What prosecutors and incarcerated people can learn from each other | Jarrell Daniels



When I look in the mirror today, I see a justice and education scholar
at Columbia University, a youth mentor, an activist and a future New York state senator. (Cheering) I see all of that and a man who spent
a quarter of his life in state prison — six years, to be exact, starting as a teenager on Rikers Island for an act that nearly cost
a man his life. But what got me from there to here wasn't the punishment I faced
as a teenager in adult prison or the harshness of our legal system. Instead, it was a learning
environment of a classroom that introduced me to something
I didn't think was possible for me or our justice system as a whole. A few weeks before my release on parole, a counselor encouraged me to enroll
in a new college course being offered in the prison. It was called Inside Criminal Justice. That seems pretty
straightforward, though, right? Well, it turns out, the class would be made up
of eight incarcerated men and eight assistant district attorneys. Columbia University psychology
professor Geraldine Downey and Manhattan Assistant DA Lucy Lang co-taught the course, and it was the first of its kind. I can honestly say this wasn't how I imagined
starting college. My mind was blown from day one. I assumed all the prosecutors
in the room would be white. But I remember walking into the room
on the first day of class and seeing three black prosecutors and thinking to myself, "Wow, being a black prosecutor — that's a thing!" (Laughter) By the end of the first session, I was all in. In fact, a few weeks after my release, I found myself doing something
I prayed I wouldn't. I walked right back into prison. But thankfully, this time
it was just as a student, to join my fellow classmates. And this time, I got to go home when class was over. In the next session, we talked
about what had brought each of us to this point of our lives and into the classroom together. I eventually got comfortable enough to reveal my truth to everyone in the room about where I came from. I talked about how my sisters and I
watched our mother suffer years of abuse at the hands of our stepfather, escaping, only to find ourselves
living in a shelter. I talked about how I swore
an oath to my family to keep them safe. I even explained how I didn't feel
like a teenager at 13, but more like a soldier on a mission. And like any soldier, this meant carrying an emotional
burden on my shoulders, and I hate to say it, but a gun on my waist. And just a few days
after my 17th birthday, that mission completely failed. As my sister and I were walking
to the laundromat, a crowd stopped in front of us. Two girls out of nowhere
attacked my sister. Still confused about what was happening,
I tried to pull one girl away, and just as I did, I felt something
brush across my face. With my adrenaline rushing, I didn't realize a man
had leaped out of the crowd and cut me. As I felt warm blood ooze down my face, and watching him raise
his knife toward me again, I turned to defend myself
and pulled that gun from my waistband and squeezed the trigger. Thankfully, he didn't lose
his life that day. My hands shaking and heart racing,
I was paralyzed in fear. From that moment, I felt regret that would never leave me. I learned later on they attacked my sister
in a case of mistaken identity, thinking she was someone else. It was terrifying, but clear that I wasn't trained,
nor was I qualified, to be the soldier
that I thought I needed to be. But in my neighborhood, I only felt safe carrying a weapon. Now, back in the classroom,
after hearing my story, the prosecutors could tell
I never wanted to hurt anyone. I just wanted us to make it home. I could literally see the gradual change
in each of their faces as they heard story after story from the other incarcerated
men in the room. Stories that have trapped many of us within the vicious cycle of incarceration, that most haven't been able
to break free of. And sure — there are people
who commit terrible crimes. But the stories
of these individuals' lives before they commit those acts were the kinds of stories
these prosecutors had never heard. And when it was their turn
to speak — the prosecutors — I was surprised, too. They weren't emotionless
drones or robocops, preprogrammed to send people to prison. They were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. But most of all, they were good students. They were ambitious and motivated. And they believed that they could use
the power of law to protect people. They were on a mission
that I could definitely understand. Midway through the course,
Nick, a fellow incarcerated student, poured out his concern that the prosecutors were tiptoeing
around the racial bias and discrimination within our criminal justice system. Now, if you've ever been to prison, you would know it's impossible
to talk about justice reform without talking about race. So we silently cheered for Nick and were eager to hear
the prosecutors' response. And no, I don't remember who spoke first, but when Chauncey Parker,
a senior prosecutor, agreed with Nick and said he was committed to ending
the mass incarceration of people of color, I believed him. And I knew we were headed
in the right direction. We now started to move as a team. We started exploring new possibilities and uncovering truths
about our justice system and how real change happens for us. For me, it wasn't the mandatory
programs inside of the prison. Instead, it was listening
to the advice of elders — men who have been sentenced to spend
the rest of their lives in prison. These men helped me reframe
my mindset around manhood. And they instilled in me
all of their aspirations and goals, in the hopes that I would never
return to prison, and that I would serve
as their ambassador to the free world. As I talked, I could see the lights
turning on for one prosecutor, who said something I thought was obvious: that I had transformed
despite my incarceration and not because of it. It was clear these prosecutors
hadn't thought much about what happens to us
after they win a conviction. But through the simple process
of sitting in a classroom, these lawyers started to see
that keeping us locked up didn't benefit our community or us. Toward the end of the course,
the prosecutors were excited, as we talked about our plans
for life after being released. But they hadn't realized
how rough it was actually going to be. I can literally still see the shock on one of the junior
ADA's face when it hit her: the temporary ID given to us
with our freedom displayed that we were
just released from prison. She hadn't imagined how many barriers
this would create for us as we reenter society. But I could also see her genuine empathy
for the choice we had to make between coming home to a bed in a shelter or a couch in a relative's
overcrowded apartment. What we learned in the class worked its way into concrete
policy recommendations. We presented our proposals to the state Department
of Corrections commissioner and to the Manhattan DA, at our graduation in a packed
Columbia auditorium. As a team, I couldn't have imagined
a more memorable way to conclude our eight weeks together. And just 10 months
after coming home from prison, I again found myself in a strange room, invited by the commissioner of NYPD
to share my perspective at a policing summit. And while speaking, I recognized a familiar face
in the audience. It was the attorney
who prosecuted my case. Seeing him, I thought about our days in the courtroom seven years earlier, as I listened to him recommend
a long prison sentence, as if my young life was meaningless and had no potential. But this time, the circumstances were different. I shook off my thoughts and walked over to shake his hand. He looked happy to see me. Surprised, but happy. He acknowledged how proud he was
about being in that room with me, and we began a conversation
about working together to improve the conditions
of our community. And so today, I carry all of these experiences with me, as I develop the Justice Ambassadors
Youth Council at Columbia University, bringing young New Yorkers — some
who have already spent time locked up and others who are still
enrolled in high school — together with city officials. And in this classroom, everyone will brainstorm ideas about improving the lives
of our city's most vulnerable youth before they get tried
within the criminal justice system. This is possible if we do the work. Our society and justice system
has convinced us that we can lock up our problems and punish our way
out of social challenges. But that's not real. Imagine with me for a second a future where no one can become a prosecutor, a judge, a cop or even a parole officer without first sitting in a classroom to learn from and connect with the very people whose lives
will be in their hands. I'm doing my part to promote
the power of conversations and the need for collaborations. It is through education that we will arrive at a truth
that is inclusive and unites us all in the pursuit of justice. For me, it was a brand-new conversation and a new kind of classroom that showed me how both my mindset and our criminal justice system could be transformed. They say the truth shall set you free. But I believe it's education and communication. Thank you. (Applause)




Comments
  1. Jarrell your story is very moving to me. one time when I was the Man sitting in the prosecutor's office he introduced himself to me as he was walking into his office, I stood up to shake his hand and he said: " stop I am not your friend". I was just trying to be polite. Between your TED talk and my situation, I realize for some of them it's just another day at the office. There is complacency among them they don't' know nor do they care. They won their case, I go to jail my son goes into foster care. I"m not saying they're all like that, but what I am saying is people need to try and see the whole picture, and care about there job and not abuse power.

  2. You must believe either whites are morally inferior, or blacks are intellectually inferior. Only those two beliefs can explain, why blacks make less money than whites, why blacks are more likely to get in trouble with the law, why whites have more privilege, and why black school children are more likely the get suspended.

  3. We have to be careful who we let in to our lives. I worry about people who guide others the wrong way, especially the young men and women.

  4. Inspirational, but let's not kid ourselves, prosecutors have never cared nor will ever care about justice, I've been to prison lots of times, once for something I played no part in except for actually SAVING someone's life, I spent almost 9 months of my life on remand with no evidence whatsoever against me yet they still got away with denying me bail…
    Another time many MANY years ago in my early 20's someone accused me of hitting them over the head with a hammer 😲 although I wasn't sent to prison or anything, when the court case date arrived and my lawyer spoke to the prosecution and they realised I actually wasn't guilty they decided to offer me a deal to go guilty for a reduced sentence 😲 the second I laughed and firmly said no to them they said OK, you can go home now, we're dropping the charges… 🤦‍♂️

  5. Real reform is possible for the ones who try hard with the right people guiding them. That means admitting mistakes,showing remorse and willingness to change course .

  6. We have all been forced to exist to serve our parents and therefore society. We were fabricated imperfect, educated imperfectly and thrown into an imperfect world (at our peril). If we behave badly towards society, is it our fault or that of our manufacturers, or those of our educators or that of society and the world into which we have been thrown without our consent? All that exists is "aresponsible", that is to say without responsibility, we humans including. It is a grave mistake for humanity to penalize individuals, it should change itself when a fault is committed against one of its members that it has forcibly incorporated into its association. We are all innocent to exist, the notion of punishment is an aberration. We should all live with a healthy body, a healthy intellect, in a healthy world, and to live a long life to accomplish exciting things, otherwise, it is useless to invite us to an earth ride that has no utility.
    "The truth shall set you free."

  7. My heart goes out to Jarrell. In protecting his family Jarrell got his youth taken away. In a more fair system the other party would also face consequences. And as for the majority of prosecutors (and some judges) it is about winning a case, closing the case at all cost even unjust!!
    God Bless You Jarell!!

  8. It would have been nice to also hear views from a victim of a violent crime in addition to this defendants views in order to have a better understanding of the issues in the criminal justice system.

  9. Well spoke, these goals are reachable and like he said communication is the key. Not only lawyers but new police officers should hear the talk.

  10. Next month I will be sitting for the Virginia Bar Exam. I will be carrying your story in my heart as I do. I will also carry with me the story of a woman I saw sentenced today. She was abused by her boyfriend and hospitalized for severe injuries including serious damage to her spleen and multiple broken bones. She was prescribed opioids for pain and developed an addiction. When the prescriptions dried up she turned to heroin. Since then she has been in and out of jail with only small under funded county programs for help and all the regular problems that come with life after incarceration. It was no surprise when she was back today having pled guilty to a crime with a 10 year mandatory minimum. My heart broke and I wanted nothing more than to run across the courtroom to give her a hug. A woman like that needs help, not a jail sentence. I think you are completely correct about getting law students and inmates together so that they can learn from each other and work together for change. This cannot continue.

  11. Wow! Thank you Jarr.. Why is your name obscured?! Thank you. Your story is parallel with mine! I'm at law school now. I spent years in borstal, and prison. I totally appreciate your narrative, your courage and love for your family. Thank you for inspiring me to carry on with my legal training and to become like you and speak my story. God bless you. One day we will meet. Kind sincere regards, from Haren, Dunedin, NZ.

  12. My God…what an amazing young Man you are!
    My heart was overcome, with your Princely demeanor.
    You are a beacon of light in a dark World my friend…and often those who shine brightest, are given the hardest "missions".
    Are you aware, that you are living that original "mission", for your World Family?…..
    I live on the other side of the Planet, but I was right there in that room with you, listening to the words of wisdom, coming from your young mouth.
    I hope you get the opportunity to see this vision, come to pass, in your lifetime. And I agree with you about education, & communication…..as a very wise man, called John Bradshaw, once said…"You can never fail with detail"…..when you hear the "details", of another's story….we can appreciate the common threads of humanity….
    Keep learning, & educating….you have a great gift.
    Ho'oponopono.

  13. Kudos for getting down to the details to make the world a better place. But in this Capitalist world trade system that promotes competition, GDP is determined by exported vs imports and nothing else. So as long as you are technologically advanced, you can sell technology at material cost for skyrate profits, but as soon as you lack behind and start selling at material cost, you will go into debt unless you don't need that essential imported technologies, lets say: iphones, internet, server batteries. Which means that poor countries that doesn't want to just stay alive and live a nonprogressive life will need to buy helicopters and surveillance software from other countries while only exporting food to pay for it, this works, but not for long. The Americans KNOW, they'll sell you wheat and carrots at nonexistent prices until your currency is worth nothing, now you have nothing to pay for all that technology you're trying to import. But it's the same for the United States, but they understand that it cost 1/1000 the price to hire police instead of feeding the Black kids that will never reach an IQ over 80. So who is REALLY playing the long game here? All these things this video talks about is nice, but Capitalism runs on money, and if you can't pay for it, it's worthless.

  14. Prosecutors only want to learn how to get higher conviction rates. Don't matter to them if they are innocent or not.

  15. He never talked about his responsibility in communication with his victim. I know lots of youths from nyc that never felt the need to carry an illegal firearm. This is more victim class buzz words and not much substantial social science.

  16. Congratulations.
    It should be a man's right if convicted for 20yrs or more to decide for "assisted suicide". I think it's our life, our choice to end it. I for one would certainly rather die than live in prison for 10yrs. Shouldn't that be my right?

  17. What a powerful and insightful presentation on a usually avoided subject. The great need for this understanding is essential if our society is to recover from its nefarious path. All humans deserve respect and love, especially in a system that incarcerates more young men of color. This ambitious and caring young man is a testament to his race and the changes that are necessary in all of us.

  18. I think everyone working in the legal system should watch this Ted talk, we need to shift the perspective on justice and incarceration in this country.

  19. He is brainwashed. He calls it the "justice system" even after most of his adult life was stolen. Of course there are black prosecutors. There have been black people allowed to be shining examples of what you can do if you step in line and obey your overlord. I do not know what TED has become lately, but I am sure Thomas Dolby wouldn't appreciate the propaganda and psuedoscience being spread in his name.

  20. It's great to see people doing positive things with their lives, and now helping others in the same situation. Especially coming from dysfunctional upbringings…….

  21. I Apologize In Advance For My Bluntness. I Hold No Ill Will

    So you are pushing this prison program? How do you know its not an MK-Ultra program? Sounds like they invested a lot of time and money in you. How many others have benefited from this program and why isnt it common knowledge that our prison system has figure out how to reform criminals to the point of All criminals being state senators. They Groomed You.

    I dont mean to burst your bubble but why are you so special? What is your bloodline? They gave You your very own brainwasher, I mean district attorney. How many hours did you spend together? And WHY did they make you return to prison for these special classes? When will all the other prisoners be released into this New World Order?

  22. Such an inspiration. Well done, such a great story, topic and something that needs to be heard and understood by everyone who works in justice.

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