Just down the street from AFGE Headquarters in Washington, D.C., there is a quiet memorial that isn't pictured as much as the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial.
When the setting sun hits these stone blocks, the entire monument seems to turn a warm pink. The marble that encircles the courtyard holds the names of fallen police officers, correctional workers and other first responders and face an engraved, iron seal in the center. The entrances to the memorial are marked with sculptures of iron lions who dutifully watch over their playing cubs.
It's a beautiful monument, but Joe Mansour can't bear to visit.
"I hate coming to this place," he said. "I was assaulted in 2001, and I almost died. And I hate coming here, because I think of my wife and my kids coming here to see it."
Joe Mansour is one of dozens of other correctional workers who were present for a candlelight vigil on October 29, 2015, to close out a week of meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Over the course of several days, nearly 100 members of the Council of Prison Locals (CPL) spoke to legislative aides, policy directors, Senators and Representatives about sentencing reform and other vital safety reforms, like and making the Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) pepper spray pilot program permanent.
"We believe that Congress must address the systemic causes of prison population growth, namely the need for broad-range sentencing reform," said Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young. "Every day our staff go to work outnumbered. We believe that sentencing reform is the first step to stop the rampant overcrowding. Our colleagues deserve to feel safe in their workplace, and these changes could help.”
The legislative outreach and vigil follows years of violence in the federal prison system. At United States Penitentiary (USP) Canaan in Pennsylvania, officer Eric Williams was murdered by an inmate he supervised. In California at USP Atwater, Jose Rivera was murdered by two inmates - one held him down, the other stabbed him with a homemade weapon. And in Puerto Rico, Officer Osvaldo Albaratiwas murdered on his commute home, shot by the accomplices of those he supervised at Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) Guaynabo.
After the devastating loss, Don and Jean Williams, Eric's parents, Terry Rivera, mother of Jose, and Helen Andujar, Osvaldo's wife, decided to stand up and become advocates for safer prisons. In addition to visiting lawmakers, they held a round table discussion in support of sentencing reform, pepper spray for correctional workers, and gun lockers for every correctional worker to store their weapons on federal property.
"After Eric was killed, I promised that I would do everything I could to help other officers come home safely to their families," Don Williams said. "No family member should ever have to get the call that their loved one has been murdered on the job. We should be giving correctional workers the equipment they need to stay safe."
AFGE National President J. David Cox, Sr. led those present in a moment of silence and vowed to do everything he could to make workplaces safer for correctional workers.
"I remember taking my sons to this memorial," Cox said. "And thinking about all of the other families who have visited here to mourn. I want you all to know that AFGE is a family too, and we take care of our own."
To continue the progress and dialogue, Young is set to meet with Attorney General Loretta Lynch during the week of Veterans Day to further discuss sentencing reform and prison safety. He said he hopes that these talks will help make the federal prison system safe for correctional workers and inmates alike.
"I will work to address every issue raised on Capitol Hill directly with Attorney General Lynch," he said. "The men and women working in our BOP protect America. All we want is for America to protect us too."