Marguerita Johnson-Tolson’s Speech at the Family Alliance March, February, 2018

I’m Marguerita Johnson-Tolson, I’m a 63 year old graduate student at Fordham University pursuing my Master’s Degree in social work, not to make money, but to help my people in the struggle. I’m here to speak about incarceration and its effect on mental illness. I need everyone here who’s open with their Mental illness or who has a family member with mental illness that was killed by law enforcement in prison or out. I need you to know that you’re not alone in this struggle.

Mental Illness is painful, especially with the stigma society puts on it. I stand up for all people with mental illness. I’m here because my voice represents all my peoples in the struggle who are not able to use their voice. I’m here because I know what mental illness feels like. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder during my incarceration in 1997. I went in alright and each day I was faced with something different that made me more and more depressed.

I’m here to tell society that those of us who have ever been incarcerated know that incarceration causes mental illness. I was a hush hush candidate affected with mental illness, embarrassed to speak the truth on what’s going on with me, afraid I would lose families and friends. Today I care not about losing families and friends. I have all of you. Some of you I know, some of you I’m meeting for the very first time. Dam my family is HUGE!
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The criminal justice system does nothing but try to make zombies out of us, try to make us hate each other. If you complain in the system about your depression, the medication they prescribed on the inside is totally different than the medication on the outside. After all, the medical staff are securing their job. Therefore, they do what the system says in their team meetings.

Incarceration causes depression and makes it worse day by day. I was fortunate that I didn’t receive a massive amount of time, so I refused to be medicated on the inside. It was very hard trying to keep afloat with this depression.  But as a believer in fasting and prayers, a value given to me by my grandma, I had to do what I had to do for me.

Incarceration for me was horrible. I just wanted to give these people their time and go home. When I think about all the women I knew from the streets who ended up in the Bing known as solitary confinement calling out my name when I walked past their cell.  I could not help them in passing or sharing anything I had, with them due to the consequences if I did, and all I thought about was going home to take care of what I had going on mentally. I knew these women; they were with me 101, my ride or die buddies during my drug selling days. This was very hard for me to ignore them; this did nothing but pushed me in a deeper depressive mood. I couldn’t do for them because honestly, I was afraid. I was afraid I would get thrown into solitary confinement and I didn’t want to go there due to me being claustrophobic and I know my head wasn’t ready for that. Because of this, I became more and more depressed.

Mental Illness is not something you buy from the store. Mental illness is real. The criminal justice system and its treatment, the name calling, on top of their solitary confinement plays a big part on mental illness, the individual faces during incarceration. This not only affects the incarcerated individual or those in solitary, but also their families on the outside especially the children.

Imagine coming all the way from New York to see your family and being told by this corrupted system you can’t visit all because your visit was placed into solitary confinement. Places like Attica – Families travel overnight with eagerness to see their loved ones. What does that do to this family?

I’m here today to take a stand with each and every one who faces this horrible disease. Don’t keep it as a secret. I’m here standing in solidarity with you. I’m here to support you. I can’t do the physical walk side by side, but I’m with you in Spirit and Soul to the end of your journey. My voice is your voice. Families, we in Westchester County honor you and we welcome you in the struggle to keep hope alive. We honor you in remembering the Attica uprising.

I commend all of you who had someone involved. Keep up the fight, we stand with you. We will continue to fight the power. It’s not over, families, allies to the cause. You’re so loved, you’re here standing up in solidarity, like we say in Jamaica, Nuff respect!

I respect you for drawing attention to all the human rights abuses that are taking place in NYS prisons and jail houses.  As a returning citizen, please know that I, Marguerita Johnson-Tolson stand with you. I’m the voice for the voiceless. Your loved one is not dead. We will not let go until justice is serve. We will not stop until these law enforcement officers are held accountable for the killings mainly of people of color on the inside and out. We will not let the criminal justice system be at peace until justice is served. You’re not alone, people. Not often do you hear Westchester County. We the People in Westchester County stand with you. The Social Workers against Solitary Confinement stands with you. Look us up at www.SocialWorkersasc.org. This is a problem we’re facing. Don’t blame it on money, bring your mouth, take a stand, it’s time to find a movement.  It’s time to stand for something before you becomes a victim of nothing. It’s time to give some time, It’s time, it’s time, people, it’s time to stand on one accord. We are never too much. It’s time to give some time.

Please families, stay connected. OUT OF MANY WE ARE ONE. Westchester, we love and honor, you. I feel great to say “One Love family. Big Up and don’t give up. Welcome! There is always space for you in our space”.

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