Dear Honorable Judges in America,
You have the power to change and/or devastate another person’s life with a stroke of your ink pen.
The United States’ carceral system is overaggressive in the areas of law enforcement, surveillance, prosecutors, courts, prisons, jails, camps and cages. There appears to be reforms for police and prisons, however a lot of states still refuse to slow up on mass incarceration. They continue to lock up thousands of men, women and youth with this systematic machine with no option of rehabilitation or therapy. These men, women and youth find themselves behind the wall brutality beat, tortured, mentally abused, sexually assaulted, lied on and the list goes on. In your mind, maybe you think a certain group of American people deserve to be in servitude. It is hard to demand reform by the community for police, overreaching prosecutors, and the prisons when the system is working perfectly for another group of people.
Suppose you look at this system from an even broader ethical lens and see how this system is designed to target Black and Brown communities. Where is the fairness and justice in this? During every election cycle we always hear from elected officials that crime is up, and most of them win on this platform. Many Americans do not understand that there are so many laws, statutes and codes on the books that make it almost impossible not to break one of them on a daily basis. Do you ever question the “conspiracy law”? This is when a person can be sent to prison for knowing or not knowing about a crime. Whoever put that law or statute on the books really destroyed so many people’s lives. Are you aware that some police, investigators and guards lie, cheat, trump up charges, rape and even kill us like animals in their custody? The brutality, neglect and deaths that go on behind the wall at the hands of staff and guards are at alarming rates around the country. Even with the prisons and jails under scrutiny for this abuse and deaths, the topic continues to be ignored. Have you looked at this alarming data? Think about what these loved ones went through when COVID-19 was at its peak. There is little to no medical care and no mental health care behind the wall. Are you aware that solitary confinement is still happening? Even though it is considered unconstitutional, the guards and staff at prisons and jails found a way to keep you in solitary confinement by moving you to another cell which makes your clock start all over again in solitary confinement.
I think about how most of these people that are part of this system stick closely together. This makes it totally impossible to get remedy for the loved one behind the wall with investigations and audits full of lies. Some people think a loved one behind the wall deserves this abuse. Do you know many innocent people end up in jail, prison, camps and cages with long sentences? What are your thoughts on a person that spent 10, 15 – 40 years behind the wall and was truly innocent and is now able to come home? Come home to what? How do they rebuild their lives when their immediate family is dead and/or the world around them is different? Think about the loved ones that went through a faulty investigation, a strange and unusual trial, abuse behind the wall and still have to walk around for the rest of their lives labeled as a felon.
As I mention already in the book that in 2019, even as a practicing Buddhist, I had written out 21 ways how I was going to kill myself. Coming home in 2018, as an innocent Indigenous Black American woman, I did not get street credibility or a badge of honor. I came home to embarrassment and little to no help. I even had people in the movement tell me to “stop telling people I am innocent”. This blows my mind every time I hear it. The trauma still runs so deep until it sings in my heart every morning reminding me that I have been to hell and back. Every morning as I brush my teeth and wash my face I still see the residue of the burn mark on my forehead. It reminds me that I am a victim of violence by male White guards that jumped me and spit in my face for refusing to acknowledge or answer to the name “criminal” and/or “inmate”. I think about that young brother named Kalief Browder, the backpack kid from New York. His story saved my life, and I cannot personally thank him. That innocent brother killed himself because he could not deal or make sense of the fact he went to Rikers Island for a crime he did not do. I had never heard of the backpack kid until I saw his documentary in 2019. I had no idea it was going to end with him killing himself. The difference between my story and his was the fact that a lot of his beatings by guards and others were caught on video. I still get up every morning thinking, “can I make it today” or “should I just end my life”? I then remember that I have a great family and a great mental health team.
I wanted to write to all Judges in America to invoke the questions above. The biggest question of all is; suppose you got just one case wrong in your career and you caused so much pain and suffering to a loved one and their family and in some cases death to a loved one behind the wall? I respectfully ask you; does it really matter to you or is it just business like usual? I can only assume there are some great judges out there that get up every day and make a difference in his or her courtroom by doing the right thing with their ink pen. Believe it or not, I know a few caring, ethical, and amazing judges and to watch them in court makes me understand that there is still hope. I have worked with countless law students around the country, and I tell them (ALL) to remember what they have seen in court watching today and to remember what happened to that woman named Carmen. I go on to tell them that I expect them to go off and be GREAT attorneys and/or judges one day. I have dreamed of this, manifested this, created this and it is done. I trust that our youth that are in law school will go off to do the right thing. That right thing is to never forget that we all are one. Maybe then I can stop calling this man-made system “The Pretense of Justice”.
Dr. Carmen R. Johnson, Founder, Helping Ourselves to Transform
Author, Advocate, and Humanitarian
Lecture Specialist for prison and justice reform to Law Schools, Law Clinics, Students and the Community
Chairwoman, Advocacy and Legislation for MSARC re-entry board for the US States Attorney for the District of Maryland.
Director of Court Watch & Judicial Accountability of Prince George’s County
Member of Progressive Maryland- REWG
Member of Community Family Life Services, Speaker’s Bureau
Member of First Alliance Consulting, LLC
Member of the National Criminal Justice Association
Member of ACTCP – ADA Legal Advocate Trainee
Endorsed by Maryland Alliance Justice Reform
Parkmont School in Washington, DC
Montgomery County High School Volunteer Center – Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School