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What prosecutors and incarcerated people can learn from each other

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    When I look in the mirror today,
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    I see a justice and education scholar
    at Columbia University,
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    a youth mentor, an activist
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    and a future New York state senator.
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    (Cheering)
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    I see all of that
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    and a man who spent
    a quarter of his life in state prison --
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    six years, to be exact,
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    starting as a teenager on Rikers Island
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    for an act that nearly cost
    a man his life.
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    But what got me from there to here
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    wasn't the punishment I faced
    as a teenager in adult prison
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    or the harshness of our legal system.
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    Instead, it was a learning
    environment of a classroom
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    that introduced me to something
    I didn't think was possible for me
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    or our justice system as a whole.
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    A few weeks before my release on parole,
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    a counselor encouraged me to enroll
    in a new college course
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    being offered in the prison.
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    It was called Inside Criminal Justice.
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    That seems pretty
    straightforward, though, right?
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    Well, it turns out,
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    the class would be made up
    of eight incarcerated men
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    and eight assistant district attorneys.
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    Columbia University psychology
    professor Geraldine Downey
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    and Manhattan Assistant DA Lucy Lang
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    co-taught the course,
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    and it was the first of its kind.
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    I can honestly say
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    this wasn't how I imagined
    starting college.
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    My mind was blown from day one.
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    I assumed all the prosecutors
    in the room would be white.
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    But I remember walking into the room
    on the first day of class
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    and seeing three black prosecutors
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    and thinking to myself,
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    "Wow, being a black prosecutor --
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    that's a thing!"
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    (Laughter)
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    By the end of the first session,
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    I was all in.
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    In fact, a few weeks after my release,
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    I found myself doing something
    I prayed I wouldn't.
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    I walked right back into prison.
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    But thankfully, this time
    it was just as a student,
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    to join my fellow classmates.
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    And this time,
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    I got to go home when class was over.
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    In the next session, we talked
    about what had brought each of us
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    to this point of our lives
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    and into the classroom together.
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    I eventually got comfortable enough
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    to reveal my truth to everyone in the room
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    about where I came from.
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    I talked about how my sisters and I
    watched our mother suffer years of abuse
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    at the hands of our stepfather,
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    escaping, only to find ourselves
    living in a shelter.
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    I talked about how I swore
    an oath to my family
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    to keep them safe.
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    I even explained how I didn't feel
    like a teenager at 13,
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    but more like a soldier on a mission.
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    And like any soldier,
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    this meant carrying an emotional
    burden on my shoulders,
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    and I hate to say it,
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    but a gun on my waist.
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    And just a few days
    after my 17th birthday,
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    that mission completely failed.
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    As my sister and I were walking
    to the laundromat,
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    a crowd stopped in front of us.
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    Two girls out of nowhere
    attacked my sister.
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    Still confused about what was happening,
    I tried to pull one girl away,
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    and just as I did, I felt something
    brush across my face.
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    With my adrenaline rushing,
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    I didn't realize a man
    had leaped out of the crowd and cut me.
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    As I felt warm blood ooze down my face,
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    and watching him raise
    his knife toward me again,
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    I turned to defend myself
    and pulled that gun from my waistband
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    and squeezed the trigger.
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    Thankfully, he didn't lose
    his life that day.
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    My hands shaking and heart racing,
    I was paralyzed in fear.
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    From that moment,
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    I felt regret that would never leave me.
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    I learned later on they attacked my sister
    in a case of mistaken identity,
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    thinking she was someone else.
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    It was terrifying,
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    but clear that I wasn't trained,
    nor was I qualified,
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    to be the soldier
    that I thought I needed to be.
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    But in my neighborhood,
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    I only felt safe carrying a weapon.
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    Now, back in the classroom,
    after hearing my story,
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    the prosecutors could tell
    I never wanted to hurt anyone.
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    I just wanted us to make it home.
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    I could literally see the gradual change
    in each of their faces
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    as they heard story after story
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    from the other incarcerated
    men in the room.
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    Stories that have trapped many of us
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    within the vicious cycle of incarceration,
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    that most haven't been able
    to break free of.
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    And sure -- there are people
    who commit terrible crimes.
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    But the stories
    of these individuals' lives
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    before they commit those acts
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    were the kinds of stories
    these prosecutors had never heard.
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    And when it was their turn
    to speak -- the prosecutors --
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    I was surprised, too.
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    They weren't emotionless
    drones or robocops,
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    preprogrammed to send people to prison.
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    They were sons and daughters,
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    brothers and sisters.
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    But most of all, they were good students.
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    They were ambitious and motivated.
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    And they believed that they could use
    the power of law to protect people.
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    They were on a mission
    that I could definitely understand.
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    Midway through the course,
    Nick, a fellow incarcerated student,
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    poured out his concern
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    that the prosecutors were tiptoeing
    around the racial bias and discrimination
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    within our criminal justice system.
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    Now, if you've ever been to prison,
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    you would know it's impossible
    to talk about justice reform
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    without talking about race.
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    So we silently cheered for Nick
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    and were eager to hear
    the prosecutors' response.
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    And no, I don't remember who spoke first,
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    but when Chauncey Parker,
    a senior prosecutor, agreed with Nick
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    and said he was committed to ending
    the mass incarceration of people of color,
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    I believed him.
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    And I knew we were headed
    in the right direction.
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    We now started to move as a team.
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    We started exploring new possibilities
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    and uncovering truths
    about our justice system
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    and how real change
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    happens for us.
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    For me, it wasn't the mandatory
    programs inside of the prison.
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    Instead, it was listening
    to the advice of elders --
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    men who have been sentenced to spend
    the rest of their lives in prison.
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    These men helped me reframe
    my mindset around manhood.
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    And they instilled in me
    all of their aspirations and goals,
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    in the hopes that I would never
    return to prison,
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    and that I would serve
    as their ambassador to the free world.
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    As I talked, I could see the lights
    turning on for one prosecutor,
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    who said something I thought was obvious:
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    that I had transformed
    despite my incarceration
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    and not because of it.
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    It was clear these prosecutors
    hadn't thought much about
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    what happens to us
    after they win a conviction.
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    But through the simple process
    of sitting in a classroom,
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    these lawyers started to see
    that keeping us locked up
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    didn't benefit our community
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    or us.
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    Toward the end of the course,
    the prosecutors were excited,
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    as we talked about our plans
    for life after being released.
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    But they hadn't realized
    how rough it was actually going to be.
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    I can literally still see the shock
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    on one of the junior
    ADA's face when it hit her:
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    the temporary ID given to us
    with our freedom
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    displayed that we were
    just released from prison.
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    She hadn't imagined how many barriers
    this would create for us
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    as we reenter society.
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    But I could also see her genuine empathy
    for the choice we had to make
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    between coming home to a bed in a shelter
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    or a couch in a relative's
    overcrowded apartment.
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    What we learned in the class
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    worked its way into concrete
    policy recommendations.
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    We presented our proposals
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    to the state Department
    of Corrections commissioner
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    and to the Manhattan DA,
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    at our graduation in a packed
    Columbia auditorium.
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    As a team,
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    I couldn't have imagined
    a more memorable way
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    to conclude our eight weeks together.
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    And just 10 months
    after coming home from prison,
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    I again found myself in a strange room,
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    invited by the commissioner of NYPD
    to share my perspective
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    at a policing summit.
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    And while speaking,
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    I recognized a familiar face
    in the audience.
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    It was the attorney
    who prosecuted my case.
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    Seeing him,
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    I thought about our days in the courtroom
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    seven years earlier,
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    as I listened to him recommend
    a long prison sentence,
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    as if my young life was meaningless
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    and had no potential.
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    But this time,
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    the circumstances were different.
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    I shook off my thoughts
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    and walked over to shake his hand.
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    He looked happy to see me.
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    Surprised, but happy.
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    He acknowledged how proud he was
    about being in that room with me,
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    and we began a conversation
    about working together
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    to improve the conditions
    of our community.
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    And so today,
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    I carry all of these experiences with me,
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    as I develop the Justice Ambassadors
    Youth Council at Columbia University,
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    bringing young New Yorkers -- some
    who have already spent time locked up
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    and others who are still
    enrolled in high school --
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    together with city officials.
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    And in this classroom,
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    everyone will brainstorm ideas
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    about improving the lives
    of our city's most vulnerable youth
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    before they get tried
    within the criminal justice system.
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    This is possible if we do the work.
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    Our society and justice system
    has convinced us
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    that we can lock up our problems
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    and punish our way
    out of social challenges.
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    But that's not real.
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    Imagine with me for a second
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    a future where no one can become
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    a prosecutor,
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    a judge,
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    a cop
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    or even a parole officer
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    without first sitting in a classroom
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    to learn from and connect with
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    the very people whose lives
    will be in their hands.
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    I'm doing my part to promote
    the power of conversations
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    and the need for collaborations.
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    It is through education
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    that we will arrive at a truth
    that is inclusive and unites us all
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    in the pursuit of justice.
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    For me, it was a brand-new conversation
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    and a new kind of classroom
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    that showed me how both my mindset
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    and our criminal justice system
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    could be transformed.
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    They say the truth shall set you free.
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    But I believe
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    it's education
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    and communication.
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    Thank you.
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    (Applause)
タイトル:
What prosecutors and incarcerated people can learn from each other
話者:
Jarrell Daniels
概説:

A few weeks before his release from prison, Jarrell Daniels took a class where incarcerated men learned alongside prosecutors. By simply sitting together and talking, they uncovered surprising truths about the criminal justice system and ideas for how real change happens. Now a scholar and activist, Daniels reflects on how collaborative education could transform the justice system and unlock solutions to social problems.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
プロジェクト:
TEDTalks
Duration:
12:04

English subtitles

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