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Joe Rogan podcast. Check it out. The Joe Rogan experience.


Train by day.


Joe Rogan podcast by night, all day. Okay.


Mr. Dubin, good to see you again, sir. Mr. Rogan, always, always a pleasure. Introduce your friend.


This is my friend, my client, my brother, Sheldon Johnson. I figured we'd do something a little bit different. Typically, the person sitting to my right is someone that was wrongfully convicted. So I don't want to bury the headline, Sheldon is guilty. And I thought it would be a real interesting conversation to learn his background, learn about his upbringing, learn about the crime that he committed, and hear the sentence he got, which I don't want to shade it and inject my opinion. I have a strong one, but it's pretty astounding how he was treated by the system. I think that there's a real interesting twist that happens at his sentencing. And I know I've said this before, and it probably sounds repetitive, but another miracle sitting to my right, just like a marvelous human being who was basically told by a judge, by an african american judge, that you don't matter, you don't count, and I'm going to throw your life away for a crime in which the victim received two stitches and on a second offense, his first offense being a gun possession charge. So I will say this, that he received a sentence that far eclipses a sentence that would be commonly doled out for murder or manslaughter.


So with that, here's Sheldon.


Sheldon, how long you been out for?


Going on nine months. I got out May 4.


And you were in for 25.


25 years and five months. Two stitches.


Two stitches.




But one of the things that always struck me about Sheldon was I didn't know him. And I got a call from these two remarkable attorneys at organization called the center for Appellate Litigation. Barbara Zolat and Allison hopped, who had been working on this case for a long time. And they called me and Derek Hamilton and know, we know you're working on some stuff with the Manhattan district attorney's office. We have this case that has sort of hit a snag. I want you to take a look at it and see if you could help us. And I called Barbara back and said, I think that there's a mistake here, because it says that he was sentenced to 50 years. I mean, that's no bullshit. I could not believe what I was reading. And then I read about what Sheldon had accomplished while in prison. And then his earliest date of release was, I think, 2029 49, and he had already served 25 years. So I was just blown away by the level of accomplishment and the mental wherewithal that he possessed to accomplish what he did while incarcerated, and then the path he's taken in the eight months since he's been out.


We talk about on these episodes, how do you make change happen? He's living it and making it happen. So I thought it would be just fascinating to go through, like I said, his life, how he got to where he was, why he got this, what his thoughts are, and our thoughts are on the sentence he received, why that happens too often to people of color. And I know there's one thing I want to say, and then I'm going to shut up and really let Sheldon talk. And you talk. I get this a lot. Why are you always bringing up race when you talk about the system? And my response to that is, if you don't talk about how it impacts the system, even for people that have been found guilty, it's like having a conversation about President Biden and ignoring the very obvious apparent cognitive deficiencies he has. It would be like talking about Donald Trump and not recognizing that he seems like an unhinged lunatic. It would be like talking about Kamala Harris and ignoring that she didn't do much to advance criminal justice reformer, you have to confront just. It's there. Is it that all people that get wrongfully convicted are people of color?


No, but most of them. Is it that all people of color get disparate sentences? Oh, absolutely. So that's why I thought that this is an important conversation to have and getting to know Sheldon just thought he has a remarkable story to tell and a perspective on his circumstances, the system. And he's someone that's taken responsibility for what he did. And I think is a living example of what can happen if we think long and hard about if someone's life is worth just throwing away and putting behind bars so that they can rot in a dank cell because he would have been 70 years old when he got out, way past his life expectancy.


One of the things that's happened through all of our conversations that we've had on the show is it highlights how insanely broken the criminal justice system is and how little oversight there is and how few people are looking at these individual cases and that you can have one judge who does what they did to you and no one's looking, no one cares, no one pays attention. And until someone like you goes in and starts combing over this and then coming up with a strategy to actually apply real justice or at least get someone out, I mean, the only way to apply real justice is to have a fucking time machine, right? But it's broken. It's so broken, and it seems so overwhelmed. And the root cause of it is never addressed. The root cause of. I've said it ad nauseam, but I'll say it again. Where the fuck did we come up with 100 and whatever billion dollars to send to Ukraine, and we don't have any money to try to do something about these insanely impoverished, crime ridden, gang ridden, drug ridden communities. We don't do anything. We have mean. This is my take on this whole make America great again thing.


You want to make America great again? Make it so there's less losers. Make it so that more people have a fucking chance. The idea that everyone starts on the same line. I mean, I'm not talking about equality of outcome. That's not possible. But equality of opportunity is possible. That's a possible goal. And at least we could advance that. At least we could do something to just change the course of who knows how many people's lives, and we don't do a fucking thing about it.


I mean, we're looking at each other because we just had lunch before we came. It's like the precise conversation that we had. I told you, this is a motherfucker that gets it.


Oh, I know.


It just makes no sense to me. It makes no sense to me. And it's not a subject of any presidential debates. It's not a subject of anybody who's running for Congress or running for Senate. We have to fix this. This is a problem that's been going on for decades and decades, back through Jim Crow, back all the way to slavery. The same communities, and we don't do anything.


Pull that a little.


Redlining. Everything.


Pull that mic up a little. Yeah.


Yeah, it's good.


I mean, it's wild. It really is wild. The race part of it is a major factor. It's a major factor. And it's a factor that gets ignored when people start talking about racism, systemic racism in country. Talk about sentencing. How come that's not talked about?


Yeah, well, that's a vestige of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, redlining, everything.


Exercising your right to a jury trial, being punished twice.


Yeah, it's hard to know where to pick up because we just had this conversation. But look, let's preface the episode by saying this. We are doing something about it. I keep telling you that this forum keeps paying dividends. We are making progress. We are opening people's minds. I'm getting letters from prosecutors. I'm getting letters from sheriffs. I got a letter from a sheriff in Oregon last week, and he sent me a badge and said, I want to show you how committed I am to trying to make change happen. And it was from this show. So we're doing it. We're addressing it. We're making it happen. Why? Politicians don't. What drives someone to want to get into politics these days is for a different psychiatrist. I have no clue what the allure is, but there's such a swirl of ego and power struggle and divided loyalties, I can't even wrap my head around it. But we're doing it. We got to do it. Grain of sand by grain of sand until we have a sandcastle. So that's what we're doing. So I do think we're making a difference. But, you know, it's crazy because Sheldon and I are the same exact age, and we didn't know that until we were on our way down.


Days apart. Yeah.


And when we flew down, it was the first time he'd ever been on an airplane.




What was that like? Fucking weird, right?


No, I actually loved it. I was very excited. I'm kind of like an adrenaline. I like the adrenaline rush. Just the speed of it and just the whole idea of just. I had this analogy in my head when I was up in the clouds, and I'm looking down, and I said to myself, I said, I just came from the bowels of hell, spending 25 years in prison, and now I'm in the sky, above the clouds, in the heavens, headed to a destination to talk about change and to talk about all of the things that brought me to this place today and the conditions in which I grew up and how social conditions play a role in the decisions that we make or the lack of achievements or opportunities. Like Joe just said a couple of minutes ago, those opportunities are very important. And being able to start that line where everybody is not necessarily equitable, but everybody has that same opportunity.


You have a chance.


You have a chance. Yeah, a real chance.


Well, so tell us about your upbringing.


So, I'm a coda. My mother's deaf. My father's deaf. My sister's deaf, my aunt's deaf. I grew up in a deaf household.


What's a coda?


A coda is a child of deaf adults.


That's crazy. This is the second podcast in a row I'm doing with someone who's like that Moshe Casher who was on yesterday. His parents are deaf. He signs, and he had to translate for his mother his whole life.


Same with me. So as a child growing up, my mother's also white. My grandmother came to America in 1918 from a boat from Sicily. My father is nigerian, he's african. So there was always this contrast where I wasn't really sure where I belonged at. Kids are cruel. So growing up, kids would say, oh, you're mulatto, you're half breathed, and are you adopted? And for a long time, I kind of suffered as a child with an identity crisis, not really knowing where I fell at on either side, what my identity was, who I was supposed to be, and my father. I'm also a product of intergenerational incarceration. My father was incarcerated when I was young. At an early age, he did about 15 years. I was incarcerated. My grandfather was incarcerated. My great grandfather was a slave. And my son killed somebody when he was twelve years old. So that there's this cycle of incarceration based on the conditions, the social conditions, and where I come from. I grew up in New York City, Harlem, on the borderline between the east side and the west side. On Fifth Avenue. You hit Fifth Avenue, you're like, oh, wow, you live in a nice place.


Okay, crack era Harlem. Eighty s, ninety s. And I grew up protecting my mother, interpreting for my mother. My mother could hardly ever keep a job because of her handicap. There was always somebody that would replace her. A lot of people saw my mother as a victim. She was a white woman on 100 and Twelveth street in Lennox Avenue, in all black community. So as a child, I grew up protecting my mother. So I feel like in hindsight, I didn't really have an opportunity to be a child. I had to grow up and be a man early in my life in order to be able to protect my mother. And a lot of people didn't even know that I could hear. So there were times where I would be standing there with my mother and people would just be making all type of random comments and just disrespectful, just hateful stuff. And I would sit there as a kid just kind of like looking up, like, dude, I can hear you. So I think my life took a significant turn when I was in the fifth grade. I was always pretty smart, but as being smart and growing up in these neighborhoods, the school systems are not really equipped to handle the number of children that's coming through.


So you have one teacher and like 30 kids. And me just being who I was, I was always pretty smart. And when I was finished with my work, I would kind of just clown around. I had this teacher in the fifth grade, my math Teacher. And what he would do was when you acted out in the classroom, he would call you to the front of the classroom. He had a stack of rulers today. He would be arrested back then, but back then, it was permissible. It was considered as just punishing kids. And he would call you to the front of the classroom. He would make you stick out your hand, and he would put salt. He had a big salt shaker that he kept on his desk, and he would sprinkle salt in your palm, and he would smack the ruler into your hand, and the salt would kind of embed itself into your palm and would kind of have, like, a little Burning Sensation. So one day, I decided that I was tired of it. And he called me to the front of the classroom, and I put my hand out, and when he swung, I moved my hand, and he almost fell over.


He chased me around the classroom. I ran out into the hallway. He chased me into the hallway. I grabbed the fire extinguish off the wall, and I sprayed him until he fell.


That was my reaction, too.


I was, like, cursing and. Oh, man. But long story short, I sat in the back of the police car for 3 hours as they determined my fate as a ten year old. Put me in handcuffs and everything. And I had a counselor at that time, and I guess she convinced them to send me to a Hospital. So they sent me to mount Sina Hospital psychiatric unit. And I remember them sticking me with a needle. Dorothy. Ten year old kid, man, Jesus christ. In a straitjacket, being escorted to a Hospital, and they stick me with a needle. And so for months, from mount Sinai, I went to metropolitan, and I attempted to escape from metropolitan, and they sent me to a more secure area.


What's metropolitan?


Metropolitan hospital. It's also a psych ward.


Why did they send you to a psych Ward for that?


I guess I was considered as a young black kid who's out of Control with Behavioral Issues. And I'm not sure exactly the gist of the conversation that took place, but from what I've gathered now in the future is that my mother felt that she would rather see me in a hospital than to see me in a jail, because it was either that or they told her that they were going to send me to Spartan. So I went through that just being subject to just a whole bunch of different medications. Melaril, Haldor, lithium, Cogetin. And then they transferred me to Pleasantville. From Pleasantville, I went to Hawthorne, and I'm going to be honest, this is where I learned how to become a criminal, because prior to that, I was just a kid. They put me in this place where I was around older kids, and these kids were really, like, about that life. There was stuff. There was really bad stuff happening. If you look up Hawthorne, Cedar Knowles, to this day, it's been closed for allegations of sex trafficking and child.


So because we know it, because we're from New York. But those are juvenile.


They're like group homes. Yeah, they like juvenile detention facilities. So they consider me as a person. They put what they called a pin on you, and it's a person of interest, a person in need of assistance, and they put you in these places, and they just kind of just leave you there. So I finally got out of there. I went through a lot there. I was molested by a counselor, and I finally escaped from there. And I just went back into the streets at 13 years old, and I just was fending for myself. I was out in street.


So it was three years of that.


Three years of that.


For one instance, for one guy's trying to hit you with a fucking roar.






And I always look back and I see that as a trajectory in my life that just changed everything. It changed me as a person. I lost my innocence. I felt like after I left that place, I was a darker person because of the things that I saw and the things that I went through. So I come back and we're talking about, this is 1988, crack era Harlem. You got kids, 1314 years old, making $1,000 every two, three days, selling drugs, looking out on the corners. This was like real stuff. You see New Jack City. New Jack City was for real.




People who grew up after that do not understand pre crack and post crack.


Oh, yeah. Big difference.


Was wild.


Devastated my community.


It was wild. And how the fuck did that, like, how the fuck did that happen? When you go through the whole story of it? Come on, man. I had freeway Ricky Ross on here.


So last night we were talking about this, and we were talking about, like, what do we want to accomplish today? And last night when we were talking, he's like, well, you know, the CIA brought crack into. I said, you might want to stay away from that, but here we are.


The fuck out of staying away from that, man. My friend Michael Rupert, rest in peace. He was the guy who stood in front of the city council on television and exposed it. He was a former Los Angeles narcotics officer. And he said, I personally witnessed the CIA selling drugs in the inner cities of Los Angeles. And that was the freeway Ricky Ross situation where they were using that money to fund the contras versus the Sandinistas.


In Nicaragua, it's really not as crazy, because last night, Sheldon telling me about it, and I spent a long night into the early morning hours reading some of what you told me to read. It's really not in dispute that it happened. Not in dispute at what? Well, I'm going to let Sheldon tell. What blew me away about it was that not only was it known how addictive it was, it was also known how easy it was to reproduce the.


Process and how much cheaper it became.


Yeah. Not only that, the difference is, in sentencing.


The difference is sentencing is the wildest thing.


One to five is like one to five ratio. Yeah.


And then you had the Nelson, the Rockefeller drug laws that came into effect that required mandatory minimums and et cetera, et cetera. So when we talk about social conditions and we talk about situations that were created for the purpose of what, you separated families. You had mothers and really grandmothers who had to take care of the children because the mothers were in the streets smoking crack, and the fathers were either in the streets using drugs, selling drugs, or in prison with astronomical sentences and removed from the family structure in totality because of these conditions. So now you have the child just kind of left to fend for itself. And we're not even talking about the children who were born that were subject to mothers who. The crack baby, right. Yeah. The list just goes on and on when we talk about social conditions and we talk about the long term effects of these conditions and how it produces behavior. Like Ivan Pavlov, one of my favorite psychologists. He talks about stimulus and a response, right? A classical condition. And so you introduce the stimulus, and then you have a response which equals to the condition that we see.


And you're also talking about what we were talking about earlier. You're still dealing with these communities that are still suffering from segregation, Jim Crow, and then they throw crack in it like just gasoline on a fire.


It's crazy, because we've had this conversation in the abstract. We've had this conversation about this very subject. And then the more I got to know Sheldon and his story, I said, well, here was someone that not only lived it, and I want to make clear. One thing that has always struck me about Sheldon is his vulnerability, but also his honesty. He's like, he'll be the first to tell you out of the gate, I did it. I could have made better choices. He's not asking for a pass based on his conditions. What he's always said to me was, I just want people to consider how it may have impacted me. And to me, you just can't ignore it. It doesn't say, well, poor Sheldon. I think that because I guess I know him, the human being. So I trip out. When people are like anybody that murders or robs or does it lock them up and throw away the key? I always feel like, well, look, why don't you explain to me how you have gotten to know somebody that has been brought up in different conditions than you were? How long have you sat and listened to them?


How long have you considered how that might have impacted them and compared it to the conditions you grew up in? How many people like him have you gotten to know? So, again, I'm trying to walk a fine line between sounding preachy and just saying, let's just consider the circumstances in which he was born. We're both 48. I don't want to get into. My family struggled financially, but had different opportunities. My mom was a schoolteacher. My dad was a knockaround Brooklyn guy that did what he could do to provide for his family and wasn't always great at it, but he was a wonderful man. But I can't ignore that I had different opportunities than Sheldon did. So when he gets out and then he arrives back on the street.




Don'T think anyone's going to argue with the fact that you're impacted and molded from ten to 13 and forward 13 to 18 by who are the people you're around? What are the conditions you're born in?


And I never even went back to school after that. So I'm talking about after the fifth grade, I went back to school maybe for a week when I was 17, to Washington, Irvin High school. I went to school for a week and I just dropped back out. I just saw no purpose in going to school. And I really didn't go back to school and really educate myself until I went to prison. Today I'm pursuing a master's in human services.


Before we get to your master's, why don't you explain till you get back at 13?


So I get back into my community at 13, and I'm just kind of. Not only am I trying to wean myself from all of the narcotics that have been pumped into me for these last three years, I'm talking about I gained so much weight, I went from a slim kid to being fat because of the medications that they was giving.


So what are they giving you?


They were giving me haldor, lithium, thorazine, meloril, and another medication called Cogentin. Those are the ones that I'm aware of, and I'm talking about. I was just, like, heavily sedated.


And that's what they do to all.


The kids, and that's what they did to most of the kids.


They just want to keep them calm and quiet.


Keep them calm and quiet. Keep them calm and quiet.


Are they giving you any counseling when you're in there?


Are they talking? It's superficial. You got a bunch of kids who sit around in a group, and they do a feelings check. But the counselors really, as far as I was concerned, the counselors didn't really care because there was so much going. The counselors was just there for a check. There was so much going on that was above and beyond what the counselors could control. It was just ridiculous. You had the kids going down into white plains, breaking into cars, stealing, getting high, going across the campus, having sex with the girls. It was just insane what was going on. I learned how to become this person. I learned how to survive. Learned, you know, what it meant to go and steal a Benzie box. Remember the Benzie boxes where you could snatch them right out the car people used to hide them? I learned how to break into a car with the older guys and how to take a Benzie box and sell it. So I learned how to survive there. I mean, I've always known how to survive superficially, but I just feel like at that point, I was put into a place where instead of getting real therapy or real help, I was just kind of put into a place.


And I was malleable, I was young, I was impressionable, and this is what I was seeing. These became my role models. These were the guys that I respected, that I looked up to. They were selling drugs. They didn't have a care in the world. They had all of the girls. Ironically, prison in my community was almost like a rite of passage, right? In my community, when you went to prison and you came back and you didn't tell on nobody, and you were able to hold it down, and word got back to the streets that you didn't get robbed or you didn't get pumped, people looked at you differently, treated you differently. I remember when I was 15 years old, I wanted to go to Rikers island so bad that I lied to the officer. I got arrested for smoking. I got arrested for smoking weed. Weed is legal now, but back then, weed was a thing. If they saw you smoking weed, that gave them justification to get out, stop you, take you down to the precinct, run you for warrants and all kind of other stuff. You sat in the bullpens for three, four days before you even got out.


And I remember lying to the officer. He said, how old are you? I said, I'm 16, because I wanted to go to Rikers island so that I could come back and be around the older guys and tell them, hey, listen. I went, I still got my sneakers. And the girls and everybody just treated you different, and it's really sad, but that was a reality that I was faced with. So I come back, I'm 13, and I'm going through this stuff. My mother's still struggling. She's on SSD, which is Social Security for disability. My father's in prison, and I started selling drugs. Guy offered me an opportunity to be a lookout. He said, listen, kid, I just need you. I'm going to give you $75 a day. I just need you to stand on that corner, and when you see the police car, just yell, oh, shit. Oh, shit. That was like a little thing. And I would just stand there. And eventually I just slowly moved up the ranks, and I became this person that I feel like I was never meant to be. But because of the conditions and because of where I was at and because what I saw, what I was exposed to, made me into someone else, it turned me into this person that I was never meant to be.


And when you're in this melting pot of just insanity, you lose sense of what's permissible and what's impermissible, right? I'm committing crimes, and it just doesn't even matter no more. I was never the guy to hurt any old people. My era, when you seen old people come through, you help them with their bags, and we have respect for our elders. That was something that was always taught to us. Now these kids, that's a whole nother story. And I'm getting arrested for little stupid crimes, driving without a license, standing on a corner, little small, petty drug cases, and I'm just kind of just moving through my life with no purpose. But I'm providing for my family. My mother doesn't. At the end of the month, we don't have to worry about just eating grits and cheese no more. We can eat chicken and velveeta shells, and. And for some people, that's significant. I can buy a couch now. I can buy a real couch that's comfortable. I can buy a tv for my can, you know, set up her cable to where she can watch HBO. All of these little small things that I wasn't able to do.


That she couldn't really do for herself after she paid the rent was significant. And it made me feel like I had a purpose. It made me feel like a man. When in all actuality, many of the values and the moles that I adopted growing up were just so warped and so misplaced. Like Scarface, the movie, right? You have this. Oh, I don't break my balls in my word for nobody, right? And I remember one time, a friend of mine, he came to pick me up, and he was on a run from the cops. He had a warrant out for his arrest. He had a car full of drugs and a car full of guns. And because I gave him my word, I felt like I couldn't back out of the situation. Nothing bad happened. But it's just the idea of sometimes growing up and adopting these values and these morals, and you begin to take them on as part of your characteristics, and you end up making really bad decisions that can cost you for the rest of your life. Like my son. My son, when he got into a fight with an asian guy, they called him the Columbia law student killer, right?


He gets into a fight with this chinese guy. And this is not to take away anything from that man's family. And as a man, as his father, I felt some type of way, but the guy goes into the street and gets hit by a car and he dies. But this is how fast your life can change from just one simple mistake. From one mistake. And I just feel like a lot of times these conditions are created and there's no alternatives. I had never been on a plane, like Josh said, I never even thought about going on a plane. So I'm growing up in this community. My father's gone. My mother's. She's deaf. I ended up having a son. My son was born in 1993, and that just exacerbated the issue, right? So now I'm really. What am I going to do now? I have a son. I have someone to look at. And despite how many times I said that I was never going to be who my father was, my actions were actually setting me up to be exactly who my father was and removed me from my son's life. And in 19, I caught the gun charge that triggered the felony that had allowed them to be able to sentence me the way that they did in 1994.


I also caught another case. At that time, I was what you call giving out consignment on drugs. Two people in particular I gave consignment to, and I ended up getting arrested for a case. And when I sent someone to go pick up the money from them, they kind of just was like, whatever, I'm not paying them. So when I came home, one guy in particular, I ran into him with his girlfriend.


That case got dismissed, right?


The gun charge?


No, the one that you were away for. You got arrested for something. You're in jail.




These guys figure since you're in jail, fuck it, we're not going to pay him.


Yeah, I'm not going to pay.


And then the case that you were arrested for got dismissed.


Got dismissed.


So then you come home.


So then I come home and I need my money. I need my money. This is just me being honest. This is Miss being straight. I gave you something and we had an understanding that you were going to pay me. And when I came home, when I finally located this particular individual, he had his girlfriend with him. And this guy owed me $5,000 for some drugs that I gave him on consignment. I gave him 8th of a kilo, which is 125 grams of cocaine. And when I saw him, he had a bunch of jewelry on. He was with his girlfriend, she had a bunch of jewelry on. And I said, hey, man, where's my money at? Oh, yo, I was going to pay you. As far as I was concerned, his jury was, we was even. So I robbed him and I took his jury and his girlfriend happened to be there, and unfortunately she got caught up in the situation. I had a bunch of young guys with me and they robbed her as well. And he got hit in the head with the gun right here on the side of his head. And he had two stitches.


And they gave me 25 years for that case.


Did you hit him in the head?


No, one of the guys that I was with hit him in the head and he identified me in a photo array. Unbeknownst to me, he identified me in a photo array. This guy, as far as I was concerned, he was in the streets, just like I was right. I didn't really understand that. Like I said, we go back to morals and values and principles and how warped they can be, right in my mind at the time, this is a guy who I gave something to. He's living an illegal life, I'm living an illegal life. So as far as I was concerned at that time, it was fair game. In hindsight, as I moved on and I became more mature and I began to reevaluate myself, I realized how wrong that was. But that was later on at this time, I committed the crime and I just kept moving. Another guy that I ran into he also owed me some money. He owed me $7,000, and it kind of went along the same ways. He was selling drugs out of an auto part store. He was a spanish guy. I got word that this is where he was at, and he was selling drugs, and I was going to get my money, and the same circumstances kind of ensued.


Saw him. Hey, what's going on? Reading in between the lines and outside the margins, without really going into all of the details, I robbed him because he owed me $7,000.


Did he get physically hurt?


No, he didn't get touched. Got roughed up a little bit, but there was no physical harm, nothing. Going back to morals and values and principles. Right. In my mind, he was fair game. He's selling drugs, I'm selling drugs. You owe me money. I came to take what you have in that world that was considered as permissible. These are one of the rules of something that was permissible in that world. Long story short, in December 1997, I get arrested for both cases. Really for one of them, for the one with the guy and the girl. And then the other case drops with the auto part store. The guy that I said they were selling drugs out of the auto part store. I am in the process of going to court. I'm going back and forth to court. I'm on Rikers island at the time. It's just crazy. On Rikers island, that's when the gangs was involved. Prior to that, a year before that, I had got involved with the gangs. I was blood. I was a gang member. This is where the cut come from on my face. I have a bunch of stab marks from just being in those environments and being on Rikers island and just warring with other rival gangs, mostly latin kings.


And in Yetas, my final offer before trial was 23 years, which kind of blew me away because my lawyer kept telling me that my maximum sentence was 25 years if I went to trial. So in my mind, it just didn't make no sense to me. Why would I forfeit my rights to an appeal if there's only a two year difference? I told the judge I would take 15 years right now. I acknowledged that I had made some mistakes, and I had done some things that were wrong, and I said, I'll take 15 years right now. He refused to accept my plea offer, and I went to trial, and that I ended up getting 50 years. 50.


So they give you 25 for each case?


25 for each case. Consecutive. And I remember blowing trial and just not really understanding what was being there, but it was almost surreal and I remember when I went and got sentenced, and the judge said 50 years. Now, mind you, I had a black lawyer, a black judge, and a white prosecutor. And I remember when he said 50 years, he said he went into all of these reasons why he was sentencing me the way that he was sentencing me. They're supposed to do a report prior to your sentencing, and it's called a post supervision interview pre sentencing investigation. It's called the PSI presentencing investigation. There was never no presentencing investigation. There was never no mitigating evidence presented on my behalf to highlight why I may have made some of the decisions that I made. And he just called me a menace to society, and he gave me 50 years. And I remember when I first got to downstate, which is a processing facility, and they give you what they call is a time computation sheet. And on the time computation sheet, it gives you all of the numbers, like the beginning of your bid, how much jail time you have.


And I just remember 2049. That's all I kept looking at. And I was like, 2049? Are they fucking serious? This is 1990, 819, 99. And I'm trying to do the math, and I'm just like, 2049? I'm like, that's 50 years from now. And I remember going to the law library, and I forget how I get the world almanac and something just says, look up life expectancy. And I look up my life expectancy. And as an african american man, my life expectancy at that time was 67 years old. And I did the math, and I said, I'm going to die in prison, man. I just really believed that I was going to die in prison. One thing I learned really quickly when I got to prison was that prison does two things to you. It brings out the best, or it brings out the worst. And what I saw was I saw individuals who were at their worst, and I saw guys who were at their best. The guys who were at their best were guys who were involved in education, post secondary education programs. They was running the violence groups. They was running the substance abuse groups.


And I remember saying to myself, I want that. And I remember just being involved in so much bullshit because I was in a gang, and I was top of the food chain. I had my own nation. I wasn't just like the random gang member. I had a whole nation under me. And I was just in and out the box, in and out the box. Solitary confinement, which has been considered as unconstitutional now. And I remember just having these moments of reflection and just asking myself, like, what are you going to do? Can you spend the next 48 years living like this? I said I couldn't do it and I had lost all my privileges. They took everything from me. I was in Southport at the time, which is closed now. It's a solitary confinement facility in New York state. And I was on a loaf, which is also unconstitutional now. So the loaf is a dietary restriction that they give you. It's a chunk of bread and it has cabbage and carrots in it, and they give you like, a quarter of a cabbage and they give you a cup of milk. When they can't take any more of your privileges.


This is what they would give you six days out the week. On the 7th day, you would get a hot meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. And then it would go back for 21 days. They would do this. Six and one, six and one, six and one. And it was at that moment where I really said, I have to change my life. I have to change my life. I just can't do this. I had a wife, I had family still. My son was growing up. He was hearing stories about my so called notoriety, and I just didn't want to be that dad. Like, I really was looking at myself and really evaluating, asking myself, like, yo, what the fuck are you doing? I was smoking a lot of weed at the time. I was drinking jailhouse hooch, and I was at my worst, and I had to figure out how to get to my best, so I decided to. When I got out of solitary confinement, I did 42 days on the loaf. I went from being 210 pounds to, like, 168 in, like, a matter of seven months. Deflated me. And when I got out, I made a decision that I was going to walk away and I didn't care about what the consequences was.


And I said to myself, I've been doing bad for so long, I'm going to try to do something good. If all else fails, I could always go back to doing bad, but let me try. Let me give it a shot. And I ended up getting to school program, I got my GED. I left the gangs alone, which was a benefit for them, because I was what you call an authoritarian. I was a rule guy. I'm still a rule guy. I like rules, I like rules, I like structure. I like things to be a certain way. And it was to their advantage to get rid of me anyway. Plus, I knew a lot of the guys who were at the top.


Why was it to their advantage to.


Get rid of you? Because I was the type of person who would say, you're doing that for what reason? No, you can't do that. The rule says that you can't do this. You can't do this. This is what the rules say. And I was rules of the prison or the rules of the gang? The rules of the street. Yeah, there was rules.


Give us a for instance.


Okay, so, for instance, I could be in a whole nother facility. Let's say I'm in Green Haven and a guy's in Attica, and they want to do something to him because they feel like he's not sharing his proceeds of drugs that he's bringing into the facility. The rules say you can't do that. That's his property. That's his belongings. So I was a rule guy, and it was to their advantage to get me out of the way. So when I decided to take a step back, they were like, yes. And it was to my advantage as well. And this was in 2005, so there was no resistance. None. And at that time, this is where a lot of what they call set tripping began. The organization began to implode on itself.


The gang organization.


The gang organization. There was a lot of infighting, sets against sets. And I was just always against that. And it was time for me to go. And I didn't care, whatever the consequences was. I was fortunate that there weren't any consequences, but I didn't care what the consequences was. I just walked away.


And then that begins your journey?


This begins my journey. I got into school. I got my GED. From there. I got involved in correspondence courses. I started interacting with guys who were teaching art, aggression, replacement training. And I started to begin to understand how these concepts work. What positive visualization is, deep breathing, how to remove yourself, conflict resolution. All of these ideas of change began to take place with me. Substance abuse. I stopped smoking weed. I stopped smoking cigarettes. I was smoking, like, 30 cigarettes a day. I'm literally having chest pains from smoking cigarettes. And I realized that I wanted to live. And the only way that I was going to be able to live and walk out of prison was to remove myself from these substances. I had seen so many guys get carried out. I seen guys dying, not just from just being stabbed or with altercations from officers. I've seen guys dying. From one guy I knew, he used to drink so much hooch, his liver failed on one night. He died in the cell that night. The morning when they came to do that count, he was frozen. He was stiff as a log. But these are the things that I was seeing, and I was really in a situation where I had to ask myself, do I want to go out like that?


And I didn't want to go out like that.


Tell me about jailhouse hooch. How are they making that?


So it's a bunch of ways that you make it. You use fruit juice, but a lot of guys use tomato paste, tomato paste, water and sugar. You need a kicker, which is like, what they call, like a mash. You would call it a mash. They call it a kicker. Get a plastic bag. You put it in a plastic bag, you let it blow up. It goes through the process, the carbon dioxide process. I did a whole paper on ethanol when I was in Cornell so that I could learn how the process was. And it's pretty good stuff, especially if you distill it, but it's bad for you because it has a component in it called methane, and it goes straight to your brain. But like, in the streets, when distillation places or facilities, they distill it, they remove that part of the alcohol, the methane. But in prison, guys just drink it. It's just like, give a fuck or you make the fruit juice. Same thing. Plastic bag, sugar, kicker, mash.


What is the kicker?


The kicker is to accelerate the.


I know, but what does it consist of?


Usually, like, spoil fruit, some spoiled bread with mold on it because it begins the process of fermentation. It's like a mash.


This shit's got to be super toxic for you.


Oh, super fucking toxic. Dudes is dropping like flies. Like flies.


When you hear going forward how Sheldon changed his life, and not just the correspondence courses, but all of these various counseling programs, outreach programs, his connections to the outside world, which he'll talk about, is that the impossibly sick, fucking twisted, horrifically sad irony to all of this is that it took prison to save him. And why couldn't he be saved as a kid? That's what I am really trying to sort of put energy towards. Now, when you asked him earlier, wasn't there counseling in the group home? And if you see what this counseling is like, obviously I can't cast aspersions on every counselor in a group home across America, but I've had people on the podcast with me, and I'm listening to their anger management classes, right? I won't mention who it is, but I'm listening to the anger management class that they take. And it's on Zoom. It's run by a guy that can't fucking turn his camera on. And it's like. It's bedlam. There's just people screaming, hey, man, I can't hear you. What the fuck did you just say? You hear not just the anger and the frustration, but the guy's inability to control the situation, to control the technology, let alone giving out.


Real advice, real.


Advice and constructive feedback on how different people are. He's checking a box, this guy, to do a job. Is that happening with everyone? It's not happening with everyone. But again, just the paradox here is that this insane, inhumane sentence actually saved Shelton. But why weren't there those programs that thought that implementation in his community to save him as a kid? And I don't just take cases at the Pearl Mudder center where I'm the executive director, the Pearl Mudder senator for legal justice at Cardoza Law School. We get a massive amount of mail and we get a lot of people calling us to help out on cases. I want to help as many people as we can, but people that I think can succeed or that we could help succeed when they get out. And on paper you can see pretty quickly what somebody has done with their time. I've sat with people in institutions all over the country where I said, what programs are you in? And I feel like an idiot asking because I'd be a fucking puddle on the floor. I asked him many times, how often did you cry? How did you extract yourself from the gang?


How did you sleep at night with the noise? Sheldon told me about this thing called a human harpoon that people make out of magazines and a sharpened toothbrush. Can you fucking the mind fuck on this? They stiffen the pages of a magazine with toothpaste, soap, water, let it dry. Let it dry so that they could basically work it into a rod. You keep on working the paper between your hands and then you attach with soap, newspaper, a sharpened toothbrush handle at the end of it or what? Or a bone or a bone from something that they ate in the vessel. And then you're walking past their cell and all of a sudden you get fucking stabbed with a harpoon. So I'm thinking, or have feces thrown on you. So I'm trying to process all of that. And to be able to navigate that hell and come out to this halfway sane, it hurts me deep in my fucking guts to hear that. I'm hearing you talk and then I'm thinking, this is what it took to save you. When I think about he was ten years old, my son's eleven. And that it's hard to listen to.


It's hard to process that you were able to have that wherewithal to sit a day in solitary confinement. Let alone 42 days.


And so your process, when you decide that you're going to try to do good, how difficult was the process of trying to.


It was lonely.


Establish an education.


It was lonely. On one side, I had the guys who I used to run with saying, the fuck is he doing? And then I had the guys who were actually doing good just watching me to see if I was going to crumble or fail. Or you had a handful of guys that committed me and say, I applaud you. I got you, man. If you need some help, I can help you do this or I can help you do. I just, I felt like everybody, the world was watching, including my family, because they didn't believe up until the point to where I graduated from Cornell. My cousin told me, she said, you know, when you called me and invited me to the graduation, she said, I didn't believe it. I didn't believe nothing you had told me prior for the last ten years or anything that you said you did until I saw you at that graduation. So I had family. I had everybody just kind of just waiting for me to fail. But I just felt like I was just determined to succeed. I just had this energy in my spirit, and it was the will to live.


As far as I'm concerned, it was the will to live. When I was in solitary confinement, I read Viktor Frankl's man's search for meaning. And one of the things that struck me as being so powerful, he says, if you have a why, then you have a reason to live. And this is a guy who was in a concentration camp during a holocaust, and he found a reason to live. He found a reason. And I'm sitting there in the cell and I'm asking myself, do you have a fucking reason to live? And I think about my family, and that was my reason. And I wanted to beat the system. And that was my way of beating the system. I'm not going to let you motherfuckers kill me. And that was my spirit. And I knew it was only one way for me to accomplish that. So like I said, I started going to school. I did the correspondence courses. I got involved in the Cornell prison education program. I obtained my associate's degree, and then I went on to obtain my bachelor's in behavioral science from mercy. But in this process, I'm mentoring other young men.


Now guys are looking at me and saying, hold on. Wait a minute, man. This guy is onto something. I got guys on both sides now saying, yo, can you help me? I started working in the law library. I discovered that I had a knack for complicated things, case law. And I was helping guys, and I was actually helping guys get out of prison. And I started running the programs.


What programs?


So I ran aggression replacement training.


And how many years in do you start doing this?


About nine years in. Eight years in. I got arrested in 1997 and about 2005. This is when I started to make my transitions. About eight years in. And it felt good. It felt good. It felt good to be able to call my family and send them pictures and invite them to these events where they can actually see me change. They could see actual, tangible change. It felt good for the guys that I knew that were coming to me and asking me for help. I was helping guys with their geds. I became a tutor in the program. And the rewards that I felt. It didn't even matter anymore about when I was going to get out, right? It was just now about how can I help other people not go through what I went through and wait so long? Because I feel like I wish I had somebody that would have came along at an earlier stage. And like he said, don't wait till I fall. Catch me before I fall. And that's part of my motto now. And some of the work that we do at the queen's defenders, the alternatives to incarceration. And this is why I'm so passionate about a lot of the work that I do now.


I'm trying to catch these kids before they fall. I don't want to wait till they're falling, and I want to show them the way. And I feel like I'm a credible messenger, because when they see me, they know that I came from the same place they come from. Like Josh was saying earlier. Right. There's a difference between being qualified and certified. Right. You could read 100 books about drug abuse, but how qualified are you to really tell somebody who's sick on heroin and they're ready to do anything that they can for a bag of dope, of what you went through? You can't. And this experience is priceless.


You said it way better than I did. Certified versus qualified. And that's know, I'm just sitting back watching the work that Sheldon is doing now. What's your official title at the Queen's defenders?


Client advocate. And we just created the Yelp. We titled it Yelp. Me and two other brothers that I was incarcerated with formerly Bruce Bryant and Rashad Ruhani. We're client advocates. We run a youth emergent leadership program, and we work directly with the district attorneys and the judges at the courts dealing with the alternative to incarceration program. A lot of the young kids that catch the gun charges, we bring them into our program. We help them with job readiness training, whether it's OSHA training. We help them get their geds. We direct them to different programs. Like, we got a program called hood coding. And this is also a guy who's previously incarcerated, and he teaches coding to younger kids inside the inner cities and the projects.


Like coding, as in computer coding?


Computer coding. He teaches coding. And we get them into our program. We help them with their resumes, because one of the main things we realize is that outside of everything else, a lot of these kids, they're impoverished. They don't have nothing. So we want to be able to try to help them with some type of employment, right? That's number one. And then we take them through our program. We have a 36 week, ten point program. It deals with conflict resolution. It deals with knowing your rights, how to have a conversation with an officer. One of the things that I take pride in. While I was incarcerated, I was also in theater program. I played Macbeth on a stage. I also was on the debate team. We debated against Stanford, Harvard, and Yale on the topic of the future of automation, and we crushed them. But one of the things I learned in those arenas is critical thinking and critical analysis. Right? How do you critically think about a situation? And also looking back, I realized something about myself is that I did not have a term that I coined called situational cognizance. Right. As a kid, for some reason, I felt like I was not able to see the long term consequences of my behavior.


It was like a wall there. And I think a lot of these younger kids are also suffering from the same thing. They don't. And the system sets you up. The system tricks you because you catch these cases, and what they do is they slap you on a wrist, right? You catch this gun charge, and they say, oh, no, we're just going to give you six months. Don't worry about it. What they don't tell you is that gun charge is a pretext now to enhance your sentence when you catch another case. So it's almost like a form of entrapment, right? And a lot of these kids don't understand that. They think that these cases that they're catching are just going to disappear. They don't realize that there's a paper trail being established that's being created. There's a profile being created against you. And when you reach a certain threshold, there's a term that I like to say they're going to knock your fucking head off, and you're going to find yourself. A lot of these kids find themselves in situations where they get 25 years for an assault.


You remember scared straight?




All right. I think the effectiveness of scared straight was because of the messenger. So you're seeing the change right now, and this is not meant to blow sunshine up your ass, because you get plenty of that and you deserve it. But I was in, like, a situation last time I was here where I felt a little bit hopeless. And now I'm trending toward more hopeful because Bruce Bryan, who was on the show, is a client advocate at the queen's defenders. And I don't wear that as a feather of my cap. That was just me. It was validation that if I get behind this man and give him new life, do my part in it, Lord knows there were others. Steve Zeidman at CUNY law school.


And if it wasn't for. In all honesty, I'm adamant about to this day, if it wasn't for Josh and Allison harp actually going to and Derek as well. Derek Hamilton speaking to the district attorney like we were at a plateau where they just was like, nah, but I.


Don'T want it to be about me at all. Here's what I wanted to say, is that you now are seeing the connections. Legal aid was representing Bruce. There was an army of people that all believed that he could make change happen and do positive things when he got out. So now he's a client advocate at the queen's defenders, doing this kind of work, trying to explain to judges this person, don't let them be another Sheldon Johnson. Don't let them be another me or Derek Hamilton. They deserve counseling. They deserve a second chance. They deserve to help, really be rehabilitated. And then Sheldon comes over and starts working at the queen's defenders, which is like the appointed counsel for people that can't afford an attorney. They're criminal defense lawyers. So to watch them out there advocating and trying to change hearts and minds about the community, you have to be on the ground doing it and getting in front of people. And I know I've said it before, I'm very thoughtful in who I bring with me. Look at this beautiful mind and how he articulates himself and educated himself. And you want to tell me that this couldn't have happened earlier?


He doesn't need anyone's sympathy and he's not asking for. It's something I admire quite a bit about him. Whenever anybody he doesn't want. Poor Sheldon. How could you have gone through this, and he stops them. I've seen him do it right in their tracks. Listen, I did what? I just don't know that my life was worth throwing away. But to watch them now, on the other side of it, the change that we talked about, that, I'm like, how do we change it? How do we do it? It's starting to happen. Could we use Jeff Bezos to sit down and think through how we can build a community center in east New York, in Harlem? Yeah, we could. The means are out there to do it. All it takes is one person listening to this episode that tells someone, that knows someone, and then progress is starting to happen, and we can just do it on the ground. But the reason why I mentioned scared straight is because, sure, I could go in there and talk to these kids. They're not going to fucking listen to me. They're just not. I might be certified, but I'm not qualified.


Right? I could sympathize, but I can't empathize. I go through that talking sometimes, like, to fighters that I manage. Right? I do it with Shakur Stevenson. He's like a little brother to me. I love him. Sometimes I feel like the message might be better coming from Jay Prince than it is for me, because he's more qualified. I try to wrap my head around what Shakur went through as a kid and growing up in Newark and the circumstance, but I think that there is a disconnect. And I have to be big enough to recognize that and say, yeah, maybe I'm not the right person. But you're telling me he's not going to inspire, and they're doing it. They're getting judges to change their mind. They're getting prosecutors to think twice.


We just got one guy. He shot at his brother. Without going into the details of his case, he has attempted murder charge, and we now have him on our program. They originally were talking about giving him 15 years. He's been in our program for a couple of months. We set him up. We help him get his resume. He's working towards his GED, and he's in the hood coding program. We also have him in an aggression replacement training program. And now the district attorney is considering giving him five years probation. So they went from 15 years, and this kid is doing amazing. Like, he's just picking up the coatings. The guy that I spoke to, he said that this kid is like a sponge. He's just soaking it up so fast. But this is just one example of how we kind of level the playing field and create opportunities. I think that key, that word you spoke about earlier is so crucial to the context of this conversation. Opportunities. Right. How do we create the opportunities for these kids to be able to provide? Living in New York City ain't no joke, man. The cost of living is ridiculous.


So how do we create these opportunities? So now, also, what we're doing is we go into the schools, we talking to the teachers, we're talking to the teachers and the principals, and we asking them, we're not even going to wait till you get to the courtroom. We're asking the teachers and the principals, who in your classroom do you think needs help? Which kids in your classroom are the most, giving you the most trouble? And they give us the names and we go and we talk to them and we're getting them involved in our program, but it's all about opportunity.


Well, kids sometimes need to see someone not sometimes, always need to see someone who's done something from a similar situation where they realize, like, there's a path out of this. Because if you don't see a path out of this, you just see a path towards doing what the other people in your environment are doing. And that's how all human beings react. If you're in a bad environment with a bad group of human beings, the chances of you going down that same path are extraordinary.


Learn behavior.


Yes. And from someone like you, they can see this is not a given. There's a way to do this. There's a way to get out of this. And there's a guy who's already gone the wrong way who could say, you know what? I figured it out, and I'm going to help you. The difference between someone like you saying it versus some uninspired counselor is massive. It's massive. And it speaks to you and your character that you want to do this, that you've dedicated yourself to doing this. That's where real change comes from. That's where real help comes from. Real help comes from someone, as you.


Said, who's qualified to do it, comes from the same place that you came from and that you can identify, because being able to identify is a critical component. Like you said, is this someone who can identify, empathize with what I'm going through, where I'm at right now in my life? Like a lot of the young kids, they're involved in the gangs. And we have this reculturalization program right where we are trying to teach them. Because in many of our communities, the gangs have become a part of the culture, like you have parents who are gang members. You got the kids who are in communities, and it's just saturated with gang culture, language, dress, music, food, everything else. So we're trying to extract them out of these places and say, okay, this is something that you can do differently. We're taking them to different places. We're taking them to HBCus so that they can see what people who look like them look like when they're going to college. This can be you. This is some of the. Take them into classrooms to meet with the professors. We have a financial literacy course where Chase bank actually works with us, and we teach them how to establish credit, how to open up a checking account, how to open up a savings account.


And at the end of that particular five week program, we actually take them to the bank and we give them $25 so that they can open up their own bank account so that they can understand the difference between the money that you obtain from the streets and the money that you get working legitimately is two different kinds of money. You can't appreciate the money that you get from the streets, but that money that you've been working all week for 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week at the end of the week, and you can see that direct deposit when it goes into your account, you can take that card and you can actually utilize it to withdraw your money out the bank. That's a big difference. Civic engagement. How can some of these kids feel like they have a voice in their communities when they're not making no decisions in their communities? We go into the rallies. We take them to the rallies out of Albany. Yesterday. They went to a rally. Last week we went to a rally about treatment, not jails. How to set up what they call diversion courts for people who have substance abuse problems.


Instead of sending them to prison, they need treatment. And the money that they save is clear. It's clear when you do the math, the money that you save, it costs almost up to $70,000 to incarcerate one person.


But then there's the issue of privatized prisons, which is insane.


That's disturbing.


It's so disturbing. They're using human beings as batteries to generate money. That's what it's like.


Yeah, we're trying to take the charge out of their battery. We're trying to pull the plug out of the wall, because these aren't controversial statistics, and I'm not going to start spewing them. But we incarcerate at a rate that dwarfs any other western country, any other civilized anywhere. In the world, really. So, in any event, I was doing a relative comparison. So how do we put those privatized prisons out of business? We have to start on the ground. And it's almost like a rallying cry to myself because we get a lot of. Not a rallying cry to myself, but the way I got from being a little less intimidated by the mountain to climb was taking a step back, really, after the last episode and saying, well, what have we done and how have we changed things? Listen, I wasn't born a civil rights lawyer that was working on innocence cases. I have a trial strategy company called DRC. We do focus groups, mock trials on big cases. Right. Try to unfold the thinking of jurors in a jurisdiction where the case is going to be tried. Then we make demonstrative aids, and we are alleged experts in jury selection.


And that became a platform. I said, how can we use this as a platform now that I'm operating the Pearlmadder center as well? So just being in the boxing industry, speaking to Jay Z's team at Rock Nation and Jay Z and his mom, how can we do. And we. He has something called the Sean Carter foundation. It's a remarkable. It flies way under the radar. Have you ever heard of it?




All right. Do you know what it does?


Not exactly.


All right. So it's kind of remarkable that people know it because of his name and they've heard it, but no one really knows what it does. They take children from, really from all over the country. A lot of them are in the tri state area that have difficult circumstances. A lot of them come from single family households, and they're not just mentoring them from high school, but they are trying to do some of the things that Sheldon talked about. They do a college tour. It's run by a woman named Danya Diaz and really Gloria Carter and a woman named Miss Archer. And I saw what they were doing, and I said, if we took these kids and created a fellowship program where we pay their last year of college and five of them do it every summer and work on wrongful conviction cases at my consulting firm at DRC and also are a resource to my students who are taking an internship for the Pearlmater center and are working on wrongful conviction cases and have them start a social media campaign. They spearheaded the free Bruce Bryant social media campaign. And watching this program, these kids, if they're given the opportunity, three of them now work for me full time.


One of them is the mail intake coordinator at the Pearl Mudder center for Legal justice. So she is receiving mail from inmates and helping screen which cases we might want to investigate. Her name is Cemelia McFarland. There's a girl that works at my firm doing advertising and publicity. Her name is Jalen Madri. She made a presentation to me the other day. I was fucking blown away that this girl was. She was passionate about marketing, not advertising, marketing. And she works at my consulting firm. And she made a presentation to me that had a level of detail and ideas about how we can become, increase our awareness. And I was just thinking to know, all right, so this is the change that we're making happen. And it was just an idea that I had. I didn't actually think that Jay Z and his mom and Danya would go for it, so I was reluctant to pitch them the idea. And just being able to say, well, what do you have to lose know, putting it out there? And they have been remarkably supportive. So I think that there's a lot of people that want to know.


Sheldon and I were talking about it before we came, and we often think, how can listeners not if you have an idea like I had, just try to put the next foot in front of the foot that's behind you and just keep walking forward. And don't be afraid to ask. There is not a public defender's office in this country. There is not a civic engagement organization that if you call them and say, I want to volunteer or I'm interested in helping, that will turn you away. You just have to say, all right, I could sit here and talk about it.


Until it happens to you. Right. We talk about not to cut you off.


I need cut.


You talk about, like, remember the opioid crisis? Right. It's been an opioid cris in my community since I could remember people were dying off heroin. And it didn't become an issue until it was affecting white America. Right. But my thing is, had you dealt with it from the beginning, it would have never became a situation later on. So it's this idea where people, we have a tendency to say, okay, I'm just going to turn away and I'm not going to pay attention to it. I'm going to turn a blind eye. I'm going to act like it doesn't exist until it hits home. And then sometime when it hits home, it's too late.


Yeah. I think it takes something to happen to somebody for them to become an advocate.




Michael J. Fox wasn't a Parkinson's advocate until it happened for. But that's great that he decided remarkable but I think that Sheldon makes a great point. Right? We're a society that likes to sit back and complain.


We want to react instead of responding.


Like, one of my favorite things to do is I have severe anxiety about dying. But for whatever reason, maybe this balances me out at an airport when a flight gets canceled, even if it's hopefully my flight. Not hopefully, but I get a better view of it if it's my flight. To watch people stand up and get frustrated, berate, raise their voice at the fucking ticket attendant. It's a remarkable exercise and it's a social experiment. I think that if people really were able to hover over the room and watch themselves, they'd be like, why am I yelling at the ticket attendant? There's only two real possibilities of why this plane is not going to fly on time. There's either a mechanical problem or weather. Do you want to fly in either of those situations? And to watch people just, like, complain? And I don't know what they're getting out of it, but I just find myself trying to a have an awareness about myself not to do that. And rather than get intimidated by the problem, try to just keep putting 1ft in front of another. And then when the flight gets canceled, maybe I could read something interesting and catch up.


It's inconvenient. Or come up with an idea. I mean, trust me, I'm an average guy of average intelligence that just. I think I have more. I don't. If I can help make some of this stuff happen, other people can make it happen. And Sheldon asked me, should I go to law school before we came here? And I said I can't. I changed my mind, by the way. I might have an opinion now, but I told them, most of the lawyers that I find that are most effective aren't the smartest. They're not the savviest. They possess something that most lawyers don't, which is common sense and street smarts, and they marry that with what they learned in school. And they're able to sort of that perfect stew, I think, is what leads to a successful advocate, counselor, attorney, whatever you are. And oftentimes there's so much of an emphasis placed on your grades and what score did you get and how much of that really ends up fucking mattering? At the end of the day, it matters. But does it matter to the degree we place an emphasis on it in our society? I'm not sure.


But my whole thing is rather than be intimidated by the problem, I think it's recognizing that it exists just decide one discrete thing you want to do to try to help make a change happen, and then again, just try to get some forward momentum. And you'd be surprised at the buy in that you get. I think that that's why this platform is so important, because it allows people to start sharing ideas, reaching out to us, and we're taking them up on it. I've told you before, we've been contacted by a major law firm, Greenberg Trarig, and really awesome attorney that's working on the case of Pierre Rushing. This guy, Jordan Grotzinger, who's just. He was a corporate attorney, had nothing to do with this kind of work. Listen to the podcast. He's a passionate, passionate advocate, and he's going to get justice one of these days for Peter rushing. We've tried to help apply pressure through this show by having people reach out to the DA and write letters on his behalf. And has it worked yet? It's working. We're going to get there at some point. So that's my objective with continuing to do these stories, because you're right.


The privatization of prisons and the industrial prison complex, is that a solvable problem? I'm not sure. I think that it's too much of a giant to slay unless we start pulling the electrodes, not the neuralink electrodes, pulling the electrodes out of the sockets and taking energy out of it as much as we can until they're like, well, we don't have any fucking.


People begin sabotaging pieces of the machine, right? Because a lot of these corporations are what you call well oiled machines, right? And it's like a watch. When you open up a watch, you see so many intricate pieces, right? Sometimes if you break the right piece in the watch, the whole watch ceases to keep time. And it's just a poor excuse for. It's like putting a band aid on a gunshot wound. For the government to allow these corporations to privatize and say, okay, it's not our problem anymore. We're going to pass the buck and. And let somebody else deal with it. Now you have these corporations who they really don't care about rights and humanity and cruel and unusual punishment and due process. They don't care about none of this stuff.


Well, to allow it to exist in the first place, you have to ignore that people will be incentivized, like every other industry, like the pharmaceutical industry, like the military industrial complex, like everything else. Once they start acting as a corporation, which all corporations, it is in their best interest to try to maximize the amount of profits they make, always, if they have shareholders, it's their responsibility to those shareholders to maximize profits with each quarter. Now, when that happens with human beings in prisons, you can bet your fucking sweet ass they're going to lock as many people up as they can.


That's a fact.


And we know they're a commodity.


We know for a fact that happened. We know for a fact that prison guard unions, they work hard to make sure that laws are not changed that will incarcerate people for petty drug offenses.


Big business.


Big business.


For example, I was supposed to go testify at a congressional senate hearing on what they call slave wages. Right? So you have this corporation called Corcraft. I don't know how familiar you are with Corcraft.


Is that when they use prisoners.


Yes, they use prisoners in Auburn, they make license plates. In Clinton correctional facility, they make mattresses and t shirts and underwear.


I was just reading an article today about that. I was just reading an article today about food manufacturers that use prisoners to sell commercial food.




And they essentially work as slaves.


That's quick chill. So you have a whole bunch of different entities under this one large umbrella, right? And I remember I was getting paid seventeen cents an hour at one point in time, nineteen cents an hour for operating these big machines. And they were producing just like a mass amount of. Corcraft is actually a Fortune 500 corporation. And they function, they regulate out of the prison industrial complex.


There it is. Us prison is part of a hidden workforce linked to hundreds of popular food brands.


Yeah, fuck. Frosted flakes. So a lot of times we walk into the supermarket and we see these products and we don't realize what's going know making these products. Like you hear about these slave shops in China and all of this stuff and people campaign to say, oh, well, we're not going to support that. But what are you actually supporting here in your own country right now, unbeknownst to you? Right? Yeah.


And I mean that if you have a label on everything you buy, like this may contain harmful substances, this may be bad for your health.




Why the fuck don't you have a label? This is made by prisoners. This is made by people making thirteen cents an hour or whatever it is. How do you not have that? Because wouldn't that change the way people would buy things?


Well, the most important, look at this.


Including countries that, okay, so the goods are prisoners produce wind up in the supply chains of a dizzying array of products found in most american kitchens from frosted flake cereals. Ballpark hot dogs to gold, metal, flour, coca cola and riceland rice. They're on the shelves of virtually every supermarket in the country, including Kroger, target, Aldi, and whole foods. Some goods are exported, including to countries that have had products blocked from entering the US for using forced or prison labor.


Wild 13th amendment.


Yes, exactly.


Slavery and involuntary servitude accept as punishment for a crime. And we go back to Jim Crow. That's what they did. Yes. Right after the emancipation proclamation. Post antebellum, they created these laws to convict the freed slaves so that they can continue to force them into free labor. Right. And it just continues today, like 13 cent hours, 17 cent hour, 19 cent. During the pandemic, great Meadows correctional Facility had these guys working 24 hours a day making hand sanitizers en masse.


That place is the scariest fucking place.


That place traumatized.


That place is like. It was one of the first prisons that I went to in New York state to visit with a potential client, and I almost peed down my leg. I mean, it looks like, feels like. Is like what you saw in the Shawshank redemption.


It's worse than Attica.


Hey, check this out. What you're seeing on the screen is not some new know. Speaking of the Shawshank redemption, Stephen King writes a lot that is rooted. I'm not talking about Kujo. I'm not talking about his horror writing, his short stories. Most of them are rooted in some sort of truth. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption was a short story that he wrote that ended up getting made. I think it was part of Apt pupil or one of his books of short stories. And you remember in the Shawshank redemption where they had this precise thing, where it was. They came up with this know. The warden came up with an idea for a work program where they were profiting. That was true back then. He was basing that on something that was happening in the northeast back. You know, the notion that this is still happening shouldn't be that shocking. It's just like, what does our news cycle pay attention. You. How do you make sure that this kind of stuff doesn't keep happening? My idea is you need people on the ground that are working on policy and reform. So at the promoter center for Legal justice at Cardoza, we have a policy advisor.


Her name is Sarah Chu, who knows forensics. She's a scientist, and, like, one of the more respected, in my mind, the most respected reform advocate about how we stop using junk science like bite marks. Well, blood splatter, ballistics even fingerprints to some extent.


Conversation we was having earlier. Yeah.


And lobbying to make sure that laws get changed. And it's like, at the end of the day, the scariest part about all of this is that the politicians that we poke fun at, I poke fun at. Everybody has a field day. These are the fucking people. These are the people that are sitting in some white fucking building at your state capitol.


And the prosecutors are the worst.


But before you get to the prosecutors, these are the people writing the laws. These are the people writing the statutes. They need to be influenced by people like Sarah Chu, other great people that work in policy and reform advocate. There's a woman named Rebecca Brown. Her and Sarah Chu both used to be at the innocence project. Sarah came to work with me. Rebecca Brown is a great one that are working boots on the ground and trying to change and educate, really. I mean, how much does your local representative or a state senator really know about how dangerous it could be to draw conclusions about the directionality of how blood hits drywall versus how it hits loose sight, how bite marks leave an indentation on someone's skin. A qualified, certified. Actually strike qualified, a certified odontologist, totally total horseshit. Could take one of these skulls and make the same case that the bite marks left on someone's leg came from this set of teeth. Sheldon's teeth, your teeth, or my teeth. And convince four juries four times, 100% of the time that you're guilty, that you're guilty. A skilled odentologist could do that. So when bite marks became subject of a report that everybody should read, the National Academy of Sciences did a report in 2009 that should have changed our criminal justice system.


It had the most qualified, certified scientists from all over the world study all of these disciplines of forensic evidence, all of these disciplines of forensic science and come to the conclusions that none of them. None of them were supported by.




Scientifically credible body of evidence. There was no repeatability. There was no reliability. The scientific method that you learn in grade school, you could apply it to any of them, and they would all.


Fail the test, which are the standards for admissions at trial.


And it talks about the standards for admissions at trial. The Daubert standard, the fry standard. It's just. Is it credible in the scientific community? And they come to a resounding no on everything except for DNA. And DNA is still fraud right now because there are all these new technologies. I shake your hand this morning, and then I later pick up a knife and stab someone, and your dna ends up on the knife from a sweat on his hand? Yeah. Because there is such sensitive, what they call low copy or touch DNA that can now be. Detective. That can now be detected and the mixture can be untangled, and they can say, well, Joe Rogan's DNA is on the knife. Where was he at this time? There's a case of a guy named Emmanuel fair in Seattle where he was implicated in a murder because he was at a party on Halloween when this girl got murdered. He ended up getting sitting in prison for, I think, seven or eight years before he finally got acquitted. So this report should have turned forensic science on its head. And no one gives a fuck bite.


Mark evidence until it hits home.


Well, bite mark evidence is still admissible in. We could sit. I could sit and bang my head against the wall about it, or I could just keep on speaking up. When you're in front of a judge, how often, Sheldon, do you hear from an attorney? Well, I don't want to piss off the judge.


All the right.


Your absolute obligation when you're defending someone is to piss off the judge if they're not doing their job to protect.


Their rights, their constitutional rights. That's what the constitution was designed for. And it's so interesting when you think about the constitution, right, and the founding fathers and the Bill of Rights and how it has just transferred over hundreds of years into today and how our rights are still fundamentally protected. But when we talk about rights, there's two different worlds. Like his rights and my rights may be two different kinds of rights because of where we come from and because of the color of our skin. Unfortunately, ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and you constantly keep hitting on the fact that. Why do you wait for a problem to end up at your doorstep before you decide to do something about have. Like you said, you have people at all of these different organizations. Reach out. Google is very effective. I've only been home nine months, and I've pretty much learned how to navigate Google pretty good, better than most. It's actually pretty easy to be able to find different organizations. Like, he talks about the people at his organization, Sarah Chu. And we have Gina Mitchell at Queen's defenders, who is our policy coordinator.


And we work on so many different subjects. Reach out. Reach out. Change is real, but it has to begin somewhere. You have to just be willing to take a step forward. It doesn't matter where you're from, how old you are, Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, black, white. It doesn't matter. I took a picture of a guy, a homeless guy on a train station, a couple of days ago, and I posted it on my instagram page, and it just blows me away how? And I'm just going to be straight up. I have an issue with the whole immigration thing because I feel like he said, like Joe said earlier, you have $70 million that you can give to a whole nother country, yet you're not addressing the issues right here at home right now. I worked for Department of Homeless shelters. I've worked in there. I've seen it with my own two eyes. And then you have citizens, you have veterans that come back from wars and can't even get the same services that people from other countries come here and get immediately. They get housing vouchers, they get education vouchers to, you know, make America great again.


If you're going to make America great again, focus on the people, the citizens, the people who put you in office. I don't know.


What does that even mean? Look, I've been reading this book called thinking fast and slow. Have you heard it's a fucking phenomenal. I highly recommend it. It's about how your brain works and why we believe what we believe and the two systems of our brain. And one is the quick judgment and the other is the slow it down and critically think about it. And there are all these puzzles in it where he makes the point by saying, like, consider the following. And the studies that have been done on someone just repeating the same words over and over again and how that translates into people feeling that it's, a, credible and b, that the person uttering the words has some credibility, are astounding just by keeping. Trump might be, in my opinion, a little nuts, but a little crazy. He's crazy like a fox, though. He knows if he keeps on saying those words, those words are going to stick. If he keeps saying witch hunt, people are going to start repeating it, and they do. So maybe think a little. Like, I don't even know what it means. I just know that we need to start having some individual thought before we.


It's just like this group. Think about other people and how they're different and lock them up and throw away the key. And I just think we should all slow down and really think. And what I hope to bring is these stories where you get to know the person. Look, I'm deeply, deeply flawed. Sheldon will be the first to tell you, like, I did some fucked up things. But when you watch what he's doing, why can't we make people in these communities? Why can't we make them great again by giving them a better chance, like you said at the outset of the episode, let them hit the starting line.


Yeah. Well, what you were saying earlier about building a sandcastle, one grain of sand at a time. I think from my perspective, the feedback that I get, these conversations we've had, we've had quite a few of them now. They have changed a lot of people's ideas on how the prison system is structured, what the problems with it are, how many people are wrongfully incarcerated, how incredible. Some of these people are wasted potential, locked away forever for something never did. And they didn't break. Instead, they got stronger and wiser and more intelligent and more educated and came out better. And they're incredible human beings. And how many of them are just being wasted?


Yeah, that's my much potential.


This is what you want, though, right? You don't want somebody to go into the prison system and come out worse.


Right, which happens most.


And then we hear about these horrific incidences or people getting pushed onto the train tracks because you have a guy who has a mental illness, and instead of getting the services that he needs, you put him in prison. You sedated him for three, four years, five years. You sent him to a parole board. The parole board let him out. Two days later, he pushes somebody into the train tracks. Right? This is not what you want. And how do you prevent these things from happening? Right? By being proactive, by being responsive instead of being reactive. Don't wait for something to happen.


But you said something that Joe said, something that is worth sticking on for a second. These are the miracles that are coming out.




I mean, most of the time, you're right. The cycle of from the street to prison, back to the street to prison. Most of the time, recidivism. Yeah. I'm just saying it in plain English. Most of the time, it's churning out monsters. Because what else would you expect, right? There's a great book called in the Belly of the Beast about a guy that went to prison, and he describes what it did to him psychologically, what it did to him, to every cell in his body. And then he goes out and he murders someone and he writes this book. Just explaining. I want you to understand what this did to me. I read it when I was in college, and I should read it again. I probably have a different perspective on it now. It might hit home even more, but, yeah, these are. Talk about grains of sand on a beach. If you look at the population of people that keep getting churned out of correctional institutions, most of them are not getting corrected. Why do I like to spend my time with these guys because I hope some of their strength rubs off on me somehow.


When I came home right in May, it took me almost 30 days to get any type of benefits or help. And I had to call this lady. I called this. That I put in for the snap, the food stamps, the benefits, the little bit of benefits that I have, right. Or that I could possibly acquire to help me navigate and kind of transition back and reintegrate back into society. And I had a conversation with a lady on the phone, and she told me, she said, you don't qualify for emergency services. And I said, what? I said, miss, I just spent 25 years and five months incarcerated. If that is not a qualification, then what is? Oh, sir, I'm just telling you don't qualify for it. I said, I need to speak to your supervisor. It took me two days to get to her supervisor, but when I finally got to her supervisor, her supervisor, oh, I'm going to look into it. And they finally gave me my benefits. But I'm saying all of that. To say that there's these institutions in place that need to change. And for the people who are listening to this and you're directly involved in these institutions, there has to be a conscientious response to what classifies as an emergency.


A person should not. I should not have had to wait 30 days. What if I didn't have family resources? What if I didn't have anything?


And how much does that incentivize you to go right back to crime?


Right? You know what I'm saying? How much would that have incentivized me to go out and commit a robbery or steal a piece of pizza, like a guy out in California where they have the three strikes laws, and they end up giving this guy 20 years for stealing a slice of pizza because he's starving. This is real stuff. This is stuff that's really happening. Nobody offered me anything. I had to actually go out.


Do they give you any sort of guidelines of what you can do to reintegrate the society, or do they just release you?


They just release you. They gave me $40 and a bus ticket, and I had a little jpay, a debit card because I had a couple of dollars in my account that they gave me with a little bit of extra money on it. They have some programs that you're supposed to be entitled to prior to release, but it's a joke because the programs don't teach you any real skills. Right? One of the most significant hurdles I had upon my reintegration was technology, right. I've never had a cell phone in my life. I sent out my first email in 2019 from a tablet that they gave me an Auburn correctional facility. I don't know what a PDF. I went online and they said I had to convert my application into a pdf before I could submit it. Excuse my language. I didn't know what a PDF. What the fuck is that? So these are some of the things that when we talk about opportunities, right. And leveling the playing field and recidivism, right. Someone being able to get out and not have to be in these situations where they feel like the whole world is against them and they really don't know what to do.


They can't get the services that they need. They don't know how to navigate the basics of technology. Microsoft Excel. I was fortunate. I was in the computer program while I was incarcerated, and I was able know as my role in the Cornell prison education program. I put myself into a position to where I knew what an Excel spreadsheet was. I knew what a word document was. But a lot of these guys that's coming out, they don't know what that is.


But you skipped the PDF course.


Yeah, there's no PDF.


I don't even know how to convert something to a PDF.


Yeah, pretty simple, I'm sure, but I.


Don'T know how to do it.




If I saw that in an email, I'd be, you know.


You know what's a. There's a great program in New York called Hudson Link where they. I think it's a college program, and they do a lot of great reintegration. They provide a lot of great reintegration services. And they're right, like, a few blocks from Sing Singh prison.


And you were part of Shout out to Hudson Lake. So I obtained my degree in Mercy from Hudson Link. Sean Pika runs the organization amongst many other formerly incarcerated individuals. Sean Pika is also formally incarcerated. They have a post secondary education program on the inside, and they also have a post secondary. They're actually paying for my masters right now to go back to school. They have a housing reentry program called New Beginnings. Amazing. That's where I went when I first got released. But going back, had it not been for these formerly incarcerated individuals, I don't know where I would have been at. Had I had to depend on my elected representatives, my elected assembly and senators, I would probably be trying to steal a loaf of bread out the grocery store.


You know what's crazy? This was a trippy moment, man. Fucking trippy. Moment. The warden at Sing Sing, the guy named Mike Capra. All right. And when you conjure up in your mind what a warden looks like, I mean, he's right out of central casting. Big burly dude. Looking at him, you think he's the boy? Watch out. He's doling out punishment. This guy was so inspired by what he saw at Sing with formerly incarcerated individuals that got out and started programs. JJ Velasquez's voices from within. Voices from within started this organization when he was incarcerated, where they bring people in the community into the prison just to talk to inmates and to establish that there's some humanity there. Capra, the warden of Sing Singh prison, they call him the superintendent in New York. That's what they call wardens now works for JJ. He retired, and now he works for JJ. Going around trying to. He's like a missionary. But for the work we're doing, Frederick Douglass program.


We were at the UJC a couple of months ago. United Justice Coalition out in. No, that was the Jacob Javits.


It was at the Javits Center.


Javits center. He was there. He spoke. Derek spoke. Huge event. But Michael capital was there.


That was what I was saying. It was a trippy moment. I see him there. This guy was the warden of the prison, and now he's there at a.


Booth for JJ's organization, speaking on behalf of incarcerated individuals.


Did you talk to him? How did he make that?


Oh, did I talk to him? When I saw him, he told, when Bruce got out, he came to have, like a. It looks like a thrift shop, and it kind of is, but it's only for people getting out. So you could go in and get some clothes. You could go get.


That was Kiki Dunstan's. That was her thrift shop.


She created that. So when Bruce gets out, he needed clothes. We said, we'll bring you some clothes. He said, no, hudson Link has this great little spot by. So while he was still the warden, he came while Bruce was picking out things to congratulate him and wish him. I not only did I talk to him is, he told me, when I retire, I'm going to come work with these guys. So, yeah, when I saw him at this event called the United Justice Coalition, he's in a booth working for JJ on the Frederick Douglass side by side with us. And I saw him, and he looked at me, and he goes, I told you, Josh. And I just walked up. I gave him a big hug. He, like, recoiled. I was like, come on, baby, hug me. And he came in, he's like, man, he's like, it's life changing. It really is. And we had a great talk about it. He was telling me, know, just being on the outside with these guys that I saw know not only in prison uniforms, but in a construct that I was the head of, and now they're the ones inspiring me.


We need more.


Speaking of Michael Capper. Right. So, prior to my release, me and Bruce Bryant were working. So we created a number of programs. One of them was a civic engagement in New York, where we actually teach incarcerated individuals on their rights to vote, how they vote, how do you go to a booth, how do you register to vote, et cetera, et cetera. And Michael Capra was pivotal in allowing us to be able to create these programs and have a platform in the school building. One of them in particular that we are trying to work on now is dyslexia. Right? And this blew me away. According to the Department of Correctional Education, 47% of the incarcerated population all across the United States have some type of dyslexia or reading disability. Right. That's almost half of the individuals that are in the department of corrections that have some type of reading look at. And that's the tip of the iceberg. Right? So when you look at the bottom of the iceberg and you go and you delve even deeper into that. Right? What are the key factors that played in this person? The. What's the correlation between incarceration and illiteracy?




And there are currently no programs in any department of corrections throughout the United States that's actually screening men for dyslexia or to determine who can read and who can't. You.




Oh, my God.


However, a study of Texas prison inmates by the University of Texas Medical branch estimated that approximately 80% of prisoners in a sample group struggled with their literacy skills, and that half were likely to be dyslexic. So half of them dyslexic, 80% of them struggle to read.


When we talk about recidivism and we talk about preparing someone to be reintegrated back into society, right. The Department of Corrections has failed. How can you say you're going to rehabilitate somebody reading for me. Right. I believe that reading is a fundamental right. My grandmother used to read to me when I was a kid. I would lay in her lap, and she would read to me, and it wasn't even about what she read to me, but it was the connection that she and I had together and just being there with her. And it made me respect the idea of what it means to read. Right. But when we talk about going back to the pdf thing, right. A guy comes home and he's supposed to go online and fill out an application, but he can't even read. How is he supposed to follow basic instructions during transportation and trying to get onto the train and navigate through all of the basic necessities in life and he can't even read? There's an even more startling picture to that. Right. What about due process? Right. A guy is in a courtroom and a lawyer is giving him paperwork and he can't even read.


So there's no system in place. And I think that that's something that needs to be addressed.


I want to get to what were the circumstances that got your sentence reduced, and how'd that come about?


Okay, so I can't even count how many motions I filed throughout my incarceration. 440. Ten. S. Witness of motion to vacate rid of ericom Nobis, which is an appeal to a judge, to the appellate division to overturn your appeal, your right to appeal. I filed a motion called the Domestic Violence Justice Survivors act, and I knew that the motion was going to get denied because I didn't qualify for the motion. But my spirit told me to do it. My intuition told, just file it. And I filed it. And in the process of filing that motion, that's when I met Alison Hart and barbara Zoloff at the center for Appellate Litigation. And they have what they call is the years program, youth emergent assisted resentencing program. And what they do is they look for individuals who meet a certain age bracket when they were sentenced a crime, and then the sentence that's attached, usually disparaging. So the motion got denied, but in the process, I connected with allison, and they reached out to me and they said, hey, listen, we think you qualify for the program. We think you're the poster child for this program based on the circumstances.


And that began the process of my release. I think what played a significant role was what I had done while I was in prison, because that's one of the major things that the district attorney's office had looked at. That's one of the major things that Josh and Allison and everybody had brought to the attention of these people. You know, you have a guy who has these set of circumstances, but look at what he has done while he was incarcerated. Look what he has been able to accomplish. And he did all of this under the pretenses that he was never going to get out. So we were going back and forth. We filed a bunch of paperwork. We had to get a bunch of documents. I sent out a whole bunch of documents. And they put together what they call is a mitigation packet. And a mitigation packet just outlines everything, my circumstances, my sentence, my crime, accountability, and a whole bunch of other factors. And they submitted it. It was a 440 20 in New York state, which is a motion to resentence or motion to vacate the sentence. And initially, the ball was rolling.


The district attorney's office had initially conceded to the motion, saying, we're not going to oppose the motion. And then something happened. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but maybe Josh, he has more of a background insight. And at that time, me and Bruce were working. I didn't know Josh. And Bruce said, yo, listen, man, I'm going to talk to my man, Josh Duban. He knows some people that know some people. And I didn't know that he was working with Derek Hamilton. Derek Hamilton and I had worked in a law library together. So I think when he mentioned to Derek, he know my nickname was superb. That was my nickname in prison. And he said, you know a guy named Superb. He said, yeah, I know superb. So him and Derek got together along with Allison Harp and Barbara Zoloff, and they went back to the district attorney's office in full force. They had all kind of. Miguel, Josh, you could probably. Don't you know the details more than I do?


Well, I mean, listen, I don't want to get too much into the details because I don't think they matter. And I think I want to make sure that the credit is given where it belongs, which is probably to Sheldon first before transforming his life, and to Barbara and Allison, because these are two amazing attorneys that saw potential and the injustice in what was done to Sheldon and who he had become. And they got to know, know. And I'm on the phone with Bruce, and these prison calls, if they're not a legal call, these prison calls are like, sometimes they just end real abruptly. It's like, oh, shit, oh, shit, oh, shit. I got to go by or they're giving me a hard time. They're doing account now I got to go by, or sometimes it'll just click off. So Bruce is about to get out. He's got, his clemency is granted. He had gone to the parole board with a claim of innocence, which is so rare, and got granted the parole pending the reinvestigation of his case. But he has clemency with no strings attached other than being on probation until they make a final decision on his innocence, and he's on the phone with me.


Gotta. I got this guy Sheldon Johnson right here, and he wants to talk to you. His lawyer knows your cousin. And I was like, what the fuck is this guy talking about? And I was like, bruce, man, I got to worry about getting you out. And this was going on for, like, a full month, and he's right here. He's right here. He wants to talk to you. I said, I'm not talking to anyone else. I'm dealing with your case. I got to get you out. He's like, please talk to Allison. She's been at your house. Got something. You got your lines crossed somewhere? So I finally paid attention to it. I had a million other cases going on, and Bruce was our first client at the promoter center, and we were really lining things up for his release. And I speak to Sheldon's lawyer, and she know I'm actually friends with your cousin. And when she organized a baby shower for your daughter, who's my oldest, Lila, she said, I was at your house for your baby shower. I remember your wife, Jillian. Real. She tells me, I remember your house, and I'm like, come on, you can't make this shit up.


The connection in New York City, it was just too wild. So I said, send me the mitigation submission. And that was when I read about Sheldon, and I went to Derek Hamilton, who is a one man cyclone of know he's been on the doing. He just does so much for so many people. He's like, I know him. He's an amazing to. We're going to get him out. So right in the middle of there's so many trump things where there's cameras.


All outside that I forget show up in court.


I forget what it was.


Pushing it back. They said, oh, it's too much going on.


What was it, though? It was him being indicted.


It was him being indicted. And then they were saying that it was too much police activity there, that they just kept pushing it back.


So what happened was, we were at the district attorney's office on a different case that we're working on, and we asked to speak to the district attorney of New York and let him know that we were now representing Sheldon, along with the center for Appellate Litigation, and made a passionate plea on Sheldon's behalf. And I don't want to go too much into the details, but we ended up kudos to the Manhattan district attorney's office for actually paying attention and seeing that Sheldon was worthy of a second chance and really that the sentence did not fit the crime. And the twist on Sheldon's story that is like a head scratcher to me that I asked him about was the judge that sentenced him is a black. You know, I said to Sheldon, did that ever strike you as. I mean, here's an african american judge that looks at this young black kid and should understand his circumstances and have a better understanding of it and not want to throw away his life. And I said, so what do you do with that fact? And Sheldon said, well, I'll let you respond to it, because he said something to me that I didn't really.


I mean, this judge now sits as a federal judge in the southern District of New York. I don't know what to make of that. It just seems so strange to me that that is know said, this guy's not worthy of redemption.


One of the things that I expressed to Josh when we had this conversation was that just in my experiences dealing with judges and prosecutors and correctional officers in particular, who are black. Right. They struggle with this idea that they feel that they have to be harder on their own people for one, to make an example and so that their colleagues don't think that they're being weak or showing favoritism because, oh, this guy is black, so you're showing him favoritism. But the idea of what Josh is saying, you would think that someone who's in this position as a judge, he's an arbitrator, right? He is supposed to be someone who is in a position of power and authority should be able to look down. And, I mean, maybe he saw something. I don't know what his experiences was. I can't speak to that. Maybe he saw me as a menace. But I do honestly believe that we need these people to be able to look at things from an objective. Right. Because as a person of color and in a position of power, a lot of times it's a subjective reality. It's a reality that's attached to personal feelings and experiences, and a person who's in that position should be in a position to be more objective.


Right. When we talk about objectivity, and I think that's what it boils down to, subjectivity versus objectivity. Right.


I think what you're talking about, too, is expressed by. I know a lot of guys that have had dealings with black cops, black guys having dealings with black cops. And they will tell you, man, they will go out of their way oftentimes to show that they're not showing any favoritism.




They have to show because they're a minority in their precinct, and they go out of way to show that they fit in with that.


Showing. Just to speak to what he said, right? Like, when I was in upstate New York, Auburn and Clinton and Attica, you had a sprinkle of maybe one or two black cops. And the black cops were always the worst because, like, he just know they are a minority, and they don't want to be ostracized by their coworkers or made to seem as if they're showing favoritism towards the prisoners. So they go out of their way to just be extra. That's what we used to say. He's just being extra. He wants to enforce all of the rules. What a white cop might say, this guy got a pot and an eye. So in prison we have pots. Guys cook, and you have an eye. It's usually like a coil that's detached from a hot pot, and you use it to make food. There's been times when you'll have a white cop that are coming to sell, and it's contraband. You're not supposed to have it, but you'll have a white cop that are coming to sell, and he'll see a pot, and he'll just be like, he's just using that to cook. Then you have a black cop that will come and be like, no, you can't have that.


And it's just interesting. I think it goes back even farther than that. Right? When you go back all the way into slavery, you had the house nigger and the field nigga. Excuse my language for using those words. Right?


You could use them, we can't.


Yeah, right. You know what I'm saying? And that the idea of the person, the guy who was in the house, he was harder on his own people, his fellow slaves, than some of the overseers may have been or the slave masters. So it's this transferred psychological state. Know, a person feels like they have to just go above and beyond, like Joe just said, to show that, oh, I'm not showing favoritism or I'm not know, this whole talking white God, it's.


Such a fucked up system.


It's crazy.


It's so fucked up. And every time we have one of these conversations, I leave and I just drive and I thank when I'm driving home, just like, what the fuck? Just the sea of human beings that are entrapped in this system. What is the number of incarcerated individuals in the United States right now?


2 million.


So that's more than the population of Austin.


It's actually 1.92. We round it off as 2 million, roughly.


Austin and the surrounding areas.


So interesting that I was looking at Austin. Right. Texas. Texas taxpayers pay $3.5 million in taxes towards prisons. $3.5 million.


How much of that could be saved if it's invested? I mean, it would be a fascinating study if one state would implement what we're talking about, like community outreach programs, starting at a grassroots level. How much money would be saved by the state by investing that money?


So, for example, right, on the 17th of this month, I told you we went to the rally, treatment, not jails, right. So the idea of the treatment, not jails is to have a diversion court that deals with substance abuse and give the judges the discretion to send people who clearly have substance abuse issues into a program as opposed to incarceration. Right. And for every dollar that is spent in this program, you save $2.21.


I mean, there are studies we could go through incarceration in the federal prisons and the state prisons. And at the risk of sounding like stat machines, you obviously see Sheldon is very well versed. I am as well. But the point is, the short answer is we would save a ton of money and be able to invest in people and things to make people happy, not sad, to engage in enjoyment, not.


Suffering, productivity, not dependence.


Wouldn't it just take one governor to implement something like this that would show that there's a benefit financially for the state?


But look who they're beholden to. You mentioned it earlier. Then they have to worry about, how will that impact my electability? Right? Because are the corrections officers union, the police union, are they going to get behind me in the next takes? I think when you take a step back from a governor, we have a guy who is the DA in Brooklyn. His name is district attorney Gonzalez, and we have an amazing relationship with him, the Pearlmadder center, Derek Hamilton, especially, where we're able to go to him and the people that work with him and say, look, we have a client right now that's in prison for, I think, 30 years on a 30 year sentence for a $6 robbery at a drug house. And the diversion programs, the drug diversion programs that are available now weren't available back then. He's 69 years old. So we're really hoping. I think we're very close to the finish line of getting him released. So I think that the short answer is, yeah, it would take a governor to implement a program to be able to point funds in the right direction. You talked about just 1 second. You talked about HBCUS FAMU in Florida.


The only land grant HBCU in the state is. The disparity in funding of that school versus other schools in the state is not a matter of. It's a matter of fact. I was recently arguing on behalf of these students that just want to be funded the same way Florida state, University of Florida, and all the other public universities are like. Two weeks before my argument on the state's motion to dismiss the United States government, the United States Department of Education sent a letter to the governor in Florida and said, here are the statistics. This is all traceable to what they call know and please fund the school appropriately. Well, the judge just dismissed the case a few days ago, and I would invite people to go online and read the decision because we're going to appeal it to the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. But it's not a matter of. There's no controversy. There's no argument that, no, we are funding it appropriately. FAMU was founded on a slave plantation, a former slave plantation. And when I brought that up at the oral argument, the judge went nuts on me. Well, no, you're saying it's a slave plant.


No, I'm saying that's where it started. And if you take a thread and pull it forward through time, the United States office of Civil Rights in the 1970s, in the 1990s, went to the state of Florida and said, you are not funding FAMU appropriately. And they entered into these consent decrees with them where they had to do what's called destroy vestiges of de jour segregation? Because since Brown versus board of education, there was another Supreme Court decision called Fortis, which talked about, how do you establish that a pattern or practice is traceable to segregation? And the state of Florida just has ignored it. So does Governor DeSantis have the ability to make sure that FAMU is funded appropriately, or is Governor DeSantis going to worry more about Florida State University being somehow shortchanged in the national championship and earmark funds to challenge the college football folks to make sure. I mean, are you fucking kidding me? I went to Florida state. I think it's fucking. It's lunacy. So to answer your question is yes, but he's not going to do it for whatever political reasons he has. Why not fund the school so that there is a level playing field and.


It'S a controversial subject amongst ignorant voters.


It's a controversial subject amongst ignorant voters because all Governor DeSantis has to say is he took a page out of Trump's book because he knows it works, is all he has. To say is, woke, woke, woke, woke, woke, woke, woke. What does that mean? What does it mean? It means different things to different people. All I'm saying is look at the statistics and you cannot come to any conclusion but that FAMU, the only HBCU that is a land grant institution in Florida, meaning that they were granted land, is funded disproportionate to any other college in the state, and there is no reason for it other than that it is a vestige of know. Really, the state has the burden to say, no, there is a justified reason for it under the law. I'm just giving it to you in plain English. They don't put anything forth. I mean, I had the judge asking me questions in the oral argument on the motion to dismiss, questions like, well, well, couldn't it be that Florida State University had a better boosters club and that they were able to raise more money? And I said, you're absolutely right.


You're making my argument for me. When you are struggling to make sure that the microscopes work in your science labs, which one of my clients will tell you is the case, and you have dilapidated buildings. Are you worrying about starting a fundraising organization and boosters? Well, couldn't they have gone and lobbied the legislator? Yeah, they could have. Who was running the legislator in Florida? And so when you start to run into arguments like that, the writing sort of on the wall, and we have to now take it up with the 11th Circuit in Atlanta and try to get that decision overturned. This was on a motion to dismiss where the standard is just, I have to take all of the facts that the plaintiffs are alleging as true and assume them to be true at this. Know, the point is the problem would not exist if the governor just said, you know what? I just got these statistics from the Department of Education. Let's just fund FAMU proportionate to how we fund every other school, and they just don't. And what they fall back on, you know, there's merit based funding. I mean, start peeling the layers of that.


So you look at the graduation rates, you look at other metrics, quantifiable. Yeah, I think you see the flaw there, right? Yeah, it can get frustrating at times. And I have a choice now? Do I fold up the tent? No. You go to the court of Appeals and you make your case and you just keep on fighting and trying to.


Get it right to piggyback off of what you just said, right. When you say, can the governor do these things right? Yes, they can. A lot of times. These objectives are long term and it takes time to quantify them. So when we speak about quantifying, like, these examples of what are the circumstances surrounding the lacking of funding, a lot of times these governors are more concerned about whether or not this is going to come out during election year, and people are going to, whether liberals or conservatives are going to go against them and vote against them because they supported education of incarcerated individuals. I remember when I was going to Auburn and I was in the Cornell prison education program. This is in 2014. You had correctional officers, families outside the facility protesting as the volunteers were coming into prison with signs saying, does my kid have to get convicted in order to get a free education? And the idea was that we were receiving a free education because we were incarcerated, which is not the case. The idea is that education has been proven to prevent recidivism. Individuals who have been shown to acquire associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees are like 91, 92% less likely to return back to prison.


So this is quantifiable evidence of how you take money and you allocate it into one project so over the long run you can save money.


Yeah. I like that.


It can be done.


The response to that is not stop prisoners from being educated. It's like, make it easier for everybody.




That's the mean.


I think the easy answer, though, to your question of why I don't focus my attention on governors is, am I leaving this in people like Bill Clinton's hands when he was the governor of Arkansas? That fucking guy. Am I leaving it in the hands of Andrew Cuomo?




That fucking wouldn't. That guy wouldn't answer a fucking letter, wouldn't return his clemency program was to not have a clemency program.


He was too busy hugging people.


He was too busy. Yeah. Rubbing shoulders or whatever stealing feels.


My bad. I ain't mean.


That's just your opinion.




So I think that the time, energy, and resources are better spent. I think the private sector comes up with better solutions oftentimes at helping watch how, what do they call it? The virtuous cycle. The virtuous cycle works like this. When I saw the work that Alison hopped and Barbara Zoloff were doing at the center for Appellate Litigation, I said, this is, know God's work. This is like, beautiful stuff they're doing, and they're on a shoestring budget. So rather than be like, the civil rights community can be interesting. It brings out the best and the worst in people. A lot of these civil rights organizations, again, you throw human beings into any endeavor together, they're going to fuck it up. They like to argue and get, like, egos. Egos. And look what happened to me by coming on this show. And some folks tried to censor me and I just wouldn't have it. So I saw the work that they were doing, and I said, you know what? Do you need help? And they said, we need help. We have to do these mitigation reports, and we have to hire people, like in Sheldon's case, to assess him.


A clinical psychologist, a social worker, whatever it is. And we don't have the money to get the reports done, and there's just two of us. So the pearlmatter center is providing them with the money to do those reports. Steve Zeidman at CUNY is like, he's this guy that I think that he's responsible single handedly for over 50 clemencies in the state of New York.


Amazing. Phenomenal guy. Actually, he's coming to Queens defenders to do. We're getting ready to start a clemency initiative at Queen's defenders. He's coming to train a bunch of guys.


He's just this guy. Yeah, he's. That doesn't surprise me. He's a guy that just. He's a letter writing machine, and he keeps the pressure on, and he just doesn't give up on people, and he needs help. And we're looking for ways to collaborate. So we said, well, what is it that moves the needle to these clemency units at governor's offices? Because the governor is not paying attention. They have a battery of people that listen to these cases, and what they do are videos. He does these really great videos that are like a day in the life and to sort of humanize the client so they're not just on paper and pictures, and they go and interview them and have them talk about what it would mean to be free and how they've changed themselves. So he needed a little bit of help to get these videos produced. So we have agreed to donate some funds there. And I think it's just like having this more synergistic approach. Rather than have it be about me or put my name on the door, let me get the credit.


We just all pitch in to wrap this up. If someone's listening to this and they want to reach out, they want to help, they want to contribute. Maybe somebody does want some Jeff Bezos type character, does want to get involved and see if there is something they could do in terms of some sort of a community outreach center or something that can help. What can they do? Who can they reach out to?


They can go to the Pearlmutter center for Legal justice at Cardozo Law. It's like, Sheldon can Google. Anyone can google it. There it is right there. Yeah, there it is. And I think googling it would be faster. If you scroll down to the bottom of it, you'll find the donate know. There are ways. And there's some of my students. There's a give now button. We put it all the way to the bottom. But in any event, you can reach out to me at Joshua Dubin at That's my email for the Pearlmater center. And we're on the precipice of a major announcement with one of the most prestigious law firms in the country in a couple of weeks that has agreed to not donate just financial resources, but woman and manpower to help litigate these cases that came as a result of the exposure that we're getting here. So, as I always do, I thank you from deep within my soul for allowing us to have this platform and the commitment that you made to doing this quarterly and telling these stories. I'm very thoughtful in who I bring on. I think this was one of the best ones yet.


They've all been love.


I love the fact that Sheldon was able to tell his story, and this was a different version of, I think, an important element of the story that needs to be told. So my deep respect and love for.


You and my same to know. I think what you do is extraordinary. It's so admirable, it's so important, and it sets an example to so many people that there's this great work that can be done and real good. And, Sheldon, thank you very much for being here, man. Thank you for the example that you set and all you've done to educate people and just to set an example with your own life that there's a way out of.


And you can also find There's also, my email address is You can reach out to us. We're also on the precipice of the major announcement, working with Columbia University, their youth justice ambassador program, and coordinating with professors and volunteers from Columbia to work with our youth emergent leadership program. And we can use all of the help that we can get.


Well, I'm sure you're going to get. Some people are listening.


All right.


Thank you.


Thank you. I appreciate you having me, too, man.


Appreciate you being. It's an honor to have you on thank you.


Thanks, Josh. Bye, everybody.