While watching Netflix miniseries When They See Us, the story of five Harlem teenagers falsely accused of assault and rape only to be exonerated from those crimes 13 years later, Daya Wright was gripped with emotion. And though at the time she didn’t quite understand why, the Air Force veteran with a master's in psychology was left with the feeling that something must be done, and that she would be the instrument.
“There had to be some way to help people that may be lost in a system, that weren’t sure of their options or a path forward,” the founder and president Wright wrote on the website of freshly formed non-profit, the Inside and Out Project. Starting in December, it will work to bail out one to two non-violent, first time offenders each week.
In late June after finishing the miniseries, she had reached out to her brother, Sherwin Wright, with the idea of an organization that would provide bail and resources to those that met the criteria from low-income households. The goal, she says, is reunification, whether that means freedom or transportation for family members to correctional facilities.
Daya had Sherwin in mind as executive director because of his prior experience coordinating events and fundraising. And because of his three-year incarceration in Yuma, AZ for marijuana possession. Sherwin says that, while inside, though he had the support of his sister and family, he came across a lot of inmates that weren’t as fortunate. In that time, Sherwin was able to build relationships between inmates and the wardens office through a group called Community Betterment, which met once a week to discuss issues like food, conditions, contraband, and inmate/staff behavior. “I was able to actually change some of the policies to help that relationship flow a little better,” he said.
Sherwin's friend Monique Valdez, who is now a board member, had helped him by sending books and meditation music that he could share with others. She says that during that time they came up with a lot of ideas, “We did a lot of positive work in there trying to help inmates. So many people are alone without support or funds.”
In the United States, 76 percent of people held in jails haven't been convicted of a crime according to research done by The Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit, non-partisan initiative whose goal is to expose the negative effects of mass-criminalization. As stated on the Inside and Out Project's website, “In a nation that presumes all citizens are innocent until proven guilty; some awaiting trial will not agree, since many of these non-violent, first time offenders will lose their jobs, housing, custody of their children, and the vast majority will take a plea deal simply to get released sooner,” followed by, “a key factor of mass incarceration is pretrial detention.”
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Currently finishing up its operational framework, the organization is busy continuing to raise funds and collect support from public defenders, community leaders, and judges like George Powell of the 351st district court, as well as musicians like Michael “5000” Watts. Daya, who is located in Cypress, and Sherwin, who will travel to Houston as well as operate the new organization's headquarters out of Phoenix, are just about ready to begin. Members of the board of directors for the organization are located in California, Ohio, and Florida and within the next five years will begin service in those areas as well.
Candidates must be first time, non-violent offenders. The screening process includes criteria similar to that of a bail bond company; risk of situation, history, housing, family; but most importantly Sherwin says, “Why they are there and what they had going on beforehand.” Wright hopes for turnaround time to be less than 24 hours, “The goal is to prevent someone from losing their job, house, or custody.”
In addition to bail, the agency will offer transportation to and from court and support strategies through partnerships with public defenders. Information, resources and referrals for education, vocation, rehabilitation, and legal services will also be provided. Even a fresh change of clothes if needed. For family members of those in jail, the Inside and Out Project will help to locate individuals, secure a visitation schedule, as well as provide monthly transportation to facilities.
Working to secure a bail company as well as an organization that will facilitate transportation, the organization hopes to eventually provide all logistics internally. Because bail for first time, non-violent offenders ranges from $500-$10,000, private donations, support from other foundations, and a Go Fund Me page have been key in obtaining financial backing. “We have grant writers in place, we are making the steps to get people behind us and get the word out,” she says.