Please Grant Commutation for Incarcerated Survivor Rae Harris!

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Rae Harris is a transgender survivor who has been incarcerated in California for over 20 years. In an example of the extreme and disproportionate sentencing of trans people of color, Rae was sentenced to two life without parole sentences and two 25-to-life sentences in 1998 for “conspiring to commit” two murders that he did not commit.

Rae is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and he was in a psychologically abusive relationship at the time of his arrest, a key context for his conviction. At 23 years old, Rae did not take the stand to testify at his own trial because he had no faith that he would be believed. Based on how he was treated pre-trial, he was convinced that no police officer, prosecutor, juror or judge would care that he was not at the scene of either death, or that he was trying to protect his mother from harm. Rae also suffered from an inadequate legal defense. His paid attorney practiced civil, not criminal law and had never tried a murder case. As an example, he hired his 17-year-old son to investigate Rae’s case. After he lost Rae’s case, he did not even attempt to collect the rest of the funds from the family (over $20,000), indicating that on some level he knew he failed to defend Rae’s life.

After 21 years in prison, Rae is now 45 years old. He is well-respected as a leader by his imprisoned community and staff alike. Among his many accomplishments, he founded Peace Day and Peace Games in 2007. He came up with the idea after incidents of racialized violence in the prison and successfully brought communities together to build networks of solidarity and care. Rae is a Certified Mediator and he works daily to decrease violence, reduce the harms of imprisonment, and support his peers. Currently Rae serves his community as the first trans Chairperson of the Inmate Advisory Council (the prison’s elected, representative body of incarcerated people), a Domestic Violence Program Facilitator, and a mentor to incoming youth, all of which he truly enjoys.

In Rae’s own words: “To be sentenced to death by incarceration wiped my hope with the sound of the gavel. Fortunately my spirit to survive surpassed the lost hope that was trying to be embedded in my heart by a hammer and robe. Now that there is hope amongst the community of people serving life without parole (LWOP), I feel like it took that gavel for me to rebel against its hopeless intention to ultimately prepare me for freedom. I humbly ask for your support with my freedom and continue hoping for a living chance for all people serving death by incarceration.”

Please join us in asking Governor Gavin Newsom to commute Rae Harris’ sentence from life without parole to a parole-eligible sentence.