Leah Metzler, Director, SOLC Austin
A heart and mindset open to second chances must exist in those who have been drawn into activism due to social dysfunction and injustice.
Although I have not touched the concrete walls of a prison cell, a portion of my heart is there with those who have and those who live it daily. My shortcomings in life have led me to understand that all adults make mistakes and those who seek atonement deserve a second chance.
After learning about the shocking and unjust sentence of Sharanda Jones, a mother who was serving life without the possibility of parole for a first-time drug offense (granted clemency by Obama in 2015). I sought to understand why America is incarcerating its citizens at an alarming rate. I began researching incarceration in the U.S. and reading books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and my journey into prison activism began. I was honored to volunteer with Can-Do Clemency, a wonderful grassroots organization that advocates for clemency for all nonviolent drug offenders. The leader of this organization, Amy Povah has once incarcerated herself and was awarded clemency by Bill Clinton.
Also empowering my quest was meeting the mother of Fredrick Alexander, a man who was sentenced to 99 years in prison at the age of 17. Contacting Fredrick led me to Jermaine Hicks. I learned from Jermaine that juveniles as young as 15 were routinely treated as adults in the criminal justice system. Jermaine led me to other individuals like himself who were incarcerated at a very young age under The Law of Parties, a law that many critics have called harsh and unfair particularly when it pertains to juveniles. I had the opportunity to advocate for the Second Look legislation in 2017 that would have given many of these young offenders a second chance. Along with groups like Epicenter and Lone Star Justice Alliance, SOLC Austin hopes to help further this legislation in 2019.
Many of these young offenders began their journey of incarceration at one of the many juvenile correctional facilities in Texas. Like Jermaine Hicks, many of these kids grow up in foster homes and dysfunctional home environments. The staff at these Juvenile facilities work hard to ensure that these children are rehabilitated and given a chance at life in “The Free.” Encouraged by Jermaine, I began mentoring at The Giddings State School and have found this experience immensely rewarding.
I have been privileged to have the help and spiritual support of Phillip and Jennifer Harris. I met Phillip when he was the lead pastor at The Spirit of Life Church in Ferguson, MO.
As the director of SOLC Austin, I look forward to furthering our goals of helping those who committed crimes as children get a second chance as well as supporting juveniles who are incarcerated now and supporting prisoners who are coming back to society.
Dan Perlman, Associate Director, SOLC Austin
Dan is a startup executive with a strong belief in social justice and Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.