Stoneleigh Fellow Raj Jayadev’s participatory defense practices are featured in an op-ed by William Bentley, an organizer with the Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project who helped launch the nation’s first-ever Youth Participatory Defense Hub.
In December 2018, I was sitting in a jail cell, staring at four walls, a table, and a window a few inches wide. I would lie awake for hours, waiting for the door to open. When it did, I’d get hot water to make oatmeal for breakfast. At the time, I was 18 years old. I did this routine for a year. The district attorney offered me a deal: 7½ to 15 years in adult state prison.
That was at least seven more summers and winters. I didn’t want to lose so much time by taking a guilty plea for a crime I didn’t commit. But I knew that if I lost at trial, they could give me even more time.
I often wondered: Why doesn’t anyone care that I’m a kid held in an adult jail? Why is my bail set at $520,000, which is so much higher than it would be for an adult accused of the same actions and far more than my family can afford?