The Free Meek movement finally got its wish. Meek Mill is really free. The rapper pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of gun possession Aug. 27, is finally off probation and, for the first time in 12 years, is out from under the thumb of Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley, who wasn’t meek in placing outlandish conditions on Mill, including allegedly asking him to remix a Boyz II Men song and include her name in it.
Since his story caught media attention, the rapper - whose legal name is Robert Rihmeek Williams - has repeatedly been called “the Voice for the Voiceless,” namely the other people in the criminal justice system. He even describes himself that way. Williams inherited the job of spokesperson for every justice-impacted person on Earth.
If he’s the voice, then all this screaming, stomping and reeling I’ve done for years was empty noise.
I know it wasn’t, which is why we should retire the phrase “Voice for the Voiceless” entirely. This country isn’t overrun with voiceless people. It’s just the opposite; we have too few who listen.
That’s because there’s a difference between having a voice and having an audience. Having a voice is knowing that what one says has merit regardless of the results it brings. Having an audience is knowing what one says will land and matter.
And Williams’ message is landing. It landed him a docuseries about his case on Amazon Prime and armies of people rallying outside Philadelphia’s Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice to let him go.
Most of us don’t have similar support or an opportunity to explain the exculpatory nuances of our cases. That’s why when we dismiss this whole population as voiceless, we reinforce that powerlessness. Plenty of defendants and inmates have something to say but lack the fame and money that made Williams mighty.
A leader like Williams proves his power not by speaking for others but by connecting the millions of mouths with the right ears. This is a journalist’s wheelhouse, traditionally, to be the delivery person between the speaker and the public, transmitting stories and information though trusted methods of dissemination.
But even journalists don’t have the hubris to hail themselves the Voice of the Voiceless. They know they’re the messenger, the amplifier.
Make no mistake; even though Williams’ tag phrase may be overstated, his commitment to tuning up the criminal legal machine is not a front. He and his partners put their money where their voices are, in founding the REFORM Alliance, a new nonprofit dedicated to helping people caught in Williams’ predicament.
REFORM Alliance will tackle the ways supervised release contributes to over-incarceration. If you don’t know that probation violations fill some prisons more than actual crimes do, and that over 575,000 inmates on any given day were returned for parole or probation violations that are usually technical in nature, then it’s because Williams and his managers are spending too much time selling you on the fact that he’s the chosen mouthpiece instead of letting the facts - and the people affected by them - speak for themselves.
Chandra Bozelko writes the award-winning blog Prison Diaries. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChandraBozelko and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.