Posts Tagged ‘Michelle Alexander’

This post was written in response to a comment left under the post Journey Through Bondage.  We encourage and invite dialogue and discussion on the various topics posted on this site.  We do ask, however, that dialogue is maintained respectfully and on topic.  Personal attacks do not benefit anyone and limit our ability to discuss things wisely.

Alicia says:

This review really made no sense to me. None. You criticize the book for encouraging brothas to read in jail, but then later say you agree with the author that someone in prison who is uneducated “has to find a way to become educated”; what better way to start than by reading as a habit??? Isn’t that why our enslaved ancestors were denied the right to read; to keep them IGNORANT???? Man, there are so many ridiculous things about this review that I could point out, but I will not even waste my time. Half baked review that’s really ridiculous.

  • Yes, you are right in your assessment of the right to read and being denied the right. If you read the book Getting Out and Staying Out and have any experience with incarcerated people you will see that there are many flaws in the concepts that he presents as the methods that one should use to change his/her life for the better, that was his idea for writing the book. He wrote this book to be a guideline for men who are incarcerated to use as a stepping stone to get to where he is at today.

    Unfortunately, although that is part of the solution, at some point, that is not the starting point for many of the men that I know that are incarcerated. See it is easy to make the assumptions you make if you are not involved or have never experienced what is inside these prison walls. So let me give you a up-close view of what it is so that you will have a better understanding of what you may think that you know.

    Even though I am incarcerated I teach quite a few classes here. One class that I tutor is GED. I teach the GED in Spanish and tutor the GED in English. In a classroom of 20 men after the role is called that number dwindles down to 8 everyday. This is not something made up. There are some guys that bring walkmans and magazines to read and there are others that go to sleep. So if simply reading a book is going to change a mans life for the best, an incarcerated person, you tell my why do most of the men in the class not only abandon books but leave off something as important as a GED. It has been proven that a person’s chances of coming back to prison reduces with education. If that was enough to keep people out of prison I am sure that everyone here would take full advantage of the educational opportunities that are offered in every prison that has an educational dept. The difference here is that our enslaved ancestors wanted that freedom that many take for granted today, education being one of them. That is the mere fact that I comment on.

    With the exception of the times that the men here are required to be in school, the library is the quietest and most vacant place in the prison. When the numbers increase it is due to in climate weather. When it is sunny and nice outside, the library is empty. There are plenty books here to read, everything from fact, fiction, world history, African history, American history, and so on. Let me tell you that out of all the books that are read, African American books are the least read!! So with that being said you tell me if this is the starting point for change in the lives of men who have been conditioned to not care about anyone nor anything.

    Last week in another class, Victim Impact to be exact, the question was asked how many guys in the room dropped out of high school prior to coming to prison and the vast majority of the men raised their hands, shamelessly! Let me tell you about the book that Mr. Booth wrote. This book was written during a second trip to prison. So guess what. I am sure that the first time he could have gotten it right, but why didn’t he? Was it that simple? Or were there other issues in his life that he had to confront before coming to terms that maybe there is power in education. See he observed all of this stuff while in prison and wrote from a perspective that was complimented by his point of view, what worked and works for him. But oddly that came after more than one trip to prison.

    If you have any experience with the penal system tell me if what I am about to mention to you from his book which oddly enough is titled “Getting out and Staying out,” with regards to the rules of the halfway house makes sense. The halfway house is where inmates are sent for a duration of 6 months or less as a means to gradually reintegrate them back into society. There are rules and regulations that have to be maintained or else one is in violation and sent back to prison. Mr. Booth gives accounts of how he opened his own business while in the halfway house and emphatically says that he knows that he was not supposed to do it and that if one wanted to do it he has to do it on the sly. So take one of your male loved ones who has spent the last 5 years in prison and is in the halfway house. Is this the advice that you want to be given to that person? To take the chance and circumvent the rules, something that he may have been doing most of his life which is why he might have been sent to prison to begin with, and take the chance of going back to prison. To just be crafty and do it your way! Is this the advice that you want to be given to your “brothas” that are incarcerated? See I know and understand the dangers and the end result of this advice. It is called another trip back to the pen. You can not even have a cell phone in the halfway house let alone your own business.

    If you have read the book by Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” you will have read where she speaks about the stigma of being an ex felon. She says, “For those released on probation or parole, the risks are especially high…Probationers and parolees are at increased risk of arrest because their lives are governed by additional rules that do not apply to everyone else.” You can find the whole quote on page 93. What is the point in mentioning this? That this book that you say that I criticized is filled with misguided and misrepresented information that can do more harm and damage to these communities and homes of these men, that is remove them from the family structure that is needed to break the chains of ignorance and change the cycle of what is happening in these communities. Now these are the issues that I have with the book.

    Furthermore what I wrote was not meant to be a book review of the book “Getting Out and Staying Out,” rather it was a college paper that I had to write concerning this issue. It was a required reading for a Criminal Justice course through the University of Pittsburgh called the “Offender and Reentry.”

    I don’t criticized the book for encouraging men to read I comment on the lack of attention given to the other aspects that are not mentioned. I meet with a guy that is 38 years old once a week that cannot read. I tutor guys and teach in classes every day full of men that cannot read and refuse to learn how. What I comment on is the sad reality of the state of our “brothas” behind bars. I appreciate and respect your views on what I wrote but I ask you to think of the realities of what I see everyday and to consider that as you think of the issue that is being discussed here. Thank you for your comment and if there is anything else that you disagree with let me know. Maybe I am missing something here.


The following is a reflection paper from the Inside-Out Course titled The Offender and Re-entry.  Inside-Out classes are college courses taught at nearby federal prisons.  The classes offer college students and inmates a chance to learn together and from each other in a shared learning environment.  

When it comes to the label of being an ex-offender, I have mixed emotions about that word. I am aware that everybody will have his or her own interpretation of that word, and that interpretation will be the criteria that is used to judge the ex-offender. Yet that label is actually less harsh than having to be described by the nature of ones offense. To me, having to wear that label would be harsh and burdensome. Why is that? It goes back to the double consciousness that was spoken about in class awhile ago. It is easier to say that I have been to prison that it is to say what I have been to prison for. It is always that double consciousness that no matter what there is still that sense of guilt of knowing that someone has been harmed by your actions. As Michelle Alexander speaks about the Cruel Hand and what it means to be an ex-offender is society today, it is equally important to note what it means to have to live with the memories of one’s actions and behaviors.

I have many friends that have left prison and have never returned as they were determined to succeed and not let the “ex-offender” label hold them back. In fact none of my close friends have come back to prison. One thing that we had in common was we understood the importance of education. We had dreams, plans to succeed and were determined to not let the experience of prison dictate what we had planned for our futures.

They have managed to overcome the things that Michelle Alexander attributes to the cause of recidivism. Yet there is something deeper that people who have committed crimes suffer from and that is the guilt that they carry with them day in and day out as the try and come to terms with the things that they have done in life. There are certain realities expected when it comes to what one has to deal with after leaving prison. Unfortunately, there are very few programs in place to prepare the ex-offender for the mental effects that they have and will suffer from as they continue their journey through life. Not dealing with these issues can be the fuse, that if it is never extinguished, can lead one back to prison. As one talks about recidivism, one has to wonder about the mental state of some of the individuals that return to prison.

It has to be assumed that there may be a sense of hopelessness out in the free world, which in turn gives a person a sense of belonging in these institutions. If one does not learn to deal with the guilt and shame that he or she may carry, it could lead to low self esteem, which can lead to carelessness and reckless behavior.  If the general opinion is that, once a person has been incarcerated, there is little hope for him or her, and this person constantly hears this at some point they begin to believe it, what else is expected from them other than to live a life where they are accepted, regardless of the acts, no matter how heinous they may be?

There are many people in prison because they feel this is where they belong. They have status, friends, and are accepted the way that they are. There is no pressure to be anything other that what they think they are. For the person that suffers from this, and there are many, it proves the point that there is some mental defects in the way that this person thinks. This idea has always stuck with me after a conversation that I had with another inmate years ago.  One day he tells me, “Talib I never have to go home again and I am cool. I can rob guys here (that was his criminal profession), I can get high, and they have punks (homosexuals) here that look like chicks.  So for real I am cool. ”  He led a life in prison that reflected this mindset and was murdered the first week that he was home, because of his actions in prison.  He never made it out of the halfway house.

The guy that I just spoke about had a history of recidivism and the day that he told me how he felt about prison it became clear that he was crazy.  Therefore, I have to ask myself how many other people suffer from this mindset.  What Michelle Alexander mentions concerning the stigma that the ex-offender has to deal with is so true, but there are other deeply embedded psychological issues that most convicted felons suffer from that contributes to the steadily increasing rate of recidivism.

To me, it is frightening to know there are some people who think that they belong behind bars, and that they are not even willing to break the cycle of recidivism. What is more frightening is someone close to them planted this idea/seed in their head to make them believe this to be true. That someone may have made them feel that prison was and is the place that they belong. As solutions are sought to address this issue of recidivism, one must not rule out addressing mental health issues. More often than not, a mental issue is contributing to the steady rise of incarceration and not outright criminality.

part 1 this is part one of a series

talk about history repeating itself we are seeing that today with the growth of the Hispanic population in America. the things that African Americans went through the Hispanics are going through the same thing but the difference being the slave trade has been replaced with incarceration. let me share with you a story that i heard the other day and from here you can draw the parallels.

as a male prisoner i am very aware of how prisons operates and how it effects the men but i never considered how it effects the women that have kids. when a immigrant woman is locked up her kids are taken into custody at the same time. that is if they are there during the arrest. if they are not there than there is no telling what happens to them if they have no family members here in the states. can you imagine coming home from school to find that your mother is not there and has been taken into custody? the worse part of that is that you cannot go and inquire because your status of being free may change upon inquiry. you are illegal so you have no legal rights to get a lawyer and fight to make sure that justice is served. than you don’t know any of that as you are a child and have not idea what all of this really means. this would be hard to imagine! yet everyday this takes place and people are oblivious to it. draw the parallel of slavery here of when the tribes were raided and Africans where kidnapped to be enslaved. when the child was off somewhere else to return to the tribe after a day of playing and hungry for the days activities, anxious to get home to tell mom about something spectacular that may have happened only to get there and find that the land had been raided and no one left. who raises that child?

when an undocumented woman is locked up for her status here her children are either placed in foster care, more American dollars spent to take care of this child, the child is turned over to other relatives or the child ends up homeless and locked out of society. with that being said it is no wonder that the gangs have become surrogate families for many Hispanics in this country.

when a person of illegal status is locked up the sentences have various ranges from months to years. if a person is released to their country and come back that time doubles, there are guys here that are doing up to 10 years for crossing over into the us. not for crimes but for re-entry. most of them are coming back to reunite with family. the women are willing to risk death, and a host of other crimes against humanity that goes along with cross the middle of the desert with a group of men who are crooked minded, and incarceration just to get reunite with their children. the bond of a mother and child is that strong that they would endure that and risk coming back to prison for a longer term than the first time.

often these women have their minds made up prior to release that they are coming back for these children. this is the same mindset that many women on those slave ships had. all they wanted to do was get back home to their children. they were bribed into thinking that after a certain amount of time they were going to be taken back home to reunite with family. this was to get more production out of them. so when Michelle Alexander talks about mass incarceration and how it parallels slavery and the era of Jim Crow all we have to do it look at the Hispanic issue and make parallels and the picture that she paints becomes clearer.

today i had an interesting discussion about what it meant to be an ex-offender. the discussion came about from something that Michelle Alexander mentioned in her book The New Jim Crow. she made reference to the different ways that people find themselves back in prison. she mentions things such as being late for appointments to see parole officers, not being able to find employment in a timely manner, and other things that can lead one back to prison. she makes good points, but being incarcerated i have to say that all of this depends on the individual and how badly they want to stay out of prison.

one of the things that seems to get in the way of guys getting out and staying out is that they are not transparent with the people that are involved in the transition process. what do i mean by that? in order to gain the trust of someone you have to be trustworthy and in order to build the trust that is needed to have a healthy and working relationship it means that one has to be willing to be vulnerable. the recently released person has to know that the other people involved are going to be a part of his/her life for a determined amount of time and that it is in that persons best interest to develop trustworthy relationships with others.

i have seen so many guys go home from prison and i have heard many stories and excuses as to why they are back. but do you want to know what i have yet to hear??  that is the truth!! yes i hear a lot of excuses but never the truth. getting out and staying out is two parts and the sooner that people understand that the more successful they become.

although these are things that are true there are other issues that i think about when a person is released from prison. these are issues that i also believe play a big part in the high recidivism rate, and that is mental health issues that i don’t think are taken into consideration when dealing with ex offenders.

the memories of the actions that they have committed in the past is something that people have to live with every day as they try and readjust into society.  i think that this is a issue that needs to be addressed at some point by the individual. the guilt and the suffering that they carry with them day in and day out, as they try to come to terms with the things that they have done in life, along with the pressures and the stress that come with going back into society, can have negative mental repercussions.

unfortunately there are not that many programs that deal with this issue of mental health for ex offenders. not dealing with these issues can be the fuse that leads one to commit often more violent crimes. as one talk about re-entry one has to wonder about the mental state of some of these people coming home.

i use myself as an example. i know that to some extent i may have some issues, in terms of the mental states that i have had to put myself in over the years. to be able to sit in a 8 by 12 room with the lights on 24 hours a day for a year straight, being let out that cell for 1 hour and not being able to go outside and get sunlight during that year takes some mental manipulation to get through. the worse part of that is having to go through that with out a time line of when this is going to end. to just have to sit there and wait. or to be shackled, belly chained and handcuffed, not being able to use the bathroom, defecate, eating cheese sandwiches for 8 days while being transported across country to another prison. or to be on a time table where an experiment similar to the experiment of Pavlov and his dog taking place everyday. where they ring a bell and you are expected to respond. to have to fight that and stay strong mentally takes a lot. if a person such as myself can say that yes i am messed up in that regard, to a certain degree, what about the person less mentally strong than i consider myself to be.

also there is a sense of hopelessness for some people that are getting out, as some of them think that they belong here in prison. this shame often leads to low self esteem, which lead to carelessness and reckless behavior. if the general opinion is that when one has been incarcerated, there is little hope for this person, and the reentering person constantly hears this, he/she begins to believe this.  The reentering person begins to expect this when they are released. it is as if every one convicted of a crime has a life sentence because the collateral punishment never ends.

it is frightening to think that there are some people that think that they belong in prison and that they function better in here. what is worse and more frightening is that some don’t even want to break the cycle. as solutions are sought to fix this problem i hope that some one looks into the area of mental health. because there are more mental health patients here than criminals!!

Related Post: My First Night in Lorton

for what it is worth i consider myself to be one of the fortunate guys here in prison as i have family that supports me and comes to visit me, at least once a month for 2 days. there is something that i want to say about these visits and what i find to be interesting. the thing that sticks out the most is the number of women that come to visit these men. it is sad to see the elderly women that come to visit their sons and other male family members. it is also sad to see the mothers of these guys children lug these kids into these institutions as they try to keep a dysfunctional family together. it is heartbreaking to see, at the end of these visits the children, cry and cling to their dads and brothers. it is a unique experience to see these guys that are supposed to be harden criminals try and relate to these children and get frustrated when they can’t relate to them.

today there was this guy that was trying to relate and talk to his daughter and she refused to communicate with him and she ran off to the bathroom with tears in her eyes. as she is running off crying the father yells out for her to come back and as she ignores him he says.” why are you mad at me? i didn’t do anything!” wow!! is what i thought. did he really say that. that he didn’t do anything as if him being in prison and not part of her life wasn’t enough! i have had many moments where i have gone through things and say to myself that this is can never happen again, incarceration. but at that moment that was the saddest moment of my incarceration. i think that it was because i can see the long term effects of that moment.

when i am sitting in that visiting hall all i see is the broken families and worn down women that come week after week. they endure tremendous pain to get in here, as they have to be able to clear security and that is a degrading feeling to have to endure yet they endure just to see that son, husband or brother not knowing if this will be the last time seeing that person. what i don’t see is the homeboys and the street partners that these guys are always bragging and boasting about. i get so tired of the ‘my man this and that’ i never hear guys talk about their kids and how proud they are of them for what ever achievements that they may have accomplished recently. to see that guys place more love and concern for a table in the mess hall, or a chair, and the other things that i have seen guys get hurt over is a shame. as they reps these blocks and gangs while their children suffer is a shame. to see the next generation of dope dealers and crooks and future inmates is a sad thing to see. but that is the reality of it.

Michelle Alexander talks about racial disparity and things alone that nature but the sad truth is that there is not a system that can put more black people in prison and harms why than the family system, because this is where it starts. if the family system is broken the rest is bound to go down hill. as i know for a fact that what ever crime and delinquency that people learn, they learned from someone that was close to them, it was somebody that looked like them. this person looked them in the face and told them that whatever it was that they were about to do was alright. that is the sad truth! rarely do i hear them telling their kids that this is not cool and to not be like them. they make it alright to be here. all that does is removes the fear of incarceration and when there is no fear there is no limits to the acts which they may commit. and the end result is right here!

how do we deal with the current black leaders in the African American communities? and do they share in the culpability of the design of the criminal justice?

that is a question that comes up often in the groups that i sit in at times. i am of the mind that there are a lot of leaders that have exploited the black communities and have gotten rich of this exploitation. they have done nothing but incite more anger,hatred,animosity and separation in the black neighborhoods than they care to admit. so if this is the case than blacks don’t stand a chance when it comes to change and progression in this society. Michelle Alexander touched on this a little in her book.

it is know that we suffer from issues that extend from drug abuse to identity issues. we have yet to identity ourselves as a people. i remember fondly, in my younger years, hearing the term “african booty scratcher” or having the idea being planted that african people were savage. this lead to the feeling that i didn’t belong to that part of the world, as black as i am huh! well the connotation was that we, of all people didn’t want to be from there nor associated with that land. we wanted to be native american. we were thought to love all but hate each other. nappy headed, big lip black ass nigga!! we tore each other down and that still exist today. i met a black girl who told me that she don’t call herself african american because she doesn’t even know if that is where she comes from. how is that? the same thing that i heard 30 years ago is still being debated today, who are you and where are you from. so if you don’t know where you are from, and accept that, where the hell are you going. does acknowledging this and loving this means that you have to hate others? no not at all. it means that you can love others and appreciate them more as you know what it means to love the human race. but you can’t do that if you love everyone else yet hate your own. as you make up a part of the human race, the only race!

back to what i was saying. some of these leaders have profited off of teaching us to hate other. where is the talk of self love? how is it i understand more about the so called ‘enemy’ and his plot than i do about my myself. where is this education at? this is where i hold those leaders responsible. all of the stuff that they preach in the churches and some of these mosques are geared to further oppress blacks and not uplift and liberate them. it is no secret that most black families are tied into some sort of religion so the most fitting place to begin this conversation is in these places. the same way that these mass revivals are staged and conventions etc are set up there should be conventions that address the plight of blacks in these urban communities. when are we going back into them to clean up the mess that many of us left behind. when are we going to go in there and uplift the people and show others how to better there quality of life? see those that have the major power an money to do so refuse to do so. that is that double consciousness that w.e.b Dubois speaks about. it is cool to talk about the issue and all the blacks that are locked up but no not cool to act out. why is that? could it be that we are so far gone that we don’t even trust ourselves? hum! now that is something to think about. we have been told for so long that we are not to be trusted that now this is the way that we think about each other.