Khalil Rushdan is with the Arizona ACLU and creates partnerships with community leaders and other organizations. He exemplifies someone who truly gives back to the community and helps others. Khalil’s life could’ve taken a different turn, however he’s taken his life experiences and turned them into positive forward movement for himself and the communities he serves.
Listen to interview here:
Transcript (minor edits for readability):
Julia: Khalil, thanks for joining me. Could tell me a little bit about what you do with the ACLU and your other work?
Khalil Rushdan: My position with the ACLU is the community partnership coordinator for the campaign of Smart Justice. And the campaign for Smart Justice, it’s a multi-year 50 state, plus DC campaign to eliminate racial practices and disparities within the criminal justice system, but then also to address the issues of mass incarceration. The drivers of mass incarceration, which one of them is mandatory sentencing schemes, prosecutorial accountability. We’re looking to try to eliminate cash bail, because most people have not been convicted of crimes, and they’re just sitting in jail, waiting for a trial.
And then, another thing is re-entry, legislation around re-entry. And in Arizona, people are returning from there. They’re completing their sentence. I’m working with a young lady now who’s been out about 15 years, and still was not able to obtain housing, due to real strict housing laws. So, that’s a lot of work we’re doing on the campaign. I chose to do this work, because myself, directly impacted. In 1996, I was arrested. 1997, I was tried and convicted and was sentenced to life in prison. And I ended up doing 15 ½ of that life sentence prior to my case being overturned for prosecutorial misconduct and vindictiveness, and then me being released.
So since my release, I struggled, and I talk about the realities of re-entry, and how obstacles look different from person to person. So, I’m on the ground, and I’m walking people through things, and letting them get a view from those who are leaving the system, instead of it being official lead: they deal with the system, but they’re not in the system. So they have a punitive mindset, instead of a restorative, transitional mindset.
Julia: And it’s really good because you have experience, so you can really talk to somebody and help them. And like you said, “Walk them through the process.” And in your current position, it’s really good to have somebody, too, that understands what it’s like, so that you can make changes. And then you were also telling me about a couple of bills that were passed?
Khalil Rushdan: In California, they passed a real tough bill holding prosecutors accountable, because we have so many wrongful convictions. My case was overturned, I was represented by the Arizona Justice Project, who was part of the National Innocence Network. And then, they represented me 10 years, so now I represent them, I sit on their board. And my case, and me dealing with an aggressive prosecutor, who cheated to get the conviction and lied, and fabricated evidence. California actually passed a law holding prosecutors accountable. It’s now criminal, which it should be. Because prosecutors seem not to be held accountable when they knowingly break the law, or violate somebody’s civil rights.
Julia: Well, I think it’s really good all the work that you and all the different groups are doing, and it’s really important that we all stay in touch with everything that’s going on. So we don’t have to reinvent the wheel and we can work together. And it’s just been so great having you at the conference. What are your thoughts for the last three days from being here?
Khalil Rushdan: It’s a great conference. I enjoyed myself and anytime that I can come out and be in an environment where so many people come from across the country, and I was really surprised to see somebody who’s from Scotland. It’s really warming, it’s inviting and it just tells me that I’m on the right track. We have a lot of people who are doing great things across the world, are all over the world and across this country. I look to be here year after year. If I can get a good deal on my Allstate…. I always wanted to say that.
Julia: That was great. And again, thanks for all you do, and we’ll stay in touch and we’ll see you hopefully before next year.
Khalil Rushdan: We’ll do.
Julia: Okay, thank you.
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