The reason that I didn’t post last week is that I was getting ready to go to New Orleans for my university’s Alternative Winter Break, an annual service trip. The school has been leading this trip since immediately after Hurricane Katrina, so this is the 8th time they have been. However, this time, the nature of the service changed from building houses with New Orleans Habitat for Humanity to working with a few different nonprofits to serve, but also learn through experience about a variety of social issues.
One nonprofit we worked with, RAE (Resurrection After Exoneration), did a great job at teaching us about some injustices in the criminal justice system and how hard it is for exonerees (wrongfully incarcerated individuals) and felons to put their lives back together after release from prison. The founder of RAE, John Thompson, was on death row for 18 years for a murder he didn’t before he was exonerated. So, after seeing the multitude of challenges he faced, he founded RAE to help others like him. Now, they are working to change the systemic issues, such as corruption, that help to cause wrongful incarceration, and helping people who have been exonerated with housing, medical, and psychological assistance.After spending 3 of the days we were in New Orleans talking with John Thompson and other exonerees, I am convinced that something more needs to be done to help people after they are released from prison. Therefore, today’s suggestion of how you can change the world is to do something to help them. There are a few ways you can do this.
1. Spread awareness. Educate yourself and others about the injustices in the criminal justice system. RAE’s website has some great resources to start you off.
2. Don’t judge. If I learned nothing else on this trip, it is that I really cannot know what it is like to be labeled as a felon. It influences where you live, where you work (if someone is willing to hire you), and limits your rights for your entire life. Multiple factors can drive people to crime, so if we run across a convicted felon, we should by know means think or act like we are superior to them in any way.
3. Volunteer. Multiple organizations exists that help prisoners after their release, Get involved with one and teach classes, make meals, do whatever they need to more effectively help a population that is grossly under served.