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In 2015, music artist John Legend began a “nationwide listening and learning tour”, visiting actors on both sides of the prison fence to properly examine what he calls the USA’s “prison problem”, which includes mass incarceration and a so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

Although the tour is expected to continue for some time, Legend took the opportunity earlier this year to give a TED talk sharing what he has learned thus far. He says a positive future outcome is all about transformation through redemption, “giving hope to those who want to create a better life after serving their time.”

Redemption needs to come, however, at the beginning of an inmate’s sentence, says Legend, with rehabilitation as a core value. Freedom is a matter of the mind, which can be experienced even behind bars when one experiences forgiveness, he says, when “we believe that our failings don’t define who we are, that we are all worthy of redemption.”

Legend takes to heart the line ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery’ from Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. “What would it look like if we intervened with love and compassion as core values?” says Legend. “We would have a society that is safer, healthier and worthy of raising our children in.”

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