It's #SecondChanceMonth and I want to share a little bit about why I'm an ally in prison reform.
People ask me these questions a lot. "Why criminal justice reform? Have you been to prison? Have you had family members in prison?"
The answer to those questions is no. I don't have to have personal experience to be an ally or care about human rights.
I was born with a lung disease and had a double lung transplant at age 22. I grew up with acute awareness of my mortality and a questioning outlook on powerlessness, injustice, and human suffering. I feel empathy with anyone who feels like they don't have autonomy over their body. I know what it's like to be born into something that, in many ways, can determine the course of your life for you.
In college, my roommates and I threw a party on Halloween. Every house down and around the block was throwing parties. But our party, in a rural New York college town where most residents and students were white, was mostly attended by Black students and people of Color. Guess what? Nothing out of control happened. Everyone was respectful. No one was wildly drunk or using drugs or fighting. Yet - we were the ONLY party to get broken up by the police.
When you start questioning power dynamics, you start seeing the people who are actually under its thumb. After my transplant, I began volunteering to tutor returning citizens in reading and GED prep, and their stories hit me like a ton of bricks. People who grew up five minutes away from me had been born into very different circumstances.
I kept digging and learning more, reading about mass incarceration, solitary confinement, plea deals, disparate prosecution rates by race and income, and the correlation between literacy and incarceration. The more I worked with the incredible, resilient people affected by the system, the more I learned how deeply it destroys families and communities. And this cause won me over. I got my Masters in Criminal Justice and committed my career to it.
Now when people ask if I'm personally affected by the criminal justice system, I say yes. I say yes because my neighbors are, my friends and coworkers are, the people I'm rooting for are. I say yes because our future children very well may be, and none of us should be immune to someone else's suffering. I say yes because, as MLK once said, an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
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