Iris Sankey-Lewis

Iris-1

Living is giving

If you can envision two white nuns, neatly dressed with religious pins on the fronts of their blouses, wearing sneakers, and pulling shopping carts through the streets of Harlem, those were Sr. Dorothy Gallant and Sr. Teresa Skehan. They began to give of their time, and were devoted for over fifty years to doing the Lord’s work. It was at “Harlem Two” that these faithful women not only wanted to pass out food; they started to take along shopping carts loaded with Bibles and song hymnals, and nutritious snacks.

I feel fortunate to have met the late Sr. Dorothy Gallant, while I resided at New Providence Women’s Facility. There, each Wednesday, I looked forward to enjoying songs and praise led by Sr. Dorothy and her faithful group, which I still call “My Life and Faith Family.”

I also have fond memories of the Leadership Study Day, The Women’s Group Meetings, and Anne Quintano’s Art Group. In addition, I can recall our Women’s Retreat in Poughkeepsie, NY, and also at Mariondale Retreat Center with serene grounds and a picturesque view along the Hudson.

One of my fondest memories was etched on the screen of my mind while we were driven to those retreats. All along the way, we each volunteered to come up with a song, and the group of us filled the atmosphere with songs like “This Little Light of Mine” and “Standing in the Need of Prayer.” Of course, prayer always preceded our departure.

The late Sr. Dorothy Gallant and her group of volunteer lobbyists rolled up to the State Capitol in Albany, New York at the height of winter. We were armed with a ferocious plan. It was the start of the year 2002. The grand opening commenced with prayers. More than a thousand folks were gathered together. We had a catered lunch while Governor George Pataki gave the State of the State address. We heard, “I can’t think of a criminal justice strategy that has been more unsuccessful than the Rockefeller Drug Laws.”

Busloads converged at the State Capitol. That afternoon, with script in hand, we who were members of LEFSA scattered to various offices of our choice.

I, along with the late Sr. Dorothy (I always chose to follow her around) and Elizabeth, Eve, and Eve’s husband, the late Brother Ralph, went to the office of State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV. He didn’t hesitate to summon his secretary, who was told to fetch his photographer. He signed a document given him by Sr. Dorothy, after we read him our script.

In a nutshell, we were lobbying for the Rockefeller Laws to be dropped. Our script was entitled “Drop the Rock.” Mr. Powell then began reminiscences of his past. Someone asked about a small yellow cab parked on his heavy antique mahogany desk. “Would you believe there’s a story behind it?” he said. But our time was short.

Later on that day, we braved snow and ice and wind and rain, and hurried to join the demonstrating crowd. We occupied the wide expanse of the stairs leading to the State Building. We were spread out beyond that spot, and a resounding “Drop the Rock” could be heard far and near. The Rockefeller Drug Laws mandated extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Fifteen years to life was indeed harsh; about the same for second degree murder. We volunteered to lobby right when Russell Simmons, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon did. In 2004, Governor Pataki signed the Drug Laws Reform Act, which significantly changed the sentencing guidelines.

Distance cannot sever my affiliation with LEFSA. Over the years, I have always found my way back to its Harlem office to see those I’ve shared fond memories with. LEFSA nurtured my hungry soul with spiritual food enough to share. I have learned that living is giving, and the late Sr. Dorothy Gallant gave me priceless insights. One is that of volunteering, and of sharing.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH LEFSA AS FAMILY
by Iris Sankey-Lewis, 1/18/16

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