March 2, 2021, IS a national day of action to generate empathy, humanize, and uplift the stories of those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.
The number of lives impacted and shaped by the criminal justice system is ubiquitous. The institutions housing what society deems “criminals, offenders, or social misfits”, (many privately owned) remain wholly inept to foster and facilitate the rehabilitation of its inhabitants, and thus nearly promise you’ll pass through their walls at unconscionable rates before “successfully” re-entering society. The infrastructure (often referred to as the Prison Industrial Complex) perpetuates a revolving door, many lacking programs aimed at reducing repeat offenses, and offering access to resources that could improve statistics by promoting employment, and offering access & upward mobility to historically disenfranchised communities. Dream Corps Justice organization, promotes the #DayofEmpathy as, “created to build and promote the unlikely alliances that bridge the political divide and bring people together to advance solutions that redefine justice and equity.” Originally founded by political analyst, news anchor Van Jones and his team, Dream Corps JUSTICE is, “a bipartisan effort to cut crime and incarceration across all 50 states.”
The United States is the world leader in incarceration. Non-profits such as The Sentencing Project.org, have spent the last three decades, fighting systemic mass incarceration of ethnic groups and the the way crime is viewed, asserting “[t]here are nearly 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails—a [staggering] 500% increase over the last 40 years.” and emphasizes that the cause of these astronomical increases as the, “changes in law and policy, not changes in crime rates.” (SentencingProject.org).
The result? A targeted attack on impoverished, disenfranchised communities whose hope depends on a people willing to sit, talk and reach across the aisle. A society comprised of individuals willing to facilitate the tough conversations needed to promote a radical perspective shift and redesign a broken system. The fact that legislation affects and targets specific members of society at grossly disproportionate levels, is not, on its face, shocking. Dream Corps 2021 Day of Empathy, aims to address and redress these issues, by adding a human component to the numbers often put before congress, by connecting leaders impacted by the criminal justice system with unlikely allies spanning the political divide to push for criminal justice solutions.
Louis Reed, Director of Organizing and Partnerships curated a two-part conversation series on Clubhouse to introduce and promote both the event and the much needed conversation around implementing social and criminal justice reform. A lengthy list of widely recognizable names, social figures, musicians, artists and activists showed up in support, some contributing personal stories, others speaking to the necessity of legislation, all underlining the need for highlighting and emphasizing our shared humanity.
“How can we remind people that we are human beings?” wonders IOF Founder Farrah Fawx. “It’s crazy that we’re at a point in history where the conversation is to remind people:, we’re human. Civil rights are HUMAN rights” she points out.
Developing a strategic plan to chart a path towards building a socially inclusive and equitable economic infrastructure is multi-faceted. Highlighting the importance not only of action, but also philosophy to strategically attack the issue from all sides, many panel members spoke to the necessity of changing the verbiage used in conversation, and especially the way we define what it means to be “criminal”. Social injustice, systemic poverty and lack of access to resources or upward mobility, among the motivating factors behind crimes & arrests, beg the question: are the incarcerated “criminals and offenders” or rather an effect of an intentionally broken system, designed to maintain distance between the haves and have-nots? Louis Reed succinctly offered nuggets of wisdom sprinkled throughout antecdotes and strategies for dismantling the system as we know it.
“Language influences perception, and perception influences policy.” he reminded, calling those of us in the audience to re-examine the words we’re using to present and disseminate our perspective as the terminology consequently shapes and forms the identities attributed to our incarcerated community members.
Louis Reed, Director of Organizing & Partnerships, Dream Corps JUSTICE
Rapper Vic Mensa who has used his music as a platform to speak against injustice, cited the struggle of the wrongly incarcerated, those denied access to basic human rights including being refused representation, as a huge source of personal inspiration. The 2021 #DayofEmpathy offers a moment for us to collectively address the deep pain points of our social and criminal justice infrastructures, and the lessons we can glean to make equitable decisions moving forward. “In the humanizing of incarcerated individuals there’s so much for us to learn”, Mensa notes, citing that his own resolve, and artistry has been strengthened as a direct result of hearing and sharing the numerous stories of injustice. “How can I move in the world, and have strength and actualize my power? These brothers that have been forced to be strong…” He trails off, but not before mentioning #FreeJeffFort, #FreeJuliusJones, and to remember the resistance builds strength.
Books2Booked aims to support the movement by providing moments of respite and healthy escapism, both vital for mental health and opportunities for knowledge and awareness around re-acclimating to society, re-entry, ideas and support for finding and securing employment. #DayofEmpathy is about emphasizing our shared humanity and coming together to invite solutions to a long-standing problem. Dream Corps Justice aims to make the moment a movement– the campaign doesn’t end March 3. IOF stands in solidarity to do our part in actively erasing the divide between us. Sign up below to send a book to an inmate, and to get involved with #DayOfEmpathy visit Dream Corps JUSTICE for more information.