GARIEN: We want safety for everybody everywhere, and we do not have that now, at all. We have not had that. And we have to get to a place where we actually listen to and support people by giving and providing the resources that are necessary.
[INTRO MUSIC IN]
ALIDA: Welcome to the Care Work Podcast. I’m your host, Alida Miranda-Wolff. This podcast is for anyone in the business of providing care, whether you’re being paid for it or not. You’ll discover what it means to offer care and how to take care of yourself in the process. For the last ten years, as a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging practitioner, a care worker myself, I’ve focused on providing care to other people for a living. Now with this podcast, I’m hoping to create a culture of care in my community and help you do the same in yours.
ALIDA: I’m going to do the introduction for this episode a little bit differently because I am very pleased to announce that my colleague, my friend, my frequent collaborator, Garien Gatewood, moved on from his role, leading the Illinois Justice Project, which he was serving at while we recorded this episode. To becoming the city of Chicago’s first ever deputy Mayor of Community Safety. The conversation that we had is absolutely a testament to why this role is necessary and why Garien is the right person to do it. I am absolutely biased and proud to be biased in his favor. Listen to this conversation if you are interested in understanding our current, in the City of Chicago, Deputy Mayor of Community Safety’s position on what we need to do, to move from this era of problem finding, when it comes to racial inequity and restorative justice, and really get into the brass tax of implementing solutions.
ALIDA: Welcome, Garien. I would like to ask you to do something a little bit different, which is, instead of starting with your job title, start with the kind of care or support that you have offered professionally.
GARIEN: When I think about care work, in particular the work I do, when I describe my work, I literally say, I wake up every day and try to help as many people as I can, right? If that means opening opportunities for employment, opening opportunities to help with strategy, opening opportunities to have their voices magnified with the work that they do. That’s what I do every day. And I literally think about that all day. How can I help more people excel in the work that they’re doing so I can help the field overall?
ALIDA: And let’s talk about this work, because it’s really multifaceted. I mean, I know you for really the work that you have done on everything from the Safety Act to Juvenile Justice to building a giant coalition of criminal justice reform organizations in Illinois. But when you think about what you do and what sort of the key pillars of that are, what comes up for you?
GARIEN: You’ve got me at a really good time. Right, Alida? Because I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. One, I would describe a lot of my work as a problem solver, right? There are so many problems with the justice system or the criminal legal system or the juvenile legal system, where you see there are so many impediments and barriers put in front of people. One, by design, and two, you see purposeful disinvestment. So, a lot of my work focuses on how we open doors for people, how we remove some of those barriers, and how we solve our problems. One thing you’ll find out about me quickly is, if you come to me with a problem, I’m going to have around four or five solutions, and I hope you start to listen to them, because when you present problems, I’m automatically thinking about, here’s a potential solution, here’s how we can navigate these waters, and this is how we can move not only this policy forward, but more importantly, how can we move practices forward?
So I look at it from that perspective. But you know, when you put our work in buckets, we work on juvenile and criminal legal reform. Meaning, there might be areas, as you mentioned, the Safety Act. But beyond the Safety Act, you know, we did work around legalizing cannabis and creating the R3, Restore, Reinvest, and Renew. Where you’ve seen over $80 million from cannabis taxes go back into communities that weren’t impacted by the war on drugs. I look at that as an economic investment all right? I look at it not only from justice reform issues or criminal and juvenile legal system reform issues, but also economic reform issues. Because a lot of the areas that we talk about, a lot of areas where our work highlights are areas that have been purposefully disinvested in. So how do we get those resources back to those communities? That’s where I will put our work in some of those buckets. Yeah.
ALIDA: So I want to take a step back. You made this segue really easy for me because you already mentioned it, but I wanted to start right at the Southern Poverty Law Center and how you started there, what it did in terms of your worldview and how it brought you into sort of that next phase and the issues that you deal with day to day.
GARIEN: All right. Funny story for Southern Poverty Law Center, right? So I’m in my two year of law school. My wife Andrea at the time, is pregnant with our son Ethan. Andrea is eight months pregnant, and I tell that part of the story because it’s important, because the day we had our own campus interview, Southern Poverty Law Center came up. It was Elissa Johnson, who’s doing some phenomenal work nationally, and Corrie Cockrell, who is Medgar Evers’ great niece, so this was this was Black History royalty in the room, coming to interview me on campus and interview other students, obviously. And we had a trial competition that day and I turned to both of them. I said, you all should stay here because I’m going to win this trial competition later on, they chuckled. I didn’t chuckle because I knew we would win. Walked out of that room after that interview, went and crushed the trial competition. Maybe a week later we get the word that I was selected for the internship. We had a great team of folks and we got to challenge each other every single day on work that we did. You know, one of the things that we did right before we left is challenge the open carry law where we had to write a brief on day of, to challenge the vagueness and the constitutionality of whether or not Mississippi was going to be an open carry state. Of course, Mississippi would eventually be an open carry state, but we were able to get in there and stop it.
ALIDA: I know you worked in Ohio and Kentucky for The Children’s Law Center and you were really thinking about protecting the rights of youth.
GARIEN: Yeah, it was interesting, right? So we left law school. I never stepped foot in Ohio before in my life, right? I closed my eyes and we picked a place on the map and it ended up being Ohio and we focused in on applications. The Children’s Law Center reached out and they gave me an opportunity to have autonomy and build up the youth reentry project. So my work there focused on dual involved youth. Youth who were both in the child welfare system and the juvenile legal system. So I got to spend a lot of time with a population that had been failed so many times, Alida. That population was failed by so many systems, right? They don’t really take it the time to think about the education system, the child welfare system, the family, uh, support, all of these things that may have crumbled on the way to get this young person in trouble with the law. So I spent a lot of time trying to help the stakeholders get a better understanding of what their responsibility was, how to work smoother in the systems. And spent so much time working directly with families who were being impacted, right? From getting them back in school, literally sitting on their pods with them in the juvenile detention center, from calls in the middle of the night, running to different neighborhoods, trying to help kids out. It was my life’s work at that time, right? And what I saw, you know, we worked in conjunction with the Hamilton County Public Defender and they had a great juvenile defense team. And I don’t say that lightly and I am a little biased because the juvenile defense team, the former manager and attorney at The Children’s Law Center went over there to run that juvenile defense team. So we knew it was a great team and we worked hand in hand with them. But what you would see is some days a kid might get five years and another day a kid might go home, right? And you know, there’s one thing to say, it was based on race, but most of the kids were black, right? So they were turning kids out all the time. So you’d have a racial breakdown, but it was predominantly black. So you see those systems constantly fail kids, right? And you would see a lack of accountability where people wouldn’t understand or they would choose to act like they didn’t understand the failures that led to a young person being incarcerated or a young person having so much trouble in school.
ALIDA: I think it’s important that you’re talking about your work as forcing people to confront the complexity of situations, how they’re interconnected, and say, how do you solve this problem? Especially because they’re often dealt with as one problem at a time, as opposed to this sort of layered matrix. So you were talking about how you’re a problem solver. How do you problem solve when we’re talking about juvenile intervention and think about a better system, a better way of doing things?
GARIEN: Yeah. So again, this goes back to what I said earlier with purposeful disinvestment. All right? So you look at, the reason I loved the juvenile, the youth legal work that I was doing in particular and youth legal reform work is because, you got a better understanding from the young folks, here are the things that we need. When you actually listen to young people, they will tell you, here are the things we like, here are the things we don’t like. Far too often, adults try to impose the power and our experiences on people. But really thinking about some of the things that these young folks have been exposed to, we have to, when we talk about resources, we have to be intentional about how we get resources in communities, right? Like, there’s no reason one school on one block should have more resources than the other. There’s no reason that a young person should have to start working at 13 or 14. And I say that as a person who had to work at 13 years old. The reason I’m giving those examples is because we don’t in society, in particular, in black kids, and it’s becoming more predominant in brown communities as well. We don’t let kids be kids. We want kids to go out and work because they have to support the family. I mean, I started working at 13 to help my mom. It wasn’t much of a choice for me because I saw my mom needed something and there was nobody else around to help. So I got my butt up and went to work. Now, I don’t regret any of that at all, but I will tell you, that helped shape me into who I am today. But it also, also it took something from you because you don’t have that time in childhood, right? This is why I have this belief of my kids I let my kids do what they want I want my kids to be kids as long as possible, because society knows how to take that, and society knows how to take it quickly. So we have to give youth support, not only financial support, we really need to start listening to our young folks and offering real support real solutions, real resources, not this half-stepping that we’ve been known to do all over this country. We need to listen to young folks and really chime in.
ALIDA: We’re so good at problem finding. I mean that’s the reality. We know what the problems are. It’s not like we don’t it’s not like anyone is scratching their head and saying, huh, why are we in this situation? We know that people don’t have access to housing. They don’t have access to food. They don’t have access in many cases to clean drinking water. They don’t have access to the educational opportunities or resources that we have decided as a society you need to do just about anything for a living wage. We’re so good at finding the problems. Why is it that we don’t do anything when they’re found.
GARIEN: Because people pay for convenience, right? If people don’t see what’s happening on the west side of the city, on the north side, doesn’t really bother a lot of folks, because you pay for convenience. This is why it’s always interesting when you hear people talk about crime increasing in the city of Chicago. And I’m telling you, you could talk to ten people all in the loop in a day and they would tell you, oh well, crime is increasing because stores are closing on Michigan Ave. and carjackings are up. Well carjackings are down. One, two stores are closing on Michigan Ave. because Amazon has closed stores closing everywhere in the world because you can literally order everything from Amazon, but that goes back to communications, right if the news constantly tells you, here are the reasons why, and if every election crime comes up, and because crime comes up in every election, you would assume that there would be a more concerted effort to build stronger reforms and address those solutions, that’s not the case.
People pay X amount of dollars so they’re not exposed to that, right? If people really focused in on how we build solutions, because like you said, we know every problem that’s out there. There’s not a researched person more than a poor black kid, you know everything about a poor black kid from the food they don’t have, the education, how many parents are in the household, where they go to school, how long it takes them to get to school, you know all the problems. Let’s invest in solutions. Let’s actually make a commitment to some of these parts of the city and let’s make that commitment without gentrifying, right? Because typically what you see is we’re going to do these things in this community and then the community looks entirely different ten years later, five years later. And that’s not investing in people, right? Not in the people who are currently there, right? We have a tendency in a society to push people out of areas because of their location because, again, Alida, people love to pay for convenience, like being able to walk to a grocery store around the corner, being able to walk to a park. People love to pay for convenience. We have to get to a place where we are not only willing to actually follow through with our plans to help people, but genuinely invest in some of these communities that have been purposely disinvested in.
ALIDA: It would be one thing if we didn’t know anything about black kids, if we didn’t do the research, if we didn’t fund all of these initiatives to figure this stuff out, but we do. So why do we do it? Why do we do it if we’re not going to do anything about it? We’ve been studying these kids forever, but we’re not doing anything for them. I don’t know that we need more research or data or facts and figures on what’s going on. And my question is, if we have $2 million to fund the research, why don’t we have $2 million to give to the people being researched?
GARIEN: Ah, there we go because what I found out a lot of times is, some people either don’t understand implementation and don’t understand how to actually take an idea. People love going from point A to point B. There’s only a handful of people who know how to get from point A to point Z. And being able to walk through, with actual solutions, makes a ton of sense. Another reason people don’t like to put resources directly in their hands is because of narratives. You assume that you’re going to put these resources in the black community’s hands that it’s a handout. Well, guess what? Sometimes handouts are needed, sometimes support is needed, sometimes financial support is needed, because you have purposely stopped other options for work you’ve limited ability to travel to get certain employment, you’ve red lined out certain levels of employment. You’ve made housing impossible to afford in other areas. What is it you expect to happen? You expect to happen, what exactly is happening right now.
This is by design so you do these studies, and then you’ll see the same study with a couple of different words on it a few years later with a larger investment and a same study again a few years later with these recommendations, right? So I would challenge everyone to get beyond recommendations and when you’re putting your recommendations out there, map out how you implement those recommendations. Don’t just tell me what we should be doing, because we know what we should be doing. We should be giving support. We should eliminate food deserts. We should improve schools. We should improve health care. We should limit the flow of illegal guns on the streets. We should do all of these things because, there was this misconception that advocates, right? At one point, there was conversations that, oh, advocates must want crime on the streets. No, when we say public safety, I literally mean we want safety for everybody, everywhere. And we do not have that now, at all. We do not have that. We have not had that. And we have to get to a place where we actually listen to and support people by giving and providing the resources that are necessary.
ALIDA: And that means we have to trust people. What comes up is, well, I don’t want to give that unhoused person $3 on the street. I want to pay for a $3 protein bar and drink for them so that I know exactly where that money went. So there’s both this element of trust and mistrust of if I give you something of mine, you wouldn’t make the right decision with it. Only I can make the right decision with it. And then there’s just also this element of trusting that you are in a reciprocal environment. And I think that this is a challenge that we live with in the US especially, where individualism is held up as an ideal. But to the expense of a sense of community or a collectivism. Because if I’m thinking about and I’m going to take it back to care work, how much of our GDP is subsidized by the unpaid labor of people giving birth and, you know, fueling our economy of workers by actually producing life? How much of our GDP is baked on the meals that are provided, on the cleaning that is done, on all of these things that people do for free in service of others, who are mostly coming from marginalized groups? And so this idea of I’m going to give you something, but you’re not going to give me something back, it’s a handout. Well, our entire economy is built on handouts.
So, if we reframed that conception and said, the economy as it’s structured today doesn’t work for people, which doesn’t make any sense, because it was designed to serve people. So we should have an economy that works for people, not people who work to fit our economy. It sounds really good in theory. It’s harder in practice because of a lot of the things that, you know, we’ve been talking about in this conversation a lack of exposure. We don’t want to see the things we don’t want to see. So we don’t have an understanding of the people around us. We’re afraid of things like crime. We’re afraid of the people we associate with crime. We’re afraid of those narratives. We don’t want somebody to steal from us or take things from us or hurt us and we assume that they will. But we don’t consider that maybe they’ve actually been giving things, contributing things and that part of being in a system is giving, knowing that you are receiving maybe not always in a direct transaction. So, that’s something that comes up for me a lot because this idea of handouts is frankly really frustrating to me because of the fact that everybody is taking handouts all the time in pretty much every exchange and interaction. If you think about labor.
GARIEN: Without question, I tell you one thing that you see it in employment, you see it across the board, everywhere. If we all had the confidence of um, white men, the world would be a much different place, right? And those of them who will be honest and upfront about that, they’ll tell you that’s the truth. Of course there’s handouts everywhere. There’s always been handouts everywhere. This is how you get things done. But when it comes to marginalized communities there’s a negative stigma with it by design and people are told to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. There’s no boots, there’s no straps, there’s nothing and you’re expected to make it out of that, despite the fact that there are literal systems, right? I’ll use this example, I’ll use the example of legalized cannabis. You saw an economic boom in the Marijuana market decades ago, and you saw predominantly black and brown folks, predominantly black folks go to prison for selling marijuana, right? What you’ve seen now is, because we’ve legalized cannabis in the state of Illinois, the north side of the city has an open air drug market. And we’re okay with that, right? We’re totally fine with that. At the same time, we’ve continuously punished people, and we’ve blocked a lot of those people from getting into that industry because of the narrative, right? So a few years ago, a decade ago, we just legalized cannabis a few years ago for recreational use. You go back years ago, people were going to prison for this, right? And now it’s okay and it’s making folks millions of dollars. People are building generational wealth from selling cannabis, and people are being blocked out of their industry every single day. For doing what? Selling cannabis. That’s a prime example right now of hypocrisy that we see right here in our city, right? We see that in our city. We see that in our state. We see it in other jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis as well. But we have to continue to open doors. We have to force people to open doors. And not only opening that first level. Of a door, no, no, no, no. Because that first door you get in, that’s fake, you need to be at the table. You need to be at these rooms where these real conversations are happening, where. You can actually move work forward to help your people.
ALIDA: So I like to end these on a hopeful note. And I’ve been saving my hopeful note for the end, because I feel like it maps with your career trajectory. Because now you lead the Illinois Justice Project, and we skipped a bunch of years to get there, but you lead the Illinois Justice Project and you have actually had some major successes bringing about the changes, the reforms, the supports that are necessary. So it can feel like, well, everything’s broken, no one’s fixing it, everything’s going wrong. But part of wanting to delve into what all these problems are and how people aren’t doing things about it is because I know that you and your team are doing things about it and are making strides. And so I’d love to ask you a little bit about that.
GARIEN: Yeah, so I’ve been the director of the Illinois Justice Project. It’ll be two years on April 1st. ILJP is an organization that focuses on being a connector, problem solvers, strategic communication we try to bring the folks together we over the last couple of years we have worked to eliminate cash bail along with the Safety Act, worked on a lot of those policing reforms in the Safety Act as well. We also worked with the Department of Juvenile Justice to create a Transformation Plan, a 21st century transformation plan, where now youth will be in a closer to home model. So those young people who, unfortunately are imprisoned in the Department of Juvenile Justice will be closer to their families. And we did that in conjunction with young people, right? The young people, not just young people off the street, young people who are in DJJ, young people who have been through DJJ were all a part of this large coordinating council that Lieutenant Governor Stratton put together and that was some of the work and I know it’s going to take a long time, right? Because not only are you changing physical buildings, but you’re changing culture. That is some of the work I’m most proud of from ILJP, from the work that we’re able to build out for youth there in conjunction, in partnership with also, you know, I used that example about cannabis earlier for a good reason, right? We were a part of the group that helped develop the R3 Restore, Reinvest, and Renew, where 25% of those cannabis proceeds go back to communities that were impacted by the war on drugs last year, we distributed $80 million to those communities. Those numbers are going to continue to grow, and that access to those resources are going to continue to grow. What we have to do is, we have to open up those opportunities to more people. And I think that’s part of the role that ILJP plays. So we’ve seen some pretty massive work move forward in the last couple of years. And I will tell you one thing that really gives me hope in particular, the work that we’re doing in reentry right now. If you looked at our reentry system three years ago, at the beginning of COVID, three years ago, I’m not talking about Alida. I ain’t talking about ten years ago, five years ago, twenty years ago, three years ago we had conversations with folks three years ago around what happens with this population. We want to get them out of DOC. There’s a big push to get folks out of prison at the beginning of COVID Things sometimes move a lot slower than we would like in government. Uh, and luckily, the Illinois Justice Project is not government. So we work with our partners in philanthropy to raise resources. And we are not a direct service organization. We are a policy organization. We worked with two direct service organizations, Safer and Task. We provided housing for over 60 folks for the last two and a half years. When I say provide housing, I mean these folks have their own apartments, these folks have access to food, you name it. Services, support, no strings attached. Let’s give you these resources and let’s get out of the way.
From that, we started the Illinois Reentry Council, which has over 100 members throughout the entire state of Illinois, which is led by the bodies that touch Reentry. The Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services, the Illinois Housing Development Authority, The Justice Equity and Opportunity Initiative, the Illinois Justice Project, and the Fully Free Campaign. Two of those individuals are system impacted, they have lived experience. I’m never going to be able to be a genuine expert on reentry. I’ll know a lot about it, but I didn’t live that, right? I’m never going to be an expert to the level of somebody that has actually gone through that. So we took that process and we started working with them to develop reentry plans, reentry policy reforms. And now you see synergy in reentry across the state where you have an Office of Reentry at the city, which is led by Willette Benford. You see more efforts coming in from the Department of Human Services, from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Cook county government has always been great. President Preckwinkle has always led the effort and reform, especially in reentry as well. But you see in this synergy from the governor’s office through the county board, through the city and other municipalities across the state. So the reentry work is moving in the right direction because we have people leading it who have experienced it and they have the right platform, and platforms are key to communication, policy development, and implementation. There’s a ton of work still to be done, but I got to tell you, very proud of the work that’s been going on here at the Illinois Justice Project and very proud of our colleagues around the space and the work that they’ve been putting in as well.
ALIDA: I think something you said at the beginning of this conversation really strikes me, which is you are a problem solver. That is what you do. And you have formed a coalition of other problem solvers who are taking this information and actually going out and doing something. And doing things that are intentional. And ultimately modeling what could happen on a much larger scale. So I really appreciate you sharing those examples. My final question for you is just where can we find you? How can we stay up to date on everything that you’re doing?
GARIEN: Yeah, so I’m on LinkedIn. LinkedIn at Garien Gatewood. I’m on Twitter at Garien Gatewood. Listen, you don’t mess with success. You know the name. That’s my name. That’s my Twitter handle and my LinkedIn handle. You’ll see updates on LinkedIn about some of the work that ILJP is doing. You should also be on the lookout on my Twitter feed relatively soon for some of the work that I’ll be launching and doing as well with ILJP. So you can find me on both of those. Always looking for quality conversation. So really looking forward to connecting with folks and continuing to push this work forward.
ALIDA: Well, Garien, thank you so much.
GARIEN: Always a pleasure, Alida.
ALIDA: Thank you for listening to Care Work. Please share this podcast with other care workers in your community so that we can collectively create a culture of care.
This podcast is a collaboration between Ethos and Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Your host is me, Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Theme music “Vibing Introspectively” was written and recorded by Logan Snodgrass.
Production assistance was provided by Ivana Savic-Grubisich.
Audio editing and podcast post-production were provided by Organized Sound Productions.