Written by Giovanna Phipps and Amy Hufnagel
Dan Slepian, an NBC News producer, received a letter from Jon-Adrian “JJ” Velazquez, an incarcerated individual serving time at Sing Sing in the early 2000s. The two wrote back and forth about JJ’s case and Slepian believed that he was wrongly convicted. JJ was convicted of the murder of a retired NYC Police Officer at the age of twenty-two. Velazquez, a father to two young boys at the time of his conviction, maintained his innocence throughout his time in court and while incarcerated. There were glaring discrepancies within the case, and at the time of conviction, both JJ’s girlfriend and mother testified that he was accounted for during the time of the shooting – proving that he could not have committed the crime.
During his time at Sing Sing, Velazquez earned his bachelor's degree in behavioral science through the Hudson Link for Higher Education Program and was among a small group of incarcerated individuals at Sing Sing to live in the Honor Block, which houses those who have never received a disciplinary citation. He was appointed to the Inmate Liaison Committee, the Family Reunion Program, and the Youth Assistance Program.
Since then, Velazquez has become a liaison for the Hudson Link program and has aided in the development of the Forgotten Voices Committee, and became the program director for the Frederick Douglass Project for Justice. JJ continues to fight for the wrongfully convicted and pushes for prison reform – focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment within the criminal justice system. We are honored he is involved in the development of SSPM as part of advisory groups.
In chapter seven, “My Heart Inside Out,” Conover writes, “’Leave it at the gate,’ you hear time and again in corrections. Leave all the stress and bullshit at work; don’t bring it home to your family. This was good in theory. In reality, though, I was like my friend who had worked the pumps at a service station: Even after she got home and took a shower, you could still smell the gasoline on her hands. Prison got into your skin, or under it. If you stayed long enough, some of it probably seeped into your soul."