Blog Post

Terrence Stevens: Keeping Families Connected

Anthony Papa

Terrence Stevens is on a mission to save children whose parents are incarcerated.

He knows too well the stories that these kids represent. He is the founder and CEO of In Arms Reach (IAR) a Harlem-based nonprofit assisting children effected by parental incarceration and impacted by the criminal justice system. This community-based organization provides high-quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, as well as one-on-one mentoring, youth development and other support services. Their goal is to encourage today’s children of incarcerated parents into tomorrow’s scientists, doctors, innovators and teachers.

IAR serves as a beacon of hope to children in underserved communities, but also as a testament to the need to provide second chances to individuals with non-violent criminal convictions.  

In 1992, Stevens was sentenced to 15-years-to-life for a nonviolent drug offense. He served 10 years before receiving clemency from former New York Governor George Pataki in 2001. 

Terrence suffers from muscular dystrophy and is paralyzed and fully reliant on a power wheelchair to move about. His spine is bent and his breathing is labored and painful. Terrence Steven’s story personifies the cruelty of the United States’ failed trillion-dollar war on drugs. The much-debated drug statutes enacted beginning in the 1980s call for sentences that are among the toughest in the world. For Terrence, the unjust sentence he received was the equivalent of two prison terms. One was a life sentence by statue, and the other might as well be.

Terrence was featured on PBS in the final episode of Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ six-part documentary, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Gates said, “This is one of the greatest travesties of justice I have ever seen. Mr. Stevens’ case embodies the many rivers African Americans still must cross.”

I know Terrence very well from his days as an activist who joined me in fighting to reform the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws of New York State. We worked side by side bringing the issue to the forefront generating hundreds of human interest stories used to put a human face on the war on drugs.

“To incarcerate someone in my condition, who poses absolutely no physical threat to society and is unable even to wipe his own behind, shows the complete and utter failure of the criminal justice system." - Terrence Stevens

The effects of mass incarceration do not end at the prison walls and it’s heartbreaking that 2.7 million U.S. children have a parent behind bars - including 1 in 9 African-American children. That’s why Terrence’s profound work keeping families connected and breaking the cycle of incarceration is so necessary. For more information or to make a donation to In Arms Reach, visit or call IAR at 212.650.5894.

Terrence Stevens joined Anthony Papa on our “Drugs and Stuff” podcast to reflect on the destruction the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws wreaked on so many New Yorkers. Listen to the podcast.

Read more second chance stories.

Anthony Papa is manager of media relations with the Drug Policy Alliance.

Second Chance Month