The Community’s Voice Must Be Heard

Any initiative aimed at the improvement of our community requires that the collective voice of our community be included in all discussions for change. 

For the City of Buffalo, God has smiled on us for quite a while, at least for as long as I’ve been privileged to be here. We have an active leadership and cultural community with such leaders as Jomo Akono and Sam Radford, Karima Amin and Mother Eva Doyle. Their examples of leadership, inclusion and truth telling, following such greats as Bill Peoples and Rafi Green, have paved the way for those of us who have come behind with new ideas and a passion to make the lives of our people better.

With all of that, there has also been the constant cloud of a racist, exclusionary, brutal and oppressive past where Black folks have not received fair treatment or a fair share of all that is available in the City of Good Neighbors. But possibilities are here, by the Grace of Our Creator, the One God, who smiles on us all, doors open up and windows of opportunity for change become clearer.

For me, such is the case on many levels, but here I would like to speak with you about the thorn that has been in Buffalo’s side for over twenty years, bleeding with death and brutality that horrifies us all.

Yes, Buffalo’s Holding Center, where there have been too many questionable everythings, from death to brutality, to sexual misconduct and medical neglect. 

Has any of that changed? I don’t know; but what I do know is that our premiere County Legislators April Baskin, Howard Johnson and their colleagues came together and created an Erie County Corrections Specialist Advisory Board to look into the goings on at the Holding Center and come up with plans for change and accountability. For the past year, under the leadership of Attorney Jonathan Miles Gresham and Cindy McEachon, there has been a substantial amount of progress. 

Right now, as I write this article, there has been approval for a Medication Assisted Treatment program, by Undersheriff John Greenan and Superintendent Thomas Diina, to be available for people with drug addictions being held in detention. The Advisory Board, of which I am privileged to be a member has also assisted with making vaccines available to prisoners during this Covid 19 pandemic. This and other measures describe some of the work that we have accomplished with Jail Management mostly under the leadership of Superintendent Thomas Diina , who I once characterized as “Sheriff Howard with a smile.” 

The fact is that at this moment in time Superintendent Diina seems to be turning out to be the one who is helping us in this fight to change the conditions, as well as the thinking, of those who actually control what goes on at our jails.  It also seems that Superintendent Diina wants to see, at least, some of the changes that begin with recognizing the humanity of all people caught up in these institutions that have in one way or another failed us all. We also have a professional from the Probation Department, Ysaias Feliz.  

For example, Superintendent Diina has allowed our Co-Chairperson, Cindi McEachon to develop a “Code Blue”, re-entry program at the Holding Center and has approved another  program which will allow me to provide ”Peace and Healing Circles”  for men who are at the jail and those scheduled for release. So, just as I have been permitted the privilege of change,  I have to believe that God is responsible for opening the hearts of anyone to give themselves and the domains that God has given them to shepherd, to change as well. 

The Corrections Specialist Advisory Board is making inroads into the institution of Detention, the jail, here in Erie County, but we cannot continue do it all on our own. We absolutely need the input of our community to get it right in a way that truly reflects the interest of well -being and progress for all of us.

The Advisory Board, as we are known, meets once a month and we have asked that members of the community get online with us, make comments and suggestions and ask for information and facts about the concerns of our community. 

We have also established a subcommittee, within the Advisory Board, headed by Cindi McEachon, Ann Venuto and Michael Ranney, Keisha Williams,  Ken Colon, and Cory McCarthy which communicates every week and meets once every two weeks to stay on top of what is going on at the Holding Center and come up with ideas that will improve conditions there and make it better for the detainees in the immediate sense. We will look at complaints and hear your suggestions. So, we ask that you, our community, log on at Erie County Legislature. Gov and attend those meetings as well. You can do this by  calling in  to Timothy Callan, at Timothy.Callan@erie.gov or Sean Mulligan, at sean.mulligan@erie.gov , Legislative Aides at 716-858-6325,   and ask to be placed on the list to the monthly meeting of The Corrections Specialist  Advisory Board at the end of each month.  We encourage you to be a part of the change that we all want to see, both inside the Holding Center and in our communities so that the number of people getting trapped off in the criminal injustice system dwindles to the point where we can re-imagine how we respond to behaviors that are unacceptable in our community and disturbs the well-being of us all but no longer need institutions like the Holding Center.

Imagine a City without a place like the Holding Center. Imagine a place where people are treated like human beings and the people who work there have no other agenda or purpose than to serve both the people they secure, as well as the communities we all come from and return to.