I was set up for failure from day one. The “system” wasn’t designed with my success in mind and I paid hard consequences. So much could have been better. So much can be better if we acknowledge that our criminal justice system is broken and needs to be reinvented- it needs to be colorblind and focused on rehabilitation not just locking people up and contributing to cycles of poverty and injustice.
I’m from Hollywood, Louisiana and was 11-years-old the first time I got locked up; I spent four years in juvenile detention. I didn’t get the support I needed there to make good decisions—no one there gave me the guidance that boys and young men need to grow out of the criminal justice system and into highly productive lives in our community. No one cared so I was just another number- that shaped my life for a long time.
When I was released that first time, I went back home to a neighborhood where gang violence and drugs were part of the daily environment. It’s hard to change when you’re dumped back into an environment that isn’t promising without having someone help you navigate your way. So, in ’97 I fell into it again- making bad decisions because I didn’t feel like I had any other choice. I spent 5 years, 11 months, and 28 days in prison.
All that time I spent locked up, I got to better understand what leads people like me to end up in prison and to be kept there for so long even for minor offenses. Being a Black male in Louisiana automatically makes me more likely to end up incarcerated. We need role models and supports. Being undereducated limits our possibilities and opportunities in life but we still have to eat; we still have to take care of our kids and our families. Not having a high-quality education can shut the door on prosperity for young men where I come from so you end up getting into trouble as part of the struggle to survive.
Things need to change. We need interventions in our education system to give kids the preparation and hope they need to really make it. Our prisons, especially juvenile facilities, need to be rethought altogether. Our correctional facilities need to be centered around rehabilitation and not treat us like lost causes. We all have potential. From elementary school through my incarcerations I always had potential and I needed to be treated us such.
Today, I invest the time and energy on young people that they don’t always get at home and at school. I want the cradle to prison pipeline to be shut down. For those who do end up in the criminal justice system, I work to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect so that they can learn skills and knowledge to lead them to better places after they’ve served their time. Along with my friends at Stand for Children, I’ll be carrying this message when I attend the Caravan for Justice in Baton Route on Saturday, October 17th.
If you believe that young people—especially young Black men—deserve a way out of the cycle of poverty, undereducation and incarceration and should be positioned to succeed, I hope you’ll join me on Saturday.