Al and Jessica:
As you pedal for justice out there on the open road on the first part of your journey, I want to share with you a few thoughts about how you both inspire me, the importance of the work you do and the principles you uphold.
I’ve had the good fortune to work with you, Al, for the last eight (8) years, as our lead counsel in the S.H. v. Taft case, spanning more than 8 years of intense reforms within the Ohio Department of Youth Services in nearly every major aspect of its operations. It has been, without a doubt, the most rewarding, challenging, difficult, frustrating, yet results-driven endeavor I’ve had the fortune to undertake. You’ve been at our side at the Children’s Law Center to lead the charge, and for that, we have been rewarded with much better outcomes in what we have achieved for Ohio’s youth.
Jessica, you are your father’s daughter, but so much more as you launch into your own career as a lawyer and advocate. I am in awe of your energy and talents, and your commitment to advocating for children and youth as one of our next generation’s leaders! It was so much fun to work with you and to follow your career these last few years.
I have been thinking about how much stamina it must take to ride 1350 miles on a bike. To ride through the bad weather, hills and valleys, aches and pains, mechanical problems – all to reach an end goal which is personal for the two of you, but so much more. Your end goal reflects that quality that makes you both so incredible – seeking justice for those among us who have the most challenges, who are so easily disenfranchised, forgotten, and at times, demonized. Pedaling justice? You push the limits on that as much as you will be pushing your physical limits cycling those hills!
I remember a time when I was returning home from a long day on the road to interview youth at a facility with special management units. The drive was sandwiched between hours of interviews with youth whose daily world was confined to a small room without a window, without school or meaningful activities, guarded by staff who didn’t want to be on that unit and who were afraid of these young people. They were there for weeks, for months, and some for years. Some were shackled for hours. I remember thinking we could not end the case after all these years without making things markedly better for those most difficult kids, often the youth who were most mentally ill, aggressive and broken. Our work to that point had been significant, but you didn’t need to be convinced to take on this final chapter. Like all challenges, you simply said “we’ll do it. We’ll put an end to isolation.” The deal we struck years ago that our work would not be for “nicer kid prisons” was always the goal. Justice for ALL of the youth there – you never blinked once on that one.
So I have no illusion that the two of you will attack the journey ahead of you with the same vigor you attack all things in life. The journey is to advance justice for children and adults, and also to provide support to those of us who share in these same important principles. I hope the many names and faces you have helped along the way are a constant reminder. For each mile you pedal, there is a youth (at least one) who is not incarcerated because of you. For each mile you pedal, there is a youth who is no longer spending a day in isolation. For each mile you pedal, there is a youth who can more easily return home from incarceration and successfully re-integrate.
And meanwhile, we were be cheering for you along the way.
– Kim Tandy