the myth of the american dream: a case for inspiration

Some facts to consider as we approach Independence Day in the “land of the free”…

• The US has the highest incarceration of any nation on the planet – 1 in 100 of our citizens is incarcerated. (Pew)

• Even more shockingly, 1 in 32 Americans are some way enmeshed in the criminal justice system, by being incarcerated, on probation, parole or some other form of correctional supervision. (Bureau of Justice Statistics)

• The stigma of a criminal record virtually disenfranchises someone in almost every aspect of their lives for the rest of their lives (voting, access to housing, education, loans, grants, employment…)

• New York is one of only 2 states in which young people are considered adults in the criminal justice system at the age of 16. 
o Which means that we risk disenfranchising a child for the rest of his/her life – sometimes over a mistake that for other children results in a trip to the school principal’s office.

The staggering breadth and depth of our mass incarceration epidemic can seem intractable, too big to swallow, let alone change in a significant way. Yet its impact is too universal, and too contrary to the most basic human rights that our country claims it stands for, to ignore.

The good news is that there are some very tangible, manageable, and meaningful ways that anyone, and each of us can help reverse this epidemic. exalt, for example, is a vehicle through which many of you can directly impact the life trajectories of some of the very children caught up in the net of our criminal justice system by hosting them for an internship (that we pay for) or even a “one shot” opportunity to see what you do in your career and how it operates. By hosting an exalt intern you not only help take him/her off a course towards educational failure, incarceration and lifelong disenfranchisement, but you also plant the seeds for the direct opposite to happen in his/her life, and you become part of a movement to end our mass incarceration epidemic.

Another tangible, manageable and meaningful way you can make an impact is by exercising your American rights to vote and lobby your local legislators to act and vote in ways that represent your ideals. One New Yorker is not only leading our state’s efforts to legislate “raising the age” at which we charge our children as adults in our criminal justice system, he’s also inspiring thousands of individuals, throughout communities all across the state to get involved.

Inspiration can be hard to come by when we’re constantly bombarded with negative news and cynical portrayals of our cultural values through myriad mediums ranging from reality tv to cyber bullying. So for a dose of pure, old school inspiration (i.e. the kind that comes live from a human being) exalt invites you to check out the Honorable Michael A. Corriero, founder/Director of the New York Center for Juvenile Justice who we were incredibly proud to honor at our recent fundraiser.

Judge Corriero sat on the bench in New York’s courts for 28 years. For many of these years he presided over Manhattan’s Youth Part, a court set aside within the adult court system to deal exclusively with the cases of 13, 14, and 15-year-olds who are charged with the most serious and violent crimes. Rather than becoming cynical – which I’d imagine would happen to most of us – Judge Corriero has become ever increasingly passionate and active about promoting the rights of children to be treated as such, and warning us about the dire effects of doing the opposite. Judge Corriero is still most inspired by our city’s children and the potential they all have to become what they envision.

We invite you to become inspired.


Executive Director

Executive Director