Brittany Barnett grew up in a tight-knit community of family, neighbors, and church community in the rural South. Secure and loved, sheltered from racism, she was encouraged to develop her gifts and follow her dreams. However, her life and that of her family unraveled when she was 10 years old and her mother became addicted to drugs. Years later, her mother was arrested and incarcerated for two years.
As a child, Brittany didn’t understand what was happening to her mother. But as an adult visiting her mother in prison, she understood that her mother was an addict who needed treatment. Barnett explains, “But it was 1996, and America’s War on Drugs was in full throttle. Resources for drug treatment were scant, while money was being poured into law enforcement and prisons. People with addictions like Mama didn’t stand a chance. And neither did their kids, caught up on the front lines.”
Eventually, Barnett followed her dream to become a lawyer, specifically devoted to the high stakes and perks of corporate law. But even as she achieved success beyond her wildest dreams, the trauma of what she experienced as a child and the pain of what she witnessed as an adult while visiting her mother in prison haunted her. Moved with compassion and a fierce sense of social justice, Barnett couldn’t ignore the cases of imprisoned people she’d learned about, African Americans languishing in prison with life sentences for minor drug offenses.
Barnett took up individual cases of people serving life sentences, working pro bono to secure a reduction of their sentence or their freedom. Still maintaining her job as a corporate lawyer in the day, Barnett worked into the wee hours of the night doing all she could to secure her clients’ freedom. Soon, she couldn’t ignore her new passion: “Increasingly, it was the social justice work I did in the silent midnight hours that fed my heart and soul.”
Barnett’s compelling, disturbing, yet hopeful memoir gives readers a glimpse of the role racist worldviews and practices played in the proliferation of the African American prison population and the social justice initiatives being pursued by many organizations, including Barnett’s The Buried Alive Project and Girls Embracing Mothers, to bring transformation in the criminal justice system. (Crown)
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