Is the Criminal Justice System the Most Pressing Issue in Our Time?

Board of the John M. Lloyd Foundation | Image Courtesy of the Lloyd Foundation

When the reins of a Family Foundation are passed from one generation to the next, keeping things at status quo is certainly the easier and safest route. But armed with knowledge and empowerment after attending a Resource Generation conference — Resource Generation organizes young people with wealth and class privilege in the U.S. to become transformative leaders working towards the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power — and motivated from her powerful experiences during a Social Work internship, Zoë Lloyd Foxley, Chair of the board of the John M. Lloyd Foundation and Vice Chair of the board of the General Service Foundation, both of which are family foundations, wasn’t content to stay on that simpler path.

“My first year internship — while getting a Masters in social work at USC — I was placed at the Dorothy Kirby Center in East Los Angeles, a juvenile detention center for adolescents with mental health diagnosis. What I saw and what I learned there just completely horrified me. It was the level of exposure to these issues, I really had no idea about,” says Lloyd Foxley. She was disturbed to realize that in the young women’s cottage where she worked, the institution — which was co-run by the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Probation — the girls’ main therapist was also their probation officer. “It was my first exposure to learning how the system is not set up to help people heal and recover and rehabilitate – that it harms more than it heals,” says Lloyd Foxley.  “The women had so much history of trauma in their lives from being involved in sex trafficking, the foster care system, sexual abuse, etc. Yet the solution seemed to be to medicate them and put them in isolation if they were acting up. There was no emphasis on connection, on healing, on recovery of any kind. I walked away from that experience just appalled. I will carry those stories and think about those young girls forever, wondering what happened to them.”

That experience weighed heavily in both her heart and mind.  Enough so that when she took over the board from her dad, becoming the Chair of the John M. Lloyd Foundation, Foxley began talking out loud about a pivot in its mission. Her uncle, who died of AIDS in the mid ’90s, had left money to establish the John M. Lloyd Foundation to address the growing epidemic. While the AIDS crisis is not over, its global scope made it difficult for a small foundation to have meaningful impact, and Lloyd Foxley thought it might be worthwhile to start focusing locally on criminal justice. “It so happened that both my brothers are actually in the field of mental health as well. My brother Jesse has been volunteering in a program at San Quentin for a long time. These passions and interests were aligned and I feel very lucky that the board said, ‘Ok, let’s do it,” acknowledges Foxley. “There was a willingness, an openness, an alignment of values on our board, to take risks and learn about something that most people had no idea about.”

After wrapping up the AIDS work, Lloyd Foxley and her family went on a “a learning journey” to understand as much as they could on the criminal justice issue. “Who are the experts in this work here? Who are the most effective leaders? We had people come speak to the board, we went out in the field, we visited institutions and lo and behold, after we decided to go in to this area, we learned Los Angeles has the biggest criminal justice system in the world,” says Lloyd Foxley. “We have the largest police department, the largest probation department. We are the epicenter and simultaneously we learned that not a lot of funders are focused on this issue in Los Angeles specifically.”

“Mass incarceration really affects women in extremely counterproductive ways that are invisible to most of society, their sons, brothers, husbands, fathers locked up. It’s the women who go visit, pay all the bills, take care of the children and all the while dealing with the isolating emotions of shame that many experience with having a loved one locked up.”

The Lloyd Foundation met Patrisse Khan-Cullors, whose brother’s abusive treatment while incarcerated led her to found and co-found several organizations at the forefront of this movement, including Black Lives Matter, Dignity and Power Now and Justice Teams Network. They also met Taina Vargas-Edmond who co-founded Initiate Justice with her incarcerated husband, Richard Edmond-Vargas, in order to organize those inside and ensure their voices lead the movement.

Foxley and the board took site visits, talked to incarcerated young people and crafted a plan to fund leaders who have been impacted or formerly incarcerated or whose loved ones have been incarcerated. Their listening tour made them realize these are the real experts on the front line. “I don’t have that personal experience,” Foxley acknowledges. “I have not had a loved one locked up. I am a privileged white person. What do I know about how unjust the system is? The more that we got to know some of these leaders, the more they have inspired us. They are so incredible, given the scope of challenges they are facing, especially, in this day and age with the political system the way it is, the racism that is being inflamed right now.  Not that it always hasn’t been there, but now it’s been more revealed, stoked up, and obvious for all to see.”

What struck Lloyd Foxley most during her internship was the especially challenging burden that the criminal justice system puts on women.  “Mass incarceration really affects women in extremely counterproductive ways that are invisible to most of society, their sons, brothers, husbands, fathers locked up. It’s the women who go visit, pay all the bills, take care of the children and all the while dealing with the isolating emotions of shame that many experience with having a loved one locked up.”

After getting educated on this ‘learning journey,’ Lloyd Foxley and her family were able to award their grant money to some of the smaller, newer organizations where their smaller foundation “could make more of an impact, and build more authentic partnerships” with their grantors working to make a difference in the L.A. criminal justice system. “These systems are punitive and that is where our culture is stuck,” says Lloyd Foxley. “Things are starting to shift a bit, but are really still rooted in punishment.  There are a lot of people who are highly invested in jails and prisons, keeping them filled and building new ones. There’s a saying that I’ve learned in this field, ‘Hurt people hurt people and healed people heal people.’ As a result, we’ve taken a strong interest in healing justice. How can people, after years of trauma – historical generational trauma – after having been released from prison, now do this advocacy, going up against the system that has traumatized them? We were really struck by the spaces where healing and transformation can occur into wellness and wholeness. For us, that has to be priority, looking at what recovery and wholeness actually look like for someone who has had a lot of hurt in their lives, and how that recovery can turn into empowerment, leadership and resiliency. That’s the guiding principle for us at that point. That’s the really deep culture change that needs to happen.”  

A great example of a wonderful program focused on healing is Essie Justice Group, explains Lloyd Foxley. They offer a 9-week training and support program for women with incarcerated loved ones. The program helps the women heal themselves, their families, and society by harnessing the collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones to end mass incarceration.

Lloyd Foxley is guided by the wisdom of the generations who came before her. “My grandmother used to say, ‘To one whom much is given, much is expected.’ From her father, she learned to follow her passion.  “I couldn’t really do the job that I am doing if I wasn’t completely passionate about it,” explains Foxley.  

Foxley’s deep dive into the criminal justice system convinced her that it’s “one of the most pressing issues in our time and is at the nexus of these current major tectonic shifts in terms of culture, and how we see people, really recognizing the value and worth of each individual person. Our eyes have to be opened to how we are treating people and robbing them of dignity and respect and wellness. We can’t talk about the criminal justice system without talking about racial justice. That has to be a core tenet of the work. I have to be willing to keep looking at it and keep learning and having hard conversations at the board level, in my family, and in my life. I am constantly learning, and remain in awe of the incredible leaders and advocates in this field.”


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