By TeAna Taylor
For the Daily Gazette
Across the country, with the rise in homicides even as other crime rates declined, there is renewed discussion over the causes of violence.
Much of the commentary has partisan overtones, with many exploiting the loss of life to score points for their argument and even their careers.
For anyone who truly cares about the people and families impacted by violence, and wants to help stop it, my father is just the expert you need.
Unfortunately, he is constrained from sharing his vast knowledge on the subject in our community, because he is incarcerated.
That’s just one reason my family, like so many others across New York, was let down by the state Legislature’s failure to pass critical parole reform bills during the 2021 legislative session, which would have given him a fair chance to be considered for release.
We are calling on lawmakers to reconvene session and pass these bills this summer because we desperately need our rehabilitated family and community members back home where they can help us with community healing and development.
My father, Leroy Taylor, who has been incarcerated for nearly two decades for second-degree murder, has dedicated his life to rehabilitating himself and reducing violence.
Motivated by the shame of the harm he caused, he began this process by addressing his own mental health and substance abuse issues, which played a direct role in his crime.
Through years of self-evaluation and being brutally honest with himself, he now understands the root causes of criminal behavior – poverty, unmet mental health needs, drug abuse, abandonment issues, lack of education, systemic racism, gender discrimination, and more.
To be clear, this is not about avoiding responsibility for his or anyone else’s actions.
We all make choices.
But the context and circumstances in which we make those choices is not the same for everyone, and the question is how to create the best conditions for people to do right, and especially to express anger and hurt in mature and healthy ways.
That’s where my father’s guidance comes in.
On his journey to redemption, which is a continual endeavor, my father has mentored and inspired many people, including me and my family, residents of the prison, and folks from the community.
He’s devoted himself to the Osborne Parenting Class, the Youth Assistance Program (where young people from the surrounding communities come into the prison for counsel), a transformative and therapeutic theater program called Phoenix Players of Auburn, and his role as a college student and tutor in Cornell’s Prison Education Program and the Bard Prison Initiative.
He also co-facilitates a restorative justice program for PACT, an organization led by incarcerated individuals and sponsored by Yale University, pushing people to reckon with the personhood of those they harmed and take accountability for the gravity of their actions.
But he could do so much more if he were released – if he could meet people in the community where they’re at.
Crucially, my dad received mentorship from incarcerated elders who, themselves, pursued paths of personal development and community healing.
Sadly, many of these elders passed away behind bars without even a chance to be considered for parole release, often three or four decades after their transformation.
Incarcerated people who are rehabilitated deserve a chance to be considered for release based on who they are today.
That’s exactly what the Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole bills would ensure – if state lawmakers pass them.
We need our family members home so they can use their unique abilities to positively contribute to communities who need their presence so dearly.
These parole bills have the support of over 300 organizations across the state, including victim and survivor advocacy organizations like the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault and racial justice organizations like NAACP.
Now we need lawmakers to act, so hard-working, dedicated, remorseful incarcerated people, like my father, can be reunited with their families.
TeAna Taylor is the co-director of policy and communications for the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice and a lifelong resident of Schenectady.