Community Activist Terrence Stevens and Mass Incarceration Featured on Henry Louis Gates’ Groundbreaking PBS Series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

Press Release November 20, 2013
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<p>Contact: Terrence Stevens 917.939.5349<br />
[email protected]</p>

New York, New York -Terrence Stevens, a disabled drug law reform activist – who is also the founder and CEO of a Harlem-based non-profit organization that assists children affected by parental incarceration and impacted by the criminal justice system – will be featured in the final episode of Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ new six-part documentary, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Gates says, “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.”

Mr. Stevens’ spine is bent, and his breathing is labored and painful. Muscular dystrophy slowly makes its way through his body, shutting down muscle after muscle, but his confinement to a maximum-security state prison was equally debilitating.  Terrence Stevens 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 Mr. Stevens, 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. “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,” says Mr. Stevens.

The series chronicles an incredible 500 years of history, up to the arrival of the first African American President, Barack Obama. Today we ask: How will African Americans help redefine the United States in the years to come? Tune in to PBS on Tuesday, November 26, 8-9 ET for the series’ final episode, “A MORE PERFECT UNION,” featuring the organization In Arms Reach and CEO Terrence Stevens.

The episode dramatizes our nation’s current incarceration crisis through the remarkable story of Terrence Stevens, legendary drug law reform activist, who was already paralyzed from the neck down with Muscular Dystrophy when he was absurdly sentenced to fifteen years to life on a first-time low-level, non-violent drug offense. He was granted clemency in 2001 after serving 10 years, based on a petition by the late Judge Jerome Marks. The film includes both contemporary footage and exclusive archival material from Daedalus Productions’ earlier documentation of Stevens’ release from Green Haven Maximum Security Prison.

The portrait of Stevens also features his work with In Arms Reach, Inc., the community-based organization he founded after his release.  IAR is dedicated to breaking the cycle of inter-generational inequality for low-income children and families of NYC, primarily children impacted by the criminal justice system, and neighborhoods devastated by mass incarceration.  IAR’s ultimate goal is to bring high-quality Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics educational opportunities to underserved children through its partnership with City College University of New York, its science and engineering departments, and the Sophie Davis medical school. IAR provides one-on-one mentoring, visitation, youth development and other support services.  Stevens and the IAR program are working to encourage today’s children of incarcerated parents into tomorrow’s scientists, doctors, innovators and teachers.

“The effects of mass incarceration don’t end at the prison walls,” said Anthony Papa of the Drug Policy Alliance, who spent 12 years behind bars under New York’s notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws. “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.

About PBS’ The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
Noted Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. recounts the full trajectory of African-American history in his groundbreaking new six-part series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Written and presented by Professor Gates, the six-hour series explores the evolution of the African-American people, as well as the multiplicity of cultural institutions, political strategies, and religious and social perspectives they developed — forging their own history, culture and society against unimaginable odds. Commencing with the origins of slavery in Africa, the series moves through five centuries of remarkable historic events right up to the present — when America is led by a black president, yet remains a nation deeply divided by race.

About In Arms Reach Inc.
In Arms Reach Inc. (IAR) is a non-profit 501c3 organization, which focuses on servicing at-risk youth, primarily children with incarcerated parent(s). Located on the campus of the City College University of New York, IAR not only provides one-on-one mentoring, but also after-school tutoring, college preparation courses, creative development through art and music and free prison visitation services. IAR’s ultimate goal is to bring high-quality Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics educational opportunities so that underserved children will be exposed to learning STEM through our partnership with CCNY.  For more information or to make a donation to In Arms Reach, visit or call IAR at 212.650.5894.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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