Daryl McGraw and host Steven Samra discuss challenges experienced by Black and other people of color in recovery with a criminal record.
September 13, 2021
Steven Samra, Host [00:05]: Hello, and welcome to Changing the Conversation. I’m your host today, Steven Samra, Senior Associate at C4 Innovations. Our topic today is criminal justice reform and equity in the recovery space. My guest today is Daryl McGraw, Senior Manager in racial justice and equity at C4 Innovations, who like me, identifies as a person in long-term recovery. Daryl is a subject matter expert in recovery and criminal justice reform. And Daryl, I’d like to open this discussion with your thoughts on this idea of criminal justice reform and equity. Is this even a thing?
Daryl McGraw, Guest [00:43]: Oh man. Thank you, Steven. I almost jumped right in, man. I’m ready to have this conversation. I appreciate you, brother. Thank you for inviting me to the podcast. We’re going to chop it up. The first question, like what you said is, is this a thing? It depends on who’s asking. Me being a person in long-term recovery, like you said, but also a survivor of the criminal justice system, and seeing, when we start to talk about the equity lens, when we start to talk about criminal justice and equity, we see recovery, we see the recovery movement, we see the walks and all these things. It’s Recovery Month, we’re all excited. But then when we start to talk about, we had the criminal justice component, and it’s very secretive and quiet. People like you and I, we talk all the time, so it’s always a pleasure to be in the same company with someone who shares that, understands that criminal justice experience, that loss of freedom.
Daryl [01:37]: Well, we don’t see that often supported or highlighted enough for Black and Brown folks. And even though we know from a racial disparity lens, Black and Brown people make up 64, sometimes depending on the data, 75% of the people that are incarcerated. And many of them are in recovery, but we don’t see this being highlighted in the movement. So, we need to really be focusing on how do we get those people in the forefront and saying, this is part of the recovery journey? Part of my recovery journey is the criminal justice system. My first three years of recovery came through the criminal justice system. I learned how to function drug-free and attend meetings and really start to focus on myself while I was inside. So then when I transitioned into community, I can really live this life of recovery successful. So, there’s a lot to talk about, but I’m ready to get excited. You know I could talk all day, bro. So, let’s go, let’s get it.
Steven [02:34]: I know that you can, my friend. The difference that you had in your incarceration and preparation for re-entry as compared to my own, I had no access to recovery support. As a matter of fact, five days before I discharged out of the pen, the strongest heroin I ever did made its way through my pod, and that evening the person below me overdosed and died. So, in prison, these things were happening. We didn’t talk about recovery, even though we were all in for drug related crimes. So, this is a critically important conversation. I’ve got another question for you, my friend, because as I think about this and understanding the power and the disparity that we are facing, can you tell me, tell us, what would need to change for us to see this system more equitable?
Daryl [03:37]: Yeah, Steven, I really appreciate the question and the conversation. We have these conversations a lot. I want to go back to, because a lot of people who may not have experience in the criminal justice system, they don’t understand that drugs do exist in the criminal justice system, sometimes more so than anywhere else. So, any of us that have been incarcerated know that people getting out, it’s not because we’re separated from the community because drugs unfortunately do happen in the criminal justice system. And those of us who are seeking recovery or choosing to live a life of recovery are sometimes outcast. I know I was laughed at when I was going to meetings and different things. They were like, “Well, you weren’t going to meetings on the brick,” and those are the people that understand what that means. You weren’t doing those things on the street. Wait until you get back out. That’s when the rubber meets the road.
Daryl [04:19]: Well understand, I was seeking this lifestyle. I was seeking recovery. I was seeking a different way, because to be truthfully honest brother, if I can really be honest with you, the real prison wasn’t that physical prison that I was in. The real prison was addiction. I was looking for freedom from addiction. When I was in the community, I was in prison. That physical, that was nothing compared to the prison of addiction. So, I really want people to understand that, your listeners, and when people are listening to these conversations, don’t think that you can’t find recovery inside because many of us do. And those of us that carry it outside, man, that’s a big feat because we were able to stay drug-free on the inside, but then come outside, where the drugs are there, and you really have to practice what you’ve learned on the inside.
Daryl [05:06]: And when we start to talk about it from a racial equity lens, when we really start to really get into this, you and I, we’re brothers. We talk about this all the time. But when I talk to many of my white counterparts who were incarcerated as well, their situations were a lot different. They might have had an uncle who had a carpentry business. They may have somebody who could connect them to these different resources, because they do. And the data, the data shows that a white male, let’s be clear about this, a white male with a criminal record has a better chance of getting a job before a Black male with no criminal record. So, this is systemic racism right here. This is why we need to have these conversations and focus on these things. So, we know when we’re providing services, we are able to articulate the challenges that an individual in recovery who is Black or Brown may have, that may be a little different than someone with lighter skin.
Daryl [06:05]: We need to understand that these challenges are different. So, there is no one size fits all. There is none of that. So how do we help individuals that may be going back to these disenfranchised communities and understanding that those challenges are a lot different? Transportation, housing. See, a lot of times we work on housing here at C4. We talk about housing, but understanding that these government funded housing projects, Section 8, they discriminate against Black people or anyone returning with a criminal record. So here I am, I did all the work inside. I got all the folders. I went to all the groups, I did everything right. And then I get out only for the system to tell me, “Yo, you can’t live there.” Why? I just lived in your state housing. Now I’m not good enough to live in state housing on the … So these challenges become more and more.
Daryl [06:53]: We talk about collateral consequences, and those collateral consequences really, really affect a lot of people differently. And when we start to talk about disenfranchised communities, we talk about Black and Brown BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color], we talk about these individuals who are already discriminated against for their skin color. Then add a criminal record to that. Let’s talk about that. And then you tell them, “Oh, we want you to be in recovery too.” Recovery is great. Let’s talk about getting MAT [Medication Assisted Treatment]. That’s great. I got MAT. I’m not using heroin anymore. I’m not addicted to heroin, but now I still can’t get a job. Now I can’t live in a house. So now you are telling me that I am in recovery, which means I am sober. I have clear eyes to see how bad things can really be for me. Come on, bro. Let’s go, man.
Steven [07:44]: Oh my gosh, brother, this was beautifully stated. You have unpacked so many things in this, everything from the stigma of how our brothers and sisters who are still either in active addiction or in active street life view folks trying to access recovery. You hit on this idea of MAT as you come out, and yet we know that MAT is not available everywhere. It’s also costly for some. How do you even access a clinic every day to get the dosing? So, there’s all kinds of those pieces. And it’s interesting too, that you mentioned the difference between a white person coming out who has an opportunity, Uncle Bob runs a car lot, or in my case, that’s exactly what happened. I came out and the next day I went back to work in the organization that I had been working at when they came to that organization and arrested me. So, I benefited from that kind of connection and that kind of access, and many of my brothers and sisters of color will never do that. So, Daryl, talk to me about how the voice of lived experience impacts criminal justice reform and equity.
Daryl [09:11]: Yeah. So first the voice has to be in the forefront of this recovery movement. It can’t just be that something cute, like you’re at the table. We’ve got to be in the forefront of the movement, number one, to show individuals that hope is possible, that this thing is possible, that I honestly have been where you have been at and hope for individuals, hope for families, hope for communities that we are actually living proof, if you will. And the opportunity to show people, so I always say, when I put two feet on the ground in the morning, I always say, “God gives us two things. He gives us a chance and a choice.” You get that chance to make choice.
Daryl [09:54]: And sometimes as you know, brother, all day long, we’re making choices. We’re making choices to do this, choices to do that. It’s constant, and this is a repetitive thing. So, what we need to do is use this voice to show people that yep, we do. We make choices all day long, just like everybody else. So, what we want to do is encourage individuals to make the right choices. But what happens is these systems are, there’s so many barriers and hurdles that people have to face, that those choices and chances become limited. So, then they end up finding themselves making very poor choices because of the situation.
Daryl [10:28]: We were just talking about criminal justice reform. We talk about criminal justice. A lot of times people find themselves making criminal choices or making bad choices that lead to criminal charges. And it’s not because they were trying to get a fat, gold chain or a Mercedes. It was they were trying to eat. They were trying to survive. See, and then until people really understand that, there are a lot of people that are just trying to survive, that’s what we need to understand, that a lot of people, we’re talking about, you and I talk about this a lot, well, the war on drugs, but when you really peel the onion back and you understand that it was a war on poverty.
Daryl [11:07]: Yeah. We like to throw drug people in the front of all these reforms. Oh, we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that. But yet where’s the supports for those that are celebrating recovery? This is a month that we are celebrating recovery. We need to stand tall. If you’re in recovery, stand tall at your organizations and let people know that, yes, I am a person in long-term recovery. I am here. I don’t care if you’ve got one day, two days. I don’t care what you are. You make sure that they know that recovery is possible because that’s how we get these things funded, by showing that this lifestyle is real, and people do actually recover.
Steven [11:45]: That was beautifully stated again, my friend. I think about that piece of lived experience for myself and how folks are coming into the recovery realm. I’ll just use myself as an example, because I think it’s important that we understand this. I didn’t really have an understanding of recovery. What I had was a desire not to be sick from my heroin addiction anymore. So, when I accessed Medication Assisted Treatment, I wasn’t there for recovery initially. I was there to reduce the symptoms of my withdrawal. And it was over a process, a period of time, where I began to learn recovery values. And once that began to happen for me, what I realized was that all of those horrible things, all those liabilities about us that we carry with criminal convictions and drug histories and all that goes along with that, actually what those became, I took those as my worst liabilities. I exposed them, made them normal, made them viewable, and they became my greatest assets.
Steven [13:01]: And when I hear you talking about the recovery movement, about putting the voices of lived experience out front and shouting it from the rooftops, absolutely. And what I would ask my brothers and sisters to do is when you see others coming into recovery, remember how difficult and challenging it was to learn all those things. And also remember that, particularly in early recovery, we now are facing all of the challenges, and we have none of the substances we used to use to cope with those. So, it’s a much larger and more difficult journey, and that extended hand by a veteran in recovery would be an amazing thing.
Daryl [13:45]: I really appreciate what you said, Steven. And for our long timers, or our old timers, or what have you, whatever you call, our OGs in recovery, we need to understand that recovery looks a lot different, but we can never forget what it was like walking through those doors. That never changes. That never changes, how hard it was to walk through those doors and sit in the room with one day clean or one day substance free or not had a drink or struggling because I think that a lot of times people forget that. And now recovery looks, it’s one of the places that I really see a lot of just different, we see young people, we see LBGTQ, we see Black, we see Brown, we see all kinds of them. You are fortunate to go different places.
Daryl [14:29]: Like I’ve been very fortunate to go around the country and attend different meetings, and they’re different, but that connection is always the same. That connection is always same. So, we also need to recognize that that pain is real, so we’ve got to stop discriminating within our old recovery movements. I don’t think we emphasize that enough. We talk about celebrating recovery, but we don’t talk about the pain that some of us are actually perpetuating others that are new to the rooms, those of us that are coming in with MAT. We can’t discriminate. Did I tell you I’m Black? Let me tell you, I’m Black. I have no room to discriminate against anybody. So, however you come to me, that’s how we receive you. And that’s what the recovery movement needs to remember.
Daryl [15:16]: I get chills even talking about it, because sometimes we get some time under our belt, and we forget what it was like to be hungry, to be dirty and to be smelling and to be all these different things. So, man, just a reminder to those that have been around a while, man, open that door and bring them in and hug them, because I remember when I got that first hug, I was like, these people are weird. But you know what? And also it might not be in the rooms. It might be in church. It might be in the grocery store. It might be in the workplace. We are everywhere, and we need to make sure that people know that they will be supported no matter where they’re at. We are out here. We are superheroes. We’re miracles. It’s Recovery Month, man. Let’s go, let’s get it.
Daryl [16:00]: I just want to say that we started this conversation on the criminal justice movement and criminal justice reform movement. And there’s such an intersection of criminal justice. Many of us committed crimes, and then we get into recovery, but we forget about the CJ [criminal justice] part. We can’t. We’ve got to bring it all together. We’ve got to make it all whole, like listen, I’m also a person in long-term recovery who has experienced incarceration. Why is that important? Because that doesn’t just speak about the addiction. It talks about I was incarcerated, and I changed everything about me, not just one thing. Come on, bro. I love you, man. I love what we talking, man. You take me places, brother.
Steven [16:43]: That was perfectly stated, my friend. What’s the next chapter hold for us regarding work in our field?
Daryl [16:50]: See, I love that you asked the next chapter of working in the field, because when we start to talk about criminal justice reform, it has to start at the organizational level. We talk about criminal justice reform. We’re so receptive to recovery. We’re promoting recovery, but individuals with criminal records can’t get hired. So, I think the next chapter is really educating organizations, especially starting at HR [human resources], in understanding how criminal records are formed. And we should no longer be discriminated against because of something that happened 20 years ago. I’ll give you an example. Imagine if, Steven, you applied for a job at C4 and they said, “Hey, Steven, you’re the best candidate. This is great. But we can’t hire you because you got a D in fifth grade.” You’d be like, “A D in fifth grade. How are you bringing up something that happened so long ago?”
Daryl [17:43]: Well, that’s how each and every one of us who have a criminal record feels, when we are discriminated against based off of things that happened in our past. After we have already paid our debt to society, we’ve done everything that you’ve asked us to do, yet even in recovery organizations, we are denied based off of a criminal record, not the accomplishments that we have made. If I am in recovery, I am no longer living like that. I am no longer functioning in that mind state. So why am I not accepted to work in your organization? Come on, man. Let’s go.
Steven [18:17]: That is such an important point. You raised this before about collateral consequences. Collateral consequences, 70% of them are restrictive around employment opportunities. And there are 40,000 plus collateral consequences on the books across the United States. We need to do something about that.
Daryl [18:41]: That’s our next step, employment. Without employment, we are nothing. Employment gives you identity. Employment makes it possible for you to have livable wages. Without a job, you can’t do nothing. Let me tell you, let me tell you, when you’re in prison, they give you a job, no problem. They don’t even care about your criminal record. You come out, and all of a sudden society says, “You’re not good enough to work.” Come on, man. That’s the next step. That’s where we’re going next. We need to make sure that our people have livable wages and jobs that they’re excellent at, because let me tell you, a person that has made that change and now is on the recovery journey, they are awesome employees. Awesome employees. Because you know what? This is a person that has actually been through something, been through something that is terrible.
Daryl [19:25]: Manages to pull themselves up, dust themselves off and show up each and every day, a new person looking and excited to live. So, this is why, if a person identifies as a person in recovery, that should be the first person that you hire. Because let me tell you, they are showing you each and every day that they are willing to show up and be their authentic self. So, if you’re not hiring people in recovery, you are losing out. You are losing out.
Steven [19:51]: Oh my God, Daryl, you are not lying, my friend. You’ve just nailed it. Daryl McGraw, thank you.
Daryl [19:59]: Always, bro. You know, you take me there, man. Let’s go.
Steven [20:03]: For our listeners, join us next time on Changing the Conversation.
Erika Simon, Producer [20:07]: Visit C4Innovates.com and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube for more resources to grow your impact. Thank you for joining us. This episode was produced by Erika Simon and Christina Murphy. Our theme song was written and performed by Peter Hanlon. Join us next time on Changing the Conversation.
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