In August, five young men showed up at Soul Fire Farm, a sustainable farm near Albany, New York, where I work as educator and food justice coordinator. It was the first day of a new restorative justice program, in partnership with the county’s Department of Law. The teens had been convicted of theft, and, as an alternative to incarceration, chose this opportunity to earn money to pay back their victims while gaining farm skills. They looked wary and unprepared, with gleaming sneakers and averted eyes.
“I basically expected it to be like slavery, but it would be better than jail,” said a young man named Asan. “It was different though. We got paid and we got to bring food home. The farmers there are black like us, which I did not expect.