square bulletOpening Remarks from the 2022 Day of Empathy Event

From Nova Sweet, Oregon Ambassador, and her son Marco Brewer

The following are transcripts of statements from the 2nd Day of Empathy, 2022, an annual event that mobilizes bipartisan support for a more humane justice system in the United States.

Introductory Statement by Marco Brewer

Good afternoon everyone.

My name is Marco Brewer. My mother went to prison for 36 months during middle school and the beginning of highschool – a very important time in my life that I’ll never have the chance to repeat. Being a kid can be tough when one of your parents is incarcerated. For some years, both of my parents were incarcerated. This came with a lot of embarrassment and shame. But as I became older, I started to find out long term trauma that I had developed from this time in my life. I am one of 2.7 million children in the United States who has been impacted by a parent being incarcerated. According to the statistics, as a young man of color, I was 7.5 times more likely to have an incarcerated parent than my white peers. According to the statistics, I was 75% more likely, by now, to be in prison myself.

Sometimes statistics and odds are hard to fight against, and life can be hard and unmotivating when you’re working from behind. You start to become discouraged because you don’t have the same privilege as your peers. And sometimes you want to quit.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and just because your parents went to prison, doesn’t mean you have to. We are children of incarcerated parents, we’re meant to change the narrative, and we will have to fight harder.

I refuse to be a statistic. Through my parents’ incarceration, I fought. Through transferring high schools my senior year, I fought. Through junior college, I fought. Through rupturing my Achilles’ tendon, I fought. And I’m proud of where I’ve made it today, but nowhere close to where I want to be. Through all my ups and downs I’ve been blessed enough to receive a full ride scholarship to play football at Oregon State University. I’m an offensive lineman. Last season I started 7 games, we made it to a bowl game for the first time in 8 years, and our offensive line was recognized as top 5 in the nation. More importantly than any of that, I was named to the university’s Honor roll for obtaining a 3.5 GPA or higher for more than 3 terms. And even more importantly than that, I am a big brother of an amazing sister and a grandson to an amazing grandma. I am a positive and contributing member of my community.

My mom, sister and I had the opportunity to participate in the Family Preservation Project while she was incarcerated. She got to heal from the guilt and shame that her absence created. We got to address the harm that her absence caused. We got an opportunity to heal.

According to the statistics, there is a 50% chance, by now, that my mom would have returned to prison; a higher likelihood that she would be unemployed and suffer from housing instability; a high likelihood that she would have suffered from on-going substance abuse.

But like us, my mom is not a statistic. After leaving prison, she overcame so many hurdles to earn her State licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Oregon, and just was recently promoted to being the supervisor of the crisis response team that she was previously a part of.

She worked tirelessly on issues to reform our criminal legal system on behalf of mothers and children in Oregon.

Let’s remember that statistics are just history, and we have the power to change these statistics. My mom has taught me that you don’t sit down and quit when things get hard, but you fight to find away. and don’t ever be afraid to ask for help, because everyone needs it. We have an obligation to pay forward what we have received. We have an obligation to see that no one else becomes a statistic.

I am proud today to introduce you to the Oregon Ambassador for Dream Corps Justice, and Family Preservation Projects Lead Community Organizer: My mom, Nova Sweet.

Opening Remarks by Nova Sweet, Oregon Ambassador for Dream Corps Justice

Hello, my name is Nova and I am thrilled to be organizing and mobilizing Oregon’s second annual Day of Empathy.

In 2020, Dream Corps JUSTICE appointed me the Oregon Ambassador for their National Empathy Network. This Network is America’s largest community of justice-impacted activists who advocate for fearless solutions to our mass incarceration problem.

Did you know that our country locks up more people per capita than any other nation; there are over 2 million people currently incarcerated in America.

The Day of Empathy is about raising awareness in the pursuit of a shared vision; I’m sure we can all agree we want to keep our communities safe, our families’ whole, and our economy strong.

The Day of Empathy is about raising awareness in the pursuit of a shared vision; I’m sure we can all agree we want to keep our communities safe, our families’ whole, and our economy strong.

Today we invite you to recognize the people most harmed by our current system are uniquely qualified to create and champion the solutions that will begin to transform it.

In doing so, we encourage each of you to recognize the binary of perpetrators and victims within our prison industrial complexes

Over a decade ago my healing began when I found myself at the intersection of difficult choices and nonexistent options. As a result, I spent 36 months in prison. This was an interruption on my path of destruction.

I turned this moment into an opportunity to look within and take back mypower. It was during this time that I was introduced to The Family Preservation Project. Soon after I knew I found the “thing” I needed to save my life and find my voice.

Since my release, over 7 years ago, I have been committed to helping other women in my shoes. As a living amends I choose to share my story, and use my privilege on behalf of children and families directly impacted by incarceration, and for all matters related to dignity for incarcerated women.

Today we invite you to join us as we begin to imagine what a world without prisons could look like. Imagining a world that centers care and not punishment in addressing harm. We welcome everyone to this space where we will share our experience, strength and hope, while offering tangible visions of what could have been different, and what still can be. Here we cultivate presence, confidence, and love. Here we believe in depth, authenticity, passion, culture and creativity. In this space, we believe in magic.

On behalf of FPP, I would like to thank Dream Corps JUSTICE for collaborating with us. To Dream Corps staff – Tina, Harrison, Janos, Chelsea and Amanda, thank you for believing in me. I would like to give a special shout out to the YWCA of Greater Portland for always supporting FPP. I would also like to say directly to the women and contributors who are still incarcerated thank you for believing in this event – we see you, we hear you, and we believe in you. I must also send love to our one and only Jessica Katz, the founder and director of FPP and my ally in this work.

Finally yet importantly, a special thank you to Mandy Davis for agreeing to MC our Day of Empathy event. Mandy and I first met over 17yrs ago, in my pre-felon life, when I was a graduate student learning social work at Portland State University. Mandy is an associate professor of practice at Portland State University’s School of social work, a licensed clinical social worker, and the Director of Trauma Informed Oregon.

This moment is truly a full circle, as we join again, and begin to imagine something different.