Jun 3, 2021
Marlon Peterson grew up in 1980s and 90s Crown Heights, raised by Trinidadian immigrants. Amid the routine violence and crack epidemic that would come to shape the perception of his neighborhood, Peterson spent his childhood preaching the good word alongside his father, a devout Jehovah’s Witness. The specter of the American Dream loomed large, and with his achievement of 6th grade valedictorian, it seemed within reach. But in the aftermath of physical and sexual trauma, Peterson made a series of choices that led to his first arrest, getting shot, and his participation in a robbery that resulted in two murders. At 19, Peterson was charged and later convicted; he served ten years in prison.
During his incarceration, Peterson immersed himself in anti-violence activism, education, and prison abolition. He continues this work today, and he joined us now to recount his coming of age story, contained in his book Bird Uncaged: An Abolitionist’s Freedom Song. With his own story, Peterson challenged the typical “redemption” narrative and our assumptions about who deserves justice. With vulnerability and insight, he exposed what he sees as the hollowness of the American Dream; the daily violence and trauma of poverty, policing, and enforced masculinity; and the brutality of incarceration. Don’t miss this powerful 21st century abolitionist story, that demands a shift from punishment to healing, an end to mass incarceration, and a new vision of justice.
Marlon Peterson is the principal of The Precedential Group, a social justice consulting firm. He is host of the Decarcerated Podcast, a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equity, a member of the ASpen Global Leadership Network, and a 2015 recipient of the Soros Justice Fellowship. He contributed to Kiese Laymon’s How to Kill Yourself and Others in America and Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin’s How We Fight White Supremacy. His writing has appeared in Ebony, THe Nation, USA Today, Colorlines, and more.