Legislators and lobbyists in the Connecticut state Capitol on Jan. 4, 2023, the first day of the legislative session. Stephen Busemeyer / CT Mirror

I am generally a very optimistic person, energized by my reality that I am a change agent, not one who simply adapts to injustice. I refuse to settle for navigating a corrupt, unjust and evil system. I am grounded in the need to bring real change in the way Connecticut treats its most vulnerable.

Lately it’s been very difficult to muster hope when seeking change in Connecticut is an uphill, exhausting battle of the legislative will. Each legislative session I come up against a continuing trend of state officials operating in a way that maintains systems of oppression.

Barbara Fair Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CT Mirror

It’s distressing to watch people I once respected cow tow to the snail’s pace at which we move toward real justice, especially racial justice. Symbolic gestures such as having a Juneteenth holiday while CT cages a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinx people across the state is disingenuous and disheartening.

Recent headlines almost kill any hope for real change in Connecticut. Over the past year we have heard about several scathing reports from state auditors about the poor state of Department of Corrections operations. We read about officers stealing pandemic funds and correctional officers being arrested for bringing drugs and other contraband into the prisons.

When legislation was proposed to limit degrading and dehumanizing strip searches of incarcerated women, children and men we were told by DOC it was a necessary tool to keep drugs out of the system yet correctional staff are not forced to endure this humiliating practice. Legislators bought it though and likely because they wanted to; otherwise they would have had to question the double standard.

We heard about a lieutenant arrested for filming a young girl in a store while she was undressing. We heard about an attack on a correctional officer and the union rushed out to ask for lockdowns so officers can debrief from a trauma countless incarcerated people face all the time when their cohort is being assaulted.

We read the inspector general annual report on death in DOC custody: 73 in just 2022 and no questions from legislators who are suppose to provide oversight ,about the many suicides, overdoses and unnatural, preventable deaths inside.

Recently we heard about state troopers faking information on thousands of traffic tickets. That behavior is not new. A young African American man came before the legislature years ago to report he received a ticket where the officer checked off he was white when it was evident he was a person of color. No action was taken then and so it continued unchecked until now.

Now taxpayers will pay for other state officials to “investigate” when in the end there will be no consequences for them. Earlier this year we read about candidates for state police cheating on exams. What was the result of that investigation? We have read many stories about corruption in the current administration and people retiring rather than face prosecution.

We read about a lawmaker driving drunk, crashing and receiving probation. Another arrested for stealing millions in COVID funding, now likely serving time in a camp of his choice. All this unscrupulous, unchecked behavior demands real change in Connecticut.

This past session exposed how little Connecticut wants to change with the non passage of policy which would have addressed intentional zoning policies which– in effect–maintain housing segregation. With all this corruption going on with impunity, we watched a long serving, distinguished parole chair removed from his position for doing the job he was assigned and more recent, turmoil inside chief public defender’s office that began when a very qualified Black woman became chief and sought much needed change within that agency to bring judicial equity.

I watched as a beloved state representative was removed from her position as chair simply for speaking truth to the power structure in this state, the ostracization by colleagues evident.

It’s clear to me anyone who has the courage to do what’s right for the marginalized people in Connecticut will be castigated. Only those who decide to “tow the line” remain in positions of power. It’s disheartening and disillusioning yet I refuse to accept that we, the people, can’t change the political climate in this state.

We are judged as a society by the way we treat our most vulnerable. I can’t imagine the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. One thing is crystal clear. When lawmakers and law enforcers become lawless, it breeds anarchy. I wonder where Connecticut is headed.

Barbara Fair lives in West Haven and is a member of Stop Solitary CT.