Based in Oakland, California, All of Us or None is a grassroots civil and human rights organization fighting for the rights of formerly-and currently-incarcerated people and their families. Their goal is to strengthen the voices of people most affected by mass incarceration and the growth of the prison-industrial complex. Through grassroots organizing, they are building a powerful political movement to win full restoration of human and civil rights. 

All of Us or None- Northern NJ, New Jersey’s first and only chapter of the national organization was formally organized in mid-2019. When I attended my first meeting in September, the group had already attempted to deliver clean water to our comrades at Northern State Prison in the midst of Newark’s water crisis and was actively working on our Welcome Home Initiative, in which the team provides baskets of hygiene necessities and handwritten cards to people who’ve recently been released. I was immediately put to work during that first meeting, and have since helped develop a letter-writing initiative to broaden our membership, educate, and lift up the voices of those on the inside.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are approximately 39,000 incarcerated people in New Jersey, the vast majority of whom are people of color. New Jersey also has the distinction of having the worst black to white youth incarceration disparity rate, and the second worst Latino/white youth incarceration disparity rate, in the nation. In April of this year, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report outlining how New Jersey has failed to stop rampant sexual abuse at its only prison for women despite decades of documented problems and the convictions of several employees. Additionally, the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark was under scrutiny in 2019 when a federal investigation found rotting food, decrepit bathrooms, a lack of outdoor space and other “egregious violations of detention standards.

All of this was reason enough to act, but the work took on a new sense of urgency at the outbreak of Covid-19. 

Our chapter initiated a mutual aid effort in March to financially support those who have been incarcerated and their families impacted by the virus and its fallout. Through our letter-writing initiative, we began collecting insights into the conditions on the inside as this crisis unfolded, and we in turn responded to our members with an overview of symptoms and options on how to advocate for themselves. We began working with partner organizations and fellow advocates and, with permission, began a social media campaign to lift up the voices of those currently incarcerated. As the campaign progressed, we created a petition and corresponding letter calling on Governor Murphy to exhibit compassion to those who are most vulnerable to the virus, particularly the elderly, individuals with pre-existing physical and mental health conditions, pregnant people, and our youth who are currently incarcerated. 

To be clear, we are not calling for the abdication of personal responsibility for those who have caused harm in their communities. Instead, we acknowledge the precarious environment in New Jersey’s prisons and jails as incompatible to the cleanliness and physical distancing required to mitigate the spread of this virus. We recognize that New Jersey formally abolished the death penalty in 2007, and yet incarceration during this pandemic has already resulted in a death sentence for some.

This is a human rights issue. 

Take action:

Sign the petition here.

Follow us on social media here, here, and here, and share the campaign materials widely.

If you are formerly incarcerated, or the family of someone who is, and in need of resources, apply for funds here.

If you would like to become a member of All of Us or None – Northern New Jersey, please get in touch with us here.