I’m Tristin Brown and it has always been my dream to attend Georgetown University Law Center. On many occasions, I doubted that I would see that dream come into fruition. And, now that I’m at the very moment that I’ve dreamt of for so long, I’m burdened with the thought of taking such a huge financial risk. Being awarded this scholarship would help to alleviate this stress and allow me to move forward confidently with my decision to pursue my dream of attending GULC.
“Good luck with that.” That was the response my father gave me when I told him that I wanted to go to law school. Most parents would’ve been ecstatic at the admission that their child wanted yet another degree. At first, I was taken aback by his retort, but then I realized it was to be expected. In that moment of truth, the tick of the clock on the wall was seemingly deafening. Time was moving faster than it should’ve been, faster than I wanted it to. And that was only because we were talking behind prison walls. For most of part of my life my dad has been in and out of prison, a product of addiction and crime. And, for so long, I forced myself to believe that the absence of my father didn’t have an impact on me. It wasn’t until I was walking across the stage to receive my bachelor’s degree that I peered into the audience and knew that like every other milestone; he just wasn’t going to be there. I owned my truth right then and there that a huge part of me had been harboring resentment toward my dad.
So, a few weeks after graduation I gassed up my car and drove from Florida to Georgia to confront him face to face to at least try to pass my burden of anger onto him. It had been 2 years since I’d seen him. The closer I got to the correctional facility, the more nervous I became. The good kind of nervous, when you’re bursting at the seams with so much excitement that it transfers into anxiety. The reality of it all was I missed my dad. I missed having that pivotal figure in my life that it seemed everyone else had. I missed him teaching me how to drive, seeing me off to prom, and graduating from college.
Then it dawned on me. The prison system, which had become so intricately woven into my dad’s life and indirectly into my own, hadn’t done enough. I started to question the possible outcomes that could’ve been if we would’ve had a system that depended more on rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Or the potential endings for felons who are released from prison and don’t have a hard time finding employment despite the fact that they have a criminal record. But, then the real truth of it sank in. I was parking my car to go out and visit my dad who is facing 25 years in prison for a nonviolent offense.
After sitting in the visitor’s lobby for what felt like an eternity, I was escorted down what seemed to be the longest corridor in the world. And then I saw him. I saw my father and I raced into his arms. Once we finished exchanging our salt ridden tears on each other’s clothing, we sat down and tried to squeeze the past 2 years into the next hour.
Fast forward to him bidding me luck on my pursuit of law school. It was clear from his eyes that I was facing a man who had lost total faith in the system and quite frankly in himself. As much as it saddened me, it also ignited a flame in me to do more than simply wish things were different. It upped the ante on the bet I was willing to take on my own future. So, I looked at my dad, smiled and said, “Thanks Dad for the luck. But, with determination and perseverance we’ll both be alright.”
So, my really long answer to the complex question of if the criminal justice system adequately deals with America’s War on Drugs can be simplified to the word of no. My story of being a firsthand witness to the shortcomings of our system resembles that of so many others. The repercussions associated with drug crimes more often than not strip people of their ability to live a life without crime and sometimes of their basic human rights to do things like vote. While people are still dying from drug use and being locked away for life for drug crimes, this country has continued to spend billions of dollars putting half a million people in jail and expanding law enforcement, and strengthen criminal organizations. The war on drugs has failed.