When it comes to transforming personal tribulations into schooling Black men on women’s empowerment, Los Angeles native Richie Reseda has the game down packed.
Reseda launched a groundbreaking feminist program for incarcerated men he started while in prison, titled Success Stories, which has been chronicled on the CNN documentary The Feminist on Cell Block Y. Now, he's on a mission to change prison policy with Initiate Justice, an organization he co-founded with his wife Taina Vargas-Edmond.
He spoke with Blavity: Extended about this mission and about his beginnings.
"By the time I was in middle school I started understanding that my weird, artsy America’s Next Top Model watching self was not what I was supposed to be as a ‘real man,’ and that I was supposed to be tough – emotionless,” he told Blavity. "That very quickly led me to drug addiction, gang banging and eventually robbing and prison.”
Even after his prison sentence, his intelligence and ethic landed him a “real job” with Los Angeles County. But after budget cuts, and losing his job, he reverted back to what he knew: quick money. He received a 10-year sentence for robbing two Rite-Aid stores.
He committed the first crime to pay rent but the robbery didn’t produce even enough for that. His lawyer assured him that he should plead “not guilty" and that afterwards they would focus on tackling his life sentence. Reseda was shocked.
“I was like, ‘Life sentence?’ you must have the wrong person,” he said.
It wasn't an error. His lawyer told him that he was looking at a 150 years to double life.
While incarcerated as a 19-year-old, his animosity for the system and envy for the birds who were able to fly “in and out" of the county jail, compelled him to remember the spaces he felt most empowered in.
When Reseda was 14, he matriculated into a training program for community organizers started by Black Lives Matter co-founder Pattrisse Cullors and Mark-Anthony Johnson, who became his mentors.
“It was my first time being around women led spaces, Queer led spaces, being around Feminist men, being hugged by a man- a real hug – and I felt free there. I was really seen and really loved,” he said, remembering how the experience changed him.
That program would later come back to aid him.
As he was serving time, community organizers didn’t forget him. They procured an attorney that facilitated a shorter sentence, and he’s been committed to community organizing ever since.
“I sought freedom, through the first place I found freedom, which was in organizing," he shared.
Reseda was released from prison in July of 2018.
When he started a patriarchy workshop, it initially got him laughed out of the room, but he realized dismantling patriarchy (especially as a male feminist) was about relating to people; not instructing them. Now Success stories has expanded to 3 prisons, 1 county jail and 3 reentry programs and has employed four formerly incarcerated people to help facilitate on the program.
Many are called for service, few are chosen. And most of them, did not take the easy way to get there. Reseda is committed to exploring the ways in which young, talented men fall prey to common, unproductive patriarchal standards, so that those affected can experience true growth. And that's something we all should celebrate.