Charlie and Pauline Sullivan in their Austin office, 1983. Pho to by Alan Pog ue members of the Texas legislature as official public sponsors. \(Their national organization so far has three Congressional sponsors: Reps. Mickey Leland, D-Houston, John Bryant, D-Dallas, and Their new objectives are to bring prison reform to the attention of federal legislators and to establish a network of state CURE chapters across the country. For now, they venture to Capitol Hill two or three days a week, concentrating their efforts on immediate issues, including opposing legislation that would lead to a federal death penalty and lobbying for a “targeted jobs tax credit” giving credit -to employers who hire persons from specific groups, including exoffenders in the tax reform package. They have been monitoring legislation to fund prison programs and are listening closely to the proceedings of a presidential commission to set sentencing guidelines. They also plan to keep a close watch on the Senate confirmation hearings of federal judges appointed by the Reagan administration. Among their long-term goals for criminal justice reform are Social Security coverage for prisoners and institutionalized persons and the increased involvement of private industry in providing jobs and job training for prisoners. “Factories behind the walls,” \(as distinct from private industry’s running prisons for a profit an idea proyide a “meaningful job situation where they [prisoners] would be learning-skills working on a job on the inside that would carry over to a job in .the free world,” said Pauline. Working with businesses to ‘ set up these kinds of programs and organizing families of prisoners to buy from these companies is the kind of positive approach to improving the lot of prisoners that the Sullivans favor. The only way to get the political strength to achieve these reforms is by building a nationwide movement from the grassroots up to duplicate their Texas experience in the other 49 states, they said. According to Charlie, there are approximately half a million people in prisons and some 200,000 in jails. The families of these prisoners form a natural constituency that could influence legislators to make prison reform a top priority. “We have to get those families out there to vote and to show some political clout,” he said. “If we can only get these people together and get them focused in on something we might be able to do it.” Creating a membership organization is an arduous task that requires one to “build brick upon brick to really set a good foundation,” as Charlie put it. Interest has already been expressed in establishing state chapters of CURE in eleven states. But Charlie and Pauline readily admit that the project is only in the talking stages; there is still a long way to go. The task is made all the more difficult by the fact that many of the families of prisoners have never belonged to an organization nor have they had any lobbying experience. Among their long-term goals are Social Security coverage for prisoners and the increased involvement of private industry in providing jobs and job training for prisoners. The Sullivans say they are just as concerned with bringing families of prisoners together and allowing them to create a political voice for themselves as they are with the ultimate goals of criminal justice reform. The Sullivans eschew grants and other forms of artificial funding in favor of a true membership organization supported completely by its members. “If people are not concerned,” said Pauline, “then the organization is not needed.” But their rare brand of pure populist politics combined with joviality and candor is something of an oddity in a Washington obsessed by bureaucratic professionalism. “There is substance [in lobbying] in Texas . . . but hooked into that substance there is also a ‘style,’ ” said Charlie, who recalled the “colorful era” of the Texas legislature when the likes of the Bull of the Brazos and the Duke of Paducah worked their wiles. Part of the Texas “style” was a sense of humor which they felt allowed them “to chuckle and laugh even with your opponent.” For Charlie, lobbying in Texas “was almost entertainment.” Washington lacks some of that Texas color, and the Sullivans have never tended toward stuffiness. “We try to be kind of light about something, and they [Congressional staffers] take you seriously,” said Pauline. “It’s a heavy scene.” Nevertheless, they have accepted their new-in-town status with humility. “It’s time for us just to absorb a lot and to learn,” Pauline said. OBSERVER CLASSIFIEDS WORK 17 THE TEXAS OBSERVER
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