ALAN MATHIOS: Welcome, everyone. My name is Alan Mathios, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology. And it's my great, great pleasure to welcome you here tonight for the 2016 lecture of the Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development and Public Service. And we're really thrilled. And the person I'll introduce next will introduce our speaker, Glenn Martin, who is the founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA. But first, I want to thank all the staff and students who helped make tonight's event possible. Especially, Patty there. Patty, where are you? If we can give around of applause.
And it's really special to have two members of the Iscol family with us today. So Ken and Kiva, your generosity has made this possible for 15 years now. So if you could please stand, we'd love to just give a round of applause.
Unfortunately, Jill was supposed to come. But she wasn't feeling too well. So she had to not show up today. And if you meet the Iscol family and get to know them, it's what philanthropy is really all about. They care so deeply about fostering social change and investing in the future leaders of this country. And so for the students here today, this philanthropy is really about you. And so this is phenomenal for a dean.
So in that spirit, I just want to give you a little bit background on this program. So the Iscols fund this lecture on an annual basis. But since 2007, the program has supported student internships and now, over its life, has supported over 125 students in public service internships in communities around the world. This past summer alone found 10 of our students in communities from North Brooklyn, New York City, obviously, to Tanzania, from Ithaca to India, where they had the unique experience to see and engage firsthand in learning about some of the world's greatest challenges in health, education, and social justice.
And Cornell has made a-- has tried to make its signature approach to education around public engagement through a lot of attention over the last few years. And this program, now 15 years old, really predates and is the visionary program for what we mean as a university in what engaged learning should be and could be. So I really want to thank, again, the Iscols for sort of putting a program together that helped inspire what I would think is now the big public engagement approach of the entire university.
Jill and Ken's biography is in your program. So I won't repeat all the wonderful work that they have done. But again, let me remind you of the tremendous support as they have been to not only this program but to several other Cornell University programs. So really really, really grateful to you and to your vision.
The program, while it's run through the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research in the College, really services the entire University. So we have been delighted to have collaborated with Cornell University's Urban Semester Program, which is run through Human Ecology; the Public Service Center; and also Cornell's Global Health Program. These collaborations have expanded the reach of the program and really touch students.
So we just had a wonderful dinner. And students from three or four different colleges were a part of the summer internships that were hosted. And it really gives a flavor of that One Cornell feel that we so aspire to as administrators.
And then, finally, my greatest thanks goes to John Eckenrode, who is a professor in human development, who is Associate Director of the Bronfenbrenner Center. And John, actually, worked with the Iscols in the creation of this program 15 years ago. He's had such an impact on this program. And this is John's last year of leading the program. So I thought I would just reflect on-- I'm in my 10th year of dean. And so I've been with John doing this for 10 years. And I can safely say that the speakers who have come through this program and the students and all the internships that have been created through this have had such a profound impact. Students come back years later, back to Cornell, and talk about their experience hearing one of these speakers and how it changed their lives.
So just a few of the previous speakers that we've had-- Workforce of the Future by the founder of Girls Who Code was one of them; Wakami, a value chain that connects and transforms people and the earth, which focused on sustainable design by communities in Guatemala; Samasource, a sustainable solution to global poverty. One of the most impactful speakers I've ever heard was Jacqueline Novogratz, who created the Acumen fund to help develop microfinance solutions to poverty throughout the world.
All of these events happened under the guidance of John Eckenrode. So it really-- we owe so much to John and his leadership of this program for 15 years. I am very pleased that Chris Wildeman-- who's a professor in policy analysis and management-- Chris will be taking over the leadership of running this program. He's also an associate director of the Bronfenbrenner Center. So we'll be in very good hands. But we owe John a huge, huge service of gratitude and a round of applause for John Eckenrode.
So with that, John, I will turn the podium over to you. Thank you all very much for coming. We really appreciate this great turnout. And we're also live streaming this. So people from-- some all over are going to participate in this event. So for people online, welcome as well wherever you are. Thank you.
JOHN ECKENRODE: Well, I didn't expect that. But thank you so much. That was very kind of you. It's just really been a very great privilege for me over these last 15 years to work with the Iscol family, work with the College, work with an incredible team of people who have helped put these programs together-- our community partners or our campus partners. And I want to thank everyone for helping make this such a successful program over the years.
As Alan said, we have had incredible change agents come through campus over these past 15 years. Tonight is no exception as you will see. And I really believe this has expanded the horizons of many students in their thinking and provided inspiration to many more to believe that they can actually change the world.
I add my thanks to the Iscol family-- to Ken and to Kiva. And it's been an incredible partnership. And I look forward, even after I'm not director of this program, to stay involved and to come to the events and help out where I can. So it's been a real privilege. I look forward to working with Chris on moving the program forward.
I should just point out that this talk tonight and the presentation tonight is really one of several events over these last several weeks focused on this issue of mass incarceration. And it's been sort of a theme in the University for some weeks now. Just one example, Chris Wildeman and his colleague, Anna Haskins in sociology, just a week or so ago, brought to campus the foremost researchers in the country and if not the world, looking at the effects of mass incarceration on families and children and not only what the research says the impact of that is on families and children but also talked a lot about programs and interventions that might help alleviate some of those problems.
So this is just one example of the kinds of conversations that are going on at Cornell, the kind of energy that has been generated at Cornell around this issue. And tonight is a continuation of that.
Those-- by the way, those presentations are recorded. And they'll be on the Bronfenbrenner website fairly soon. So if you're really interested in hearing about what the latest research and so forth is in this area, you can watch all the presentations.
I wanted to just thank a couple other people before I introduce our speaker. Alan thanked Patty Thayer, my colleague and who I've worked with all these years. I want to thank Patty again for all the work she's done. Kerry Chalmers in the Bronfenbrenner Center provided us with assistance on publicity and communications. And so I want to thank her as well.
And there's many special guests in the audience. And there's really too many-- I see some people. I know some people. There's too many to publicly recognize. But I did want to point out one person who's in the room, who has a special connection tonight's speaker. And this is Vivian Nixon. Vivian, where are you? There she is. If you'd stand up for just a second just so people can see you.
Vivian is actually-- wears multiple hats. But she's also the chair of the board of JustLeadershipUSA. So she came up from New York City today with the Iscols. And I wanted to point her out to you. Vivian runs her own really incredible program called the College and Community Fellowship, which is an organization committed to removing individual structural barriers in higher education for women with criminal records and histories. So she could also give a separate talk about her work. And she's doing amazing things. So it's really wonderful to have Vivian in the room with us tonight. And so thank you for coming up.
So let me tell you just a few things about our speaker, Glenn Martin I could say just a lot more. But I want to give him the stage as soon as possible. He is an extraordinary person, working on a social issue that's obviously of critical importance to our country. After being hidden from view for many years, this issue or-- dare I say-- this problem of mass incarceration has really entered the public discourse with a force that may actually result in change this time even within the highly charged political atmosphere that we live.
Putting this issue front and center in the national conversation is in no small part due to the tireless work of advocates and activists like Glenn Martin and the emergence of social movements supporting that work like the Black Lives Matter movement. Glenn is-- as Alan said-- founder of the JustLeadershipUSA organization, which is dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030. And Glenn's going to talk about that. And it's really through advocacy as well as service that this work gets done. And we're anxious to hear more about that.
A partial list of Glenn's achievements and involvements include being a 2014 Echoing Green Fellow; a 2012 American Leaders Change National Urban Fellow; a member of the governing board of College and Community Fellowship-- Vivian's group; Million Hoodies; and the California Partnership for Safe Communities. Glenn serves on the Governor's-- Cuomo's-- Re-entry and Reintegration Council; the advisory board of Vera Institute's Public Health and Mass Incarceration Initiative; as well as many more activities and service-related work that he does.
He's recently met with President Obama at an event focused on criminal justice reform. And in 2016, Glenn was appointed to the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform in looking at the possibility of closing Rikers Island, which he'll talk about shortly. And I know he would say that despite this amazing record and list of achievements, there is much more work to do. So we are very excited to hear from Glenn at this time about that work and the challenges ahead. So please, ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome him to Cornell.
GLENN MARTIN: Good evening. So I am extremely honored to have this opportunity. Hearing about the speakers that have spoken this part of this opportunity before me raises the bar a bit for tonight. Hearing that we're being live-streamed raises the bar even further. Thank you to Alan and John and Chris and Patty and folks who made it easy for me to get here and created great opportunities today for me to be exposed to the students here and to local leaders. And thank you for the generous introduction, John. I appreciate that. And, of course, thank you to the Iscols for continuing to invest in leaders. Your work is extremely important. And I've heard from so many people here about what your investment means to them.
So the question today is mass incarceration, is it an insurmountable problem? So I want to start there and hopefully, by the time I'm done, you guys will not just realize that mass incarceration is a problem that we can solve, but that your role in solving that problem is key.
So I want to start with the statistics. I want to help paint a picture of where we are today in terms of mass incarceration. I don't want to make any assumptions that people understand the statistics. Most Americans don't. I think the one that many people might have heard-- if you've heard Michelle Alexander speak or if you've been paying any attention-- the one that stands out most-- in fact, I think Hillary Clinton has said it and a number of other folks-- is that we have 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prison population in this country.
From 1973 to 2009, we went from 200,000 people in state prison to 1.5 million. We have 2.2 million people in cages if you include jails and the federal system, which is equivalent to the entire population of Houston, Texas. So in prison today, if you take that number and break it apart, you have about 1.3 million in prison, 731,000 in jail.
And then this probation-- and I don't want this to get lost in the conversation because we often think of probation as an alternative to incarceration. I actually think probation has emerged as an alternative sentence. And it has captured more and more people in the tentacles of the criminal justice system. We actually have 3,900,000 people on probation. So something that was meant to be an alternative, I would argue has actually grown right alongside our prison system.
And then there's federal prison. You have 200,000 plus people in the federal system. Also parole, on any given day, you have 737,000 people on parole. And that helps to feed the system. Many people who recidivate-- the word that means people going back into the system-- go back in because of technical violations as a result of being on parole. Technical violations, meaning that they're violating the stipulations of their parole.
And then juveniles in the system, young people. We have actually cut the number of young people in our system in half in the past 18 years or so. And I want to talk a bit more about that because I think it actually lends itself to the credibility that we can achieve significant gains in terms of reducing mass incarceration in this country, recognizing that, obviously, children-- people are much more willing to give children an opportunity. And there's an emerging brain science that makes it clear that young people have an appetite for risk that dissipates as they get older.
So when you think of the correctional population, I'd urge you not to just think of the 2.2 million. I'd urge you to think of closer to 7 million Americans under some form of criminal justice supervision on any given day in this country. And so you might say, well, where are those folks? I mean, what's really strange about criminal justice is you have so many people involved in the system. And in many ways, you can grow up and live in certain communities and never be exposed to it or at least assume you've never been exposed to it.
And so what we have in this country is we have 1,700 state prisons. We have 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities. We have 3,200 local jails and 79 Indian country jails. And I think one of the most important things to point out before we move ahead is that the system disproportionately affects people of color if that's not obvious to folks, I think it's worth saying out loud. Blacks in this country are 14% but represented at 40% in our criminal justice system. And then whites, quite the opposite, are 64% of the population but represent 39% of the prison population.
And then it's difficult to have this conversation about the national picture without taking a look at New York State. Today, we have about 52,000 people in our criminal justice system. That's that's actually down from 72,000 in 1992. And that's a win. But it's obviously very relative. We're still one of the states that lock up the most people in this country.
Rockefeller Drug Law had a lot to do with that. I'm going to talk a bit about mandatory minimums. We went from 12,000 people in prison in New York State to a high of 72,000. A big part of that was Rockefeller Drug Laws.
And then we have 3 million people who actually work within the criminal justice system. And I think that's also important to point out. Why? Because there is arguably a natural lobby for keeping things the way they are. And I have a brother who grew up to be a federal correctional officer for a decade and then ultimately became a US Marshal. And I've seen how the distance between people who work in the system and people who end up in the system is actually not that thick of a line.
And I think that that is true and increasingly true around our country. But here in New York State, in particular, prisons serve as an economic engine for rural communities all across the state. And so this is not just an issue of criminal justice, of right and wrong. This is also an issue of economics.
I remember a correctional officer in the correctional facility I was in here in New York State saying to me, you know, Glenn, you being here helped me to get my boat. And when your son gets here, he's going to help my son get his boat. And that was tough to hear. But it's actually a statement that I remember until this day. And it helps guide the way I do the work.
It forces me to realize that if we're just having a conversation about reform with people who think about criminal justice all day, then we're not creating solutions that match how we got here. Because we got here because we've had a number of governors in this state that have promised upstate communities when businesses went out of business or left or went overseas that they would get a prison to essentially sustain their economy.
And it's not just here in New York. If you look at North Carolina, there are 100 counties, and there's also a jail in each one of those counties. And so that model has been replicated across the country. And we'll talk a little bit about what that means in terms of reform.
So those are the statistics. How's this mic working? Can you guys hear me? I hate podiums. They get in the way. So this town-- being here is important to me because it reminded me-- I spoke to so many students today that said that they work at Auburn Correctional Facility. And there's something I learned at Auburn Correctional Facility that has stayed with me until this day.
So Auburn Correctional Facility is a facility where when you're in state prison and you're being transferred around, this is one of the prisons where you stop at on your way to other prisons that are further north. And I remember one day being transferred from one prison to another. And if you get to Auburn on a Friday evening, you're not just put in a cell for the night. You're actually going to be there for the weekend.
And I get to Auburn. And first of all, you get downtown, and it's just so beautiful. It was middle of the winter. And I remember, there's a cute little gas station on the right. This was 15 18, 20 years ago. And then I remember, you make this beeline. And suddenly you're at Auburn Prison. And anyone who's never been there or never seen it, just think like quintessential prison. Like high walls and guard towers and-- and dark clouds above with lightning bolt coming down. I'm serious. I'm not making this up. I'm serious.
That's how it felt, being shackled in the back of a bus, being driven into Auburn Correctional Facility. It was pretty scary. And I remember being taken out and walking in in shackles, 45, 50 men, mostly young men of color. In fact, I remember being driven upstate New York and for the first time realizing how beautiful New York was and the fact that we had farms and so on. And it was-- while I was shackled in the back of a bus with other men of color. And the irony there never left-- never left me.
And to get to the prison-- and there's a long tier of cells. And you go into a cell. And usually, when you get there, because there was so many people in prison when I was there, there's already someone in the cell. And there was someone in the cell. And the gate slams. And so now you're going to spend three days with a stranger.
And you quickly want to get a sense of who you're in that cell with. So you strike up a conversation. And before I had a chance to strike up a conversation, he was talking to me. And he was on the bunk. And I'm standing by the gate. And he just sort of engaged in the conversation as if I walked right into a middle of a conversation between the two of us except I missed the beginning part of it.
And I realized eventually that he actually wasn't talking to me. He was talking to the bird that he saw on the cage of the cell. And-- he had-- he clearly had a mental health issue that he was struggling with. And he was actually getting Thorazine through the cell from the correctional officer.
And at the same time, we did begin to talk to each other. And I got to know him a little bit. And his name was Arthur. And he was Latino. He was from the Bronx. And he got arrested when he was 17. He was 34. So he had already been in for 17 years. And he was a really pleasant guy, really funny, really thoughtful. Talked about his addiction, talked about how he became even more addicted to drugs in prison because if anyone thinks there's no access to drugs in prison, you're absolutely wrong. I actually never saw so many drugs in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where I grew up as I did when I got to prison.
And we got to know each other. And if you're in Auburn as someone serving time, what you know is that it's really cold in the wintertime and that the correction officers very deliberately open up the windows along the cells in the middle of winter. And as you can imagine, that just brings in all the cold air and makes it that much more cold.
And as I learned more about him, the fact that he had a plea that he could have taken. He didn't take this plea, and he went to trial. And so instead of getting 10 to life, he ended up with 25 to life under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. So he was there under our mandatory minimum drug laws here in New York State.
He was still dealing with the addiction issue. He had mental health issues. He came from a Latino family where his dad sold drugs from the time he remembered. He remembered his dad cutting up drugs in the kitchen when he was 10, 11 years old.
And after about a day of being in the cold, I started to get a sore throat and to start coughing. And there was this moment where Arthur said to me, would you like me to make you a cup of tea? This is the guy was talking to the bird when I walked in. And I said, OK, Arthur. You're going to make me a cup of tea in this cell. I'd love a cup of tea, Arthur.
And he takes a plastic bottle that was in the cell with us. And he ties a string to the bottle. And he hangs the bottle from the light fixture and takes the mattress off the bed so that it's just a metal bunk. And the bottle is hanging over the mattress. And he takes toilet tissue and wraps it extremely tightly and puts it under the bottle And the bottle-- and he fills the bottle with water. And the bottle begins to spin. And the bottle begins to melt. And the water in the bottle begins to boil. And he takes the bottle off. And he takes his collar and rips it open, pulls out a teabag and puts it in the bottle and hands me a cup of tea.
So why do I tell that story over and over and over? And why do I hold on to that story? Because that story helps the guide the way I think about ending mass incarceration. Here's a person in our criminal justice system-- a criminal justice system that has been operating on full throttle for the last few decades; a criminal justice system that is meant to destroy people like Arthur; a criminal justice system that turns out a tremendous amount of human carnage; a criminal justice system that is built on a foundation of punitiveness and punishment and retribution; a criminal justice system that lacks the values that we say we care about as Americans-- rehabilitation, compassion, opportunity, second chance. And here he is finding compassion in the middle of that moment for a stranger who has a cold.
And that's one thing. And so hold on to that for a minute, right? Like, he could easily be the most bitter person. I probably would be after 17 years for drugs. But here's the other piece of it. Let's say you don't have compassion for a person who committed a crime. This guy made me tea in a cell with a plastic bottle, a teabag, water, toilet tissue. He used a pencil and the lead in it to light the toilet tissue.
So let's talk about human capital for a minute. 70 million Americans have a criminal record on file. And everyone in this country gets sentenced to life. I don't care if you get sentenced to a day in jail or 40 years in prison, it's all life. Why is it all life? Because the stigma of a criminal record stays with you for the rest of your life and sometimes beyond. And how do I know that?
Because I walk out of prison 15 years ago, and I have a college degree, a two-year liberal arts degree that I earned while I was in prison. Why did that happen for me? Because a correctional counselor said, you know what? You should go to college. First time that was ever said to me in my life. Happened in a prison. And then sent me way Upstate New York by Attica where there was a college program.
And I went through this program. And I had so many moments in this program that helped to reshape who I am. And yet, that's the exception for people in the system currently. Like, we don't have a criminal justice system that creates a tremendous amount of opportunities for people to find themselves.
I remember sitting in this college program. I grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where you have a narrative that you learn and that you hold on to and that you believe in. And it goes something like this. I'm black. I'm in America. Slavery happened. No one cares. No one cares about me. White people don't care about me. The only time they come to my neighborhood is to be a teacher or a police person. That's the only time I see them. They live a couple of neighborhoods over. But I'm taught not to go there. There's no gate. But I know not to go there.
That's a powerful narrative. It's multigenerational. People hold on to it. Like, if people teach you long enough that you have no value, then every person that looks like you also has no value. It's a very powerful narrative in communities of color. And then I go to prison. And somebody says you should go to college.
And I go to college. And then I'm sitting there in class. And this is video on. And it's about the Holocaust. And it's not like I've never heard of the Holocaust. But it's a documentary. And I'm in class. And I want to learn. And I'm hopeful for this opportunity. And at one point in the middle of the film, a bulldozer pulls up to dead, naked human bodies and shovels them into a hole in the ground.
The narrative I grew up with suddenly didn't make as much sense-- the one about how different I am than everyone else; the one about how people of color have been through so much tragedy that no one else's tragedy could match that. And I'm not suggesting-- I don't want to romanticize the moments years later. But it was a moment where the narrative I grew up with that allowed me to transgress against other people just didn't make as much sense. And yes, we run a criminal justice system that doesn't create those opportunities for people that are in the system.
And we're churning through so many people. I talked about 2.3 million people in prison on [INAUDIBLE]. You have 600,000 people coming out of the back end. And yet we stay at around 2.2, 2.3 million. Why? There must be something wrong much further upstream. Our jail population, 11 million admissions each year. I'm going to talk to you about Rikers. When I was at Rikers, there were 22,000 people. Today, there's 8,000. But there's still 70,000 admissions each year in a place that turns out abuse every year, every month, every week, every day.
And what does that mean to the large numbers of people that we're putting through, especially considering the fact that we have done so much to criminalize poverty, to criminalize mental health, to criminalize addiction issues, to criminalize-- to have the criminal justice system serve as the repository for people that fail out of all these other policies that we've decided to ignore, that we've decided are too difficult to deal with.
And what does that mean about who we are as a country? What does that mean about our positioning with the rest of the world? Is it just true that we are in the business of punishing each other more than any other country in the world? Is that just who we've become?
And so the reason I'm asking these questions because I think that ending mass incarceration-- we could say, well, wait a minute. It only took us 4 and 1/2 decades to get here. So unlike most other policies, we can look at mandatory minimums. We can look at truth in sentencing. We can look at three strikes laws. We can look at the privatization of prisons. We can look at those decisions and roll them back.
But the problem with that discussion is that that's not starting at the start line. Our criminal justice system didn't start there. Our criminal justice system is just the newest iteration of a system of oppression that's existed in this country for hundreds of years. And so until we look at what undergirds that criminal justice system, I don't think we're going to get to the finish line.
And if you think race and class are not issues that helped to build up the criminal justice system where we are now-- racism, classism-- then you're wrong. And if you think that the lifetime punishment associated with a criminal record is not all about that, then you're wrong. The fact of the matter is that criminal-record-based discrimination is the surrogate for race-based discrimination. And unfortunately, it seems to be the one-- it seems to be one that is so acceptable by so many Americans because of the stigma that we've also attached to having a criminal record in this country.
So let me tell you how it played out for me lest you think, oh, well. Look at Glenn. He's doing well. He's years beyond his criminal record. I'll tell you a story. And I think it's a funny story although it's a story that should embarrass us all.
It was about a year ago, a little over a year ago as someone who does criminal justice policy advocacy work, getting invited to the White House to meet with senior policy advisors to the president, it's like the culmination of your career. You get to meet with Valerie Jarrett. You get to meet with Roy Austin. You get to meet with these people who in turn meet with the president. How amazing.
So I go to DC. And I'm with about 40 of my colleagues. And we meet at a university down the block from the White House. And we talk for about six hours about criminal justice and policing and collateral consequences-- punishment that stems from having criminal justice involvement.
And we knew at the end of the day we were going to take a walk over to the White House. How exciting. At the end of the day comes. And they tell us to think about the thing that resonated with you the most during the day. What's the one thing you're going to want these folks to share with our president if they have an opportunity?
And we walk over to the White House. And I'm walking with the prosecutor from Atlanta, Georgia. And he's telling me about these amazing initiatives coming out of his office to help reduce the number of people going to prison. And just to be clear, we've come a long way. I mean, Vivian and I have been doing this work so long, I remember when we felt like just standing there in the wilderness, screaming this out loud and not getting much feedback. And now there's all this bipartisan support for reform. And there's all of these efforts happening around the country on the state level and conversations happening on the federal level.
And so I'm on my way over to the White House. And we're having these discussions. And here I am with a prosecutor saying to me, like, I don't want to lock up so many people. I want to find other opportunities for people. And we get to the White House. And everyone starts walking past security, past Secret Service, and as I'm walking towards the first booth where you get your pass, I notice that everyone's getting this green pass that you have to put on your neck to enter the building.
And as I'm walking up, I notice he grabs a pink pass. And I was like, oh, wow. He's branding it. It's just leadership pass.
Not so much. And he hands me the pink pass. And it says, needs escort. And my heart just sank. And everyone who's ever been involved in the criminal justice system, anything that you approach that is about law enforcement or about your background, like, you just have that feeling in your gut. I mean, here I am 13 years away from my conviction. And I've helped pass laws in states all over the country. I've done a ton of work to help my community and help other communities. And at the same time, every time, you have this moment, like, you feel these butterflies in your stomach. And you don't know how it's going to play out. You don't know how you're going to be judged.
And I get the pass. And I keep going through security. And then I get to the last level of security. And there's a Secret Service officer sitting on a table that was really up high. So he's sort of looking down at me. And he says, you can't go any further. 13 years later, 21 years since the conviction, invited to the White House, you can't go any further.
And it felt so reminiscent of my first day getting locked up 20-something years earlier. It felt so shameful. And all my colleagues walked by. And I say to him, well, how do I get in? He says, well, you need an escort. And he was, like, who invited you? I was like Valerie Jarrett and Roy Austin. He was like, then they need to come get you. And I'm like, oh, OK. I'll get to work on that, right?
And I start emailing everyone who's in the meeting and texting and trying to get someone to come back down. And suddenly, it's a one-hour meeting. And I'm there for about 30 minutes. And eventually, this big wooden door behind him flies open. And there's this young woman-- young white intern, maybe about 23 years old. She like, you're-- and I was like, yes, I've been waiting forever. Can you take me in? And she grabs me. She's like, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. And she takes me to the elevator about 100 feet away. And the Secret Service guy just sort of scowls at me.
And we get to the elevator. And she says, you're Mr. Davidson, right? I said, no. I'm Mr. Martin. But don't take me back, please.
And so don't let the irony get lost here. Black man, 21-year-old conviction, invited to the White House to have a conversation about mass incarceration, policing, collateral consequences. And I have this moment at the White House with this black president in charge. And I go up to the meeting, finally. And people are going around the table talking about the thing they think was most important that day. And I said, I have three, four things I could have spoken about in this meeting. But I want to talk about what just happened downstairs.
And I helped them-- I tried to help the room understand what that felt like. It was clear to me, first of all, that I'm in a group of 40 people where I'm the only formerly incarcerated person. And that happens to me quite often-- the only formerly incarcerated person and/or the only black man in the room and sometimes the only black person in the room.
And we walk out of the meeting. And I'm having a little bit of a difficult time with it. Part of it is I have to spend my energy now making my own colleagues feel extremely uncomfortable, making our hosts feel really uncomfortable. But that really is what leadership is about. It's about speaking the truth when your legs shake the most. It's about speaking the truth when you have a lot to lose.
And so I get on the train later on that evening, back to New York, the Amtrak. And I remember, I'm sitting there like, well, what else can you do here? Like, this moment, while you won't have a lot of formerly incarcerated people getting invited to the White House, there was something about that moment that speaks to the barriers that so many Americans face in turning their lives around. And there's something about that that doesn't line up with the rhetoric about second chances.
And so I started penning a letter to President Obama on the train in handwriting. And by the time I got to New York, I had decided that I wasn't just going to write a letter to our president, that I was going to make it an open letter because it really was a letter not just to the president but to everyone who allows criminal records to serve as a barrier to anything-- employment, housing, education, you name it.
And so I wrote the letter thinking about our president. But I also wrote the letter thinking about all Americans. And I published the letter. And we got the letter out far and wide. And The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal picked up the letter. And both wrote articles about it. And some other smaller outlets wrote letters.
And so I got invited back to the White House. Yay. And when I give there, I'm on a panel about criminal justice. I'm like, not only am I in the White House, I am-- people are paying attention to me. Like, I have an audience in the White House. And everything was there. The podium was there and the Presidential Seal and the White House in the back. I'm like, this is it. Like making sure I get the pictures to Instagram.
And at the end, they asked me to leave the room and go in another room. And, I mean, I've never met the president before. But it was clear that with the amount of Secret Service going in and out of that room, that something was about to happen. And so I'm in the room with the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, the former attorney general, Eric Holder, the assistant attorney general, Carol Mason, the head of criminal justice public safety for the state of Connecticut, Mike Lawlor, Ashley Judd, and Ludacris.
I'm not making that up.
I love this story because it's serious and it's funny. And we're waiting for Obama to come in. And Obama comes in. He opens the door. And man, like, I don't know if you're-- if you-- I don't know if you like our president or what view you have of our president, but it's all true. Like, I had to look at his feet to see whether he was walking on clouds. Like, he just rode into the room. And I'm like, OK, there's all these powerful people in the room. Clearly, I'm going to be the last person he speaks to.
And he walks in. And he turns. And I want to see who he's going to speak to first. And he turns to Ludacris. And he's like, Luda!
Like, I love this man.
And he ends up talking to Ludacris about two minutes about his sneakers.
And then he goes around, and he talks to everyone else. And he's very personable. And when he talks to you, it feels like no one else in the world exists. And we have a discussion for a couple of minutes. And I talked to him about-- I thanked him for spending his own capital on this issue. Like he has been amazing, not just with policy reform, but with keeping the issue alive, having breakfast with people that he's given clemency to, having events at the White House every three weeks, every four weeks.
And then I say to him that the most important thing I want to convey to him is that if we're ever going to end mass incarceration, then we need to be thoughtful about the language we use to talk about people who are in the system. And part of it is that I was very-- I'm very troubled by the fact that our president continues to focus on nonviolent drug offenders alone.
And why is that important? Because that's not how we got here. That's not how we got here. We got here because we started punishing everyone more. We got here because the system got darker and we were much more willing to punish people more. And if we're not having an honest conversation about how we got here, then getting out of here is going to amount to incrementalism in my opinion.
But not only incrementalism, think about it. If you do a great job of convincing people that this person, this nonviolent, first-time drug offender shouldn't be in the system, then I don't need to pay attention to the system. It's not about that. It's about him or people similarly situated.
So, yeah, you're right. He shouldn't have been there. You know, we should get people like him out. And that's the conversation we've been having for a few decades. But that's not the truth. The truth is that we've ratcheted up punishment for everyone. And so JustLeadershipUSA, the organization that I run, first of all, I normally don't look like-- I look like this so you guys can believe me. This is how I normally look--
--by the way lest you think I am running around the street advocating with this suit on. But-- when-- so I leave prison. So you've got to be like, wait a minute. How do you leave prison and suddenly we're having this story about you and the president? Obviously, a lot happened in-between. And the lot that happened in-between had a lot to do with a little bit of serendipity but a lot of opportunity.
And so I look for a job in the first 30 days, visit about 50 different employers. Almost every single one turns me down based solely on the criminal conviction. And I'm not talking about a job as a doctor or a lawyer or some executive. I'm talking about picking up boxes and moving them from here to here.
And I exited prison owing about $100,000-- fines, fees, restitution, child support, because we try to pay for our $1 trillion a year criminal justice system on the backs of the people who are in the system. So it's not even just about private prisons.
I think it's a horror that we've decided to monetize misery. I think that's horrible. But at the same time, let's be frank. The incentives that led to the creation of private prisons exist in our government-run institutions. My brother himself was thrust from extreme poverty into upper-middle class as a result of getting a job in the system himself.
And so as an organization, when we launched-- I'm sorry-- so when I was working at the Legal Action Center, which was my first job making $16,000 a year and owing $100,000, I remember learning what this organization did. So I've been an advocate since I was in the system. Pretty much as soon as I got arrested, I was like, this place is hypocritical. Like, why do we have the word correction on the wall? Like, this is nothing correctional about this place.
When I went to Rikers Island when I was 16, within 48 hours, I was stabbed four times. And that wasn't the difficult part because Rikers Island, they call it gladiator school for a reason. As soon as you walk in, you have to make a decision, predator or prey. And a guy walked up to me and said, give me your leather jacket. And I swung on him because there's nothing else to do. If you give up the leather jacket, you will give up everything else for the entire time you're there.
So the hard part wasn't the fight with him and his buddies and getting stabbed with a pen that was fashioned into a knife. The hard part was when it was over, having the correction officers in the background laughing and then telling me if you want to file a complaint and see the doctor, you're not going to go to court today. And you're going to be labeled a snitch. That stayed with me. I was 16. I was in there on $1,500 bail.
Then I was there again, later, at 23 for a year. And that's when I really learned about the culture of this place. That's when I learned that the culture was so ingrained that there is no reforming a place like Rikers Island and that Rikers Island is every jail. And every jail is Rikers. So lest you think I'm only talking about Rikers, I'm talking about the LA County Jail. I'm talking about the Cook County Jail. I'm probably talking about your local jail here in Tompkins County.
Because there is a culture that exists in the jail that lines up with the incentives that are created when you have a system that's built on punishment. Do I blame everyone who works in the system? I think there are some people in the system that are malicious. But I also believe that people may come into the system with the best of intentions. But in my life, what I've learned is that it is so rare to find leadership emerge and change the system. And instead, what you see most of time is the opposite, that systems change people long before people change systems.
I have notes, Ken, I promise. I had notes [LAUGHS]. So I stay at the Legal Action Center for 6 and 1/2 years. And I learn from some of the best attorneys that have ever done it-- civil rights attorney. And I learn how to do policy work. And I learn how to make-- develop relationships with conservative Republicans and with progressive Democrats and to get things done, particularly here in the legislature in New York, but in a number of other places around the country. I actually draft legislation, get it passed here in New York, signed by Governor Paterson, Governor Spitzer.
And so I'm like, I figured this out, I know how to do this. And then one day I'm sitting in a meeting. And I'm having a conversation with a policymaker. And I suddenly feel like I'm having an out-of-body experience where I'm listening to myself talking. And I'm saying, does that really match the reality of people who are coming home today? Or is that you telling your story from six years earlier?
And I started to struggle with that. I started to struggle with having a tremendous amount of privilege and access and having people listen to me and feeling as though I, myself, as someone directly impacted was more and more disconnected from the very constituents that I was advocating for. And that was troubling for me.
And so I left the Legal Action Center to go to a social service organization called the Fortune Society, one of the largest reentry organizations in the country, long-standing. And I went there to do advocacy work embedded inside of a social service organization very deliberately because they serve 4,000 people with criminal records each year. And I wanted those people to help me better understand what was happening with them every day.
Because I learned at the Legal Action Center when I was a paralegal, when I did have clients calling me, that people who are oppressed by a system usually have a very sophisticated analysis of that system and a really good idea of how that system either helped them or did not help them. And yet, we don't do a lot of listening to people who are most impacted. At Just Leadership, we say people who are closest to the problem are closest to the solution but furthest from power and resources. That drives our decision-making. That drives our programming. That drives our organizational model.
And so I go to Fortune Society. We do a tremendous amount of work. The clients are part of the work. They help develop the agenda for the work. They help go to Albany to advocate. They help go to Rikers to advocate. They go to the city council to advocate. And stay there for six years and did some really good work, including Rockefeller Drug Law reform.
And then about three years ago, after traveling all over this country, I started getting the sense that something was finally starting to change. I felt these series of moments on this issue that felt different. And yet at the same time, moments are not movements. And the question for me was, how do we go from moment to movement? What was missing?
And I decided to take a week off. And I hired a friend of mine who was a lawyer at the Innocence Project to just sit with me for a week, couple of times a day, and just interview me over and over about these issues.
And that culminated in a 15-page concept paper that led to JustLeadershipUSA. But it was at the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech. And so I was in that space. And what was that space like for me? It was a space where I was able to say, you know, if Dr. King were alive today, what would he say is missing from the field? What would he say is wrong with the way we're approaching this issue?
And it just struck me one day that he would say that if we're not building our form centered around the lives of the people who are most impacted, then you don't build the momentum you need for it to be a real movement. How do I know? Because if you look forward, our goal of cutting the number of people under correctional supervision in this country seems daunting. But if you look backwards, if you look at movements that were successful, whether it's this country or anywhere on this Earth, it's always been at the point where people who are most impacted rise up into leadership, define their oppression, and help lead us out of depression. Period. I don't know any other model.
In fact, even if you haven't been around that long, if you think of HIV/AIDS, gay rights movement, what did it take? It took for people who said, you know what? I know there's a stigma and shame that's supposed to be attached to this. But I'm putting that aside. And I'm going to exercise leadership. Because you know why? Because it's actually going to create a space for other people to come out of the shadows. And I just kept hearing Dr. King saying that to me. That's one part of my motivation.
The other part-- people say, well, Glenn, how did you get to half by 2030? Where'd that come from? I have a son. His name is Joshua. He was three at the time. Joshua will be 18 in 2030. All the statistics suggest that one out of three black children by the time they're 18 are going to end up in the criminal justice system. And I just wasn't having that. And for me, that is like my personal reason for doing the work.
So what's fascinating is I actually think that our mission statement has been our biggest success so far because the field-- when I first sent out that first email, I can't tell how many people call me. One person actually called me and said, you know, I heard you launching your own organization. I saw the email. I saw your mission statement. You know, I'm sorry that you left the Fortune Society. But I actually think you're going to fail.
I said, why? She said, I just don't believe you can find leadership amongst formerly incarcerated people. I think the most we can hope for is to feed them, clothe them, house them-- house them and keep them out of the criminal justice system. As you can imagine, that was tough to hear in that moment.
So the question I said to myself and to people like Vivian and to almost 200 other people in the field was, how do I build something that takes what I've learned in 13 years, packages it-- package it, and share it with other formerly incarcerated leaders? You know, Vivian is the one who taught me. She says, you know, let's be reminded that you and I are not exceptional and that what makes us the exception is that we've been exposed to exceptional opportunities. And so how do we do that for other people?
And I started out tabula rasa, the assumption that I knew nothing about what other formerly incarcerated people needed. I thought that that kind of humility was important in launching JustLeadershipUSA. And instead, I partnered with the law school at Columbia-- these slides make no sense anymore. Sorry. I just lost my way. My staff is going to kill me. They look great.
I partner with Columbia Law School. I bring that up here that I partner with Columbia Law School because we're in a higher education institution. And there's a question I think of what role you guys can play in building capacity in the community and what responsibility you have for building capacity in the community.
And I went into Columbia with a set of non-negotiables. And I started out having really honest conversations with people I knew there about what their needs were and be really clear about what our needs were. And the goal was to interview formerly incarcerated leaders all over the country-- folks who had just sort of made it in spite of-- and to interview them, and to do these two-hour long interviews, and to code the interviews, and to see what we learned from those interviews, and then to use that to inform the development of the curriculum that led to our yearlong leadership training called Leading with Conviction.
And so we launched that training two years ago. We've done two cohorts. We also have another training called Emerging Leaders that we move around the country. So the yearlong one, people come to New York. We bring them in. We train them. We work with them very intensively. These are folks that are already leaders. Right?
So I'm going to help you. I'm sure some people, like, well, who are these people? What do they look like? Like who are these formerly incarcerated leaders? One of our leaders runs a reentry organization in DC at the intersection of technology and reentry. One of our leaders is a mid-level manager at Amnesty International. Leads all of their criminal justice work. One of our leaders had the chance to interview Hillary Clinton twice on television over the last few months about barriers to employment for people with criminal records.
So these really are leaders. We're not building leaders. We're investing in leaders. And here it is, less than two years later, we have trained 120 leaders in 23 states around the country. We're a membership organization. We have over 3,000 members in 42 states around the country. But then most importantly, we're an advocacy organization. And so even though we spent all these resources and all this time on leadership training, that's all towards advocacy.
The idea of the leadership training is to invest in these leaders, to expose them to opportunity, to expand their network, but to get them to have a shared set of tools, a shared community, and a shared vision for where we can end up in this country. So the beginning of this conversation was about, is mass incarceration insurmountable? And the one thing I know about this issue is that the better-- if I do a really good job of explaining to you how horrendous this system is, how insidious it is, how wicked it is, that most people get paralyzed. And they're like, well, what can I do about that?
That's how most people respond to the idea of mass incarceration. That sounds horrible. But what can I do about that? One, our democracy got us here. And our democracy can get us out. And you represent our democracy. And you can make a decision that you don't believe in the criminal justice system that we have. The one that we have exists because we believe in it. I don't care how progressive you are. We all believe in it. So it exists.
We can wake up tomorrow and say, you know what? Not in my name. I want a criminal justice system that has proportionality, that has parsimony, that has citizenship, that has social justice, that has compassion, that has rehabilitation because we got here because people believed in what we built. People believe that, yeah, people should be punished.
And I would ask you, where does that come from? Most people say, well, how about the victims? There's got to be people in this room now saying, what about the victims? I hope-- I would hope that you'd be asking that question.
I remember, I was on a panel with the Manhattan DA a couple of years ago. And we talked about reentry for about 45 minutes, helping people with criminal records reintegrate. And he said, Glenn, we've talked about people with criminal records for 45 minutes. Can we talk about the victim of crime? I said, oh. I didn't learn how to pull out a gun on someone, so someone pulled out a gun on me. I thought we were talking about victims. Most of the people I met in the criminal justice system were victims of crime at one point, except they're not deserving victims.
And the reason I bring that up is that if we continue to think about our criminal justice system the way we currently do, then the reforms don't get us to the finish line. So if I say "offender," and you see a black man, and I say "victim," and you see a white woman, we've been taught to do that. Then we invest the resources there, right?
Rikers Island, $209,000 per bed per year for this person. Victim services, those billions of dollars go here. And I'm not suggesting that these folks are not deserving. But the data from the federal government, not from Glenn, says that black men are the most prevalent victims of violent crime in this country, yet the least deserving victims of those resources.
I grew up in a community where if you get a gun put to your stomach and someone takes something from you, you've got to hold that down. That's yours. You don't go looking for help. You don't pick up the phone and call the cops. Why don't you pick up the phone and call the cops? Because the only way you pick up the phone and call the cops is if you believe the person on the other end of the line is going to do something to help you. And if your entire life that person hasn't done that, then you're not going to pick up the phone and call them.
And you know what happens to victimization if it's not dealt with? It turns into trauma. And what happens when it turns into trauma? It crystallizes because the human beings protect themselves. Like, we're survivors. And so it crystallizes. And then what happens? It sometimes turns into offending behavior. It says hurt people, hurt people.
And yet, with young men of color, we don't help them here. But we sure are willing to spend $200,000 per bed per year here. So why do we invest in formerly incarcerated people? I'll tell a story, and then I'll stop because I want to take questions from the audience. There's a guy who works for me now. His name is Ronald Simpson-Bey. He was one of the leaders in our first leadership training.
His story is fascinating. And the only reason I'm willing to tell it is because he tells it so often. I usually am very thoughtful about not telling other people's stories. I think people own their own stories. But he knows that I use his story. And he's given me the OK to tell the story. And so here's the story.
He gets-- he gets convicted of attempted murder on a police officer. And he can't read or write. So he can't really fight his case although he maintains his innocence the entire time. But he gets sentenced to 50 years. And he goes to prison. And he learns how to read. And he learns how to write. And he learns the law. And he fights his case over and over and exhausts all of his appeals over and over and over and over and over until finally, 24 years, the federal court says, you know what? You were right. That that prosecutor in that case broke the rules, conjured up his idea of what happened in the street that night, and then sat and coached witnesses on how to tell stories that wrapped around his theory.
And you're right. And we're going to throw out your case. But wait, we're not going to let you go yet. We're going to keep you for another three years. And we're going to wait and see if that prosecutor's office wants to reindict you. Talk about insult to injury. But that's not the end of the story.
While he's in prison, about halfway through, his 19-year-old son gets shot and murdered by a 14-year-old. And Ronald becomes the biggest advocate for that 14-year-old not to go to adult prison. And what do you think the prosecutor in that case does? He says, you're not a victim. You're an offender. Your opinion doesn't weigh on how I treat this person, this killer.
And Ronald says, whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm the father of the child that was murdered. I'm the victim here. And he decides to go to the media and make that case, that he is the victim. And he eventually gets this prosecutor to capitulate and to treat this young person as a young person, which means he's facing less time, which means that he goes into a system that has some level of rehabilitation, definitely more than the adult system.
But for Ronald, it meant that the human gristmill that he's been in for over 17 years at that point wouldn't chew through this person also. Imagine what kind of compassion that took. We started with the story of Arthur, but whoa. Like, Ronald's story-- I had Ronald on a panel recently with a prosecutor from Milwaukee. We we're doing this fireside chat on stage-- the three of us. And I was moderating. And it was an audience like this, auditorium style.
And at the end of the talk, I said, Ronald, have you ever had a chance to talk to the police officer who almost got killed that night? And he said, yes. And he told the audience that story. And I said, have you ever had a chance to talk to the prosecutor that convicted you because, obviously, he never paid a price for that?
And he said, no. But here's what that conversation would sound like. And then I said, have you ever talked to the kid who murdered your child? And he said, oh, I talk to him all the time. The murderer of my child is the uncle of my grandchild. And the audience was extremely silent like this. And some people gasped. And yet, why would we be surprised?
Because crime-- people don't get on airplanes or buses or trains to go commit crimes. They commit them in their neighborhood in their yard, in their building, on their floor, in their building, in their household against themselves. Crime is extremely local and up close, intimate, concentrated.
So what does that mean? It means that communities that are high crime and high incarceration also high in victimization. But we don't think of them that way. And we allow those communities to be high in victimization. And we don't invest resources to respond to that. We invest our resources on the back end to punish people.
So why do I invest in people? Why do I invest in people like Ronald? Because Ronald's story confuses everything we know about the criminal justice system. Our system operates now because we believe in it but also because it gives us language-- prisoner, offender, convict, inmate-- to dehumanize the people in the system, to other them.
And it also is so large now, it's such a machine that we define people in the beginning. And we put them on a conveyor belt. And we send them on their way. And that's where Ronald went-- violent offender, black man, on his way. And yet, when you hear the nuance of this story, you're like, wait a minute. That's just not right. And it's only one story. But I believe there's 70 million of them.
And we have not created the space to hear those stories, to listen to them, and to believe in people. And thank god that correction counselor at Wyoming Correctional Facility had the compassion to say to me, you know what, Glenn? You should go to college. That person in that moment planted a seed that grew into something that he may never enjoy, that he may never understand, never see, right? Planting a seed, tree grows. You don't enjoy the shade of it.
And so how does that all relate to this conversation tonight? Is mass incarceration insurmountable? Is it so scary that you as an individual, there's nothing you can do about it? Did that correction counselor believe that himself? I wouldn't recognize him if he was in a room today. Would he believe that himself? I don't think so.
And so as you walk out of this space, you've heard a story about who we are, how we got here, how we chew through human beings, the fact that those people are human beings, that they're not that much different than you, that if you slow down long enough to listen, you'll realize that, and that of the 70 million of them, guess what? It's not some small group of people.
We don't send bad people who do bad things to prison because then where do we send good people who do bad things? That doesn't make sense to me. I met some of the most amazing people in prison. I met some of America's best and brightest while I was in prison. That's why I invest in people. So I want you to take away that, that everyone has a chance to turn around and change their lives, not just young people, not just nonviolent drug offenders, not just people who need mental health treatment. Everyone. I've seen all types of human beings turn their lives around but only if people in position of privilege create a space for that to happen, are willing to invest in people.
And probably, most importantly, if you look at movements in this country and elsewhere, that when you have privilege to not just recognize your privilege and say, oh, yeah. I'm so privileged, let me step away from that, but to recognize your privilege and to own it and to wield it in the name of justice and to stand alongside people that have less privilege, to help get rid of a system that is so oppressive that is so racist, that is so classist, that is so homophobic, that is so xenophobic.
So when you look for the solution after you walk out of here today, you're going to see that solution tomorrow morning when you brush your teeth in the bathroom mirror. Thanks for the opportunity.
JOHN ECKENRODE: Do you want to moderate questions?
GLENN MARTIN: Is someone going to moderate-- take questions? [INAUDIBLE] someone else grabs the questions.
JOHN ECKENRODE: Hmm?
GLENN MARTIN: I'd prefer if someone else grabs the questions. I'll answer them, obviously.
JOHN ECKENRODE: Wow, that was great. I'm going to just act as a little bit of a referee on questions. I know there's lot of people who have to leave. They have other obligations. So feel free. For those who want to hang around for a few minutes and ask questions, I'm sure Glenn would be happy to do that. Do we have a mic somewhere?
SPEAKER: It's right here.
JOHN ECKENRODE: Oh. The mic's over there. Does it move? Or it has to stay right there?
GLENN MARTIN: It's wireless.
JOHN ECKENRODE: Or just put it up-- Alex, you just, like, put it up in the middle here somewhere. So if you have a question, can you come down because we'd like to hear the question and record your questions. So please line up-- line up behind the mic if you have a question.
AUDIENCE: Hi. I'm Barbara Harrison. I work to obtain health care equitably for everyone through a single-payer system. My question as I look about-- oh, look on the United States, we are founded on-- to me-- two principles-- Three-Fifths Compromise and Manifest Destiny. So what we are looking at now in some ways relates very much to the beginning of how this country was founded.
So first of all, the other part is that the federal government in the '30s, the policy of the housing and tearing down housing and discouraging integrated housing and ending up formulating ghettos and so on, what do we do because we do not invest in children when they're in the belly. And to me, this is the combination of not beginning giving people a chance to begin with. Our way of funding education based on the property tax creates disparities in rural, poor white areas as well as inner-city black areas and areas of color.
This is to me where you have to start. You can't come at the end like affirmative action and think you're going to make a change. It's got to have a different approach. And our mindset in this country it's all about who I am-- the phony individualism and the lack of knowing how to work in community. We are not a community-oriented society at all. So any input, I'd appreciate.
GLENN MARTIN: So I'll just give a-- I'll give a brief response. What's been pretty fascinating to me about working to end mass incarceration is we've gotten to the point now where people are saying, well, then, what's next? Right? How do we deal with moving people from the criminal justice system elsewhere whereas the last 4 and 1/2 decades we've decided that this is where these folks belong?
And there's been an emerging public health conversation. And what fascinates me about the public health conversation is we have a criminal justice system where the data and the research matter little to folks. Policymaking comes from here-- comes from the gut, comes from fear, comes from emotion. And it's very individualized. It's like, you did something wrong. You deserve the punishment.
And public health is quite the opposite. Public health is like your outcomes affect the rest of the community. And it's very community-focused. And yet at the same time, I think the barriers to moving in that direction has a lot to do with the siloing that we've done in this country of health care and education and criminal justice and so on. Although I think the punitiveness that exists in our criminal justice system has crept into all of our other policymaking.
But I do remain hopeful. As I find myself in a room more and more with people who are in the public health space and really hear how those folks think about mass incarceration as social health determinant and like being on a place like Rikers Island as a health determinant, I'm hopeful that that will help shift the conversation and give people who should be in treatment out of the system.
And yet at the same time, movements are interesting. Like, when you read about movements, it seems like they're very linear. And they made this decision. They did this march. They did this. They did that. And then, boom. Things change. And the truth is if you talk to people who are in the middle of movements-- civil rights movement-- they would tell you that it felt very messy when they're in the middle of it. And they weren't sure they knew all the answers. And they weren't sure they knew who the most important stakeholders were and so on.
And I try to embrace that now. I think we're at this place where so many people are talking about it it's hard to tell what to do next. And I think that's OK. I think it's OK. I think the discussion itself, the momentum that's being built, we should feel comfortable being in that space for a while, knowing that one day, if we keep that conversation alive and we engage in action, that we're going to look back and realize that that was just an integral part of getting there. Hey, you.
JOHN ECKENRODE: Please.
AUDIENCE: Hello, again. I want to thank you. This was just amazing as meeting with you this afternoon was. Thank you so much, and thank you for coming to our community. And thank you for sitting with some of the formerly incarcerated. My question is this. I as one is watching this real-- and I know it's not new, but this real interest in mass incarceration. I sat in a room last week with over 400 people to read the new Jim Crow, right? And so there's really excitement and real-- real interest about it.
And so I see this real great thing. And I'm happy about movements. And I know movements work together. However, I left there, a room full of 400 people. We had a formerly incarcerated person sitting on the panel who said he was homeless. And when we got back to our office, I thought we were going to have a just over-pouring of how can we help this homeless, formerly incarcerated young man who is working really hard in the community about formerly incarcerated, you know.
So my concern in my heart is like, you know, I don't want this to be the in-thing, this whole-- Michelle Alexander wrote a book. A lot of other people are capitalizing and writing more books. So what I want to say is, how do we keep people to get there-- like you said they walk out the room and you have to look at the person in the mirror. How do we get people-- those 400 people that left there--
GLENN MARTIN: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: --forgot there was a homeless man sitting on the panel.
GLENN MARTIN: Yep. What's your name, and what organization do you represent?
AUDIENCE: Oh, I'm Phoebe Brown. They know me.
GLENN MARTIN: [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: No. I'm Phoebe Brown. And I work with the Ultimate Reentry Opportunity. Our mentors are here. And we've been doing some on the ground work and getting a lot of pushback too.
GLENN MARTIN: No. I heard that today. And I wanted you to have a chance to let this audience know who you are in case there's anyone here who doesn't know you. Here's my thought about that. I was on the phone with Michelle all morning actually. Michelle's on my board, and there's some stuff that she's been doing to support us.
In my experience, whenever I speak in front of a room like this-- how many people were in this room? 250?
JOHN ECKENRODE: 250 to 300.
GLENN MARTIN: 250. About 10 people usually follow up with me. And I just speaking like this three times a week all over the country. It's just-- my membership, I have thousands of people in my membership. About 3% are actionable. That's the stat. Most people listen. They get motivated. And then they do little. And it's sad. But it's the truth. And so at the same time I think of Margaret Mead who said, never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. It's the only thing that ever has.
And so I have seen how a small group of people who are really motivated can change the world. I would like to hope that people go out and they become members, that they reach out to your organization, that they venture more than a mile beyond this institution.
There's a number of things that people can do. Am I hopeful of that? Not necessarily. But trust me, if you can find the 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 people who are sitting in this audience tonight who are really motivated to support you, that just makes it all worth it.
You know, the people writing books, the people doing television shows, all that sort of stuff, it's hard to swallow as a social justice person to see that we've gotten to a point where there's actually a market for discussions about people in the system. But it's the country we live in. It's the country where a person can emerge and get this close to the presidency and be a reality show host.
And unfortunately, social justice movements today look a lot different than they looked just 30, 40 years ago. And I actually believe that getting people to watch things like Orange is the New Black where 10 years ago, I would've said, no way, that just reinforces stereotypes. Actually, I have evolved as a leader. And I realize that if that is the way to get Americans to humanize people in the system and to say maybe they're not animals, then we need to take what we can get. Because for me, the liberation of people in the system is what's most important. It's not what Glenn feels. Like I get past that.
You know, I might go to sleep with it. I never wake up with it. So I'd urge you to recognize that you're doing amazing work. And whenever you're on the mic, let people know who you are and invite them in. And let that other stuff be white noise. Yep.
AUDIENCE: It's a pleasure to meet you.
GLENN MARTIN: Likewise.
AUDIENCE: I was just in Seattle with the American Society for Public Administration. And I just did want to mention to you and the audience that it does have a criminal justice section too. So like [INAUDIBLE] whose Criminal Justice Review, the kinds of issues that they're getting right now are things like these school shootings that are going on, death penalty related to people with intellectual disabilities, the traffic and the surcharges are all coming in at this point into those journals and going through proofs professional peer review process. Those are government service kinds of organizations and universities. They're involved in that area.
I also when there to working at a public administration disability because of mental health. Terrorism, the state hospitals they actually used be called institutions. So we truly have a large number of people still in involuntary care. And it's coming in right now from Britain, Wales. And expect more in this country that there's been a great increase in outpatient commitment and community.
GLENN MARTIN: Can I push you to--
AUDIENCE: OK. Well, thank you. But thank you so much.
GLENN MARTIN: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: And we appreciate all your work.
GLENN MARTIN: I appreciate that.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much.
AUDIENCE: So my name is Ben. I'm a student here at Cornell. This past summer, I interned with the Brooklyn Defender Services. And the big initiative that they had was getting 18 to 21-year-olds not go into solitary confinement at Rikers. However, the New York State or New York City government prolonged that process along. So I was wondering how you deal with government stalling and also if you think there'll be a rise in things like the Red Hook Community Justice Center across the nation and in New York.
GLENN MARTIN: That's a great question. I didn't get a lot of opportunity to talk about Rikers Island and our ambition to close Rikers Island. And even the march we had this weekend, me on the bullhorn was actually just this weekend. We had 1,000 people show up at the bridge to Rikers, including Russell Simmons and the city controller and a few council members and a few other elected officials.
But more importantly 1,000 community members-- people who are Muslim people, who are from the LGBTQ community, white New Yorkers, progressive New Yorkers. It was just amazing. And this all started for me, not just 16 years ago when I got stabbed on Rikers, but just two years ago when our mayor, our progressive, national mayor became mayor, I was invited to his inauguration. And when I got online to take a picture like everyone else, when I got to him, I said, you know, Mr. Mayor, with all due respect, I'm not here to take a picture. I'm here to tell you you should close Rikers.
And it was-- to me that was where the campaign started. And then the mayor sort of pooh-poohed it. And I went off. And I raised the money. And we launched a campaign. And now the mayor has to pay attention. In fact, the mayor actually is sending a message. Not only did he agree to get the 16 or 17-year-olds off the island and invest $170 million to do it, but it's clear that the mayor is starting to feel the pressure of a grassroots movement to close Rikers-- something that people just thought could not be done. I mean, when I would say that out loud, my own colleagues would come to me and say, you sound ridiculous. That is just never going to happen. I don't listen to that. I actually know it's going to happen. I know we're going to close Rikers Island.
So in response to a question about government, people who work in government work for me. That's it. I don't have anything else to add to that. People who work in government-- people who work in government work for me. I'm always thinking about power. All day, I'm thinking about power-- how to build power. I can't organize money, so I organize people. It's what I do. I organize people. I hired some of the most amazing organizers. And they go out. And they meet people's needs. And they build relationships. And they build power.
And one thing I know about elected officials is even if they agree with you, if it is not-- if there's a political price to pay, really, are they willing to exercise courage and do something? Some are. Most are not. Our mayor in New York City is not. And yet at the same time, you can motivate people to behave differently by building power. So right now his calculation is that there's not enough New Yorkers who care about people on Rikers.
But I got 10,000 votes over here with the Correction Union. I'm going to hold onto that. We're building power over here. We're soon-- we're going to drown out that power. We're going actually build so much power here. I already have 1,000 people six months into the campaign. I guarantee you we'll have 10,000 people a year into the campaign. And that's when the mayor is going to make a different calculation because he has to run for mayor again in 2017.
So I've worked with government for a long time. I understand what their limitations are. I don't demonize people necessarily. I try to push on their policies. I try not to do like personal attacks. In this case, the mayor is the person that needs to say, close Rikers. So it's very clear. I'm not attacking him. I'm just making it clear that he is the target of the campaign.
So for me, it's all about how do you create the environment that allows elected officials to behave differently, whether that's through pressure or support? In some cases, it's support. As for young people on Rikers in solitary, let me tell you a story about that. So our mayor stands up and says, we went from thousands of young people in solitary to about 160.
So I'm one this commission that was created by the city council speaker in New York City through the pressure that we applied. And she said, you know what? Maybe we should close Rikers. I'm going to create an independent commission to take a look at it, whether we should close it, which I thought was brilliant. It sort of removes the politics from it and allows this independent body to take a look.
And so there's people like the chief judge-- former chief judge of New York State who chairs it. There's the head of Forest City Ratner, a real estate development group. There's all these people on it. I'm on it. I'm one of the 25 commissioners. And so I get to visit Rikers. Whenever I'm ready, I go to Rikers. They hate it. But I go to Rikers.
And I went to Rikers recently. And I went to this place called West facility. And so they call it general population. These are cells that was built when there was a TB scare in New York. And these cells operate as cells. So people might have TB where this-- there's a cell. And then there's another space with another cell attached. And the idea is that when you end up here, it sucks the air out of the space and reduces the chance that the disease spreads.
And we're not using it for that. We actually never used it for that. But now we're using it to house people. And we don't-- we keep people in the 22 hours a day. And then when they get out, they go into another one of those cells that has a television. And we call that the day room.
And so when the mayor says we've reduce solitary confinement, he doesn't count the people in those cells. And when I went to visit it, I talked to all the people in the cells. And there was one guy. And he clearly had a mental health issue. And the first thing he said to me is, I haven't gotten my medication all day. And I'm telling the guard, like, why doesn't this guy have his medication? Can we get him the medication? He's like, we'll get it on the next round. He'll get his medication.
So the guy says to me-- he's begging. He's banging on the window. And he says, if I don't get my medication, I'm going to light myself on fire. And the correctional officers next to me, says then, and who's that really going to hurt but you? And he pulls up his sleeve. And he has about 100 cuts on his sleeve that we-- on his arm that were clearly self-inflicted. And he said, do I look like I give an F about hurting myself?
And we walk away from the cell. And as we're leaving the building, the fire alarms go off. And you look back. And you see the smoke coming out of this cell. Clearly, he lit his cell on fire. He didn't light himself on fire. But he lit the cell on fire. And that's what our mayor in New York-- our progressive mayor-- is willing to sort of describe as general population, is not willing to put on the numbers of solitary. Everything about that is not just solitary confinement. But it is torture. It is torture. Rikers is a torture island in New York City.
And yet as I said, every jail is Rikers, and Rikers is every jail. There's some things that are unique about Rikers. It's built next to an airport. So you can't build upwards. It's built flat and long, the antithesis of how you build a safe jail, where you actually want the cells to go this way. It is an island. So there's one way on, one way off. So you need about 40 correction officers just to man the bridge.
It is an island, so you have boats patrolling the perimeter. It is an island, so you have an electrical plant that has correctional officers manning the plant. It's an island, so you have a bakery. It's an island, so you have a laundry. It's an island, so you have a huge food facility.
So there are all these things that about it that are unique to the fact that it's an island. And those costs go away if you take everything off the island and put people in smaller facilities in the borough after reducing the population by half. Like, we won't accept anything short of reducing the population by half.
So in the beginning, it's the mayor at his inauguration telling me, yeah, OK. You want to close Rikers. Have fun with that. But I guarantee you that ultimately, it'll be the mayor asking us to sit at the table with him and help him deal with the community issues that are going to come when he finally announces that he's going to close Rikers. So government, important. They work for me.
JOHN ECKENRODE: If there's one more question, we could take one more. And then there is a reception out in the lobby. You're welcome to stay around, talk to your friends and colleagues. I'm sure there's a few people who would like to buttonhole with Glenn on the way out. So we can certainly allow that to happen. So if there's one more public question, I'll take that. And then we'll break. Thanks.
GLENN MARTIN: Hi.
AUDIENCE: I'm a freshman here at Cornell. I guess, oh, sorry. Hi. Yeah. I don't know [INAUDIBLE]. So I was wondering, you talked a little bit about using your privilege to-- to raise up the voices of the people who are in this struggle. How would you suggest that young people with privilege, specifically students, can help with that?
GLENN MARTIN: That's a good question. How can students-- students who have privilege-- and, you know, when I say "privilege," obviously, you know, for most people, the person that comes to mind is white Americans and the tremendous amount of privilege they have. But I think anyone who's sitting in this room has privilege. Period. Even if you're a person of color, if you're in this institution, you have way more privilege than most of the people of color in this country.
So I talked to students today who actually go into prisons and teach. I think that's important work. I think the fact that they bring back stories of the people that they've met is equally important. I think that if you say the same thing out of your mouth that I say out of mine, it's heard differently. It's heard by a different audience. And sometimes it's taken more seriously.
And I think that it's important that you know that and own that and know that that's who we are as a country. And so if you've heard something that I've said here tonight that really resonates with you, you should repeat that to people who might not be where you are on this issue. You should-- you should plant seeds. I really believe in planting seeds. I believe in telling stories that humanize people in prison, even if the person who hears the story is like, that's b.s.
One thing I know is when you tell something to someone, they take it in. And it's just sort of there. And it becomes part of who they are. And if right away it doesn't resonate with them, there are other moments in life where the brain is so fascinating that it'll tie it back to that story. And it will be like, oh, wow.
I tell you story of my brother. So my brother is a correction officer. You can imagine what Thanksgiving is like in my house, right? And when I got out of prison, this guy who I love, who I grew up with, he's a year older than me. He was like my father. My father wasn't there. When I got out of prison after all those years, now he's been in the military. He's fought tours of duty. He just became like GI Joe, like so far from the guy I knew who grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn poor.
And when I got out, he said, you know, I can't believe we grew up in the same household and you ended up like that and I ended up like this. And that was just so painful to hear, that he had gone so far down this road of, like, law enforcement and patriotism and everything else that he forgot how easily it would have been for him to have ended up where I ended up.
And years went by. And about eight years later, he came back from a tour of duty. And he got into an argument with his wife. And he slapped her. And he got arrested. His whole life has been law enforcement, military. You get arrested, that's all over. Can't carry a weapon. It's all over.
And he called me. And he told me what was going on. And he knew by at that point, I knew-- I mean, I have, like, 20,000 contacts in my list, a lot of people in law enforcement. And I called folks in San Diego where he is and found out there was a veterans' court and that there's a chance for him to go to a veterans' court program and not end up with a conviction and, therefore, be able to keep his weapon and not have the stigma of a conviction.
And I tell you, that was such a moment where I wanted say, you know what? I can't believe we grew up in the same household--
Anyway, I wanted to share their story with you. I think it's not-- like, don't get caught up in the rocket science. Don't get caught up in I need to stand on the steps of City Hall. Don't get caught up in I need to be able to visit the president. Like, the stuff that movements are made of is people like you reading Michelle Alexander's book, talking to someone formerly incarcerated, hearing a story, and then turning around and sharing that with someone else, and telling it as your story now.
It's now your story. You heard me talk. Something about what I said might have resonated with you. But now it's your story. And now you can find someone else who is nowhere near where you are on this issue and tell your story to motivate them to think differently. And we don't do enough of that. I think we're doing more of it. But to me, that's the charge I would give you. Yeah.
JOHN ECKENRODE: Thank you so much, Glenn.
That was great.
GLENN MARTIN: Yes, of course. Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Yes.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
Is mass incarceration an "insurmountable problem"? Glenn E. Martin, founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA, will address this question in the 2016 Iscol Lecture on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Martin is at the forefront of the effort to bring the voices of those directly impacted by mass incarceration into the criminal justice reform conversation. Hear about his goals to cut the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030, his organization's campaign to close the Rikers Island Correctional Center, and how you can work on criminal justice reform next summer.