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Phaedra on Felons

Phaedra shares her experience working as an attorney and defends her husband's character.

By Phaedra Parks

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Clearly, this is a very important episode to me since it deals with crime and the black community. As an attorney, I have spent my career defending black men. Whether it's a misdemeanor marijuana charge or a felony racketeering charge, it's unfortunate all the same. However, as Malcolm X so eloquently put it: "Stumbling is not falling." Yes, my husband is a convicted non-violent offender, but I did not marry him because of his past, I married him because I love him. I married him because I'm a Christian, and I know that your past does not dictate your future. Be you a Christian, ordinary citizen, or just identify yourself as an American -- this country and the justice system, however flawed it may be, was built on the power of redemption. Charles Dutton was a convicted violent offender before he was the beloved actor, playwright, and director we know him as now. Martha Stewart, Michael Vick, and even Don King are convicted felons who served time and still make a difference. Prison didn't stop Malcolm X, it enlightened him and gave him the perseverance to fight for others. It is because of the difference people like Malcolm X made that I decided to become an attorney, to fight to make the idea of redemption more of a reality than the statistical likelihood of recidivism. 

And speaking of statistics, we all know that headlines can be deceiving. We must be wise and look beyond words and labels for truth, especially when it relates to African-American men and the justice system. If we believe statistics, we would believe that 1 in 3 African-American boys and 1 in 17 African-American girls born in 2001 are at a risk of imprisonment during their lifetime. Indeed, African-American men are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. The percentage of African-American men in prison is nearly 3 times that of Hispanic men and nearly 7 times that of white men. Despite the fact that African-American men represent only 14% of the population in the U.S., they represent over 40% of the prison population (this figure does not include the number on parole or probation). While I am not glorifying crime or making excuses for my husband or for anyone else, this is the world we live in.

Just as social status, race, nor education can indicate a person's character, neither can having a clean criminal history. I am confident in the depths of my husband's character as I have known him since I was in college. I trust, love, and believe in him. He is a blessing, and each day I am filled with an even stronger sense of gratitude for him. The gossiping about my husband's past fills me with great sorrow. How unfortunate that in this era of hope and change in America, during the term of our first African-American President, instead of being inspired to go out and make a difference, so many of us are still suffering from the "crabs-in-a-barrel syndrome" debasing instead of supporting one another. With so much behind us to celebrate and so much more ahead of us to accomplish, people who are still keen on hating should really be ashamed of themselves!


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