New York, NY—A new mural that visually explores the challenges formerly incarcerated people face after their sentences are completed will be unveiled on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn on August 15. The mural, painted by artist Damien Mitchell, is part of the #EndPerpetualPunishment campaign launched by Michael “Zaki” Smith, a policy entrepreneur at Next100, youth coach, and a formerly incarcerated individual, to call attention to the perpetual punishment (or, collateral consequences) that stem from having a criminal record.
Each year, prisons at the state and federal level release 620,000 people back into their communities. Upon release, formerly incarcerated individuals face 44,000 laws and regulations that limit or restrict their access to employment, housing, voting, education, and other rights. These restrictions, referred to as the collateral consequences of conviction, are the basis of a legal form of discrimination against people who have officially repaid their debt to society. Collateral consequences make it difficult for individuals to meet their own basic needs and increase the likelihood of recidivism.
Smith experienced collateral consequences firsthand. In 2017, after working for more than four years at a dream job that provided fulfilling work working with young people at a high school in New Jersey, Smith was informed by the state that he could no longer work at any school in New Jersey because of his criminal record.
The experience led him to launch the #EndPerpetualPunishment campaign to call attention to the devastating effect of collateral consequences on the lives and opportunities of those returning to their communities. As a policy entrepreneur at Next100, he uses art, advocacy, policy, and community engagement as part of the campaign to amplify the voices of those who have been shut out from successfully re-entering society. This mural is first in a series that will be developed by local artists and painted in neighborhoods that have been the most impacted by mass incarceration. Smith is also working to advance the New York Clean Slate campaign to implement automatic criminal records expungement in New York state.
“As a native of Bed-Stuy, it was important to me that the first mural be near the neighborhood I grew up in,” Smith says. “Essentially every sentence is a life sentence. I hope these murals can raise awareness about a missing part of the national conversation on reforming our racist criminal justice system.”
The public, socially distanced unveiling of the mural will be on Saturday, August 15 at noon. Speakers will begin at 12:00 pm sharp, and will include Next100’s Zaki Smith, State Senator Zellnor Myrie, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and the Community Service Society’s Avery Bizzell. Rain date will be Tuesday, August 18 at noon. The event is free and open to the public, but attendees are asked to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
Next100 is a startup think tank for and by the next generation of policy leaders, powered by The Century Foundation, a leading progressive think tank. Next100 is working to change the face and future of progressive policy, and to build a more inclusive, equal, and just America.