Formerly incarcerated people make history moderating presidential town hall

FAIRMOUNT (WPVI) -- In the halls of Eastern State Penitentiary, a former prison, formerly incarcerated people made history moderating a presidential town hall.

"We are not a throwaway population, we are human beings," said Vivian Nixon, a formerly incarcerated woman who is now the executive director of the College and Community Fellowship.

The town hall, titled "Justice Votes 2020," brought three 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to Philadelphia, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker, and billionaire Tom Steyer. Each candidate spent about half an hour on stage fielding questions about criminal justice reform from people impacted by the system.

Harris called such reform her life's work, and pointed to her record as a district attorney as a model for what prosecutors should be doing.

"It means looking at the role prosecutors can having in being a leader on reentry initiative, which is what I did," she said.

Steyer said he believes the current system puts people before profits. "The whole thesis of my running for president is corporations have bought the government," he said.

Booker said a lot of the practices in prisons are torture. "This is not a side issue," he said. "This is a moral issue that is a cancer to the soul of our country."

Attendees like Nixon, who have spent their lives since incarceration fighting for reform, say they're looking for a president who will fight for their rights alongside of them.

"This is the message we are trying to get across. We are Americans. We are voters and our needs, our opinions, count," she said
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