Formerly incarcerated men create program to keep youth out of prison

Annenberg hosted three men who founded the Free-Dem Foundation.

After serving a collective total of 50 years in prison, Louisiana courts ruled the incarceration and sentencing of Daniel Rideau, Jerome Morgan and Robert Jones unjust.

The three met in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and were brought together by shared aspirations for a hopeful future. Following their eventual release, Rideau, Morgan and Jones reunited with a common goal in mind: saving impoverished youth from mass incarceration.

They created Free-Dem Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded on Frederick Douglass’ idea that “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Rideau, Morgan and Jones spoke at an Annenberg event on Thursday to talk about their experiences in the prison system and the actions they have taken to reform it.

In order to challenge economic and racial injustices, the team created a curriculum to put forth better opportunities for undeserved youth. The curriculum includes lessons on professional development, the business economy and male etiquette.

“Free-Dem Foundation is on the front line, whereas everybody tries to focus on the back end,” Jones said.

Jerome Morgan, who was wrongly convicted at age 17, considers himself a youth defense advocate.

“I listen to the youth and advocate their voices within the community complex,” Morgan said.

According to Rideau, being a voice for the youth means challenging structures that target disadvantaged communities.

"The criminal justice system has been used as a tool to oppress the poor,” Rideau said. “We believe in disrupting systems of oppression.”

The constitutional rights of Daniel Rideau, Jerome Morgan and Robert Jones were once compromised by the criminal justice system. Through the Free-Dem Foundation, they have made it their mission to combat an unjust system and protect the generations that follow.