Karen has always been known as “Mommie” to her twin sons. In 1998, when Lamont and Lawrence were sentenced to 19 ½ and 15 ½ years in prison, she also became a powerful activist for criminal justice reform. Over the last decade, Karen has worked tirelessly for her sons and the thousands of others sentenced under unjust laws. Check out Karen's advice on advocating for change—and how you can be an activist, too!
Connect with your Community
A loved one’s incarceration can take a tremendous toll on family members. It is important to reach out to the people in your life for support. When Lawrence and Lamont were incarcerated, Karen began educating others about the injustice of their case and sentencing laws in general. In 2000, Karen filled a charter bus with family members, friends, neighbors and church members and drove down to her sons’ appeal proceedings in Virginia. She facilitated FAMM DC chapter meetings and organizes community gatherings and phone calls where family members and former prisoners can connect to safely share their stories and mobilize for change. During her advocacy work, Karen met many people that later helped her and her family.
To keep track of criminal justice issues, Karen listened to the radio, watched television and read newspapers daily. She became a member of FAMM and contacted other relevant organizations. Karen studied the legal details of her sons’ case so she could educate others about sentencing policy. She regularly attends conferences, hearings and meetings on fair sentencing, racial justice and prison reform.
Use the Media
The media can be an important advocacy tool. After her sons’ conviction, Karen compiled packets of information about their story and delivered them to news outlets. She usually didn’t get to meet with a producer or reporter but always left her information with someone. Her persistence eventually paid off. The Garrisons’ story has been featured in national and international news, including the Washington Post, CNN and BBC, as well as on many websites and blogs. For an effective interview, Karen suggests learning how to tell your loved ones’ story in two minutes or less.
Speak Out & Support Your Loved One
Karen has spoken about her story at universities, churches and rallies across the country. She has lobbied elected officials to reform mandatory minimum laws and the sentencing guidelines. She makes sure to send up-to-date information to her sons, along with letters, cards and subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. Lawrence was released from prison in 2009 due to the retroactive crack guideline sentencing reforms. He is now working with his mother for sentencing reform and justice for Lamont, who is scheduled to be released in 2012.
Check out Karen's groundbreaking weekly radio show here!