The cold wind blowing from the north this time of year might chase most people indoors, but not Paul Feilmann.
He’s standing outside sending a message, and has been standing vigil for prison reform on the northwest corner by the Governor’s Mansion since August..
“I’ve been out here three months. No one has said a negative word to me once,” Feilmann said. “People are either supportive or they’re just curious, but never angry.”
Feilmann chose the spot due to its proximity to the capitol building. From there, he gives himself the opportunity to reach out to legislators as well as anyone else who may be visiting the capitol.
“The way I look at what I’m doing here is like a chess game,” he said. And his strategy involves reaching out to the right people.
Through social media platforms, Feilmann has connected with senators as well as activists involved in prison reform. That is mostly how he spends his time during the day on the corner., reaching out to people and doing research.
“I get a lot of support from people that have been incarcerated,” he said. “And family members that have people that are currently or previously incarcerated because they have an empathy and an awareness of things.”
Feilmann, who worked in social services for 25 years before retiring, commutes daily from Omaha at roughly 5 am. He usually heads back around 4 pm, to avoid traffic.
The idea came after Feilmann watched “Out of Omaha,” a documentary about the how social injustices can affect a person. He knew that he wanted to do something.
“So we started looking at how poverty stricken communities are impacted by incarceration,” he said.
After three months of standing in the elements, Feilmann has touched a lot of people. But he is looking for one that will lead to a “check.” He and some other advocates hope to reach Governor Pete Ricketts.
“We can only hope that he [Ricketts] will start up a task force,” he said. “Or he will do something about the prisons so I don’t have to be out here when the snow flies.”
With prison reform up for debate in this coming legislative session, Feilmann hopes to see some resolutions pass.
State Sens. Justin Wayne, Tony Vargas and Steve Lathrop are among the senators who are pushing for reform, primarily on solitary confinement restrictions.
“People have no idea what is going on in those cells, because they’ve never experienced it,” Feilmann said. “You can’t imagine that sort of thing.”
Until the session starts, all Feilmann can do is try to reach out to as many people as he can, for as long as it takes.
“Because, remember … I’m bad at chess,” he said. “So I gotta find someone who is better than me at it.”