Paul Blasenheim, Class of 2012

Major: Environmental Studies, American Studies; Organization: A Better Way Foundation; Location: Hartford, CT

Paul Blasenheim, Class of 2012This summer, I interned with the Hartford-based non-profit organization A Better Way Foundation (ABWF), a community-based group dedicated to shifting drug, incarceration, and sentencing policy towards more compassionate, sensible, and cost-effective alternatives. We work on addressing all of the major harms caused to our communities by the War on Drugs, highlighting the role of racism and institutional oppression in the prison system, and challenging the flawed philosophies of prohibition and mass incarceration. As an intern with ABWF, I have helped organize and facilitate community conversations, host meetings with other agencies and groups, and coordinate events such as press conferences and community gatherings. I work very closely with the director of ABWF, which has given me an inside look into the organizing process of the larger criminal and social justice communities of Connecticut.

This summer, I formed a member group of ABWF, temporarily known as the Marijuana Justice Coalition, which will seek to specifically analyze marijuana laws and reform them with equitable and sensible treatment. We advocate for access to medical marijuana, statewide decriminalization of marijuana, and full legalization of marijuana and hemp for economic and agricultural improvement. This group will also be a member of the Restorative Justice Coalition, a member-driven, multi-issue, social, racial, and economic justice coalition which seeks to organize collectively around a restorative (rather than punitive) approach to dealing with social problems.

My time with ABWF has also given me the opportunity to organize with many of ABWF's partner groups, and help build membership within other coalitions. I have spent a good deal of time working with the Clean Slate Committee (CSC), a group dedicated to advocating for the rights and betterment of all formerly or currently incarcerated individuals, their families and their communities, and an end to prison expansionism and mass incarceration. With the CSC, I organized around the new issue of abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing laws in Connecticut, and to develop a strategic plan for moving forward with their agenda.

All in all, I am loving this work. It has opened my eyes to new models of organizing, and exposed me to the many groups and individuals who commit their lives to reducing the harms of incarceration on individuals and their communities. The experiences this summer are going to carry over to this coming school year, and greatly effect the way I continue to do this work at Wesleyan.