By Tom Breen, Reprinted from New Haven Independent, Dec. 13, 2018
Glenn E. Martin spent eight years of his youth sticking up jewelry stores. He spent nearly four years of his adulthood raising tens of millions of dollars to help end mass incarceration.
In Martin’s mind, those two phases of his life are not as different as one might think.
“It takes a lot of guts to pull out a gun on someone,” he said on the most recent episode of WNHH’s “Criminal Justice Insider with Babz Rawls-Ivy and Jeff Grant.” “‘Cause once you pull out that gun, there’s no going back. And the same thing, it takes a lot of guts to sit in front of a person who is in power, who has a tremendous amount of money, and try to convince them that they need to invest in something that is amazing that’s happening, that can support others and create opportunities for human beings and build community.”
The difference between those two phases of his life, Martin said, are six years spent in prison and many more spent thereafter trying to build a stable, dignified, empowered life as a person with a felony record.
Martin is the former director of JustLeadershipUSA, a criminal justice reform nonprofit that he founded in 2014 with the goal of halving the country’s incarcerated population by 2030. He left that organization at the end of 2017 after allegations of sexual misconduct (see more on that below), and is now the founder and president of GEM Trainers, a consulting firm for nonprofits.
A native of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, whose jewelry store robberies earned him six years in New York prisons, including one harrowing year at the notorious Rikers Island complex in the Bronx, Martin fueled JustLeadershipUSA on the idea that “the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution.”
The nonprofit he founded seeks to empower formerly incarcerated people to lead the criminal justice reform movement because, Martin said, people who have spent time behind bars have likely spent more time than anyone else thinking about the structure, problems, and potential improvements that can be made to the carceral state.
“Formerly incarcerated people bring treasures to this work,” he said. “They bring jewels to this work. They bring experience to this work. And they work just as hard if not harder than other people in this work.”
Martin was phenomenally successful at using his own story and his vision for the nonprofit to spur the campaign to close Rikers Island, where Martin himself was stabbed four times as a teenage inmate.
He also excelled at raising money for his criminal justice reform initiative. He said he raised $34 million for JustLeadershipUSA between 2014 and late 2017, and grew the organization from one based out of his New York City apartment to one with roughly 50 people on staff.
“The world has the responsibility to recognize that human beings make bad decisions,” he said, “and that there’s value in every single human being.”
To that end, he said, JustLeadershipUSA focused and continues to focus its efforts on training formerly incarcerated people to be at the forefront of the civil rights movement to reverse racist and overly punitive legislation like mandatory minimums and three-strikes-and-your-out laws, to undo hostile and dangerous prison conditions, and to surmount housing and employment hurdles faced by those trying to reenter society upon release.
“Worse Than Prison”
Martin also reflected during the interview on his resignation from JustLeadershipUSA in Dec. 2017 after he was accused by multiple female employees of sexual misconduct.
In Feb. 2018, the New York Times published an article that included accusations that he groped and propositioned one female employee, and then paid her $25,000 not to to talk about it. The article also notes that two other female employees have accused him of propositioning them and masturbating in from of them after work-related meetings.
In what he said was his first public interview since the New York Times article came out, Martin said the past year has been one of painful self-reflection, both on what he did and did not do, and on how quickly his closest friends abandoned him after the accusations went public.
“I’m nobody’s victim,” he said. “I have accountability for creating the atmosphere that allowed for what happened. Having said that, ff you want to get a black man out of leadership, you yell rape. That’s always worked in this country. That is not a defensive statement. That’s an accurate statement.”
Martin said that the past year he has spent dealing with the repercussions of his #MeToo moment has felt worse to him than the six years he spent in prison.
“It has been painful and long and difficult, and yet I feel not that much different than having emerged from prison and having learned a lot in the belly of the beast,” he said.
He said he plans to use the humility he has learned and his awareness around sexually inappropriate behavior to drive a reinvigorated commitment to support women in the workplace.
“This is gonna make me emerge as someone much more thoughtful,” he said. “And probably most importantly, someone who is gonna use whatever access he has to resources and power and privilege after this to elevate the leadership of women and to be even more thoughtful about that. This experience has exposed me to a level of thoughtfulness that most men never get the opportunity to engage in in their lifetimes.”
Link to radio Show on SoundCloud here.