Honoring a Freedom Fighter—Charles “Chas” Ransom

Pictured left with Vee Bravo, Alejo Rodriguez and Moses White

Charles “Chas” Ransom, ​October 1963 - October 22, 2017
Co-founder of TFI’s Community Screening Series at Otisville Correctional Facility

Ameliorate, is one of those words I never heard properly used in conversation, until I met Chas. Chas was a visionary who had this way with words that made them come to life. To him amelioration wasn’t a concept it was an act of emancipation, a declaration of independence, a path in which to walk on. And he walked it everywhere he stood, even in prison. That’s where I met Chas “Handsome” Ransom (as he would often introduce himself).

Who else in prison would talk about civic duties, about writing New York congress, or community-based organization to convey prison related issues other than Chas? The educator, organizer, teaching artist, writer, activist who served 33 years in prison, eight years passed his first date of parole eligibility, despite the fact that there was nothing more that corrections could provide for him other than warehousing. It’s a far too common reality in prison that has caused many to give up hope and motivation to do better. Yet Chas was there, still teaching, still advocating for more community involvement, still helping others prepare for their release even as he was repeatedly being denied parole.

I met Chas in prison because I was there with him since November 2011. We were a tandem, President and Vice President of the Lifers and Long-termers Organization. Along with Vee Bravo from Tribeca Film Institute and Moses White [formerly incarcerated] we came to together to create the Community Screening Series, an initiative that utilizes film and script-writing to help the incarcerated community stay connected to the outside world. Rarely was there a day that passed that we didn’t disagree and never did that same day pass by without us expressing how much we valued each other. After serving 32 years I was paroled on June 13th, 2017. A month later, after serving 33 years, Chas was released on July 31st. It was a celebration both of our freedom and our lives’ work.

Our creative work as writers involved a short scriptwriting project entitled Unbecoming, scheduled for release in 2018. As part of this filmmaking experience, Chas, Moses White, Vee Bravo, and I were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey at the Tribeca TV Festival in September. Never one to miss an opportunity to shed light on the plight of our community, Chas spoke from the heart when Ms. Winfrey engaged him in conversation. He recently landed a position with the Appellate Defenders organization to craft a reentry component to their work.

And on October 22nd, 2017 Chas passed away from an apparent heart attack.

33 years in prison and barely 90 days of freedom.

I am fortunate that I have had a moment to share a piece of this space, that we call life, with Chas. Like many others who knew him, I am a better person because of our relationship. I am also saddened by the fact that so many others will never have the opportunity to hear him say; “Hi, my name in Handsome Ransom.”

- Alejo Rodriguez, Co-founder, Community Screening Series
Mentoring & Alumni Coordinator, Prisoner Reentry Institute

 


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