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Friday, March 13, 2015

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

I end Sassy Peach Goes to Prison week with one of the most important books of our generation, Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This is a book that you must read if you want to even begin to understand our American incarceration system. 

While many cry out that we have reached an age of colorblindness, our incarceration rate and racial makeup tell a different story. We have moved from a low population of dangerous criminals locked up behind bars in the mid-twentieth century to seeing one in 14 black men behind bars and an even higher number dealing with the penal system through probation and parole, outstripping the rates of incarceration of any other demographic in America. The War on Drugs is primarily the cause, and in this searing critique of our current state of incarceration, lawyer Michelle Alexander explains how we got to where we are today and the political undercurrents (and explicit actions) that have created the New Jim Crow that we have today in this country. 

This book is powerful, upsetting, and an absolute must-read for every American who lives and breathes. If you have questions about incarceration, why the numbers of inmates have ballooned of the past 30 years, where all of our good black men have gone, why we live in such a police state, or how we could even possibly treat people unequally based on circumstances, this book will answer your questions. It will also, however, make you angry beyond belief. There were some things that I already knew, but they were way more than I didn't. Things such as the role of our government in the planning to and execution of the enslave men and women of color is something that I not only did not want to believe, but has put fire in my soul so strong I don't see how you could not want to find ways to fight the system after reading this book.

The statistics are pretty clear. We've gone from a country that jailed minority of the population in order to keep dangerous criminals off the street to one that continuously rounds up specific groups of people in order to keep them off the streets. What astounds me about this is that we are spending money as a nation to continue to build prisons and operate them, while those who can least afford it often sitting in jail awaiting trial. I read just yesterday that 60% of people sitting our nation's jails are currently awaiting trial. Does that not make you angry? People who are not considered a danger to society, but instead are products of the war on drugs that we can all attest to being less than successful, or sitting in jail simply because they can't afford to get help. That only cannot afford to get out, they are then stuck in jail and unable to even attempt to work to be able to pay that. It is no different than indentured servitude. Addition to the one out of every 14 black men in prison, there are 10 times more who are currently on probation or parole, leading to an incredibly large amount of people who can't get jobs, housing, food stamps even for their children. People can't take care of their families, and in turn this leads to greater amounts of depression and more desperate searches for ways to feed mouths. It's a recipe for disaster -- possibly even a return to incarceration.

I recently had a discussion with a friend who made a comment that everybody in jail deserves to be there because they are a danger to society. I explained to her that the majority of people in prison are actually there for nonviolent drug offenses, some even for simply having a joint or two in their possession. Her husband, with whom I don't agree on much politically, even backed me up – having to explain that most of the people in prison are nonviolent offenders would probably never even come close to meeting her, little alone hurting her. She was genuinely shocked. I explained that she had been brainwashed by the exact forces that were aiming to do just that. When you sit back and realize how easily we are hoodwinked as human beings, believing what is fed to us about dangers to society, you will become angry. I hope that you take the time to read Alexander's astounding peace, putting in the time that it most certainly deserves. I hope you take away a desire to care for humanity in the same way you care for anything else in this world. You can't say that you care about social justice and not care deeply about what's happening in our justice system. It's embarrassing and it's worrisome, regardless of whatever side of the aisle you stand on. We continuously forget that we're humans dealing with humans, and I'm a firm believer or that if we all just realized that we were dealing with humanity, we could all potentially learn to be a little bit more sympathetic toward our fellow man. I hope that when you take the time to read this book that you read it with a willingness to figure out ways that you can make a difference.

I highly doubt that Ms. Alexander will ever have time to read this blog, as she's clearly a very busy woman, but if it ever so happens that you run across this blog, Ms. Alexander, please know that I am deeply grateful for your work, and that it will sit on my shelf in perpetuity and constantly come down as I reread it and give it the opportunity to relight my fire and passion for fighting for social justice for all humans.

For purchase below.

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