Norris Henderson spent 27 years, 10 months and 18 days behind bars. In that time, he studied criminal law, becoming an expert legal advocate on behalf of other inmates, writing appeals that made attorneys and attorneys-to-be in awe of his practice.
What: "My Journey...Things turn out best for those who make the best out of the way things turn out," a public lecture by Norris Henderson for UNO's Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies
When: Thursday, Dec. 3, 2 p.m.
Where: UNO Liberal Arts Building, Room 197
Free and open to the public
Now, the New Orleanian is one of the nation’s leading criminal justice reform advocates, someone whose mission to help ex-convicts most recently led him and seven other longtime justice activists into meeting rooms at the U.S. Department of Justice, where their requests for reform led to groundbreaking policy changes in how the federal government treats former inmates.
On Thursday, Dec. 3, Henderson will deliver a public lecture at the University of New Orleans entitled “My Journey. Things turn out best … for those who make the best out of the way things turn out.” Henderson’s talk caps off a semester of events sponsored by UNO’s Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies that aimed to bring a spotlight to issues related to incarceration in Louisiana and across the United States.
Benjamin Weber, a visiting scholar at Midlo, said he felt it was important to hear from someone who has direct experience with Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. “Norris Henderson was also the perfect person because of the work he is doing advocating for formerly incarcerated persons,” Weber said.
Henderson is founder and executive director of Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE) and a former Open Society Foundations Soros Justice Fellow. He has had tremendous success in his work impacting public policy and public discourse about police accountability, public defense for poor and indigent people, and reforming Orleans Parish Prison.
Very recently, he joined others in Washington, DC, meeting with heads of departments at the Justice Department to advocate that federal government eliminate questions about criminal history from job applications, change criminal record guidelines for Section 8 and public housing residents, and protect voting rights for people with felony records. Days after the visit, President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning questions about criminal history on many federal job applications. Also, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reversed a policy barring housing authorities from rejecting applicants and evicting tenants because of an arrest.
Henderson was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary in 2003, becoming the only convicted murderer at the time to be released on probation. In a 2003 Times-Picayune article on Henderson, former District Judge Calvin Johnson, who both convicted Henderson and later granted him his probation, described his own impressions of Henderson:
“This may sound like a weird way of putting it,” Johnson said at the time, “but this guy had an amazing career at Angola. Here’s a man convicted of a horrible act—I found him guilty myself—but what he’s been able to achieve in nearly 30 years in prison is amazing.”
Besides leading VOTE, Norris has served as co-director of Safe Streets/Strong Communities and community outreach coordinator of the Louisiana Justice Coalition. He is on a number of organizations’ boards of directors including Family & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children and is board president of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights.
Norris will speak at 2 p.m. in the UNO Liberal Arts Lounge, Room 197. The event is free and open to the public.