Reform Alliance taps Amir Junaid Muhadith, formerly known as the rapper Loon, to serve on a new fellowship program, joining in efforts to revamp the US probation and parole systems

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Three months after his release from federal prison on an emergency compassionate release ruling, Amir Junaid Muhadith, formerly known as the hip-hop artist Loon, joins the Reform Alliance this week as the inaugural fellow in a new fellowship program from the criminal justice reform organization.

Factoring into the organization’s efforts to address and change injustices in the US probation and parole systems, Reform’s fellowship program will provide “practical and transferable job skills for formerly incarcerated individuals that are interested in pursuing a career in advocacy,” along with “hands-on experience in policy creation, policy writing, coalition-building, research, digital organizing and more,” according to a release. 

Muhadith and Reform Alliance Chief Advocacy Officer Jessica Jackson spoke to Business Insider in separate phone interviews last week to discuss Muhadith’s release from prison and his role in the fellowship program, including his goals for community-based criminal justice reform and prisoner rehabilitation.  

Compassionate release amid a pandemic

Toward the end of Muhadith’s nine-year incarceration, the activist Weldon Angelos connected with Jackson and Alice Johnson in an effort to get the federal government to grant clemency for Muhadith’s release. 

Jackson described Muhadith as a “perfect candidate for clemency”; Muhadith was serving a 14-year sentence after pleading guilty on a charge for conspiracy with intent to distribute heroin in 2013, “an unbelievably long sentence for a crime he had really paid his time for,” Jackson said. 

Repeated attempts at clemency were denied, however, and Muhadith’s incarceration then coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and prison outbreaks of the virus. Muhadith, a 45-year-old who had battled several lung conditions during his incarceration, including acute bronchitis, tuberculosis, and Legionnaires’ disease, was at a serious risk.

“When COVID struck, the Federal Bureau of Prisons basically didn’t take it serious,” Muhadith said. “In the proximity that we were living in, being housed in a dorm with open cubicles, there was no way to socially distance.”

In June, Angelos wrote a 34-page motion for an emergency compassionate release for Muhadith, through an expansion of a clause in the federal First Step Act. In July, the US District Judge Terrence Boyle granted Muhadith the release, stating that COVID-19 qualified as an “extraordinary and compelling reason” for his relief.

“In Amir’s case, he just was such a solid candidate for both clemency and compassionate release, that it was sort of a no-brainer to advocate for him. I was very excited when he got out and Weldon connected us over the phone, and I got to hear the joy in his voice, at being back home with his family,” Jackson said. “And then, right away, he switched the conversation and was like, ‘Okay, I’m home. Let’s get to work.’ And he just came out with all this stuff; he was like, ‘All right, First Step Act. I read it while I was inside. Here’s my feedback. Here’s what we need to do next.'”

‘Living on egg shells’ on supervised release

In our conversation, Muhadith discussed how his plight reflected the challenges facing those living within the US probation and parole systems at large. 

“The amount of people who are on supervised release is more than double the amount of people incarcerated,” Muhadith said. “So there’s this amount of people who are basically living on egg shells, because being on supervised release puts you in a very compromised position.

“It puts you in a situation where, if you have the simplest police contact, or anything can lead to you getting violated and having to go back to prison,” he continued. “It puts a lot of stress and burden on the shoulders of an individual, who’s trying to re-enter a society that he hasn’t been in for over 10, maybe 20, or even 30 years.” 

As a newly released person on probation, Muhadith’s position allows him to view the supervision process “in real time” for Reform, he said, assessing where the process needs to be reformed.

To illustrate the issue of minor, non-violent violations as a form of recidivism, Jackson relayed an instance of a woman who told her that she was at risk of being violated on probation and sent to prison because she had a negative credit reporting on her account.

“We’ve all had something negative pop-up on our credit, but that never meant for us that we were possibly going to be ripped out of our houses and sent to jail,” she said. “So it’s just so eye-opening, and the things you hear, I mean, it’s both devastating, but also motivating to really change the system.”

‘Creating a pipeline from prison to society’

In outlining his goals for the fellowship with Reform, Muhadith discussed a need for greater community-based support for mental health and “praiseworthy education” that could act as preventative measures to criminality and recidivism. 

His main goal, he said, is to work toward “creating a pipeline from prison to society, something that is consistent and something that connects to where you start deflecting this repetitive cycle of mass incarceration.”

Jackson described how Muhadith has envisioned paths for re-entry into society that should include resources for forward-looking plans for rehabilitation when a person is sentenced, to set those convicted up with programs inside prison that offer skills they can apply to jobs that they know will hire convicted felons in their area upon their release.

“That process is not in existence right now,” Jackson said. “But Amir really has explained it in a way that fits very nicely with Reform’s vision as a pipeline from prison to success when you’re home.” 

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