In a room filled with dozens of Out For Justice members, Aryn McLemore is his usual quiet, observant self. As members passionately share ideas about how to advocate for their legislative priorities during their monthly meeting, Aryn listens closely and eventually raises his hand. His voice is soft, but his message is clear: We must find ways to empower the justice-impacted community whose rights have been violated. When Aryn speaks, his words are intentional, his message is clear and his wisdom resounds.
Seeking A New Way of Life
Anyone who knew Aryn as a child wouldn’t be surprised. Growing up in East Baltimore, Aryn preferred to keep to himself, got good grades, and loved learning. In high school, he discovered his first artistic endeavor: cutting hair. He perfected his craft by cutting his friends’ hair and went to barber school after graduating high school. Aryn quickly rose to the ranks of a highly-sought after barber. “I started working at some of the most popular barber shops…they were well-known in Baltimore. I was good,” he recalls.
Throughout Aryn’s childhood and teenage years, a series of circumstances changed the trajectory of his life. A systemically underfunded school system made it difficult for him to remain interested in his studies. Aryn also felt the pain of losing three loved ones when his aunt was killed, his grandfather passed away, and his friend was killed all in a short period of time. Not knowing how to deal with the intense emotions he was experiencing, nor having the tools, he found himself engaging in activities that resulted in his seventeen-year incarceration.
Despite the claims of those who uphold Maryland’s carceral system, there is little to no rehabilitation for those behind the walls. So Aryn and others incarcerated in the prison took the initiative to form groups and programs to support each other. They studied CDL books together, hoping to gain employment as truck drivers after they were released. They formed a book club to discuss books of interest. Aryn also expanded his artistic talents by teaching himself to paint.
In 2006, after recovering from a severe six-month illness resulting from the malnourishing food served in prison, Aryn was determined to seek a new way of life and relief from chronic illness. He began taking yoga and meditation classes taught by a Buddhist nun who encouraged him to stop eating meat. After doing his own research and under the guidance of the nun, Aryn switched to eating solely whole plant-based food in 2013, which has improved his overall well-being to this day.
Persistent Systemic Barriers
After Aryn was released on parole in 2015, he continuously encountered systemic barriers that made it difficult to adjust to reentry. Years later, after serving his sentence, he still faces barriers due to his previous record. “You’re still shackled. Shackled to unreasonable demands. You lose your privilege of being an adult,” Aryn explains.
Knowing the system wasn’t going to help him, Aryn has found other ways to pave his path to redemption. He became an active member of Out For Justice (OFJ), where he calmly and assuredly shares his wisdom and experience with members and helps out in any way he can. Aryn brings a strong, consistent presence to events such as the 2021 OFJ-hosted Juneteenth Father’s Day Bailout, OFJ’s 2022 Ten-Year Anniversary Gala, and the 2023 Legislative Advocacy Day. He has stayed true to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, attributing much of his well-being to eating whole plant-based foods, and guides others seeking to do the same. Aryn is also re-igniting his talents as a painter, employing his exceptional artistic skills to paint artwork for the OFJ office. With the support of Out For Justice, he hopes to develop a therapeutic art program for community members.
The REDEEM Act
Every year, approximately 15,000 Marylanders like Aryn are released from state prisons and struggle to secure a job, find a place to live, and reenter society. That’s why Aryn advocated for the REDEEM Act during the 2023 Maryland General Assembly, a bill that reduces the time for certain convictions to be eligible for expungement. The legislation was championed by a coalition of justice-impacted persons co-led by Out For Justice. Although the legislation will not allow the specific charges on his record to be expunged, Aryn explains that he testified in support of the REDEEM Act because “it’s leading in the right direction for us (formerly incarcerated individuals) to regain our full citizenship. We don’t have our bodily rights even after we’ve served our court-appointed sentence.” Thanks to advocates like Aryn, the bill passed - one more step in the right direction for giving justice-impacted Marylanders their own chance at redemption.