Roach Brown: COS ’17 Community Service Honoree

1

We asked Roach Brown why he greets everyone with a “Merry Christmas.” He replied, “I look at everything like a holiday—because it is if you’re alive and on this side of the fence.”

Since receiving commutation from President Ford on Christmas Day ’75, Roach has dedicated his life to finding solutions to our criminal justice system and advocating for the incarcerated and returnees.

While serving a life sentence in Lorton Reformatory, Roach was beaten and paralyzed in a guards’ riot and thrown into solitary confinement for eight months. There, he wrote a poem in the dust under his bed entitled “Christmas in Time.” The poem evolved into a play. Later, while serving time at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane, Roach formed The Inner Voices, a prison theatrical group that shared their personal experiences of living on the street and in prison through original works of art.

The group earned the warden’s trust and started to perform outside the prison walls to schools, correctional facilities, and community groups. By the time President Ford heard about Roach, his group had performed more than 500 plays, skits, and social dramas across the nation — all while serving a life sentence.

In reflecting on his years in solitary confinement, Roach describes the ants as his only companions.

“I was a walking dead man. I didn’t even know I was alive. The pain took me to levels I didn’t know existed.”

But he created a world in that room that allowed him to connect to his inner voice and find peace through reflection and his art.

“I found things about myself I didn’t like, but it (the life sentence) was the best thing that ever happened to me. If you follow your inner voice, you can’t go wrong because your inner voice is never wrong.”

 

Roach carries this positive outlook with him every day in his mission to advocate for the incarcerated and open the doors to those who have served time and returned to society. A consultant and motivational speaker, he continues his work with The Inner Voices, helping to feed thousands of needy residents on Christmas Day, while hosting CROSS ROADS, a weekly radio show broadcast nationally and internationally on WPFW Pacifica. Listen to LSIC podcast and tune in to Cross Roads on Tuesdays at 10 am on WPFW-FM 89.3.

This Campaign has ended. No more pledges can be made.