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We are a dual organization. We work to liberate our loved ones in captivity due to mass incarceration. There a many such groups but most do not reflect the people that are being advocated for. So often organizations or people come into a community take a look around and decide what is to be done and what is needed without the communities input. Because we are the Loved Ones in captivity (incarcerated) children, siblings, spouses, returning citizens, community and clergy feel that our input is imperative. Being that many of the acts that incarcerate black and brown people are drug related we have incorporated drug and overdose prevention.





   Ukombozi is a rallying cry to abolish mass incarceration and all of its forms. We believe in transformation and restorative justice as an answer to crime and violence instead of mass incarceration. Ukombozi was formed in 2019, but our birthday is November 1, 2019. We bring together individuals who have been impacted by mass incarceration and we advocate together Holistically  for criminal justice reform through abolition principles.



    Carol Ann Speaks, civil rights activist, DBI advocate and founder of the non-profit organization, Ukombozi, was born on January 27th, 1956 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Born to a teenage mother living in the hood, Carol’s earliest memories are of the gritty, inner city streets of the steel city. Moving to the suburbs when her mother married her step-father, Mrs. Speaks - Haddock had to adjust to new surrounds and a whole new way of life. Plum borough, a suburb on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, is where Carol had her first, life-changing experiences with racism. The white kids in her new neighborhood would wait for her every morning before school on her way to the bus stop. They would beat her, tear her clothes off and shout demeaning, racial slurs at her. These and other similar experiences began to shape the young Carol Speaks, preparing her at an early age to become a pioneer in advocating change as an adult. 

    Marrying at the age of 16 and starting a family, Carol left school early because her husband’s naval career required them to travel frequently. Mrs. Speaks went on to have five children and achieve numerous accolades despite her withdrawal from school. Attaining her G.E.D. and engrossing herself in community organizations has resulted in her being awarded in 2004 for dedication and excellence in coaching the twerps a Lawrenceville Youth Association, in 2006 Most Valuable President, also in 2006 she lead the 6th Ward Seminoles Midgets (Lawrenceville Youth Group) as the president and coach and she was awarded most valuable person, receiving a Pittsburgh City Council Proclamation for CLI (Citizens Leadership Initiative) in 2010. While devoting herself to service and the improvement of her community, Mrs. Speaks suffered multiple tragedies in her home life. Carol’s 1st born son, Charles Squeak Speaks, was murdered in 2010 and  his case remains unsolved. Her grandson was murdered in 2013. Her other son, James, is currently serving a DBI (Death by Incarceration) sentence. Carol’s nephew Don was murdered in 2020 and this is just a few of the many tragic events that drive Mrs. Speak’s journey for reformation. 

    Carol has channeled all of her pain and loss into founding and spearheading a non-profit organization named, Ukombozi; which means liberation, redemption, deliberation and emancipation in Swahili. Ukombozi is a rallying cry to abolish mass incarceration and all of its forms. They believe in transformation and restorative justice as an answer to crime and violence instead of mass incarceration. Ukombozi was formed in 2019. The organization’s goals are to bring together individuals who have been impacted by mass incarceration, holistically advocating together for criminal justice reform through abolition principles, changing legislation, supporting those suffering from DBI and their families, assistance for captives reintegration into society, overdose prevention/education services and so much more. Ukombozi addresses all aspects of this broken system and offers possible solutions, support and advocacy for those most affected by its shortcomings. Mrs. Speaks works tirelessly to help ensure that no other human beings suffer the same tragic events as herself and her family. 

    The most recent achievement of the organization is the drafting of a bill called, The Vulnerable People’s Act, which will be soon introduced into policy. This bill builds on the Governor’s Executive Order to create a streamlined process for identifying and releasing inmates who are not a danger to community safety. It establishes automatic eligibility for all inmates over the age of 65 or with comorbidities which make them especially vulnerable to coronavirus. It then allows those eligible to return home where they can properly protect themselves from COVID-19.

Carol Speaks continues to advocate for those without a voice, spread a message of hope to those who have no hope and offer support to anyone whose life has been negatively impacted by our broken system. Her courage, dedication and selfless service has impacted the lives of so many people already. Carol’s legacy will continue long after she is called home in the voices of those she’s helped, lives she’s saved as a first responder, the legislation reforms her organization works towards enacting and her unwavering, fighting, spirit.




By: Richard Gross September 9, 2019

Death By Incarceration: Cruel And Unusual

Death By Incarceration is the name we give the sentence of Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP). We call it that because it is a death sentence—as sure to end in death as any method of execution. It is the other death penalty, the slow death penalty, or the “hidden death penalty” as Pope Francis called it when he condemned LWOP.

Considered by many to be a humane alternative to execution, in reality, it is no different. Many people on death row sit there for decades with a death sentence hanging over them but ultimately die of natural causes. Regardless of the cause of death, if someone enters a prison never to leave there alive, it is a death sentence. Prison sentences that exceed the normal length of a human life should also be considered a death penalty. Many more people have been sentenced to death than anyone realizes.

Pennsylvania has 10 percent of this nation’s lifers, over 5,000 men and women sentenced to Death by Incarceration in a state with less than 5 percent of the nation’s population. The average lifetime incarceration costs the Commonwealth $3.6 million. Multiply that by the number of lifers and Pennsylvania’s taxpayers are on the hook for $19 billion. See Temple University Professor Emeritus Kay Harris’s research on the economics of life sentences.

What I can speak to is the human toll. The men who have slowly lost their minds locked in a 7′ x 12′ cage for several decades. The children and grandchildren of lifers who grow to adulthood without having their parent or grandparent at any birthday party, graduation, or wedding. No one does a life sentence by themselves. Their friends and loved ones serve time as well.

I think we need to ask ourselves a few pertinent questions. What are prisons for? Are prisons a place of endless punishment, or are they a place where those who pose a risk to others are separated from society until they no longer pose a threat? Is prison a place where people are corrected and rehabilitated? If so, then what part do death sentences play in that? If there is no chance of parole than those sentences are not about corrections or rehabilitation, but are only about retribution and revenge.

Thousands of Pennsylvania’s lifers are beyond the point where they would, or in many cases even could, pose a threat to society. Older people who have served some significant time have an extremely low rate of recidivism—a negligible rate. There is a point where society no longer needs protection from the person. After that point, the taxpayers are not being well-served by the cost of the incarceration. These costs often skyrocket as the person grows old in prison and their health deteriorates. With family and friends unable to assist, the burden of their care falls to the state. It is unconstitutional to deny an incarcerated person healthcare (Estelle V. Gamble, 1976). One has to assume that the individual would be able to access and afford proper health care were they not incarcerated. It is true, however, that many free, taxpaying citizens cannot afford health insurance.

So, wouldn’t health care be a better use of taxpayer dollars than incarceration? The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ budget is $2.4 billion. Double what is was a decade ago. Unless parole is used more often or sentencing changes are made, it will only grow larger. Mass incarceration has drained taxpayer dollars away from healthcare, education, and infrastructure in order to build more prisons. These prisons become major providers of both mental health and geriatric care. Pennsylvania has over 6,000 geriatric prisoners and that number will only grow as long as death by incarceration is used so regularly.

In cases of first- or second-degree murder, a jury has no choice but to hand down a death sentence. The parole board has no choice when it comes to releasing a life-sentenced prisoner—regardless of age, infirmity, transformation, or time served. In our nation’s zeal to be tough on crime, we have taken away the discretion once practiced by prosecutors, judges, juries, and parole boards. “Lock ’em up and throw away the key” sounds good to many voters as a campaign slogan, but as policy, it is neither humane nor cost effective. In a rational cost/benefit analysis, it makes no sense to send 15-year-olds to prison for the rest of their natural life, nor does it make sense to keep senior citizens locked up until they die.

Other states in this region have significantly lowered their prison populations without experiencing an increase in their crime rate. Applying risk assessment methods, parole boards can safely release both violent and nonviolent offenders. They just have to be allowed and encouraged to do so by the elected officials of their state. A parole board has nothing to gain by releasing a dangerous person and can be trusted with the power to evaluate every incarcerated person. In Pennsylvania, between 1967 and 2017 hundreds of lifers received commutation and were granted parole. Only one came back with a felony. Numerous juvenile lifers have recently been released successfully after being granted relief by the courts. These men and women are not the same people they were as teenagers, and they are already making a positive contribution to their communities. America’s fear of people on parole is unfounded and irrational.

Most incarcerated persons have experienced dramatic transformations during their incarceration. This is especially true of lifers. Among them you can find great artists and writers. Scholars and academics. Facilitators and creators of positive programs which make a difference in the lives of people who do get released. There are lifers who have created murals and charitable organizations on the outside, from the inside. The achievements of lifers are extensive and worthy of recognition. The Philadelphia City Council has commended the lifers organization at SCI Graterford. Numerous individual lifers have won awards for creative writing and artwork produced behind bars. Dozens have earned degrees from Villanova University and elsewhere. Many others have completed ministry and Bible study courses from a variety of religious organizations. Lifers create and lead nonprofit groups that do positive work both inside and outside of prison, like Let’s Circle Up. The general public knows little about these because the wall around the jail keeps them out as much as it keeps others in.

Anyone can recognize these good deeds and personal transformations—except a parole board. They are prohibited from examining the achievements and the rehabilitation of any individual serving a death by incarceration sentence. No matter how much good they may hear, they cannot recognize or reward it. Even if there is support for release from the victim’s family, local clergy, and the community at large, they can do nothing. Their hands are tied by retributive sentencing policies.

It seems to me that any person drawing a breath on planet earth must be seen by the supreme being as having some good in them, some possibility of redemption. I know that all human beings are capable of change. Are our leaders, legislators, and prosecutors the same people now that they were decades ago? I know that noperson is the same person that they were 15 or 20 years ago. Is it humane, is it right, is it even rational to judge an entire human life by the worst ten minutes of it?

In the Pennsylvania State legislature, House Bill 135 and Senate Bill 942 seek to recognize the power of human beings to transform themselves. Representative Dawkins and Senator Street have introduced these companion bills which would allow all lifers to be considered for parole on a case-by-case basis. This is no “get out of jail free” card. This is merely a chance for lifers to show the parole board what they have done with themselves during their incarceration. Just a chance to be seen, to be heard, to be noticed as still alive and human.

Any type of death sentence is cruel. For the state to take a human life or to lock someone up until they are dead is cruel. It is a rejection of reform, rehabilitation, and redemption. It is the act of throwing away a human being, discarding a person. It is a denial of humanity. Any type of death sentence is unusual.

Most nations have no kind of death sentence. Nowhere in the European Union is this occurring. The longest possible sentence in Norway is 21 years. In Germany a murderer can expect parole after 15 years if they have followed their personalized rehabilitation plan. Nowhere in the Americas is this occurring except in the United States. Few places in the world outside of the United States have life without parole. No nation that I know of would give it to a juvenile. These types of death sentences are rare, unusual, and becoming more so as civilization advances. These death sentences have no place in any humane society.

To place a human being in prison until death is in fact cruel and unusual punishment.

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