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Clifton White And Selinda Guerrero Talk Freedom And The Risks Demonstrators Take

Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Selinda Guerrero and Clifton White

Clifton White and Selinda Guerrero organized Free Them All Fridays for months, speaking out against conditions and abuses in New Mexico prisons. White had spent years behind the walls, with Guerrero on the outside calling for prisoners’ rights. After the couple pulled together the first Black Lives Matter protest of 2020 in Albuquerque in late May, White was arrested on an administrative parole violation, which Guerrero says was retaliation for their protests. She and other demonstrators called for his release all summer long. He was returned to his family late last week. KUNM talked with the couple Monday, Nov. 2, in a park, with everyone wearing masks, which you might hear in the interview.

KUNM: How was your day this morning? What did you do?

CLIFTON WHITE: Well, first I woke up next to my beautiful queen Selinda right here. It was just the best feeling ever. I was just taking in my freedom and just walking around the yard, playing with the dog, you know.

KUNM: So you had done a long time in prison, and then you were out for a little while. How is it to try to readjust when you have spent so much time away from your family?

WHITE: Wow. Well, readjusting is definitely going to be hard due to the trauma, because of what me and my family have been through in the past 11 years of just dealing with probation and parole and going in and out that many times. It’s something that you can never just get used to. Adjusting and preparing for something that I've never experienced in my entire life, that I can go back to not having the system play any part or a role in my life is just … is something that takes time, something you can’t prepare for, you know?

KUNM: You were out there, you were on probation. And you just knew that you were going to go back because that's how that works, right?

GUERRERO: Simply police contact, having an exchange with police, is enough to violate your probation and parole. Here we were protesting repeatedly where we were having police interactions.

We also are vocalizing about how that's a violation of First Amendment rights and how much people on probation and parole don't have access to civil rights.

Here he was advocating for his people for his community, and taking a stand for something that has impacted him and his family, but he's being silenced by the conditions of probation and parole. That's a line that our community is always having to navigate. So many of our people are impacted by incarceration and have to think about that.

KUNM: Selinda, you have been working so hard for so long. How is this for you?

GUERRERO: I feel like I'm still trying to put my feet on the ground. And it's just so much about the conditioning that happens when you're a family that's impacted this way.

After I brought Clifton home, that next day, in the afternoon, I went onto the Department of Corrections website to look him up. It's a routine I would do every day to make sure like he's still where they say he is and there's not any changes to the things that they have on his lookup.

For me it was, that day: is he going to show up in there? Reconciling with like, he is not in that system anymore. It's not there. It said “no inmate found.” It made it more real. Just the idea that a PO is not going to come and knock on our door today or show up or drive by our house.

We’re shaking off this weight that's been on our family on our community. It's not just us. So many of our community exists in these conditions.

KUNM: Yeah, so you don't have any probation and parole in front of you right now. You're …

WHITE: Free man. Free. Free man. Five days ago, I was already accepting the fact that I wasn't going to come home until September next year, to getting a call: “Pack up. You're leaving. call somebody right now.” That is just unbelievable.

KUNM: Do you think that it had something to do with the fact that we’re in election season and there has been so much pressure for them to release you?

WHITE: I absolutely do. First and foremost, it was the people who freed me. And that's what I want to get across. Pressure has to continue because there has to be accountability for the people who are elected, running for office, who are playing political roles in the situation. Doing nothing. You know what I mean? We have so many of them that just refused to address the situation, and my release came based off of the pressure of the people. And I want to thank the children and the legal team, just the support of all the people around the world. It was just amazing. I'm truly humbled and thankful for your guys' support and being by my family.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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