Gautam Narula’s Guide to Activism

May’s speaker Gautaum Narula is the award-winning author of Remain Free, a memoir that documents his friendship with death row inmate Troy Davis. He has compiled a list of resources for education and action around the criminal justice system. 

Education

  • Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson gives a great broad overview of the problems in our criminal justice system. ­­Stevenson is a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that provides legal representation prisoners who may have been wrongfully convicted, given unfair trials, or cannot afford legal representation. The book goes through a series of cases Stevenson worked on in the past three decades that highlight the kind of injustices (particularly against the poor and racial minorities) that continue to occur today. 
  • The first season of the Serial podcast follows the story of Adnan Syed, a high school student questionably convicted of murdering another student and sentenced to life in prison. Not only does it provide a personal look into a potentially wrongful conviction, it also highlights some important problems: the increased power of prosecutors via plea bargaining, the effects of poor legal representation, etc.
  • It would be remiss of me not to shamelessly promote my own book, Remain Free, which follows the Troy Davis case and discusses the death penalty, how race and socioeconomic status affect outcomes in the justice system, and the personal toll our justice system takes on the people and families involved. All the profits from sales will be donated to the Innocence Project (see below), and the book can be read for free online at www.remainfree.com
  • The Innocence Project is a non-profit that works to free wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing, and has information on their website about what causes wrongful convictions. They also discuss the policy and legislative work they do (in addition to providing legal representation) to prevent innocent people from being convicted in the first place. 
  • For those specifically interested in the death penalty, Amnesty International’s Abolish the Death Penalty campaign is a good starting point. This campaign transformed Troy Davis from an unknown death row inmate in Georgia to the most well-known death row inmate in history. 

Action

  • Donate to the organizations mentioned above. 
  • Volunteer: Amnesty International is particularly good place to volunteer, because at its core AI is a volunteer organization so they’re built around volunteer action. You can start by getting in touch with your local field office (in this case, the one in Boston) and Amnesty Local Group (Amnesty 133 in Cambridge/Somerville). There are lots of friendly people in AI who will be happy to help you get started if you’re new to this. And if you’re into rallies and protests, AI can get you into that too. 
  • Lobby government officials: Massachusetts is definitely ahead of the curve (compared to the rest of the states) on these kinds of issues, but there’s always room for improvement. Stay educated and aware of any bills relating to law enforcement and criminal justice, and make your voice heard if there’s something you don’t like. If you have friends or relatives in other states that aren’t doing quite as well as Massachusetts in regards to criminal justice reform, encourage them to call their elected officials to pressure them to change the laws. Amnesty International, The Innocence Project, etc. will often have petitions you can sign as well.
  • Share the knowledge you’ve gained with as many people as you can. The most enduring change occurs from the bottom up, and that means writing about these issues and talking to people about them. That’s why I wrote Remain Free and speak to awesome groups of people like the folks at CreativeMornings Boston!

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You can follow Gautam on Twitter and on his personal blog.