A Community Advocate and Paralegal, Michael Baldwin Sr. moved to Modesto in November, 2018, following a stint of almost 27 years as an inmate of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). While in the CDCR system, he resided at Corcoran State Prison and San Quentin State Prison, among others. Mr. Baldwin readily admits he was guilty of the crimes for which he was sentenced, but his story does not end there. He found the strength of character while in prison to refocus his energies on helping others, to redeem himself through service. Upon his release, Mr. Baldwin immediately began working as a paralegal. Since then, he has become involved in numerous community activities, contributing his expertise and insight whenever he can.
VC: Please describe the ways you still work with California’s inmate population.
MB: Yes, I work at the Law Offices of Tracy R. Lum, who actually hired me straight out of prison. She’s a parole attorney, one of the best in the state, so I still interact with inmates every day: when they contact the office I’m able to help them as they transform their own lives. They have to keep it real with me, because I’ve been there. And I also help explain to their families what’s needed for their loved ones who are inside, and when families may be handicapping them. Plus, they remind me of where I’ve been.
I’m also the regional director for Mercy & Grace Prison Ministries. I train individuals who want to preach in prison. I train them on how to go inside and carry a message that can help those incarcerated.
It’s been really hard for inmates during this time of COVID-19. Men who were incarcerated for a simple prison sentence are now dying because they don’t have the ability to be socially distant from each other. They don’t have any visits happening, and phone calls are very expensive. So there are only limited opportunities for them to connect to their families. When I was in prison, I was blessed because my family could send me e-mails via Securus tablet technology for the final years I was incarcerated. Through e-mails, I was able to build relationships with my children. Most prisons don’t have that technology, so today I advocate for prisons to make that technology available for inmates.
VC: What other organizations are you currently working with?
MB: I’m also a professional development trainer for Modesto City Schools. I’ve been helping to train teachers on how to better identify trauma in youth and to acknowledge culture in the learning process. This generation is like no other generation we’ve ever had, because they have been a witness to so much trauma and violence. We have to teach them character-building and about restorative justice. We have to teach them that there are alternative ways to deal with conflict when they’re interacting with their peers and teachers. But the only way to do this is to empower our educators. Without this knowledge, our school system will remain a pipeline to prison. I am very pleased to have received rave reviews about the workshops we’ve been able to do for the educators. Also, I recently started my own consulting business and am working with an organization called Life Moves, which finds housing opportunities for the homeless population. Miracle Messages, which is another program I am connected to, helps LifeMoves locate family and friends of the homeless client with the hope of rebuilding the relationship and redeveloping connection. I also work for a national advocacy organization. I’m a resource for my community now, and that’s what I want to be.
VC: Please share some of your thoughts about systemic racism and police reform.
MB: We needed COVID-19 to expose us to the true pandemic that we’ve been dealing with for years, for centuries. Now we must muster up the courage to face it and change it.
The COVID -19 virus we can’t see. But we can see and experience this other pandemic. And we can absolutely do something about it, but it’s going to take vulnerability and sitting at a table with people who may not agree with us, and really asking questions. Because I believe the truth can handle a question – it is our lies that crumble with questioning. Many times we think that white people were not affected by slavery, and that is a lie. They were given this pandemic as a result of slavery, this seed of entitlement and privilege. I believe that the power of slavery’s influence has affected all of us and that we have an opportunity to take a really good look and shine a light on our thinking.
Black Americans have only been voting for 55 years. That means that we did not have a seat at the table when the structures that have been governing us were being made. Those structures are what we call systemic racism, the criminal justice system being one; “How could it not be bias if we had no seat at the table to establish it?” We need to correct that by having some honest conversations. We need our lies to crumble as a nation; we need our lies to crumble.
I had a friend who called me a couple weeks ago and he was sobbing, and he said “Mike, it feels like a crime to be White,” And I told him, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but in a way I’m kind of glad you do, because that’s the way I’ve felt my whole life. I never wanted you to feel that way, but now you know what standing in my shoes feels like.” He and I had a long, empathetic conversation about race and the state of our country. It was a beautiful conversation, and it was shared out of love. I believe that every human being on the planet has a core human decency in them that we can tap into — if we can question each other and hold each other to a place of accountability.
I disagree with the term, “Defund the Police.” I believe that we need to reallocate funds and build collaborative relationships with law enforcement; to say defund the police paints the wrong picture to the community.
I believe we need to spend funds on mental health and educational programming, that some of law enforcement’s budget needs to be redirected. But I need the police, we all need the police. And the police need us — they need us to also encourage mental health therapy for law enforcement.
Unfortunately, police show up at the worst times in our lives, so we identify them with our pain. We need them to interact with us on celebratory occasions as well so that we can build a community. We need the police to live amongst us. I need my neighbor to be a police officer and more of them to be black and brown. I believe that our police officers should be obligated to volunteer in the community — this would allow the community to give the police their badge again – so we can hold them accountable, and they us. Law enforcement needs to hold their peers accountable. We need that to happen in our society, when we see violations of the law by our police officers we all need to be able to hold them accountable. I hope to one day to help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
VC: Thank you Michael. We are inspired and gratified by your example.
S. Hansen says
The War To Derail Police Punishment
Police reform is a lie. The goal is to control public outrage. And along the way confuse the issue by letting everyone redefine and inject themselves into the issue.
Click the link below to hear…
S. Hansen says
I have been listening to President Trump speak about people “disrespecting our flag.” I have not heard him call out the “Blue Lives Matter” police and police unions who have chosen to fly a desecrated U.S. Flag painted black and blue. Ironically, black and blue are the same colors people have after getting brutalized by the police. Hypocrisy?
Click the link to see the real idea behind the Blue Lives Matter flag…
Maybe you missed the purpose of this article. It’s one man telling his story about how his life has been turned around and now advocates for other who are on the wrong road.
This is not about you or your personal agenda regarding the police or any other agendas you may have.
Let’s allow this man the opportunity to share his life journey. I am sure it is one that we all should have a ‘take away’ that we can relate to and possibly share with someone else.
Damon Woods says
I ‘had’ a white son, who spent 8 years in California Prisons. Discrimination occurred in his case too. He was brutalized by larger inmates of all colors , so he had to toughen up…..but the criminal justice system was not kind to him, as he had a disease, that simple medication would have fixed, 50 years ago, the system was changed to release those in society who had mental illness, as they could no longer be committed to a hospital to ‘help them’. These millions who were released, many of them became homeless, many went to prison and repeated and repeated that process because they couldnt’ conform , and they wouldn’t believe they ‘had some issues’. I speak of my son in the past tense, because he died earlier this year, after getting arrested again. he decided, he didn’t want to return to prison life. He refused to believe that a simple medication would help him so he self medicated ( as many do) with alcohol and such….. but he did commit the crimes of anger, he was bi-polar…..to the extreme…
S. Hansen says
Police are not held accountable/ punished when they commit crimes like brutality and murder while hiding behind their badge… police are not going to prison for the crimes they commit under the color of authority like a civilian would if they committed the same crime… there is no accountability/ punishment, this is unacceptable & we are tired of hearing your excuses! Police must be punished/ put in prison for the crimes they commit while hiding behind their badge! If civilians are getting football numbers for crimes committed then police that commit crimes must also get football numbers like 10… 20… 30… 60… 100 years in prison & yes police should also get the death penalty for murdering a civilian! F_ck half ass reforms, if prosecutors can convict a ham sandwich, then they must convict criminal police! These are our demands!!
Richard Anderson says
To me, Michael Baldwin is a wonderful man who despite oppression as an African-American, being jailed, has come out a healer and nurturer. I admire his overcoming so many obstacles!
In the article above, “They were given this pandemic as a result of slavery, this seed of entitlement and privilege” raises in me memory of the early days of the AIDS epidemic, in the mid-1980s. Some said that HIV/AIDS was given by God as punishment for homosexuals.
Others responded, “If God gave AIDS to Earth to punish homosexuals, his bolt of justice also missed the mark.”
The early years of the AIDS epidemic in the US were certainly focused within the “homosexual community” but it soon spread into “all” types of our citizens. It spread through sexual intercourse, needle sharing, prostitution, surgical blood transfusions and more. Some got AIDS from a blood transfusion for their hip replacement surgery, etc. This went on into the late 80’s until tests were developed to screen out HIV in donated blood.
Check out the story of a family whose father who survived hemophilia until AIDS came along in 1980- https://youtu.be/iTjTk_QAomQ
Later, with genetic-analysis sleuthing, it became clear that HIV was a mutant form of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, or SIV, in Africa. Its jump from monkey to humans most probably happened in butchering monkey bush meat. – Richard Anderson