You can feel the rumbling of the earth underneath you when you work in this field.
by Debra Wright, #LwC2021
October 14, 2021
What do you work on now and how did you get involved?
Currently, I’m working on an autobiography about my life and my advocacy. I’m also on the board of Nation Outside in Michigan. Our mission is to drive policy and practice reforms that build transformative systems of support for justice impacted people. We work with our directly impacted peers in Michigan communities to empower them with knowledge of the political and legislative processes and inspire them to civic engagement through voting, advocacy, and leadership. I also work at Catholic Charities of Jackson, Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties where I supervise substance use disorder programs.
What is the most satisfying thing in your work?
Seeing overarching change happen in communities in Michigan, like fair housing policies, ban the box and clean slate legislation being implemented. I think my work with Nation Outside, in conjunction with many other advocates and agencies, has helped move those policies forward in our communities and I am grateful for that.
What’s been your favorite part of Leading with Conviction?
Meeting so many different people that are all working together to solve this huge problem that we have in this country with incarceration has been probably the best thing. Just seeing so many different people doing wonderful and different creative things has probably been the most rewarding.
I’ve also had opportunities to get involved with projects. On the Day of Empathy, I met an attorney who’s working with one of the law clinics at U of M trying to get clemency for some women who are doing life sentences, the majority of them for killing their abusers. As a survivor of domestic violence I wanted to get involved and do something. I wrote a letter using the tools that I learned at JLUSA to craft that and sent it to the governor and the parole board supporting their clemencies.
What is your vision for the future?
My vision for the future is to make changes in policies, specifically in Michigan but also across the country, to make our communities more vibrant, less hateful, reduce violence, reduce the stigma around incarceration, and try to help support people, so when they come out of prison, they’re returning to communities that accept them.
It’s so hard when you are released from prison to find work, and housing in a climate where people are working to keep you out of housing and jobs. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the area, but I see change coming. You can feel the rumbling of the earth underneath you in this field, which is really nice. My vision for the future is a more compassionate country around people who have been incarcerated and all of the issues surrounding that.
What would you be famous for if you were famous?
I’m in the process of almost finishing my book, I guess that’s what I would want to be famous for, writing and showing the undeniable link between addiction and incarceration. I think people know it, but I think my story really highlights that, having been in prison four times as a result of my heroin use disorder.
What’s your motto in life?
My motto is don’t give up, and keep pushing ahead. I think my history has shown that’s what I’ve done in life. We can have many setbacks in life, but if we keep at it eventually, we get through the challenges and learn to live a healthy, fulfilling life.