Editor’s note: Dr. Damone Jones, Sr. is Senior Pastor of West Philly’s Bible Way Baptist Church. This is a guest opinion piece and as such, does not reflect or imply any editorial stance on the topic.
Partly because he is a famous musician, Meek Mill’s incarceration has become a cause celebré.
But what we are experiencing in America on the federal, state and local levels as it relates to probation and parole is much bigger than any one specific case — and certainly larger than Meek Mill.
I first met Robert Williams, Meek Mill, in the official visiting room of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. As a mayoral appointee to the Board of Trustees (now the Advisory Board) of the Philadelphia Prison System, I walk the halls and interact with inmates and staff frequently.
Just before entering the ministry, I was invited by a trustee at my home church to accompany him to Holmesburg Prison in Northeast Philadelphia (the former Philadelphia county jail), as he would be sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the inmates. That was my first time inside a prison and my first time interacting with inmates. After that experience, I began visiting the Philadelphia Youth Study Center (now the Juvenile Justice Services Center) as a volunteer assistant to the chaplain and it was there that I discovered my life’s burden and passion of ministering to at-risk and incarcerated youth.
In the case of Meek Mill, he recently received a 2 to 4-year sentence in state prison from Common Pleas Court Judge Genece Brinkley. The decision that has been met with praise as well as protest.
Some cite the patience of the judge, saying she has given Robert Williams “chance after chance” to complete his probation successfully and yet he defiantly continues to violate the terms. On the other side, others are enraged that Meek Mill could be incarcerated from a case that “on paper” may be older than some who enjoy his music.
In a day and time when the nation seems to be talking more and more about moving towards criminal justice reform — including the reduction of the prison population and the ultimate dismantling of the “Prison Industrial Complex” — Meek Mill sits in a brown jumpsuit as property of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at SCI Chester.
According to Judge Brinkley, he is a “danger to the community.” While I respect this judge and also minister frequently to victims of crime and violence, I beg to differ.
This man has a heart for the community in general and for children in particular. Not only have I had extensive conversation with Meek about it, but I have also been with him and seen it first-hand.
Celebrities are not above the law and should not be afforded privileges unavailable to the masses in similar situations. Others see this as a miscarriage of justice in that it seems terribly unfair that Meek Mill should still be on probation from a case involving drugs and weapons possession originating in 2007 just because he is a celebrity. I could cite details of this case from my own perspective as I’ve been in the courtroom and know what doesn’t make the news.
Suffice it to say that what may have started as a “Free Meek” rally has evolved into movement in protest to what many have called a “broken” justice system.
But after 30-plus years of involvement in advocating for those involved in the American justice system, I must say that it appears not to be “broken” at all. In fact, I believe it performs intentionally and effectively according to the purpose for which it was designed.
Unfortunately, that “purpose” does not provide justice for everyone who deserves it.
In her book The New Jim Crow, author Michelle Alexander asks and answers a poignant question. “What does this system seem designed to do? As I see it,” she writes, “it seems designed to send people right back to prison, which is what happens about 70% of the time.”
Meek Mill’s case brought more attention to what many already knew: Criminal justice reform is one of the most critical issues of our time.
We are a nation that incarcerates more of our citizens than any other nation in the world. If new Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is even partially successful in his robust aspirations for criminal justice reform, then maybe there’s a chance for the system in Philadelphia County to go from “working over” some people to working for all of the people of this city.