The Long Road Back: An Interview with Dominick Correy

dominick correy

Dominick Correy is a member of the Justice Not Jails Steering Committee who has been working for ten years as a “chaser” at Pasadena’s Learning Works Charter School. A “chaser” is a staff specialist assigned to making sure the kids show up and do the work, also counseling them and sometimes running interference with the law. Learning Works was founded by Dr. Mikala Rahn, another Justice Not Jails friend and advisor.

Dominick was recently appointed to serve as field representative for newly-elected State Senator Anthony J. Portantino, who represents the 25th senatorial district, comprising parts of the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys. Dominick impressed Mr. Portantino a few years ago when he appeared on Portantino’s local cable TV show.

Justice Not Jails applauds Sen. Portantino by setting a fine example in making this appointment.

JNJ: For readers who have never had to deal with the shadow of a felony conviction hanging over their head, can you describe what that life has been like for you?

In 2004, as a 18/19 year old youth I committed check fraud. I cashed a couple of bad checks. At the time my mom was homeless, and I had just gotten out of the California State Youth Authority. I had no money. I cashed the checks as a way to get ahead. Some quick money. I didn’t want to go rob someone or sell drugs, and I didn’t want or need to be violent.

In March of 2006, a Pasadena Police gang unit pulled me over as I was driving up Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena. They knew I was on parole. I complied with them, pulling my car over and letting them do a search. I didn’t have anything to hide. Everything was legit. I was then working and going to Pasadena Community College, and I was regularly checking in with my CYA parole officer. I thought it was going to be a quick search, and I could then go about my business. When the officers ran my name, they said I had an $100,000 warrant for my arrest. The checks that I had cashed in 2004 finally caught up to me. I ended up going to state prison, only getting out in January of 2007,

Amazingly, Dr. Mikala Rahn, whom I had worked for before I went to jail, gave me my job back. I also went back to school and got my bachelors degree in Ethnic and Women’s Studies from Cal Poly Pomona.

I have spent the past ten years working with high school dropouts, pregnant and parenting teen mothers, and with gang members. I dedicated my life to helping the same kind of at-risk young people I once was.

At this point I have spent the past ten years working with high school dropouts, pregnant and parenting teen mothers, and with gang members. I dedicated my life to helping the same kind of at-risk young people I once was. But as I tried to progress professionally, that felony conviction always hung over my head held me back. Over the last two years, (Pasadena city councilman) Steve Madison has done pro bono work, trying to help me clear my record. But because I was in prison, the felony will never come off unless I get a governor’s pardon. The conviction record has stopped me from applying to graduate school because some programs require you to clear a background check. In the last year I passed the credentialing test to become a substitute teacher, but my credential would not clear because I can’t pass a background check.

This is what a felony conviction like mine means: it doesn’t really matter that I have ten years of experience working in education; it doesn’t really matter that I earned a college degree and that I am a loving husband and father; it doesn’t really matter that I have been working successfully and tirelessly with the the very highest at-risk youth in the area. All that matters is the felony record. I do realize that, relatively speaking, I am still one of the lucky ones. I can’t begin to say how many hopes and dreams are shattered, how many lives are destroyed because someone makes a youthful mistake, but the law makes no room for second chances.

JNJ: In his inaugural speech, DonaldTrump made it seem like there is a huge new outbreak of crime threatening the U.S. He has also talked about launching a federal investigation of #BlackLivesMatter. How should we work to counter this new turn toward “law and order,” which will undoubtedly spread to California as well?

We all (every religion, every race, every gender, every creed) need to speak out against Trump and his bullying antics. If we all stand together and not let him bully one group, then we can overcome and counter his new policies. Hopefully we only have two years of the worst of this, and in the next election Democrats can take back the House and Senate. It’s time to build up the grassroots organizations and get more young people involved so that the next generation can make a difference. The Movement for Black Lives needs to have allies, and not just allies in private meetings but allies on the front lines, standing with them when they are marching. We need to get into these police departments, too, and change the us-vs-them police culture. Whatever it takes. I personally believe that police officers should only be allowed to work in the areas they currently live in or in an area they grew up in. That’s the real basis for an effective community policing model. I understand that the police have a very tough job to do. But their job affects everyone in the community.

JNJ: What’s the best single contribution that the “woke” part of the faith community–and groups like Justice Not Jails–can make toward the long struggle to move away from a punishment-based criminal justice system?

Faith communities have always been in the center of social justice issues. I understand that the faith community isn’t has strong as it used to be, with declining memberships in some places. But it’s time for every faith community to rally the troops and pick an area of social justice and work together with other faith communities or non-profits to really make a difference. Mass incarceration embodies everything the progressive faith communities say that they oppose: racism, class oppression, homophobia, gender bias, abuse of the mentally ill, and a gross misuse of scarce public resources (all those dollars for jails and prisons when the schools are falling down and college gets less and less affordable).

To be more specific, if faith communities were to spend a couple minutes in service, not only praying for the people who are locked up but also writing them letters, befriending them, and helping them reenter when they are released. Not to mention pressuring elected officials to change the many laws and policies that keep people chained to the system forever, never really getting their lives back.

Faith communities can also do a lot more on the front end to help keep children and young people out of this system. Learn what the school-to-prison pipeline means and how it operates right in your back yard, possibly even in that middle school or high school that is just two or three blocks away from the church. And here’s another thing: if churches would just study incarceration rates in their neighborhoods to find out what is everyone going to jail for, that alone would make a difference. If the people in your area are going to jail for drugs, then the church could get in involved in prevention or start a drug rehab program. If there is police harassment or police misconduct going on, that’s also something the church definitely needs to know about and speak out against.

peter laarmanIn 2017 we can’t sit back and do nothing. That day is over. We as a community need to step up. If you don’t want to march, then help make the signs or donate water to the marchers. But always be on the side of the freedom fighters!

Peter Laarman

About Peter Laarman

Rev. Peter Laarman serves on the Justice Not Jails steering committee. He formerly directed Progressive Christians Uniting, the LA-based network of activist individuals and congregations that first launched Justice Not Jails in 2012 as a multifaith initiative. He served as the senior minister of New York’s Judson Memorial Church from 1994 to 2004. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Peter spent 15 years as a labor movement strategist and communications specialist prior to training for ministry.