by Linda Lamb
Forrest City, Arkansas – In “There’s No Danger in the Water: Encouraging Black Men to Become Mentors,” Dr. Belay Reddick focuses his pen on the family life and mental health of African-American boys growing up without fathers. Now the gifted writer is giving his voice to those affected by a broken system.
A current inmate at the Federal Correctional Complex-Low, in Forrest City, Arkansas, Reddick has coined the hashtag and movement #PardonMEAmerica to seek commutations from President Donald Trump for him and his five friends who are lost in the maze of excessive, inappropriate sentences that have destroyed their lives without providing them second chances.
“Mass incarceration is more than a ‘moment in crisis’ for the United States. It’s the human rights issue of the 21st century. Between 1980 and 2016, the number of people in federal prison increased 800 percent. This inconceivable surge has absolutely nothing to do with serious crimes, but overzealous members of Congress who pass draconian polices such as mandatory-minimum, career offender laws and oppose parole and other early release incentives,” noted Reddick about America’s criminal justice problem.
“Roughly 90 percent of the cases in the federal system have been influenced by the crack law. The so-called War on Drugs has been applied in a highly disproportionate way with minorities experiencing the brunt of arrests and incarcerations. In addition, keeping rehabilitated men and women in prison is a waste of resources.”
Before being sentenced to 20 years in prison for charges related to bank fraud, Reddick was a 35-year-old homeless man living out of his car. Desperate for cash, he decided to make some quick money by participating in an illegal check cashing scheme, a relatively minor, non-violent offense. The top of his guidelines were 11 years, 5 months imprisonment. The district court sentenced him to two decades behind bars, an eleven fold increase, in which the government objected. That was 15 years ago.
Reddick has accepted full responsibility for his actions and used that experience to better his life and the lives of others who have taken wrong turns in life. Today, Reddick teaches classes in employability skills and personal finance, offers resume development assistance, and serves as the Industries Business Office Reentry Clerk in the prison’s furniture factory that produces office furniture for the U.S. military. He has also facilitated highly successful empowerment workshops and seminars inside the prison featuring some of the nation’s top educators, entrepreneurs, corporate executives and business professionals.
Most notably, in 2016, Reddick received media attention for hosting senior White House officials, city and state leaders, and community residents at the Atlanta federal prison to hear a debate team of three inmates with lengthy custodial sentences challenge a team of three Morehouse College undergraduates during National Reentry Week.
“The objective is about bringing awareness to our cases. We want to get help from various organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Each one of us have a compelling story that so many can benefit from, as well. This could be another example of Black publications and Black lawyers using their respective talents for a common good,” Reddick says.
“Publicity will cause celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, LeBron James, Rihanna and Snoop Dogg, and advocacy groups to take notice and respond to our stories. The starting of this clemency initiative is one of the ways we can get their attention.”
“Despite our adversities, we refuse to lose faith that God is going to turn our situations around.”
Reddick and his five friends have all started individual freedom petitions on Change.org: https://www.change.org/p/president-donald-trump-set-me-free-through-executive-clemency. Each of their goals is to gain 300,000 signatures by Dec. 25, 2019. He is asking people all across America to sign their petitions and ask President Trump to grant each of them clemency so they can use their experiences to assist others and give back to the community.
The petitioners are:
Belay D. Reddick
Rafael Edmundo Tovar
Linda Lamb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please email Dr. Belay D. Reddick at email@example.com. Also, join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using #PardonMEAmerica.