John Legend Links Mother's Drug, Incarceration History To Why He Votes

By McCarton Ackerman 11/01/16

In the "Why I Vote" series, Legend shared his personal story to encourage Americans to use their votes to create drug policy reform.

John Legend Links Mother's Drug, Incarceration History To Why He Votes
Photo: YouTube

Singer John Legend tied his difficult childhood, marred by his family's struggle with addiction, with the importance of voting this election.

Speaking in the newest installment of Vevo’s “Why I Vote” series, Legend recalled how his mother, Phyllis, turned to drug use to self-medicate after the death of her own mother. Her struggles with addiction eventually landed her in prison.

Although she eventually recovered, Legend remains adamant that she didn’t need to be behind bars in order to get well, citing Portugal’s example of decriminalizing drugs, and the need to offer programs that help people break the cycle of addiction.

"We both agree that when people are going through those kinds of issues, they really need help; they don't need to be locked up,” he said. “They need counseling. They need drug treatment."

Legend has helped promote that message and other methods of criminal justice reform with his organization #FREEAMERICA, which works to change legislation and public perception around incarceration policies in the U.S. He's even visited men and women around the country whose lives were deeply affected by their time behind bars.

“You hear all these stories and it breaks your heart, but it also makes you want to go out and do something,” said Legend. “We couldn’t just listen to these stories, shed a tear and then stop. We had to go out and speak out on people’s behalf, share those stories and try to change the system.”

The singer noted that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, and urged listeners to consider who they vote for this election when it comes to issues around incarceration and drug treatment, adding that they have the power to create meaningful change.

"All those decisions to lock people up are being made in our name because we're voters and we decide who's in charge. We have to use that decision and make it wisely, and we have to exercise our right to vote,” said Legend. “A lot of people protested and fought, bled and died so that everyone in this country, every citizen over the age of 18 would have the right to vote."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.