By Sara Lynch and Korin Okamura
“[Our] most untapped potential is in the people who we discard. Some of the most impactful, intelligent people I’ve met are behind bars,” Roy Waterman explained to an audience of Penn Law and Social Policy and Practice students and practitioners in a panel discussion on Support and Advocacy for Individuals Returning From Incarceration.
Waterman knows about impact and success. He co-founded and directs the Drive Change Program, a New York non-profit with the mission of using the food truck workplace to run a one-year fellowship for young people returning home from jail or prison. And it is an award-winning business. Yet, Waterman also understands the challenges facing young people entering back into communities from incarceration. At nineteen years old, Waterman was sent to prison for 13 years.
As Waterman would tell you, reentry is not just about connecting people in need with critical resources, it is about our collective advancement as a democratic and humane society. It is about breaking down barriers so that people who were formerly incarcerated can fully realize their potential, pursue their interests and talents, and meaningfully contribute to their communities.
Finding the next best food truck entrepreneurs, directors of nationwide policy campaigns, esteemed public interest law fellows and impact litigators is part of reentry. Indeed, these achievements characterized each of the speakers who shared their experiences and expertise at the Youth Advocacy Project’s (YAP) panel conversation.
On January 16, 2018, Vidhi Sanghavi Joshi moderated this panel discussion, featuring Roy Waterman, Bill Cobb, Tarra Simmons and Shon Hopwood, on the topics of reentry and advocacy for an end to detrimental collateral consequences for individuals who have served their prison sentences, often in harsh and inhumane conditions, and are returning home. Despite variation in strategies to pursue social change, a resounding message was clear: “[a]ny movement must be driven by the people in closest proximity to the problem,” Bill Cobb shared. Cobb, who is now the deputy director of the Campaign For Justice within the ACLU, contended that “[o]ur world has mostly been advanced by those who have suffered. People advocating because their lives depend on it.”