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Browns players work toward criminal justice reform with visit to courthouse, jail

Seated at the bench inside a Cleveland Municipal Courtroom in downtown Cleveland, a Cuyahoga County judge reviewed documents pertaining to an open criminal felony case during a Friday morning bail hearing and handed down his decision.

Forty thousand dollars.

Browns tackle Kendall Lamm, seated in the last three rows of the courtroom, shook his head in amazement.

"You just think about it: Not many people are going to have $40,000 to just throw around," Lamm said Friday. "Even 10 percent of $40,000, and if you do have that, you're going to take a hit. It's going to be give or take with your family somewhere. I can remember stuff like that happening when I was younger ... now that I'm older and see it different, it just puts a lot more into perspective."

Lamm was one of five Browns players to take part in a Listen and Learn tour of the justice center Friday as part of the team's continuing efforts toward addressing social justice issues. Listen and Learn is a concept created by the Player's Coalition to help educate NFL players and front office staffs on criminal justice reform as part of the Coalition's social justice efforts.

The Player's Coalition is an independent advocacy organization that works with professional athletes, coaches and owners across leagues to improve social justice and racial equality in the United States. The objective of the trip was to provide an inside look at the Ohio criminal justice system, observing bail hearings and discussing bail reform and sentencing disparities with Gabe Diaz, former public defender and current senior legal counsel for The Justice Collaborative.

Friday's trip included the stop at the courthouse, where players and team personnel were able to view firsthand the bail hearing process, followed by a visit to the Bedford Heights jail, where players and personnel viewed the facility and interacted with inmates.

Browns tight end Seth DeValve, receiver Derrick Willies, defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence, tackle Brad Seaton, receiver Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi and cornerback T.J. Carrie were also part of the tour.

While taken aback by the individual total of one case's bail, Lamm wasn't surprised overall by the process, something with which he became familiar as a young child due to family members who landed in prison. The speed at which arraignments move was new, though.

"I've been in a court setting before, but to sit there at 26 now and see how fast it goes and just to hear people make decisions about others' lives that fast, it's just eye-opening," Lamm said. "I'm not saying people are right or wrong, it's just like wow, you literally just altered this person's life. Ultimately, if they made the decision to do the crime that they did -- which would be proven in a court of law -- then they ultimately made that decision, but at the same time, these people at the snap of a finger are making serious decisions. I was like 'oh, wow.' I've never seen stuff like that happen so fast and cycle people in and out so quick."

The Cleveland Browns hosted the 2nd Annual Northeast Ohio Youth Football Summit at FirstEnergy Stadium. The summit featured approximately 200 youth football coaches throughout Northeast Ohio. During the summit, each coach learned proper tackling techniques, concussion recognition and response, heat preparedness and hydration, sudden cardiac arrest, and proper equipment fitting through USA Football's Heads Up Tackling Certification program.

Carrie was similarly stunned, though he also understood and appreciated the efforts of public defenders, who are often handling dozens of cases at a time.

"I think the biggest thing that I picked up today is we need help," Carrie said, "in the sense of I think public defenders are so amazing and I think they need help. We need to try to have a support system for them to be in a system where they don't have to be overwhelmed with the amount of cases that they have and they can give great insight for the cases that they have and be able to really fine comb the details of it. I think from that standpoint it gives us more of a chance where they're not being overloaded."

The sheer volume of cases placed on the shoulders of public defenders was also an issue raised by inmates at Bedford Heights City Jail, who spoke with Browns players from their bunks inside the jail about the barriers placed in front of them by their criminal convictions as they attempt to build productive, successful lives after they're released. Multiple Browns players and staff members conversed with the inmates about these issues, creating a productive dialogue about the current state of the justice system as the Browns attempt to use their platform to affect change.

From there, players and personnel participated in roundtable discussions with inmates before sharing lunch prepared by those involved in the jail's culinary program. The visit also included an informational session with employees working for the Towards Employment program, which is designed to help inmates prepare for life after release by providing career training. Bishara Addison, Towards Employment senior manager of policy and strategic initiatives, led the discussions with inmates, which included success stories of past inmates who have since moved on to positive lives in new careers built on training received in their final 90 days in the criminal justice system.

Players visited students at the Cleveland elementary school and emphasized the importance of good attendance in school on the path to future success. Take a look at the photos from the visit made by Greg Joseph, Kendall Lamm, Orson Charles, Jaelen Strong and Chomps.

Lamm was an active participant in these discussions, which centered on inmates' paths to incarceration and how they're working toward becoming productive future members of society.

"For me, really, it was the man who sat beside me at our lunch table. He was an addict," Lamm said. "To hear him talk and to just feel his energy, because I was right beside him, it was major for me. Because I've dealt with stuff like that before. To hear his experiences, to hear how he's processing in his mind, to hear the steps that he wants to make to go forward, but the biggest thing for me was to hear the help that he's going to need from his mind was monumental because like I said, that just teaches me so much, and I can go about certain situations completely different, because I got the insight from him."

Perhaps the most encouraging sequence of events from Friday was Lamm's interaction with an inmate whose nervousness when speaking about his past was evident. The exchange between the two offered a peek into the power of the Browns' platform.

"When I gave him a smile and I reassured him, his whole demeanor changed," Lamm said. "He completely started opening up more. But that's what I go back to. You've got to give those people an opportunity to show that you care enough to help them, and then you saw a change on the rest of that talk. So if something that small can make that big of an impact, you've got to see that they need help, they have to have help."

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