Every week, I usually get to make at least one trip from FAMM’s office in downtown Washington, D.C. up to the U.S. Capitol building, which we locals call “the Hill” (Why? Because the Capitol building really is on top of a hill!).
When I’m there, I meet with lawmakers and their staff members to talk about sentencing reform. Usually, I do these treks alone. But recently, I got to see this experience from the eyes of a bona fide Washington “outsider” — Lisa Angelos, from Sandy, Utah. For this Washington “insider,” it was an inspiring reminder of why I do this work.
It also reminded me that the real sentencing reform champions are you, our FAMM supporters.
Lisa is the sister of Weldon Angelos, who is serving 55 years without parole in federal prison for nonviolent marijuana sale and gun possession offenses. You can read about their story in this great piece
from The Crime Report.
Lisa came to D.C. to meet with the staffs of Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, and we were fortunate to get a face-to-face meeting with her congressman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (pictured with Lisa above). Our job: to urge them to support and pass mandatory minimum sentencing reforms.
Lisa and I spent two days on “the Hill” together. Lisa was a champ through it all, excited to be there and yet also calm and collected. She did a wonderful job explaining her brother’s case and why the Justice Safety Valve Act would spare other families from going through a similar nightmare. Those we met with listened closely and truly appreciated that she came.
Between meetings, we stopped for coffee in the Senate’s coffee shop, and I learned more about Lisa and her family. We had a quick lunch one day at the Senate’s cafeteria (Lisa had tacos; I went for the mac n’ cheese), surrounded by legions of hungry, chatty, and busy congressional staffers. There’s nothing superhuman about the people who work in Congress and make the decisions that affect us: they need their caffeine and sugar fixes just like the rest of us do.
Some of Lisa’s comments about our meetings have really stuck with me. Our walks down long hallways of congressional offices reminded her that Congress has 535 members. To win sentencing reform, we’ve got to get at least 278 of them to vote our way.
Lisa noticed that members of Congress had a lot of people waiting in their lobbies (this is where the term “lobbyist” comes from!) to talk with them about a wide variety of issues and bills — it’s never “all sentencing, all the time” for a congressional staffer, like it is for us here at FAMM. We have to work hard to make our work stand out. And Lisa was particularly struck by how often we were asked what other members of Congress thought about mandatory minimum sentencing reform. In Congress, it’s never enough to convince one representative or one senator.For better or worse, it’s a team game, and we need as many people on our side as we can get.
That’s where you come in. And your families. And your friends. And your churches and synagogues and mosques. And, while we’re at it, your book clubs and co-workers and Facebook friends and Twitter followers. You can call, write to, and email your lawmakers
and ask them to support mandatory minimum sentencing reforms like the Justice Safety Valve Act
. Like Lisa, you can meet with your lawmakers
and their staff members, right in their offices in your home state. You don’t need to get on a plane to be an advocate with Congress. Still feeling tongue-tied
about meeting with a congressional staff member? Start by educating others
about the need for a better justice system.
My trip up to the Hill with Lisa reminded me why I do this work: someday, I don’t want there to be any more Lisas or Weldons in this country. And I know that’s true for the entire FAMM staff.
But I’m just one person, and I’m nowhere near as memorable or persuasive as Lisa Angelos is — or as you are. I’m going to keep going up to the Hill and meeting with anyone and everyone in Congress who will meet with me. But I need some help.
For those of you who are already helping, thank you. For those who haven’t made contact with Congress, please do
Government Affairs Counsel, FAMM