As a high school student, Louisiana native Alfred (“Red”) Joseph (C’18) developed a fascination with both criminology and anthropology. “I found that those two disciplines sparked profound evolutions in my thinking,” he tells us. “And I wanted a home for more discoveries.” Between Penn’s Jerry Lee Center of Criminology and Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Red knew this was where he needed to be. A double major in Philosophy and History, Red filters his passion for social justice through the lenses of these subjects, allowing him to gain a broad understanding of American policy as it relates to the justice system has evolved over time, and affects not only individual lives but the fabric of society at large.
During his summers, Red has taken the skills he has gained and refined at Penn and put them to work, interning within the criminal justice system. Beginning in 2016, Red worked as an intern investigator with the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia (PDSDC). There, he and a small team interviewed witnesses, issued subpoenas, and gathered evidence for clients. The biggest impact that Red found, from this experience, was seeing how specific policy actively impacted the lives individuals. “I think having a systemic look at the system is important,” he tells us, “but one shouldn’t overlook individual stories.”
As his position with PDSDC put him in direct correspondence with many defendants, Red’s workload included visits to incarcerated clients, a task that produced a profound effect. While Red was careful to guard his emotions during these visits, meeting the clients inspired him to work tirelessly for their cases. “The worst aspect about client visits,” he states, “was that, sometimes, my clients were my age or younger. I would often think of how I could have ended up in prison if I grew up similarly, in worse neighborhoods or with less means.”
In 2017, with funding provided by Penn Wharton PPI, Red spent his summer with the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), working as a Youth Justice Policy intern. While Red felt he was able to do impactful work with PDSDC, NJJN allowed him to have a hand in policy reform on a much larger scale. Through his work, Red saw firsthand that when it comes to legislative reform, collaboration is key. “A huge coalition – Campaign for Youth, the National Juvenile Justice Network, R Street, the ACLU, and many more came together to push for the reauthorization for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act,” he states. “These advocates worked together for years to get attention to the issue.”
As a mass incarceration reform advocate, Red’s experience in Washington has furthered his resolve for responsible criminal justice reform. Like other advocates, he hopes to see measurable action taken to reverse the damage done by the war on drugs, where harsh sentences for minor infractions have helped swell prison populations. “Ending the War should be a priority,” Red tells us. “It will be the start to uplifting many of our most disenfranchised communities.” Red also wants to see reform in funding for the public defender system, so that the constitutional rights of all individuals, regardless of their financial status, can be better served under the law.
Entering his final year at Penn, Red has a lot on his plate—even beyond figuring out what comes next for him. He serves on the executive board of the Penn Boxing Club, which he joined his freshman year with no prior experience in the sport. “Boxing is one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Red states. “I joined because I thought it would be unexpected of me, and the people were unbelievably friendly and willing to help a total novice.” Having fought his first match in April, Red hopes to keep up with the sport for a long time. Red also is an accomplished writer. He has contributed to The Spectrum, a Philadelphia based political publication, and The Moviegoer, a movie review website, as well as writes poetry, which has been published in La Vida Magazine and Street Magazine.
Red says, “My goal for my senior year is to relax. I want to take the time to appreciate the friendships I’ve made at Penn, and to improve in my personal development.” He plans to leave the area after graduation, wanting to experience another city and perhaps different part of the world. While his plans are still percolating, one thing is for sure: through his time at Penn, Red has already laid a foundation for making a positive social impact through legal reform and social justice.