CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM (CJR)
As you have read in other parts of my site, at the age of 19 I was accused of a crime that I had nothing to do with. Due to shoddy detective investigation and lack of proper identification procedures and after two trials I was convicted and imprisoned for a crime that I DID NOT commit. I was offered a plea deal of misdemeanor simple assault with 2 years probation while I was facing 5-20 years in prison. I declined the offer as I had not committed the crime. Today, I may have a different conversation with my clients as I used to think, there is no way an innocent person can go to jail. I now understand better. I understand that juries or the judge or even the prosecutors and police do not know what is the actual truth. They do their best to reach the "truth" by evidence presented and that's all. Is the evidence always the complete truth? probably not. Frankly, when you read my results sample page, most of those cases that are dropped or dismissed are done so based on lack of/ technicality issues with evidence.
When I look at my own case, do I think it was fair that I went to prison for something I had nothing to do with? NO. But do I think I was treated unfairly by the courts? prosecutors? judges? NO, Absolutely not. They did their job to the best of their ability with the information they had on hand at that time.
So my passion for criminal justice reform (CJR) doesn't' come from a dark hated place of self victimization. No, as a matter of fact who I have become today is a byproduct of that unfair incident in my life. But it has made me better for it.
My passion for CJR is due to what happened to me AFTER I was convicted, I personally, first hand, experienced being a county inmate and then become property of Department of Correction. I experienced the counseling interviews and programs inside the jail. I experienced being released as a felon and trying to build my life back up. I know what it's like to be on probation, going to college, not being able to obtain professional employment even though I was on president's list with a 4.0 GPA. I have been nurtured by the community and streets who took me in and helped me get to where I am today. I know what it's like for a family to be torn by prison as I recall my mother driving 4 hours each way on Sundays to come visit me in South Hampton.
So my reason for CJR is not for me. It's for the community that I grew up in and lessons it taught me to get me to where I am today. I owe it to them. I was one of the very few who was able to make it out of the stereotypical category of a convicted violent felon. I want to do this for them and for the future generation where my children and grand children are to live.
As a friend recently put it best "no one likes "soft on crime", but also no one likes injustice". So my definition of CJR is not soft on crime. It's looking at the statutes and making sure they are not targeted; make sure they are not being used as tools for illegal search and seizures and mistreatment; making sure we look at the big picture and stop this system which promotes production of more and more felons for our communities. Our current system is similar to a echo system that is not recycling, calling anything a waste, and then dumping it in our own backyard in the name of cleaning. It's wrong to allocate additional budget to a prosecutor's office based on Felony convictions alone. This gives the prosecutor's office a conflicting interest between losing part of its budget and resources or convict and brand more and more members of our community as felons. Unjust sentencing laws and prison policies hurt families and communities without making us safer.
We need more mental health and drug treatment programs. We need more diversion programs to give offenders a another chance.
That's why I have decided to take action and formed one of the first minority political action committees focused on CJR. Please visit vacjr.org for more information and support.