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I AM A MULTIFACETED PERSON WHO PRACTICES MUSIC; ART; POETRY; ACTIVISM; MARRIAGE & FAMILY THERAPY, TO BOTH HEAL MYSELF AND THE WORLD I AM IN CONTACT WITH. EVERYDAY IS CLOSE TO GOOD-BYE, AND I LIVE EACH DAY LIKE IT MAY BE MY LAST CHANCE TO GIVE SOMETHING SPECIAL BACK IN RETURN FOR MY LIFE.

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Rayshard Brooks' Truth


Things have been going on for years, you know, as far as probation, parole and monitoring, that is basically stereotyping, and is making us as individuals feel like we’re locked in boxes.... That’s one source of punishment. And we’re being released, and we’re also being monitored....we have kids, we have jobs, we have... life situations, you know.  We are individual people. 

—Rayshard Brooks 



In February 2020, Reconnect, a public benefit corporation that creates technology to fight recidivism, incarceration, and addiction, put out a call for formerly incarcerated people in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, GA, to talk about the impact of the criminal justice system on their lives.  Their testimony was to inform the development of technology to assist specialty courts and improve probation and parole outcomes.

Respondents Reconnect interviewed spoke of significant barriers, such as court fines, restitution, and probation payments, which can run into the thousands of dollars. They also mentioned difficulty in finding employment to pay those fees, the challenge of securing housing, and lack of family support. Another barrier facing these individuals as they return to society is medical insurance and care — from a nationwide lack of mental health support for expected anxiety and depression, to pre-existing mental health diagnoses, and undiagnosed challenges. 

One study found that half of all re-entering citizens cannot pay their fines at all, while more than 60% of families whose members are incarcerated cannot meet basic costs of housing and food.

Rayshard Brooks volunteered to be interviewed.  He was paid $200.00 and spoke for 41 minutes.  Like the other 143 respondents, he was asked questions about how the justice system’s probation apparatus helped or hampered his re-entry, and what barriers could be changed. 
Several themes emerged in his interview, including the barriers for re-entering citizens to re-build their lives. The prison time put the family into debt, economic and relational. “Once you get in there, you know, you're just in debt… just in debt,” he said. “You owe and you know, it's... just... no kind of way that you can… try to deal with all of these things.... It's just impossible. You have court costs... probation... you would have to have a lot of money, you know. And some people, they're not financially set to the point where they can just get out and handle everything at one... time. They're not financially set that way.

“So, [you] have to go out and try the best way you can to meet these standards and, you know, try and abide by these rules, everything that everybody is setting.... You have to try and abide by the rules and, these costs... it's a lot, you know, money-wise. But us as men, you know, some people... suck it up and look at the bigger picture of, you know: hey... this is me paying my debt to society.”

Like many others, Rayshard Brooks painted a picture of extreme vulnerability and an indebted life that impoverishes an entire family and makes them grieve for lost wholeness. Many times, African-Americans, as well as poor and undereducated Americans, accept plea deals they disagree with, but have no resources to challenge. Time inside is lost time and lost money. Re-entry begins in debt. This economic and emotional precariousness keeps ex-prisoners in harm’s way with law enforcement. One mistake can lead to renewed incarceration and even death at the hands of the structure of policing and control.

As a mental health professional who has worked in social services for over 20 years, I look for areas in a person’s life where I can facilitate positive and systemic change. Rayshard’s body language and statements indicated his nervousness, but also a commitment to connecting to the interviewer and considering each question. I watched his eyes and heard his words. If Rayshard had appeared in my former workplace at San Francisco’s Young Adult Court at his sentencing in 2016 at 23 years old, I would have had our team sit down with him. We would have put into place medical, emotional, and vocational supports to move his life back on track to productive work and relationships. He was someone I could see myself working with and mentoring, someone I could befriend. In the interview, I observed someone who cared about his impact in the world and most importantly on his children, wife, and family. And I heard the despair of knowing that his own resources were inadequate. “Suck it up.”

Brain science tells us that the pre-frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until age 25 or 26. Rayshard Brooks was murdered at 27. Although in debt, and feeling “hardened,” he was trying to learn how to step into a more responsible adulthood.

...in the system, you know, it just just makes you hardened to a point....Sometimes people ask me, 'Hey, man, you know, why are you so--?' You know, I'm saying... it has caused me to be that way....And it messes with your mental state at times. You know, by just going through this process of... consequences that the system take [sic] you through.

Still, when I watched Rayshard’s interview, I could see myself in him. I could see any number of young black men who just needed some help getting back on track. I could see his humanity.



Sincerely, 




Atiim B. Chenzira Boykin, MA MFT



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Citation:
Menendez, M., Brooke-Eisen, L., Atchison, N., & Crowley, M. (2019, November 21). Criminal Justice Fees and Fines. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/steep-costs-criminal-justice-fees-and-fines

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Things have been going on for years, you know, as far as probation, parole and monitoring, that is basically stereotyping, and is making u...

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