From August through November, ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice field organizers Tiheba Williams-Bain and Anderson Curtis will be educating and mobilizing Connecticut residents to end mass incarceration and racial disparities in Connecticut’s justice system.

In the second of a two-part series of interviews, Anderson and Tiheba speak with ACLU of Connecticut communications director Meghan Holden and criminal justice organizer Sandy Lomonico to answer one question: why is it important to end mass incarceration and dismantle racial injustice in Connecticut's criminal justice system?

Tiheba Williams-Bain: Families. Society. Economics. When you have less people in prison, you have better job and employment opportunities in communities. You have better family structure. Dismantling incarceration in the criminal justice system will help give the Black and brown people of America a chance in society.

The media, politicians, and government focus on the negatives of formerly incarcerated people. They don't talk about the thousands of formerly incarcerated people that are successful. They forget Judge Mathis, who is on TV, who is an actual judge, is formerly incarcerated.

[State] Senator [Ed] Gomes, State of Connecticut, is formerly incarcerated, but you lose us in the sea of what they perpetuate in the media. We're not criminals, we're people who made wrong choices in life. We're people who made a choice to survive, but it doesn't mean that we can't do better. When you know better you do better. We just have to be given a chance.

People need to look at the front end of why crimes are committed. You're not born a criminal. Socio-economic strain, disparities, and disenfranchisement within urban communities are variables of the constant. There is a glass ceiling in the Black and brown communities that says, “you can only go this far,” yet we see everybody else reaching to higher heights.

Dismantling the criminal justice system and decarcerating the nation is vital to the lives of Black and brown people. [Bridgeport Mayor] Joe Ganim, he's formerly incarcerated, but he doesn't go through what we go through. A Black or brown person has it much harder because we're not given that second chance as quickly or as often. Not even a first chance.

Formerly incarcerated people have a stigma that says less than, and that's not true. I know because I am a beautiful person that has committed a crime, who has paid her dues, and is cognizant and intentional in my decision-making process every day. Not just for me but for everyone else that's connected to me. Because as Anderson said earlier, it's not about me. It's about my family and the people coming up behind me, and people coming up behind them, and it's also about preventive measures to keep people from going inside the criminal justice system.

Anderson Curtis: Ending mass incarceration is important to me because of one word: family. Without my family I would have never went past go. My family gave me a safe, nontoxic place to live after I got out of prison. My family gave me the love and support I needed to get through college and to continue to go through my reentry process even to this day. My family, as far as my grandchildren, they motivate me to be a better man and to make them aware of the realities of society, so maybe they don't have to go through some of the things I went through.

It was very difficult to be helping men on parole, but not be able to have a conversation with my nephew who's in the juvenile facility in Virginia. This is what this work has helped me to do. Find that voice.

In recovery, they say: “some work is going to get done.” Either the disease is going to work on you, or you're going to work on your recovery.

This criminal justice system, some work is going to get done. Either the system is going to work on my family, probably against them, or I’m going to work on it. The criminal justice system is not going to blow by Sandy and Anderson and Tiheba because we’re connected to the ACLU. The system can still grind us up, too. I think that's that empowering knowledge, voice, access to the space, role model, whatever you may want to call it, that will give other people that needed oomph to stand up and be heard.

It’s so important that we're going to be strategically educating politicians and the people who surround them, because they have no idea of this life. They have no window into this life, and I think that window is very important.

I challenge everybody to be an advocate. You don't have to wait for us. You can be an advocate in your everyday life, at the grocery store, at the cleaners, at the gas station. You talk to people in your community when you go to the library. You can tell them why this matters to you and why it's important. That's what real grassroots is. That's what real strength is, and unity. 

[Editor's note: You can be an advocate for Smart Justice. Stand with Anderson and Tiheba by signing the petition for Smart Justice in Connecticut.]

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