according to WISDOM director David Liners.

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