By Tom Travis
The Behind the Walls: Inside the Criminal Justice System organization will be hosting a town hall zoom meeting from 12 noon to 1 p.m. (EST) Saturday, Dec. 18. The town hall will be hosted by Michael Anderson, founder and executive director of Behind the Walls.
Those that want to attend are asked to RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll free (800)672-9001. The event is sponsored by US Behind the Walls, a prisoners’ rights and lobbying group.
In a phone interview with East Village Magazine, Anderson, who lives in Los Angeles, explained that US Behind the Walls was founded on the principle that all Americans should receive equal justice regardless of their race, social, or financial status. The primary goal of US Behind the Walls is to put a stop to US mass incarceration, according to the organization’s website.
“US Behind the Walls is an organization that is here to fight and ensure equal justice and fair treatment to every American citizen,” according to the website.
Anderson told EVM that his step brother, Danny Travis, has been incarcerated for 44 years for a crime that, according to Anderson, Travis says he did not commit.
The details of the arrest, trial and conviction can be read at www.freedannytravis.com. Briefly, the crime happened Nov. 18, 1978 in Midland, Michigan. The gas station attendant, Jim Ryks, was shot and killed. Three witnesses saw the shooter running away from the gas station. The three witnesses gave reports to the police.
A vehicle was identified at the crime scene and the driver of that vehicle was arrested. Based on the vehicle owner’s testimony, Danny Travis was arrested later that evening. Originally the driver of the vehicle told police a different name but then called the police back to say it was in fact Travis and he had the last name wrong.
Travis was convicted after the jury deliberated for two hours and sentenced to life. Presently Travis is serving his sentence in the Lakeland Correctional Institution in Coldwater.
Anderson is an attorney and a radio show host with, according to him, 53 million listeners in Los Angeles. US Behind the Walls has offices in California, Michigan, and the District of Columbia. Anderson said the organization plans eventually to have 30 locations throughout the country.
Detroit office for US Behind the Walls
Also on the conference call with EVM was Dani Hourani, acting director of the Detroit office of US Behind the Walls, 400 Renaissance Center, Suite 2600 Detroit, Mi 48243.
Hourani, formerly incarcerated for 28 years said, “I see myself in Danny. Like Danny, I was 18 years old when I was arrested.” Hourani explains that he has not met Travis personally, yet.
Dearborn resident Hourani and Flint resident Cynthia Haynes are community board members of the Detroit office. Anderson, who lives in Los Angeles, said he believes California does a little better job at rehabilitation because of programs the state implements that aren’t used in other states. “The justice system and the prison system has become an industry,” Anderson said. The Detroit office of US Behind the Walls office can be contacted at: email: email@example.com, phone: 213-589-3330 and www.usbehindthewalls.org.
Rehabilitation – “We don’t practice what we preach.”
“Our justice system has a title that it should uphold – rehabilitation. The department of rehabilitation — that’s the part that I see is wrong in the criminal justice system,” Anderson asserted. “We use that title — rehabilitation — but we don’t practice what we preach.”
Anderson said he believes California does a little better job at rehabilitation because of programs the state implements that aren’t used in other states. “The justice system and the prison system has become an industry,” Anderson said.
“The prison system should rehabilitate the incarcerated”
EVM asked Anderson what he says to naysayers who believe people should stay in prison to serve their time.
“I say, yes, they’re right [the naysayers] but the prison system should rehabilitate the incarcerated. So when they do get out they know what they did wrong and try to get out and do the right thing.”
When EVM asked Anderson if he sees his brother being rehabilitated, he replied, “I talk to him all the time. When I’m talking to him, while he’s in prison, if I didn’t know he was in prison I wouldn’t be able to tell he was in prison. He doesn’t talk to me like he’s incarcerated,”
But, Anderson added, Travis often tells him he wants to come home.
Travis is involved in a dog training program in prison. Anderson said sometimes they’ll be talking on the phone and Travis will say, “Hey, I’ve got to go to dog training class — we can talk later.”
Travis has earned an Associates Degree while in prison and has recently passed his paralegal certification. During his entire 44 years of incarceration, Travis has received just one incident report, Anderson said, and that was for being late once for a school class.
“Here at US Behind the Walls, we are working to make a change! In the US there are currently over 2.5 million men, women, and children locked up behind prison walls. Our streets are no safer, our criminal justice system is a billion-dollar industry, paid for by you, the taxpayers. Every year during election, our politicians make big promises about prison reform and after they have been elected, they suddenly develop amnesia and do not follow up on any of their campaign promises,” according to US Behind the Walls website.
“I didn’t grow up with him [step brother Danny] but I learned a little about him just before he went into prison. I have spent $250,000 on attorneys trying to get him out of the Michigan prison but no body wants to talk to me unless it’s going benefit them for political gain,” Anderson told EVM.
Travis’ mother is 85, but Anderson committed to “give Danny support” upon his release to help him reenter society. Anderson and Travis have the same father but different mothers
Michigan parole boards need to be “completely reformed”
Anderson explained that recently when Travis went before the parole board the warden of Travis’ prison wrote a release letter for him. The parole board did not release Travis. Anderson said that wardens do not routinely write letters of release pleading for a prisoner’s release.
“I really plan to go after Michigan parole boards.” Anderson said. He is calling for the Michigan Commission of Parole Boards to be “completely reformed,” including having the parole board members voted in, not appointed. Anderson said he believes Michigan parole board members “are more concerned with job security than the community and the incarcerated individual.”
“I don’t want to fight the system. I want to enhance the system to work for all people,” Anderson said.
He clarified that his organization is not about “defunding” the police but aims to “reform” the police.
About the interview with EVM, Anderson said, “This interview is not about me. It’s about reforming the prison system.”
EVM Managing Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org