[Pnews] Mujahid Farid, 69, Ex-Prisoner Who Advocated for Older Inmates, Dies

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Nov 29 11:29:40 EST 2018


  Mujahid Farid, 69, Ex-Prisoner Who Advocated for Older Inmates, Dies

November 28, 2018

Mujahid Farid in 2012, a year after being released from prison after 33 
years. He dedicated the rest of his life to trying to change New York 
State’s parole system.Creditvia Correctional Association of New York


Mujahid Farid in 2012, a year after being released from prison after 33 
years. He dedicated the rest of his life to trying to change New York 
State’s parole system.CreditCreditvia Correctional Association of New York

Mujahid Farid, a former prisoner who became a prominent advocate for the 
timely release of elderly inmates, died on Nov. 20 at his home in the 
Bronx. He was 69.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, his brother Randolph Howard said.

Mr. Farid was a founder and a lead organizer of the organization Release 
Aging People in Prison, known as RAPP. His interest grew directly from 
his own experience.

He was incarcerated after being convicted of manslaughter and the 
attempted murder of a New York City police officer in January 1978. He 
was given concurrent prison sentences of 11 to 22 years for the 
manslaughter conviction and 15 years to life for attempted murder.

At the end of the 15-year minimum, the state parole board denied him 
parole nine times. Court documents show that each time his case came up, 
the board dwelled almost exclusively on his crimes and his conviction as 
a violent offender, ignoring his model behavior in prison and his 
advancing age.

On his 10th attempt, in 2011, Mr. Farid was released after 33 years. He 
was 62.

Upon his release he dedicated himself to trying to change New York 
State’s parole system. In 2013, he received a fellowship from the Open 
Society Foundations, 
created by the philanthropist George Soros, to help found RAPP, one of 
the first organizations to advocate for the release of aging people in 
prison. The group’s prominence and success inspired similar campaigns in 
other states.

The graying of the prison population is a national phenomenon, with 
people over 50 becoming the fastest-growing segment. In the next decade, 
they are expected to make up one-third of inmates nationwide.

Experts consider inmates old starting at 50 because they have higher 
rates of chronic illnesses as well as stress and poor diets, causing 
them to age more quickly than people on the outside.

Instead of calling older inmates “lifers,” Mr. Farid helped reframe the 
public debate — and get more community support — by calling them elderly.

His efforts helped push the New York State Board of Parole, which had 
been slow to comply with a change in state law, to consider the reduced 
risk <https://indypendent.org/2016/06/if-the-risk-is-low-let-them-go/>to 
society posed by older inmates, who have lower recidivism rates than 
younger inmates.

His organization’s rallying cry became “If the risk is low, let them go.”

Mr. Farid and Laura Whitehorn, a colleague at RAPP, came up with that 
slogan one night while riding the subway, Ms. Whitehorn said in a 
telephone interview.

“Farid said, ‘We need a slogan, like Johnnie Cochran had,’ ” she 
recalled, referring to O. J. Simpson’s lawyer, who memorably told jurors 
in Mr. Simpson’s murder trial 
referring to a glove, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Mr. Farid also advocated for more minority representation on the parole 
board. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered that it become more diverse after a 
New York Times investigation in 2016 documented 
severe failings of the parole system, including racism and understaffing.

Before these changes, about 25 percent of inmates eligible for parole 
were released; afterward, the rate nearly doubled.

Mr. Farid, who adopted his name in prison when he became a Muslim, was 
born William Howard Jr. on Sept. 3, 1949, in Richmond, Va. His mother, 
Revia (Lightner) Howard, was a nurse; his father was a truck driver.

In addition to his brother Randolph, Mr. Farid is survived by his mother 
and two sisters, Patricia A. Martin and Denise C. Howard. Another 
brother, Theodore, died almost a decade ago.

The family moved to Manhattan in the 1960s. Mr. Farid graduated from 
Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx and became a printer.

In 1977 he fatally shot a man outside a Manhattan bar. The police, after 
arriving at the scene, said that he had aimed his gun at them and tried 
to shoot, but that it had malfunctioned, according to court documents. 
His brother said in a telephone interview that to his dying day, Mr. 
Farid maintained that he had never aimed at a police officer.

While in prison, he earned four college degrees: an associate degree in 
business through the New York State Department of Corrections; a 
bachelor’s in arts and sciences from Syracuse University; a master’s in 
sociology from SUNY New Paltz; and a master’s in ministry from New York 
Theological Seminary.

He also counseled fellow inmates, learned sign language to help the 
hearing-impaired and helped start a program that educated inmates about 
H.I.V. and AIDS.

Once he was released, “he’d get to the office at 7 a.m., work all day 
and go to social justice events at night,” Ms. Whitehorn said.

“He fought with every cell of his being for the people he left behind.”

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