Notes from Susan: Proud to Live in Jersey

By Susan MacLaury

I grew up on the other side of the Hudson River, in Huntington, NY. I’ve always loved NYS and indeed my husband and I still own a home on Long Island. But 27 years ago we left our Manhattan apartment to move to New Jersey, days after our oldest child, Kay, graduated from Bronx High School of Science, and 3 months before Alex, twelve years younger than his sister, began kindergarten.

We moved to Montclair, a town I love dearly. Learning to love New Jersey came more slowly. Although I appreciate the Jersey shore and have come to truly admire Bruce Springsteen, my state sympathies have always been divided. (The beaches I grew up with were Long Island’s north shore’s harbors and the LI sound. For several years my family also co-owned a tiny cottage on the bay side of Dune Road in Westhampton, across the street from the ocean. That, to me, was the best of all possible worlds.) It’s all what you know, I guess.

This month, though, I am very proud to be a New Jerseyan as it is March 2020 that the bill Governor Murphy signed in December, A8523, comes into effect making New Jersey the 17th state, along with the District of Columbia, to enable formerly incarcerated people on probation or parole to vote. Governor Murphy also introduced another law that creates an automatic expungement process for those convicted of less serious effects with a clean slate for 10 years.

Having recently completed Shine Global’s forthcoming short documentary, Virtually Free, about three Richmond, VA teens in detention who work with artists to create art used to educate law enforcement about the impact of incarceration on kids, I’ve come to understand much better what Michelle Alexander described in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Colorblindness, recently re-released with a new introduction by the author.

She states eloquently how badly the decks are stacked against those who’ve been incarcerated. – from the jobs they can take, to where they can live, to whether they can get motor vehicle licenses… the list goes on. What’s miraculous is that any survive, let alone thrive, upon release. I learned from Ms. Alexander that those released from jail and prison are saddled with horrendous – and dubious – debts that many simply can never pay off, that effectively short-circuit any serious efforts to rejoin society.

I’m proud to live in New Jersey where the playing field has been leveled in a significant manner and I’ll watch eagerly as the other 33 remaining states hopefully move to join this movement.