Oklahoma Policy Institute has grown a lot in the past few years. From humble beginnings in 2008, we now have a staff of 19, including talented individuals who focus on a wide range of policy issues, intensive data analysis, outreach, communications, events and operations, and more. To give you a better idea of who we are and what we all do, we are running an OK Policy Blog series highlighting our staffers.
For this edition, here’s Damion Shade, Criminal Justice Policy Analyst:
What do you do at OK Policy?
I work on criminal justice policy issues at OK Policy. This involves studying the best criminal justice practices across the country and trying to bring some of these positive policies to Oklahoma. The goal is to improve public safety in our state while lowering the immense cost and unsustainable growth of our incarceration system.
What’s your favorite thing about doing this work?
Kris Steele, the Director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, likes to say “There’s no such thing as a spare Oklahoman.” Honestly, that sentiment helps drag me out of bed many mornings. I don’t believe we should give up on someone just because they made a mistake. Every time I go into a courtroom or a jail I feel like I’m looking at myself. That could’ve been me. I’ve been broken before and felt like a person who didn’t deserve anything, but people loved me and gave me the chance to live beyond my circumstances. I believe in redemption, and my favorite thing about working for OK Policy is having the opportunity to see it up close.
What would you most like Oklahoma to become a “Top 10 State” in?
Education is everything. We could build ten more prisons in Oklahoma, and it wouldn’t have nearly the positive impact of increasing our high school graduation rate in this state by 15-20 percent. This is especially true for children of color. One of my favorite quotes is “Children are the living messages we send to a time that we will never see.” Until we adequately invest in K-12 and higher education, Oklahoma will not be “top 10” in anything positive.
What else should OK Policy’s readers know about you?
I’m a writer before anything else. For the past decade, I’ve focused the majority of my writing making music, touring and performing songs. Strangely, this has informed so much of the work I do now. I’m working on a novel right now, and a collection of essays about talented African American entrepreneurs who were born into slavery and who later settled in Native American territories. So I guess ultimately I’m just a nerdy guy who likes to write a lot.