A letter from the late Herman Wallace who was released from prison in 2013 after forty-one years in solitary confinement.
After spending six years in New Orleans, studying and learning from some of the country's most brilliant formerly incarcerated leaders (Bruce Reilly, the late Herman Wallace, and Calvin Duncan) , I became painfully aware of our criminal justice system's critical setbacks. The unprecedented rates of incarceration, as well as the moral incongruities of the private prison system, are wholly reprehensible.
When I graduated law school, I remained in New Orleans and worked for the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). My commitment to and concerns with the justice system intersected at HUD and I began working on issues of prisoner reentry, fair housing, and housing segregation.
Throughout my tenure at HUD, I was most drawn to widespread exclusion to private and public housing (not to mention employment, credit, and health care) that those with criminal records face.
It was my time as a member of HUD’s “Team Reentry” that I became most compelled to respond to racism and systemic exclusion by mobilizing efforts on the ground to ensure that those with a criminal past had the financial support and professional investment that we all deserve.
My response to the widespread exclusion of those with criminal records is a restaurant called All Square.
All Square is a civil rights social enterprise that invests in those who are impacted by the criminal justice system. Centered on a craft grilled cheese restaurant and professional institute, our business, and brand, exists to ensure that those who have paid their debts to society are ALL SQUARE.
Our enterprise was founded in response to mass incarceration and the widespread exclusion of those with records. It was created with the belief that all individuals deserve to be judged on their merit and not their
mistakes—and meaningful reparations for communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system are of the utmost importance.
All Square's Kickstarter video.
Terrein, 2020 Fellow: Photo by Michael J Spear
The name All Square refers both to the shape of the grilled cheese as well as one’s “square” status once they have paid their debts. This is in response to the policies and practices that subject those with criminal records to lifetime punishment even after their docket has been cleared or their sentence has been served.
All Square Restaurant: Photo by Caylon Hackwith