Around January of last year I was sitting on a cold concrete slab. In my left hand was a small plastic bag, with everything I owned in it. In my right hand was a folded up piece of paper with directions on how to get to Bell Shelter.
I was sitting there waiting for the last door to open, just terrified of the world I was going to face. The voices of the friends I made echoed through my head: "You're not going to forget about me, are you Steve? You're going to do something about what's going on in here, right Rogers? I know you like to talk. You tell the world." So I got out, and I got started right away, telling the world what's happening inside our jails.
The only thing was, the world had other problems. They were busy. They weren't worried about what happens to a bunch of inmates. So I started trying to connect with people as they got out. I would connect them with resources and I quickly found out, what little was available, was really hard to get. The jail system has a way of destroying people, physically, mentally, emotionally. Then you get out and you constantly hear the world saying "hurry and catch up with the privileged."
There are just so many problems with the system, and I wanted to do something to help, and to make a difference, but I realized I couldn't reach the people without a public voice. So I was really excited when I heard about a civilian oversight commission that was being worked on by a small, talented group of people called Dignity and Power Now. I got involved with both hands, and eight months later, the LA County Board of Supervisors had created the new Civilian Oversight Commission. It would review the conduct of the Sheriff's Deputies who run the jail and who control our streets. This was monumental. I mean, it was huge! But, would it have the power to uncover the Sheriff's Department's darkest secrets?
So the community came together and agreed in public forums on things like no law enforcement on the commission, or the commission's ability to obtain reports, documents, and testimony through subpoena power. All the while, you could hear Sheriff McDonnell and Les Robins laughing in the background, from their fortress seemingly saying, "You'll never see what's going on in here."
It was really frustrating. It helped me to understand that you can't change legislation, without legislative votes. Luckily for me Liberty Hill already had a plan in action. I was approached by a young, ambitious woman, named Michelle Lin who convinced me that a program they offer could help our group with our goals, but I would have to act fast.
I didn't know it that day, but that training would change my life. I learned about things like how to connect with commissioners and legislators on a personal level. I learned about how being scared of them or upset with them wasn't going to get anything done. Laurie would constantly have us researching different commissions. How we could achieve our goals, through other commissions when necessary.
She'd even have us make lists of different commissions we'd be willing to sit on. This was instrumental. She really believed we could get appointed, and I stopped seeing myself as an inmate trying to free himself from his chains, and I started seeing myself as a leader, trying to free the rest of the community.
When I started their training I couldn't stand the thought of being on a commission. We just didn't get along with the people in power so much! But now, knowing what I know, and learning what I've learned, I can't stand the thought of missing the opportunity. Because when I'm outside a door waiting for it to open, today, that door is more likely outside the Governor's office.
- STEVE ROGERS, 2015 Commissions Training Program Graduate and Member-Leader of Dignity and Power Now