March 3, 2022

Today’s Newsletter is Co-written by AFJ Participants

As part of Avenues for Justice’s (AFJ) Youth Activism and Communications (YAC) training program sponsored by New York Community Trust, 17 Participants attended our new Newsletter Writing workshop. The workshop was led by AFJ’s Communications & Data Specialist, Weston Muench, and Credible Messenger from Henry Street Settlement, Toddrick Brockington.

Toddrick, who was incarcerated for 26 years, shared his personal story, answered questions and encouraged our Participants to make better decisions than he did at their age. While he spoke, Participants practiced their note-taking skills, resulting in today’s newsletter which was co-written by them along with the AFJ team:

Toddrick grew up with two siblings in a low-income family in Brooklyn. He is aware how poverty impacted his values because as a teen money and expensive things were more valuable to him than his or someone else’s life. His first arrest was at the age of 13, where he was convicted and incarcerated for 18 months for unintentional homicide. As is common with 75% of those sentenced to prison, Toddrick returned to crime soon after his release. He started selling drugs and carrying illegal weapons, and was soon a recidivist—in and out of the system for several gun charges. Then at the age of 25, he was sentenced to life at Sing Sing for a string of violent crimes.

It took the possibility of parole, along with the opportunity to access educational services* for Toddrick to reverse what he calls his “stinkin’ thinkin’.” He described sitting in his cell and deciding that he wanted the dash on his tombstone between his birth and death date to show something more significant than a life of crime and incarceration.

Toddrick started taking college classes and received his Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Sciences while he was incarcerated. Five years ago, he was released on parole. If he had not made the conscious decision to turn his life around, Toddrick knows he would still be at Sing Sing today.

Since his release, Toddrick has become a professional actor, joining Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and performing in HBO’s documentary, The University of Sing Sing. He also does voiceovers for commercials and various films, and has consulted on several projects focusing on incarceration and criminal justice. When the pandemic hit, one of AFJ’s partnering agencies, Henry Street Settlement, hired Toddrick as a Credible Messenger.

*Sing Sing is the only correctional facility in New York State to offer Associate, Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs.

AFJ is incredibly grateful to Toddrick for coaching our Participants on their writing below:

Recap summary of the workshop written by a few of our Participants:

GEORGE: When Toddrick told me he was provided for, but he saw people with nice things especially at a young age it brought me back to a time where I was just at that age. My single mother couldn’t afford what I wanted and sometimes what I needed because she had 3 other kids to take care of. My father wasn’t around so I understood but growing up in the neighborhood I grew up in, you want things to make you feel validated which led me to selling drugs and involved in crimes that I had no business in. With that being said, Toddrick said he had spent the majority of his young life in prison, which made me think of the situation I’m in. I’m currently fighting the biggest indictment in my life where I could face 10 to 15 years if the wrong move is made. They want us minorities in jail. Like Toddrick said, prison is designed to make you a better prisoner not a better person and without the right guidance 9 out of 10 times we don’t get that where we from. So at a young age I went through a lot and learned from the lessons and I know where I don’t want to be in the next 10 years.

AUSTIN: I learned that being in jail is not the way to go because there’s more to life then jail. I also learned that people like your moms and siblings can be affected by your actions. Not only what you do affects you, but it affects the people around you and that’s the worst part about it.

PETER: I feel like I can relate to Toddrick because of the feeling that nobody cares. But Toddrick taught me about caring about yourself. Everything comes with self-love first.

DAVID: Connecting with your mind can free you from a life of crime. Toddrick realized the life he was living wasn’t for him and changed his perspective and finally gave himself the chance to live a “normal life”. Now a Credible Messenger, he is free from a life of crime.

Inspiring to Keep Positive by JAMES: Toddrick went to jail for 26 years for drug and violence charges. He did not let his negativity get to the worst of him. After he got out of jail, he took the chance to make a positive change.

How Anger Effected My Judgement by BRIAN: While Toddrick let his anger get the best of him he reminded me of where my actions can lead me. Toddrick did 26 years in prison and I’m facing 2 years that I’m not trying to do. I caught a case because I let my anger get the best of me. Now I’m trying to be mindful of cameras and people around me. I learned that there’s actual consequences for negative actions and police will come get you when you least expect it. There’s a lot of murders happening around my area and I doubt those people are trying to do 25 year like Toddrick. I know I’m not.


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