Last night I had the good fortune to be present at our annual meeting where we honored reporter Lance Tapley.  We presented Lance with the Roger Baldwin Award for his multi-year investigation and exposure of the deep damage caused by solitary confinement and the tremendous cost (both in human and fiscal terms) of overuse and abuse of solitary.  

Proving why he deserves the Baldwin Award for stellar advocacy, Lance didn't use his time in the spotlight to revel in appreciation or to rest on his laurels. Instead, he used his acceptance speech to share the struggles of an inmate who had written to him about his harrowing and inhumane treatment as he was transported back to Maine in a van by a private prison transport company. 

Everyone in the audience was visibly moved as Lance shared the inmate's own words and I know I wasn't the only one ready, by the end of his speech to do whatever I could to ensure that other people don't have to go through something similar. 

We've had lots of discussions recently at our office about distribution of "scarce resources" (i.e. our 7 staff) and what rises to the top again and again is the importance of addressing inhumane prison conditions and advocating for criminal justice reform. 

Lance's story illustrates the reality that every time we feel we've made progress in one area (Maine has reduced use of solitary in our State Prison by over 50% and become a model for other states!!), another issue pops up demanding to be addressed.

So it can be overwhelming sometimes, knowing just how much there is to be done and how few of us there are doing the work. 

But having smart, tenacious, compassionate allies like Lance, the Portland Phoenix and my dedicated ACLU colleagues make me feel like we're slowly but surely climbing the mountain...moving away from misguided "tough on crime" policies and towards smarter, more compassionate and more effective laws and practices.  Today, I feel hopeful that we will summit that peak together and that, because it is right and it is just, we will continue to convince more and more people to join us along the way.