Posts Tagged ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’

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.

One of the biggest challenges that we face on the inside is establishing a relationship between us and the powers that be. I think that there is a lot of reluctance when it comes to that. I have seen a shift in the prison system in the last 20 years. I have seen it shift from being more rehabilitative to punitive to now back to rehabilitative, and that is only because of financial strains. What I find to be the most effective is when there is a collaboration of outside supporters and the prisoners. It creates a sense of value and worth amongst the men. I will relate to you my inside-out experience so that you will have a better idea as to what i mean by that.
As a participant of a program called Inside-Out, where 15 inmates spent a semester together and discussed the Criminal Justice System, I can say that lives where transformed.  What was ironic and hard to believe was that the 15 men that were involved came from all types of backgrounds, as well as the students. This place is located in rural northeast PA. and many of these students had never had any direct interaction with African Americans and Hispanics and they couldn’t really relate to the White guys in the class because of class differences. So it was a unique bunch. No one had faith that the inmates would really excel and as a result they set the bar low for us. Well I can say that not only did the inmates exceed those expectation they created a culture that opened the door for other programs to develop. This was the first time ever that this program was done in a Federal Institution so it was a trial run.
The way that the classes were set up it allowed other staff members and guards to see the guys in a different light, as intelligent and enlightened human beings. We shattered many myths that are associated with being an inmate. Everyone of us, with the exception of 2 guys, finished ahead of the outside students and that was not what was expected.
We, the inmates, gathered twice a week and discussed issues such as race, religion and politics and were able to come up with rational ideas and solutions to some of the problems that surround these issues. Now this may seem like something that students do on a normal basis. This is not something that you find in prison. This was a very diverse group of inmates. There were Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Atheists, and even guys that have some very strong racial views. Yet education was able to bring them together. Now this is the tripped out part. We used the book by Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” as the course book.
It was interesting to see that all the guys were more concerned about education and trying to really take all that they could from that experience. In that class there were guys that had sentences that ranged from natural life to a year, one guy has 213 years. It was the idea of being educated that allowed them/us to escape the reality of being incarcerated, it allowed us to actually feel that we were part of the greater society. I believe that education is the equalizer and that if many of the guys, with that knowledge and understanding, could do it over again that is the area that they would focus more on.
As we discuss ways to fill in the gaps to see this goal and vision through, I would say that there has to be a way to make the outcome which we desire visible to others.  Incarceration is one of those ” I believe it when I see it” deals.  Because the society has been made to feel threatened and afraid of those that have fallen to the penal system, the only way to combat that is to change that view. One of the hardest things to do, as most think, is complete a college education. This is something that most people are intimated by, yet something that most inmates want. I hate to use these terms but you have to involve those that have been here and have made it so that they can become more involved and active in addressing these needs.
In regards to networking and infrastructure i suggest that something is established that will allow inmates to obtain a higher education upon release if they are committed to change and advocating the need for better communications and resources. This is one way that outside organizations, philanthropist, and policy makers can get involved. Sure there are going to be risks, which is why this would have to be a well thought out process and something would have to be in place to accept these participants. I am sure that there are a number of methods that can be used to determine who fits the criteria.
One of the sad things about this idea is that some universities don’t allow ex felons to attend their schools.  So this can be a thing that dampers and hinders ex felons from furthering their education and actually feeling as if they are part of “the system.” If I have been made to feel as an outcast for the most of my life and come to a point where I want an education but I am told no because I am an ex felon what do you think will happen to this person’s self esteem?  They no longer will feel as if they are part of “the system” and society aside from a penal number.
These are some of the challenges that one face from this side, myself included. This is a big concern of mine. How am I going to be able to get a college education so that I can further my career and life without the stuff that comes with being an ex felon as I do so.  How can this be addressed?  So there has to be something in place that will allow for those who have proven themselves dedicated to the cause, for a lack of better words.
I think that a discussion on this topic is a good and a big step in the right direction.   The discussion must involve people (felons, and I hate that word, so I will say incarcerated people) who can articulate and share the vision  as it concerns them and the greater society.
This is something that I have dedicated and committed myself to and I want to be the best example possible to show that with a little faith and trust the very things that you envision can come to pass.