Formerly incarcerated Bed-Stuy man dedicates life to criminal justice reform

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BED-STUY -

After being in prison, one Brooklyn man not only turned his life around, but will now play a major role helping those just like him.

Zaki Smith was chosen from a prestigious pool of more than 700 activist as one of the policy entrepreneurs for Next 100.

Next 100’s goal is to find solutions to the big challenges in the country, from gay rights to the immigration crisis.

Smith will focus on criminal justice reform, knowing first-hand about the issue after he says he lost his job working in a school because of a past criminal record. 

“I can’t apply for any job just because, because of my criminal record history. I can be denied specifically for that going for an apartment just because of my criminal history. I can be denied an apartment. I’m like, ‘wait a minute, I don't remember being sentenced to this in court,’” says Smith.

Smith says his crimes varied from robbery to drug possession.

He spent 16 years in and out of prison, but now has been working with young people for more than a decade. 

He is a co-founder of Feast for Fair Chance, which brings awareness to the policies that impact formerly incarcerated people after their times are served.

He says his past and his work with Feast for Fair Chance helped his application stand out as a policy entrepreneur for Next 100.

Smith says one of his action items for Next 100 is to bring attention to the number of barriers that a person has to go through when it comes to applying for job.

“In my estimation and also the estimation of Next 100 is that the best people to be able to shape and mold policy, is the people who are mostly and directly impacted,” says Smith.

Smith says he hopes his polices will make it to the desk of lawmakers, so he can truly have an impact on criminal justice reform.

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