We need you.
I know you have enough personal drama, but we need you.
Family issues, job worries, trying to make the adjustment home, but we need you.
PO drama, compliance crap, but we need you.
We interrupt this personal broadcast of bull$%#@ drama to say it again, “We need you!”
We need your voice, we need your presence, because the system is broken, and you and me, people under some form of supervision by a broken criminal justice system, know what needs to be fixed, because, as Glenn Martin of JustLeadershipUSA says regularly, “those who are closest to the problem are closest to the solution.”
I am writing this on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. I tried to buy a local paper at the train station this morning, but they didn’t have it. So I bought USA Today. The front page is filled with stories that say “We need you!”
First there is a story about the high number of police chiefs resigning in the flood of allegations of police misconduct, killings and unarmed Black men and women, and corruption. Relationships between law enforcement and the community show little trust on either side, and somebody has to get busy putting this stuff back together. Jeffrey Brown, a Boston based minister, has been travelling North America trying to help bridge the gap between police and their communities. Nobody is saying we don’t need cops, but Brown, through his Operation RECAP is saying that we need to get it right with respect to their role in our neighborhoods. Rev. Brown needs you.
Then, there is a story about the acquittal of one of the Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody last year. “Black Lives Matter” protestors hold their signs on the front page picture while reactionary voices like PA Senator Pat Toomey counter with “Blue Lives Matter” legislation making assaulting a cop a hate crime. Toomey is up for reelection, and in PA, you can vote, even if you have a felony conviction. In fact, you can vote from jail if you are there on a misdemeanor (I followed a city jail warden around the block one time, passing out absentee ballots to misdemeanor residents as she cried out, “Y’all need to vote…the judges are up for election this year and y’all know them better than we do!”). The ballot box needs you.
If you live in a state that won’t let you vote, there are people like Desmond Meade, director of Faith in Florida, who is among a number of people agitating for the right to vote, even if you have a felony conviction. He should know. He has been homeless, strung out and locked up. But by God’s grace, he got clean and sober, came home finished school, got his law degree (even though he is barred from practicing in Florida) and now leads the statewide charge to restore voting rights to people like himself. Desmond Meade and people like him need you.
Finally, the paper has a story on the Supreme Court’s 7-1 decision to release a death row inmate in Georgia because his prosecutor stacked the deck on his jury by deliberately excluding Black people and his defense attorney– since disbarred– wouldn’t call a witness who could place him in another state at the time of the murder (I won’t tell you which Justice voted against the release, but his name rhymes with No Mas). Glenn Martin of JustLeadershipUSA is mounting a national movement of formerly incarcerated people to take leadership in reducing mass incarceration, and bringing justice to a nation that produces such wrongful convictions that involve every level of the criminal justice system from policing to parole, from courtroom to cellblock. Glenn Martin needs you.
I don’t know what your personal drama is today. But I know that there is somebody in your area who is taking on the very powers that have taken your mistakes and made them worse. People like Jondhi Harrell of The Center for Returning Citizens in Philadelphia and Teresa Hodge of Mission Launch in DC labor tirelessly on our behalf despite their own personal drama since coming home. Your personal drama may seem overwhelming, but it can help to press the pause button, look around at what needs to be changed, hook up with change agents in your community, and be part of the larger solution. It will help you get out of yourself by working for the bigger change that will benefit you and others.
We need you.