We make society safer when we extend services, opportunity, and grace to everyone who has done their time.
by Zach Ruppel, #LwC2021
August 4, 2021
What do you work on and how did you get involved?
So I work in a couple of different spaces, the first is within data and policy analysis looking at how we can use data to point out the prevailing issues in our community as it relates to criminal justice reform and policy. I look throughout all parts of the sequential intercept model, not just over-policing and racism, but also looking at technical violations for parole, and at diversity, equity and inclusion when it comes to services, whether it’s preventative or restorative.
I got involved with that about two and a half years ago. I was volunteering with an employee of the County Office of Justice Policy (who is also a JLUSA Fellow) and she and I were chatting. Her director stepped out, introduced himself and scheduled a subsequent meeting because he actually remembered my case when it was in the news! As someone who was also a member of the LGBT community, he wanted to give me a shot and helped me get involved in something that I have become very passionate about.
The other big piece that I get involved in more at the volunteer and the lobbying level are equitable reentry practices and making sure that we’re looking at it from a strengths-based approach. Rather than just ‘get a job and here’s some shoes, good luck’, really being strategic and building from the bottom up. Focusing on what strengths are already there and using those to help create a plan for any type of offense, for any number of times they’ve been convicted, any age, any color, any sexual orientation, and really trying to change the narrative on criminal justice and reentry.
What is the most satisfying thing in your work so far?
Being able to elevate the voices of folks who never thought they would have an advocate to do so. I never thought I would have that when I was released because of my sex offense, I was like, ‘oh I’m some pariah that will have to hide in my house and work to survive for the rest of my life’. To really first be empowered by others and then coached and mentored on how to now be empowering is really the biggest living amends that I can give to my community.
What are your hopes for 2021?
Locally, I would like to see the needle move a little bit on leveling the playing field with reentry services in my community. We have a wide network of folks doing the work, but a lot of the most well funded programs are still exclusionary to certain types of offenses that people fear or the media tells them they should fear. We need to create policy and we need to create programs for everyone, not just for the offenses that we can stomach or agree with. We make society safer when we extend services, opportunity, and grace to everyone who has done their time.
Professionally, I’m hopefully going to be looking at a master’s program in public policy or restorative justice, something related to the work that I’m already doing. I’d like to kind of nail down what program I’m going to do, even if it’s just a certification for a semester first, to take the energy that I’ve gotten from Leading with Conviction and continue to fine-tune.
What do you hope to get out of Leading with Conviction?
I think the biggest thing for me was being empowered to use my voice to bring about change, regardless of my past and regardless of the extra labels that people put upon those for sex offenses. We are not in fact a super felon.
So, really leaning into that voice, that is sometimes hard for folks to really lean in and listen to, being empowered, uplifted and supported as a part of this cohort to be vulnerable in that work and in my own struggle and restoration has been really important.
If you could invite any three people to a dinner, who would they be?
Brené Brown, Elton John, and Reuben Miller.
What is your vision for the future?
I’d like to live in a world where I don’t feel like I have to hide who I am because of the worst choice I made in my life, and that I can instead use what I’ve learned to inform my journey, support my values and be a lifelong servant leader.