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The Legendary Backyard: The Word

A Design For Doin’ Dirt: The Prison Effect On Blacks

A Design For Doin’ Dirt: The Prison Effect On Blacks

By Ron Mc The Hip Hoptimist


I had the pleasure of hearing and talking to the Revolutionary and educator Dr. Angela Davis. Her speech had a variety of powerful points about the consequences of imprisonment on Blacks in this country. There are several things that came to my mind as I took notes. 


If you are a black child in America, it seems that you are at-risk from the time you are born. Sanford Tollette, activist and youth advocate from Little Rock, explained to me (after a forum we both participated in) that his definition of at-risk is for children who are most prone to become addicts, criminals, teen parents, etc. At-risk is not a label for those who have already suffered those outcomes. Well these at-risk children become victims of the prison industrial complex.


What seems to happen in Black communities all over this nation is that the criminal justice system doesn’t stop the criminal behavior. Poverty, fatherlessness, unemployment, and other adverse conditions become factors for being at-risk. Then that child grows within an environment that sees the underground economy as a real and accessible option. The criminal mentality is given a breeding ground and even the ones that decide not to become part of that lifestyle can become victims of it. So instead of making lives safer, the prisons make living worse.


This is racism. It is not advertised. It is not announced. It is institutionalized through the courts, justice systems, law enforcement, and social policies. As Dr. Michelle Alexander said and explained with her book, it’s the "New Jim Crow." When Blacks are policed more, arrested more, charged more, prosecuted more, and sentenced more, you can see how racism expresses itself at every level. It is more severe for Blacks at every stage in the system.


So once in the prisons, there are guidelines that continue to lock a person in and exploit the situation. An inmate told the student body at the school I work at that he has been paid 50c per month / $6 per year for his whole 19 year stint. Companies benefit from this new slavery. Every time there is a collect or long distance call a phone company is profiting. There are certain prison approve item that are made by companies for the purpose of monopolizing on a captive population.


The prison industrial complex in America has always worked to penalize Black and poor communities. Angela Davis had some great revelations about this topic that got me thinking about the legacy of injustice. Isn’t it peculiar how during slavery, slaves were property and not human but were treated by the legal structure as fully capable of being charged and convicted of crimes. So we have lived with this very real reality that whites often perceive as a fallacy or myth. But this absurd relationship with the legal system is a big part of the paradox of black life. the world we exist in is contradictory and unimaginable by outsiders.


It may seem just as ridiculous to some. But if a system (like slavery and Jim Crow) or a law (like prohibition) is overturned without a way to help a people readjust, the suffering the system or law caused will continue. Removing drug laws and legalizing narcotics won't stop the need for finances or addiction.


Dr. Angela Davis lived with these type of revelations about the prison system literally. But those in the Black community who never spent time behind bars can understand the effect incarceration on our families. Someone in a Harry Belafonte documentary I saw asked the question, "what is my assignment?" I think we have to look at what we know and work to change it.