I want to help people who have lost the ability to dream to dream again.
by David Garlock, #LwC2019
May 15, 2019
In 1999, when I was twenty years old, I took the life of the man who had been sexually and physically abusing me and my brother for over eight years. I was sentenced to twenty-five years in Alabama state prison. I didn’t want to be one of those people who did a lot of time and came out with no purpose in life. Through Bible Study and a Theology class I developed a passion and drive for seeking God and the purpose He has for my life. I used the time to get what I lacked before–an education. I was able to obtain a GED, a Drafting Trade and also a Master’s in Theology. Then in 2008 I was fortunate enough to meet Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). He began working with me on a home plan for my upcoming parole hearing and I went through EJI’s PREP program (Post-Release Education and Preparation). When I was released after serving 13 ½ years, Bryan encouraged me to apply to his alma mater, Eastern University—a Christian university in Pennsylvania. I received my BA from Eastern in 2017.
Today I am the Lancaster Program Director for New Person Ministries, a reentry program for returning citizens. We have two houses in Pennsylvania and most of the guys I work with have been convicted of sex offenses. My desire to work with people who have committed sexual crimes comes from my faith and my belief in grace. One of my favorite quotes of Bryan Stevenson’s is, “You’re not as bad as the worst thing you’ve ever done.” I define the person sitting in front of me not by what they’ve done in the past, but by what they are doing today and what they can do tomorrow. God has forgiven me for what I’ve done, so how can I not offer that grace to these men? I look at my work as a form of restorative justice because a lot of these men will never have contact with their victim. Instead, they look at me as a victim and I am able to help them learn to forgive themselves and begin to heal. A lot of the men that I work with have been sexually and physically abused themselves. I want to help people who have lost the ability to dream to dream again.
I have presented before many different audiences and I’ve spoken at more than twenty universities so far. My story is very unique and it causes people to open their eyes. One of the things I focus on is changing the narrative about who we are. I ask the students what they call somebody coming out of prison and their usual response is “convict” or “felon.” Then I ask how many of them have ever stolen anything, and usually most of them raise their hands. Then I go around the room and look them in the eye and say, “OK thief!” Their eyes get big and I explain that I have just defined them by an action they committed ten or fifteen years ago. It’s a powerful way to get the message across that human beings should not be defined by a mistake they made in the past. Society calls me a murderer, but I call myself a man who committed a murder. I refuse to let a single act define who I am.
After a Leading with Conviction forum it takes me awhile to process all the things I’ve learned. David Mensah doesn’t allow you to have the easy way out. He challenges us and draws our answers out. At a certain point a light bulb goes off and you realize you’ve just solved a problem you thought was beyond you. It’s about digging deeper and not being afraid to lean into conflict.
David Garlock is a board member of the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization and a member of the Pennsylvania Reentry Council. He will appear in the forthcoming Warner Bros. film based on Bryan Stevenson’s book, “Just Mercy.”