Repairing the Brokenness - Laura Liebman '88

When I went to law school back in 1999, I never heard the term "mass incarceration." Nor when I practiced law at my white-shoe law firm, defending mainly corporate clients in labor and employment cases. In fact, I didn't even have the faintest idea that the United States had the world's highest rate of incarceration with 2.2 million people - the majority of color - behind bars. And the truth is, I don't know how much I would have cared in any meaningful way until I met Max Kenner, the founder of the Bard Prison Initiative, and attended a graduation at Woodbourne Correctional Facility - truly a seminal, life-changing, transformative moment. Once my eyes were opened to the realities of our criminal justice system, race, education and the inequities that exist in our country, I was forever changed. It seems ironic to say that the best moments for me are when I go into prison. Despite the incredible hardship that comes with loss of freedom, our students have created a community that is simply beautiful and inspiring to witness. In the most unconventional of places, true intellectual discussions and learning takes place. The world took notice when our debate team defeated Harvard last fall, seemingly surprised that a group of black prisoners could defeat such an elite group. We weren't surprised, however, given the daily accomplishments of our students. Equally exciting and fulfilling is seeing the accomplishments of our alumni on the outside, who are defying the perilously low expectations that society has for them and achieving true social mobility and personal success. To highlight but one example - a few months ago, we were invited as special guests to the Sackler Center First Awards for Women at the Brooklyn Museum. A group of 4 alumnae -- 3 of whom were released less than a year ago; the fourth has been home for approximately five years -- joined me at the event. Out of the three who were recently released, one has started a full-time paid internship at Ford where she is excelling, the second is finishing her BA at Hunter, and the third works for the Women's Prison Association and is also studying for her BA at CUNY. The fourth alumna finished her BA on the main Bard campus and runs the community initiatives program at the Center for Court Innovation and is partnering with us on new program in which BPI alumni teach at-risk youth. We also bumped into an alumnus, who (after serving more 25 years and having been released only two years ago) works for the BrooklynDefenders and is on the board of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. It is a truly a gift to work with such impressive and talented people who are building successful and meaningful lives. These alumni exemplify our goal for students to become change leaders in their communities and beyond. On personal level, for me they reaffirm my belief that we all have the potential to grow, to change, and to do good in this world.