What REALLY Happens in Congress?

Post Date: October 24, 2013

Lisa Angelos Rep ChaffetzEvery 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!
Molly Gill
Government Affairs Counsel, FAMM

5 Responses to “What REALLY Happens in Congress?”

  1. N. Soule

    This is excellent. Thank you for this helpful story, for sharing what you and others do and the reminder of how important all of our voices are together!

  2. LaVonda James

    Hello and thank you for what you do on a daily basis. I would love to do something to help, I have written to my state (Missouri) representatives, senators and also to congress!
    My name is LaVonda and my fiancé was sentenced 120 months for drug conspiracy and he is a first time nonviolent drug offender and is serving his time in Manchester, Kentucky! These mandatory minimum sentencing quidelines are too much! I really hope these statutes are changed. Thank you again for caring for individuals like my fiancé and their families and doing what you do!
    LaVonda James

  3. Chris

    Any news about retroactivity for those who are serving long drug conspiracy cases? My lady is going on 20 years now and every time a new law comes out she looses because of the amounts of cocaine. She still has 5 years to go.

  4. Janice

    My son is serving 20 years for drug conspiracy. He has already served seven years. It is a first time offender and a non-violent crime. I was wondering if the new law is retroactive for inmates who are already serving sentences. It is only fair that they also be given this opportunity so that they can benefit from this law since they have already served a number of years in prison and I am sure they have learned their lesson and will not commit the same mistake again. We families suffer very much when this happens to them. My son has a daughter and she is seven years old. When he went in she was only one. Why do the children have to suffer? The prisons are over crowded now so the congress should do something about the overcrowding now and not wait for more overcrowding. It would be a blessing if these inmates are give a second chance so that they can be with their families again. I know the law is the law,but laws can be amended. It is not written in stone. We are the people who make these laws and we are the people who can change them. Who says we cannot. Thank you for listening.

  5. Timbi

    I support this cause with full conviction, I have started my own website. dadirtysouthernchile.com it’s still in the making but I have a page dedicated to the Dadirty Southern movement. I stand and stick with this. I think it is more or a crime to be allowed to sentence people for life. When murders go free within years. I take a stand and reach out!!!!!!


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