So I’m on the bus headed into work last Tuesday, sitting beside a young man in the pair of seats over the left rear wheel. He seems to be no older than some of the clients I work with, 17-21. He leans over and pulls me from my book to ask for directions to the Essex County courthouse. I oblige. He seems to be respectful, talking in a calm, almost sympathetic inducing tone. He is dressed in all back – a baseball cap, hoodie, sneakers and sweat pants and red sneakers. He’s got his hair in twists. He was asking me for a hard dollar to exchange four quarters. We chuckled about the fact he had a small black bag full of quarters to carry around.
As he got off the bus, there was an incredible wave of sadness that came over me. On the train ride into New York, I couldn’t help but thinking: how was he involved in the justice system? Was he a defendant, facing a summons or worse, a crime? Was he a witness to an event? Was he merely going there to support someone he knew?
No matter the situation, I think the sadness just reminded me of the fact that there are too many brothers involved in the justice system. “Blacks” compromise of roughly 15% of the total US population, but compromise 4 times that in the prison system. I often make the remark to friends that I won’t do anything that gets me free room and board from either the states of New Jersey or New York and they laugh…yet I say so with a great level of seriousness.
My goal here isn’t to flog a dead horse. The problem is multilayered, but thankfully there are many advocates, like my good friend Dr. Denise Graham who have been fighting to improve the lives of our brothers and the families impacted by the justice system. It was also refreshing to see an ad on the MTA subway yesterday about tax credits for companies who successfully hire rehabilitated individuals in NY state. I do what I can in my own way, working with young men who come in my office and try to empower them and be another face of one who looks like them that is doing something positive.
Still, it doesn’t change the level of sadness I felt as I watched the young man get off the bus and jog across the street. You can only hope for the best but also be prepared to see the worst. It isn’t about judging a book by its cover, but about working to make sure that there are less brothers in courts.