Marlon Peterson

Marlon was born in Brooklyn as the youngest of three children to a family who had recently immigrated from Trinidad. He was a good student as a child and on the honor roll in elementary school. But, when he was 14, a few traumatic events happened to him that stopped the academic accolades from coming. He was jumped badly and beaten up at school. Then, during recovery, was nearly raped at gun-point by a stranger on the street in Manhattan. These two events haunted him and created a shift in his life. He began hanging on the streets more, hanging with gangs, and barely graduated from high school. One year later, he was arrested for hopping a turnstile and, a year after that, was arrested for an attempted robbery that resulted in the death of two people. He was the “look out”. He was originally charged with first-degree murder, but it was reduced to a 12-year sentence. In total, he spent ten years, two months, and seven days in prison.

During his time in prison, he got a degree in criminal justice and participated in a number of different programs, including some that he led himself from inside prison. When he was released in December of 2009, Marlon started a mentoring program at a school in Brooklyn and enrolled at NYU for a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Behavior. He began working full-time against gun violence in his old neighborhood and started a program to train youth to become organizers around issues of anti-gun violence. Marlon founded an organization called the Precedential Group, which collaborates with social justice organizations to improve the safety and wellbeing of young adults in the underserved communities of NYC. He is also a widely recognized advocate of mass incarceration reformation and of improving the lives of formerly-incarcerated individuals.


Marlon’s words on how he empowered himself:

“Any positive experience I had was because of being able to create good experiences for ourselves while we were on the inside. Through one program, I helped men prepare for release. Another was a program I started where 12 students from Vassar College came into the prison to directly engage with 12 men from the facility. Part of that work was engaging in discussion on a wide range of topics related to social justice, including affirmative action and gay rights. It was really transformative to help engineer and be part of this work. One pivotal moment involved a relationship I had with a teacher friend of mine, who taught middle school. She asked me to write a letter to her students with words of wisdom based on my experience, which I did. This turned into an ongoing correspondence program where we wrote each other every two weeks. That experience, in dialogue with those kids, truly shifted my trajectory, and affected what I wanted to do after my release. Instead of being an electrician, I shifted to writing, lecturing, and teaching.

When I left prison, and re-integrated into society, I was thankful that my parents were still there and that I still had siblings. I had a home to come back to and a bedroom to sleep in. It was enough. The networks I had were those that I created from the programs I was involved in while in prison. None of the help was really financial. People helped me with simple things like how to send an email, use Facebook, or navigate certain spaces. That’s what my support looked like. I didn’t have kids and wasn’t married and had no bills to pay, so I had the space to do all that.

When I was incarcerated, I learned that by teaching others, I myself learned many life skills. I had a lot of practice preparing for release. I already had a resume and I knew how to turn around talk, which means how to address issues of incarceration in my past. I still needed to learn a lot about the way people communicate and technology, but I created enough trust with people that they helped me learn these things.”


Two videos on Marlon:  Talks about “manhood”, crime and violence in the hood.