Meet Steven Mangual & Robin Vander Wall – 2018 Leading with Conviction Fellows

Posted September 7, 2018 by JustLeadershipUSA

“I served 14 years in New York State prisons, and it was while I was incarcerated in the Woodbourne Correctional Facility that I discovered my passion for learning and for activism.”

The year was 1996, and I met a group of older men who were lifers and long-termers.  They were involved with the New Prison Movement which was born out of the Attica rebellion of 1971, and had formed study groups called the Resurrection-Conciencia Study Groups.  They developed an analysis called The Non-Traditional Approach to Criminal and Social Justice that examined and explained the relationship between prisons and urban communities of color.  I became a student and then the facilitator of a study group and for the rest of my time inside I organized, I spoke, I read, I wrote, and I did advocacy from inside supporting some outside organizations like the Coalition for Parole Restoration.

Today I work as a Senior Intervention Manager for Common Justice.  Common Justice develops and advances solutions to violence that transform the lives of those harmed and foster racial equity without relying on incarceration.  Locally, we operate the first alternative to incarceration and victim service program in the US to focus on violent felonies in the adult courts.  Nationally, we leverage the lessons from our direct service to transform the justice system through partnerships, advocacy, and elevating the experience and power of those most impacted.  We build practical strategies to hold people accountable for harm, break cycles of violence, and secure safety, healing and justice for survivors and their communities.  As a Senior Intervention Manager, I work with responsible parties in our alternative-to-incarceration and victim-service program, a rigorous, cutting-edge response to serious felonies, including assault and robbery, based in restorative justice principles. If—and only if—the survivors of those crimes consent, Common Justice diverts the cases into a process designed to recognize the harm done, honor the needs and interests of those harmed, and develop responses to hold the responsible party accountable.  Those who successfully complete their commitments to those they harmed and the violence intervention curriculum don’t serve the jail or prison sentences.

Separate from my work at Common Justice, in my personal capacity, I am the Latino Affairs Producer/Co-host for “On The Count: The Prison and Criminal Justice Report,” a 60-minute talk, news, and interview program featuring criminal and social justice subjects on radio station WBAI, 99.5 FM.  It airs weekly on Saturdays from 11:00 am until 12 pm (ET).  I’ve produced several segments on solitary confinement, healthcare in prisons, the struggle to free Puerto Rican Political Prisoners, reentry, and the #CLOSErikers and #FREEnewyork campaigns, and moderated an all-Spanish language webinar on the #FREEnewyork and #JusticeLA campaigns.  I’m also member of Latino Justice PRLDEF, Justice Reform Collaborative which works to create a more just society by using and challenging the law to secure justice by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education. The Collaborative is dedicated to promoting fairness, rights restoration and safety by using litigation, advocacy, community engagement, policy analysis and narrative change to make the invisible, visible to all – the concomitant plight of Latinos under a broken and racialized criminal justice system in America. Our program focuses on rights restoration, as well as policing, sentencing, bail and drug policy reform.

It’s been humbling and inspiring to meet all these wonderful people in the Leading with Conviction trainings.     Being humble is something I aspire to; it’s been my nickname for many years.   I need to remain grounded and focused in my life no matter where I am. I know I’m still a human being and nothing that I have is better than anyone else’s.   I’m looking forward to staying in touch with my cohort and hearing about the amazing work they’re doing.

“I am the Vice Chair of the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL) and the founder and president of Vivante Espero, the foundation that supports it.”

Our main focus is on reforming the incredibly onerous and punitive sexual offender registry laws that exist throughout the country. We are opposed to public registries in any form, but if the tool is going to be used, it should be used in such a way that comports with constitutional restraints, and today, that is not the case.  The registry laws vary from state to state, but one thing they all have in common is the absence of any kind of due process.  Our mission says it all:   “NARSOL envisions effective, fact-based sexual offense laws and policies which promote public safety, safeguard civil liberties, honor human dignity, and offer holistic prevention, healing, and restoration.”

Our strategy is three-fold.  First try to engage the public, which is difficult because of the stigma surrounding people charged with sexual offenses.  But in spite of the stigma, our support has grown since our first national conference in Boston in 2008.  Most of our support comes from family members, spouses and moms in particular.  These are folks who, if you’d met them before a family member got in trouble, they would have been in favor of the registry and totally supportive of everything it purports to achieve.  But after they deal with this upfront and personal, it’s a totally different reaction.  They see the damage, harm and destructive force of public registries.  Second and third are a combination of legislative lobbying and litigation.  We go into places where we as a team feel like the restrictions are so onerous that they’re probably low hanging fruit legally speaking.  And we work to build partnerships with other criminal justice reform organizations because unless we place some restrictions on this Pandora’s Box, states will start to use the registration tool to cover other categories of felonies, and that kind of mission creep is very dangerous.

While I was in prison I went through a massive transformation spiritually and practically.  Before prison I never had any concept of social justice and was a self-identified conservative Republican who grew up as a Southern Baptist.  In prison I converted to Catholicism because I saw where social justice fit in, and understood Christ’s teaching that whatever you’re doing to the most marginalized man or woman, you’re doing to me.  It was a dramatic, eye-opening experience, and I realized that I wanted to be a conduit for change.  It occurred to me that a lot of skills I developed during my previous life–managing campaigns, being involved in politics, direct mail copy writing, raising a lot of money for candidates—I could use to advocate for fair sexual offense laws.  After my release, I hit the ground running.

I am very pleased and honored to be part of the Leading with Conviction cohort.  I’ve learned a lot and look forward to using the tools and honing my skills to become a more effective leader and to raise up other leaders, because that’s what this is all about.