essay by Ed Steichen, Waunakee resident, life time activist and member of MUM and MEP

How many frogs did you see on the road or the sidewalk as you came to this meeting? Do you ever make it a point to count frogs when you travel from place to place? You don't?? Why Not? Because it isn't necessary, not even useful, for your survival to count frogs that cross your path.
How many times today were you conscious of the color of your skin? If you're white, it is about as important for your survival as it is to count frogs. If you're not white, it is as useful as it is to watch for cars when you cross the street.
Those of us who are white live in a white world. Those who are not white, live in a different world. In the following I speak of the black world because roots of the prison system are traceable to black slavery and because I am more familiar with it. Many of the observations apply in good measure to other racial and minority groups.
My point is this. The white world has built institutions, even terrorist institutions, that create chronic anger, fear and failure in non-white populations - based on the color of their skin. Life lived in an environment of constant hostility and harassment is destructive. At the same time, life lived in an environment of power over others is also destructive.
The World of White Entitlement
The White world is the presence of history. History is not just the past. It is also the present. Our Constitution was written by white Anglo Saxon property owning males. (I have read that they represented about 4% of the population.) The Constitution took great care to protect the property of those white Anglo-Saxon males. That property included black slaves. Black slaves were a major asset in the American economy – like computers are today. To this day the courts prefer property over people, white over black, rich over poor.
Cheap government land was distributed to whites. Blacks were excluded. Today “rural America" is white. White rural legislators have herded black prisoners into white rural areas to benefit the white economy. Many of the expenses of this rural prison system are put on the backs of the families of black prisoners.
Social security and workman's comp were passed for white people. Southern legislators ensured that blacks were excluded. Aid to widowed mothers was initially passed for white widows. General welfare - which carried a heavy load of shame - was for blacks. Low cost housing loans and the G.I. bill covering costs of college were provided for whites. Blacks were excluded. These laws built the white suburbs with access to the better schools and jobs. These entitlement programs for whites represent tens of trillions of dollars.
Several generations of these government entitlements built white family wealth and white community wealth, produced an educated white population, and white business, social and cultural institutions, systems that served whites, ­not blacks - health care systems, legal assistance, and political representation. Blacks were excluded.
Segregation was almost as effective as slavery for exploiting the wealth produced by black communities. Segregation created a terrorist society that very efficiently prevented education and political empowerment of blacks.
The thirteenth amendment was passed to abolish slavery, except as a punishment for crime. It abolished slavery in the private sector, but established it in the public sector. It became the tool for re-establishing slavery in the south. Emancipated black men were herded into plantation prisons. A lot of “prison culture” in this country came right out of those slave prisons.
In spite of vociferous white denial, the white world was built by white men for white men by extremely effective government programs. Government programs work - for the purposes of those who have the power to impose them.
The black world of Wisconsin.
Roughly 10% of the American population is black. Fifty percent of the prison population is black.Five percent of the Wisconsin population is black. 50% of the prison population is black. 65% of the supermax prison population has been black. Drug use is slightly higher among the white population. So is drug dealing.
In 1985 Wisconsin had less than 6000 prisoners. Today Wisconsin has nearly 22,000 prisoners. The crime rate has changed very little. This growth rate has been one of the highest in the nation. The rate of incarcerating blacks has been the highest in the nation. The rate for imprisoning whites has been below the national average. The rate of incarcerating blacks in this country is much higher than the rate of total incarcerations in all other countries. This country has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners.
Wisconsin's supermax prison has been called one of the worst in the nation for psychological torture. Two of the past four Secretaries of the DOC have condemned the supermax for incarcerating far too many prisoners in these extreme conditions. The court appointed monitor of the supermax has reported that the DOC has no research to support its programs, no established guidelines, no clear expected outcomes and no means of evaluating its activities regarding supermax prisoners. It is basically a center of extreme mental torture applied by arbitrary decisions by staff with little competence for no institutionally agreed on purpose. This is the essence of terrorism. Terrorism is the worst type of psychological torture. It is irrational, arbitrarily applied pain approved by authority. The supermax inmate population has been 65% black.
Re-entry of inmates into the civilian population is extremely difficult. Consider this: a white male felon has a greater chance of getting a job than an equally qualified black male non-felon. Roughly one third of young black men are under the supervision of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Wisconsin is not one of the high crime states in the nation. There is no relationship between the rate of incarceration and the crime rate. The causes are political. That is the meaning of Jim Crow.
Wisconsin has had the second highest rate of black child poverty in the nation. Wisconsin has the worst record in the nation for graduating black youth from high school. Don't blame it all on poverty. Young blacks from middle class black families, from well educated black families, from adoptive families with well educated white parents have many similar race related problems in school.
There is a serious gap in achievement between white and black children who remain in school until graduation. There is a serious gap in access to valuable extra curricular courses - band, debate, plays, etc. (Football and basketball are, of course, exceptions.) White middle class PTA's are resistant to significant participation by black parents. Schools are internally segregated. Zero tolerance policies are applied more heavily to black children than to white children. We adults don't like to be forced into strange and hostile situations. Yet we expect it of small black children.
A black woman teen counselor told me that she always begins by legitimizing the suppressed anger of young black boys. Randall Robinson, one of the great blacks in the civil rights struggle, recently wrote a book named "Quit America". He has moved to the small black country of his wife where he is just another normal citizen. Imagine the impact on his life.
One last thought. There are prisons - hardly any in this country - where prisoners and staff are treated with respect, treated as human beings. The differences in inmate behavior and outcome are impressive, even for those pariahs - the sexual predators. The way America treats prisoners is cultural, not rational, not healthy, not necessary. It does not protect public safety. It reflects the values of this society. And it comes out of slavery.
There have been a number of article lately about the following phenomenom- who gets to count the prisoners- the place where their homes is, or the prison town? It makes a big difference in tax money but especially in government representatives and the present practice diesenfranchises millions.

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