Luis Del Orbe
Prisoner Advocate and Graduate Student at Rutgers University
Luis Del Orbe, born in the Dominican Republic, moved to Passaic, New Jersey with his parents in 1972 when he was nine years old. After graduating high school, Mr. Del Orbe served in the National Guard as a sergeant until his arrest in 1986. He served 26 years in prisons in both New York and New Jersey after being charged with armed robbery. During his incarceration, Mr. Del Orbe joined and helped re-organize the Hispanic Americans for Progress (HAP), a prison organization aimed at helping Latino prisoners acclimate to their environment and provide them with various services, both legal and educational. As part of his work with HAP, Mr. Del Orbe served as the director for the Hispanic Education and Literacy Program (HELP) and started an outreach program aimed at at-risk youths called Support for Kids at Risk (SKAR). It was through his work with HELP that Mr. Del Orbe met Dr. Olga Wagenheim, Professor Emerita in History, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, who encouraged him to continue to pursue his education. He is currently paroled and will begin attending Rutgers University in the Fall of 2012, where he intends to complete a Master’s Degree in Social Work.
Prepared by Elizabeth Parker, Associate Archivist.
Hear Luis Del Orbe discuss his work in a prisoners’ outreach program aimed at Latino kids and their families, focusing on the realities of prison and the legal protections they are afforded under the laws of the State of New Jersey:
“Basically what we wanted to do, is we wanted to stem the flow of the pipeline that fed the criminal justice system, which is our youth. We came, many of us came in [to prison] as young [people], coming through there. So it is about time that maybe we send the message out [that] we were not, our purpose was not to… intimidate the kids, it was basically to educate and inform them of what the prison system is about. You know, if you get involved in this [life], this was going to happen; this [prison] is where you end up. You know, our members got ninety [years] to life. You know, many of them are going to die in prison, and we don’t want other people to do that.
So we made videotapes, and we made a magazine called Inside Out, and the magazine was full of [the] stories of the guys and how they came to prison. How the things came to be. What sort of life they lived and advice [from] them [on] how to avoid falling into those [same] pitfalls; you know, how to get away from certain negative environments. We also taught legal issues. You know, a lot of people don’t know about the law in New Jersey, so we taught about the law since I was a paralegal and many of the other members were paralegals. We wrote articles dealing [with issues] from that legal aspect: telling kids how to protect themselves; telling the parents know how to protect them.
Hispanics, a good amount of us… who are in prison [and] our families, [we] didn’t understand what the law was, how the law functions and sometimes that ignorance [got] us in a whole lot of trouble. That lack of education, the lack of information can get us in a lot of trouble. And we, a lot of guys, they didn’t know what they could do, you know? And some of the families didn’t know. Sometimes we spoke to the families or some of the youngs [sic] that came in, because they signed their rights away… because some of these kids got arrested under the age of 18; they were juveniles. But they didn’t know what was going on. So a lot of them signed waivers where the cops can actually go interrogate them, and it just makes things worse sometimes. And so we try to educate them as far as that aspect. It wasn’t that we were trying to teach guys how to avoid coming [to prison… how to avoid the pitfalls of [being sentenced to] prison, [but] just [to] avoid them coming into prison with such… long length of sentence.”
Text edited for clarity. For a full verbatim transcript of the quote, please see pp. 42-43 of the complete interview transcript.
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