Imagine doing something dumb but relatively harmless in your youth.
Maybe stealing a T-shirt or smoking marijuana with a friend.
Instead of a reprimand and a way to make things right, you're thrown into jail at 15 years old to await your trial. Maybe if you're from a lower socioeconomic family in a larger city like New York or Los Angeles — where bail can run $2,000-$5,000 or more — neither you nor any close family members can afford to make bail.
So you're stuck, sitting, waiting, and spending some of the most important years of your life in a space that's historically inhumane and unsafe and a foundation for anger, loneliness, and depression.
This is the reality for thousands of teenagers and and adults across the country, and Grammy-winning musician John Legend wants to stop it.
Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images.
The Truth About the Money Bail Industry narrated by John Legend
John Legend & Rashad Robinson "End Money Bail Now": fal.cn/MoneyBailOpEdCNNHonored to have partnered with John Legend’s FreeAmerica to expose this country’s corrupt for profit bail industry. Prosecutors build their careers by targeting Black and Brown people, selling off our freedom, and driving up mass incarceration. Enough is enough! If we want to drive mass incarceration and police violence down, we need to step up and make prosecutors answer to us. Share this and donate to #EndMoneyBail: bit.ly/EndMoneyBailNowPosted by Color Of Change on Monday, May 21, 2018
He discusses how the system is similar to predatory loan systems and disproportionately affects people of color.
"While many white people charged with crimes largely spend their time before their trial free, district attorneys and judges have different rules for black people, for poor people, demanding bail in the first place and setting it far out of reach financially and threatening them with long sentences if they don't take a plea," Legend explains in the video.
A former English major and lifelong proponent of social justice for all, Legend made a compelling case to end the system that corners people of color more than others and often throws off young, promising, and redeemable lives.
He demanded that we hold our governments accountable on changing the decadeslong system.
Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for WGN.
So what exactly is the money bail system?
It's the monetary system that technically prevents suspects from committing any other criminal acts while they await trial and aims to ensure they abide by the judicial process. But the system is largely corrupt — according to a study by the Pretrial Justice Institute, the first commercial bail bond business started in San Francisco in 1898, functioning as a payoff scheme among crime bosses, judges, lawyers and police.
This tradition of the rich and empowered benefitting from the bail system has persisted well into the current day. If you are wealthy or have someone in your life who is, you can post the proposed bail amount and re-enter society regardless of whether you committed the crime or not. However, if you don't have the money, a petty crime can force you to remain in jail for months or even years.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.
"In America, you're better off being guilty and rich than innocent and poor," Legend says.
Such was the case for Kalief Browder, a teenager who Legend references in his video. Browder was a mere 16 years old when he was put in jail for three years after being accused of stealing a backpack. Unable to make the $3,000 bail, Browder was forced to reside in Rikers Island, one of the most notorious prisons in America. Browder went through traumatic experiences while incarcerated and ultimately committed suicide after he was finally released.
It's a traumatic story that broke the hearts of thousands around the nation, but it's a story that's all too common for our nation's poorest individuals, particularly those of color.
In the video, Legend explores how the for-profit bail bond industry makes money off freedom and why it's imperative to our morality as a nation that we end it.
"Hundreds of thousands are pulled out of school, pulled out of their jobs, pulled out of church, pulled out of their families and communities, trapped in an oppressive and racist criminal justice by prosecutors, judges, bail bondsmen, and everyone else who profits from it," he notes.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.
Color of Change partnered with Legend's Free America campaign — a campaign that aims to end the prison industrial complex — to surface the commercial bail bond's inhumane industry practice of cash bail. And other celebrities are supporting his mission.
New York state gubernatorial candidate and former "Sex in the City" actress Cynthia Nixon made a public declaration of her support to end the problematic system.
Nixon, along with Legend, noted the connections between the money bail system and mass incarceration and how we can dismantle one by dismantling the other.
So, how can the system change?
According to Legend, it starts with everyday citizens like you and me.
"We're going to win," he says. "Our communities are going to win. Our families are going to win. Justice is going to win."