On the days I do my best work it’s the hope that we can build a better world–a world without so many people in cages–that motivates me.
by James Gould, #LwC2020
April 28, 2020
When I was in high school I got in trouble for selling cannabis and ended up in Juvenile Hall. Like most kids, I went through the DARE program in elementary school and I believed everything they said about drugs being the worst things ever. But in high school I started realizing that I’d been lied to about a lot of things and one of those was that marijuana would lead to heroin and destroy my brain. I came to see that the war on drugs was a racist policy intent on incarcerating millions of Americans. In Juvenile Hall I was subjected to all sorts of inhumane behavior and I came out thinking “this doesn’t work. We should do something else.”
After high school I was intending to go to college but was unable to do so because of the economic situation my parents were in and when I applied for loans, I was denied because of my drug conviction. So I taught myself computer programing and entered a career doing web development. In 2017 I co-founded Rights Restoration Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people answer the question, “am I eligible for criminal records mitigation?” I developed a custom web app to store and display information about records mitigation eligibility online in multiple formats and contacted attorneys to ask for assistance in developing these resources. We’ve since helped to host legal aid clinics across the country, helping individuals expunge or otherwise mitigate the impacts of criminal convictions.
We recently changed our name to Repair Now because we recognize that although nothing will heal the harms of families torn apart and lives lost because of mass incarceration, we will repair what we can. As our brothers, our sisters, and our communities are freed, we do what we can to make them whole. For us, that means helping them keep their past in their past and protecting their power over their future: expungement and voting. The CanIVote section of our website has detailed information about the voting laws in every state. One of my priorities now is printing posters explaining voting eligibility laws and sending them to grassroots groups across the country.
Some days I’m motivated by a sense of duty; other days I’m motivated by rage. The number of people behind bars is unacceptable, and I have to do something about it. I’m excited to see the changes we’re seeing, though I sometimes have concerns that because changes are being made so slowly we’re never going to see a jump to more sensible policies, particularly where drugs are concerned. But on the days I do my best work it’s the hope that we can build a better world–a world without so many people in cages–that motivates me.
Leading with Conviction has been very useful to me so far. I really feel like there have been some positive shifts in my mentality. The changes have been nuanced, but impactful. While the content of my days is often the same, my language and my perspective have changed and that’s making me a better activist and allowing me to accomplish things that I hadn’t been able to accomplish before.
James Gould served as Secretary of the Board of Directors for Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.