It is with great sadness that we convey the news of the untimely death of Flozelle Woodmore, a California activist who for years gave voice to the individuals, families, and communities most harmed by the criminal justice system. Flozelle, who herself served two decades of a life sentence—before finally gaining her freedom in August of 2007—was a paragon of resilience, generosity of spirit, and commitment to justice. While in prison, she obtained her GED, completed a vocational certification program, assisted with creating a women’s support group, and was active in efforts to help young people avoid becoming ensnared in the criminal justice system. Following her release, Flozelle continued to work on a range of local and statewide issues, playing a role in efforts to reduce California’s reliance on incarceration and harsh punishment.
In 2010 Flozelle was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship to organize friends and family members of people serving life sentences in California to support their release and advocate for long-term systemic change in the parole system—a system she knew all too well, having watched as Governors Davis and Schwarzenegger blocked for five consecutive years the state parole board recommendation that she be released. At that time, our endorsement of Flozelle’s work, hosted by A New Way of Life Reentry Project in South Central Los Angeles, was an acknowledgment of the immense value we saw—and continue to see—in her vision for forging deep relationships with those most directly affected by this country’s harsh carceral system. Her work rested on the fundamental proposition that incarceration affects entire communities; and that those most impacted by its hardships must have both a voice and a principal role to play in bringing about any change.
But while we were excited by her fellowship project, we were equally taken with Flozelle as a person: exceptionally motivated and remarkably insightful, with a keen intelligence and an infectious optimism. To us, Flozelle embodied many of the best qualities found within the community of Soros Justice Fellows, as well as among the larger collection of individuals endeavoring to re-imagine our systems of justice throughout the United States.
We at the Open Society Foundations are privileged and honored to be associated with Flozelle’s name, as well as with her work. Her loss will be felt deeply among those fortunate enough to have experienced her warmth, kindness and humor, and to have witnessed her abiding commitment to a more just, more compassionate society. Flozelle’s life and work have touched countless people, in ways she could not have imagined; and her legacy will endure.