It was just a routine morning as my son stopped by for a few minutes of conversation. The meeting was cut short as I was headed out the door to see my barber. The same barber I have had for over forty years. The barber, now ready for retirement and just waiting on that very special moment most of us in his generation experience when the light comes on and you throw in the towel. I remember the times I use to take “my three sons” to have their regular haircuts and did not have enough money to get my own haircut. On this date, my son informed me he had a pending court date the next day. I briefly shared with him several books I had read as it related to the problems he was currently experiencing, now off probation, but still dealing with court fines, court continuances, unemployment and the general hopelessness and hardships associated with one bad mistake made early in life. A mistake (having a little marijuana) that lead to the word, “felon,” now made forever a part of his name. The next day I learned that once in court he was arrested and sent to the county jail on some alleged outstanding charge, ticket or maybe a court oversight. My son just like your son, or your daughter or maybe your mother or father (if you are black or brown in America) has now become one of the many New American Slaves.
Three authors deal with this New American Slave (my wording) in their book which I highly recommend. I had the pleasure of meeting all three authors within the past month…Victor Woods’ A Breed Apart: Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: and Christi M Griffin’s Incarcerations in Black & White. Alexander’s book is also a New York Times Bestseller. All three authors deal in great depth with what is referred to as the “prison industrial complex” much like the military industrial complex that exists to a lesser degree today. (Read this blogger’s previous post entitle Crime Does Pay).
Like many Afro-Americans, being born black presents a myriad of problems in white America and Victor Woods was no exception. Born with a so called “silver spoon” in his mouth, Woods lived in a Chicago suburb and had to face discrimination for being the only unwanted black in a white community. The sub-title to his book, A Journey to Redemption, gives a detail account of what rich and poor black Americans experiences on a daily basis. He gives his readers up close and personal visits to the Cook County Jail, Oxford Federal Prison (Wisconsin) and the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Woods epitomize many a Christian who states that “if God saved me He can save anybody,” as he personally tells his audience that his testimony comes from spending years in the “belly of the beast.” The de-humanizing effect of discrimination, segregation, and incarceration, and the futile results of being sane in an insane world is just a small view of what Woods share with you once you accept the challenge of following him through his life of crime and redemption. The “game” and the “gumps” and the “ganisters” are introduced to you in a painful but personal manner.
Michelle Alexander represent many of us who fail to see the invisible “under-caste” until one day the light comes on in the dark recesses of our mind. We remember Nancy Reagan famous saying, “Just Say No” and how the “War on Drugs” was announced, implemented and executed with black and brown Americans not paying any attention to the storm clouds that hovered over us by day and the pillar of fire that consumed our people and communities by night. Afro-Americans loved former President Bill Clinton. Conservation Americans loved former President Ronald Reagan. But Alexander pulls the political covers off in glowing details and show how “three strikes and your out,” and “changing welfare as we know it”, had a negative effect on black and brown Americans. She further highlights how the Democrats and the Republicans tried to out do the other on “being tough on crime,” as “mandatory sentencing,” HUD regulations and other policies designed by our political leaders lead to Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which happens to be the sub-title of her book. Not holding anything back, Alexander also shows how our beloved first black president, President Barack Obama, has himself push through policies that aid in increasing mass incarceration by funding a program that is not in the best interest of this new invisible under-caste, shackled forever by being labeled a felon, mostly for non-violent offenses. Former presidents, the Congress and even the Supreme Court and their decisions are examined as it relates to mass incarcerations.
Yes, it is the “New American Slave”, but in actuality it is not “new” at all as Christi M Griffin documents. It is a well known fact that the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, but Griffin and others point to the “comma” and what comes after the comma. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Griffin, Alexander and Woods gives mind bogging data that basically summarizes that more “slaves” (in prisons, on parole or probation) exist today in 2013 that actually existed back in 1865, slaves that are black and brown. Slaves warehoused both in and outside of prison walls, unable to find employment, education, public housing, provide for their families, and unable to vote in many states once they check the box marked “felon.” More shocking is the increase in women and juveniles now being a part of this mass incarceration. Like Dred Scott, “they have no rights.”
The three authors’ books would have been burned and the authors themselves banished if they had been in any other country other than America. Yet the clarion call is being made. A 50 Billion Dollar year industry is moving full speed ahead lubricated by the loss of liberty, lives and love ones who are mainly black and brown. Former Washington D.C Mayor, Marion Barry went to jail for Crack. The current Republican Congressman from Florida, Trey Radel, is going to “rehab” treatment for cocaine. One was label a felon, the other label as one of the “fellas,” down but not out, yet free. Need I say more?