My journey as a national criminal justice reform advocate launched at the Legal Action Center (LAC) almost 15 years ago, so I couldn’t feel more privileged to not only continue to partner with them regularly, but to be honored at their annual benefit. Inspired by the agency’s longstanding commitment to the pursuit of justice and the courageous and passionate leaders of LAC, I founded JustLeadershipUSA to build upon our shared mission.
The importance of my time with the LAC to my path to national advocacy can’t be overstated.
Upon exiting prison in 2000, I was faced with the same bleak odds encountered by so many of our nation’s formerly incarcerated. Severely restricted job prospects was only the most glaring of the many hurdles that dotted my path to successful reentry. Determined to beat the odds, I set out on an earnest mission to obtain meaningful employment, achieve a decent standard of living and further cultivate the voice I had begun to develop as an advocate during my incarceration.
Yet with brutal consistency, I suffered dozens of rejections in my quest for employment. I suffered no delusions about my chances in the job market. The odds have always been long for those who, while living with the consequences of social catastrophes we’d rather look away from than remedy, wind up as property of the state. But the blows of rejection and continued punishment still landed with tremendous force.
Yet in a fashion that is regrettably exceptional for people in that situation, I was soon offered a pathway out of the many cruelties of post-imprisonment life. The Legal Action Center provided me my first shot at a renewed life. I started out in a modest role, first answering phones and eventually working my way into a paralegal position. Both positions proved to be the staging ground in shaping my voice and approach as an advocate for criminal justice reform. In my time there I spoke with hundreds of formerly incarcerated people, many of whose experiences bore a striking resemblance to my own and many of whose, though similarly situated, were wholly unique. In all cases, these voices that I felt so viscerally and substantively connected to spoke with an expertise and courage that I came to know as entirely the domain of the formerly incarcerated. It has been, in a word, the driving epiphany of my advocacy life.
The LAC not only provided the crucial space for that revelation, but doubled down on its potency by providing a platform to take it from the world of abstraction to practice. As a policy analyst, my unique expertise around carceral policy was taken seriously and my voice, once suffocated to a whisper, was growing to a resounding pitch. All the while, I remembered that my exceptional story, of which I’m reminded frequently, only served to prove the wickedness of the rule.
I want to be clear: I don’t speak on behalf of the voiceless. I’ve learned that slogans are little more than cheap gimmicks for crass, even if well-intentioned, self-promotion. My goal is to amplify the voices and expertise of those who remain either deliberately silenced or willfully ignored so that they may speak on behalf of themselves. It’s time we acknowledge that the experts we so urgently need have always been close at hand, even when the experts themselves least expect it.
In the spirit of that knowledge, I resigned from my position as Vice President at the Fortune Society in 2013, one of power and prestige, to found JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA); an organization whose mission is to cut the number of people under correctional supervision in the US in half by 2030, while proving that those closest to the problem are indeed closest to the solution.
Because of this incredible journey, I look forward to gratefully accepting the Legal Action Center’s Arthur Liman Public Interest Award, alongside Stephen Cutler, and celebrating LAC’s accomplishments on October 20th.
Glenn E. Martin, founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA, will be honored at LAC’s annual Arthur Liman Public Interest Awards Benefit alongside Steven M. Cutler, general counsel of JPMorgan Chase & Co. The awards ceremony will be held on October 20, 2015 at Tribeca Rooftop in Manhattan. The event will acknowledge their resolute commitment to public service and significant contributions to social justice. The Arthur Liman Public Interest Awards, created in 1998, honor the memory, and continue the legacy, of the Legal Action Center’s Founding Chairman, Arthur L. Liman.