If I had a penny for every time that! heard "Lincoln freed the Black slaves," or "the civil war abolished slavery," I would be a millionaire. The fact of the matter is that slavery was never abolished and thus still exists via the same amendment that supposedly abolished it: The 13th Amendment. If you read the 13th Amendment it clearly states that slavery is abolished "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." George Orwell would call that "Double-speak."
The 13th Amendment should be void of allowing slavery to exist under any circumstances because it's immoral and denies its citizens equality in their "pursuit of happiness." The very institution of slavery has always been the same in this country, both antebellum and post Civil War, except today it's more contemporary and hidden within the "criminal justice system." We must recognize that the "criminal justice system" begins with the environmental circumstances in a particular community, not when the police are called. Justice cannot exist within such a system unless the social structure is equal. Unfortunately, every social apparatus that is conducive to positive growth and development are prevalent only in the White community. Such exclusivity is a serious crime because it results in the mass imprisonment of Blacks via inferior education; inferior economical and political advantages; inferior living conditions; and hopelessness. The psyche of America has systematically developed into a belief that Black people are doomed to be imprisoned at some point in their lives as a matter of course. The answer to the source of this belief is also the root of the problem.
Having said all of that, I must assert that I do believe in individual responsibility, which I define as a person being held responsible for the decisions that he/she makes. I also believe that society has a responsibility to ensure that an equal social structure exists that provides equal opportunities for positive growth. Just like society cannot deny a man an education and then blame him for being ignorant, it likewise cannot avoid responsibility for the mass reenslavement of Black people (via the prison system) after allowing an unequal social structure to exist.
I am cognizant of the fact that Blacks aren't the only people who are locked up. However, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. We tend to act like we don't hear that wheel squeaking loudly. And that’s all it is: an act. We do this because to acknowledge said noise is to compel one to choose to either do something to ameliorate it, or do nothing. Unfortunately, most of us are afraid to even speak on it for fear of making others feel uncomfortable. In contrast, however, we have no problem discussing atrocities that are occurring on other countries. Personally, I never cared about making people feel uncomfortable when it came to issues like this. This situation has always been a dire one. Thus the best way to get my point across is to just put the facts on the glass. I believe that sugar coating the situation will only attract a sugar-coated reaction. It is what it is and should be addressed as such.
It is with the foregoing that I was introduced to a prison program called Restorative Justice in 2008. I was presumptuous in believing that said program was an opportunity for me to further my endeavor to restoring and implementing justice to society's three categories: 1) pre-prison; (2) prison; and (3) post prison.
The Restorative Justice program lasts for several weeks and is run by various non-prison and non-security prison staff. Various guests come inside the prison and speak about the criminal justice process; the impact of crimes on victims and the prisoners' kids; and some spiritual engagement. Besides the meditation session, one thing that I was never exposed to until said program was the 3-day session with Tim (whose home had been burglarized while he was in it), Tanya (who was robbed and pistol whipped at a drive-through ATM), and Pat (whose son was murdered). They shared with us how they were victimized and how they are surviving their experiences.
Throughout the program, I unsuccessfully convinced everyone to consider focusing on the root causes of crime in order to come up with solutions to them. As stated above, my approach was from a factual standpoint in order to avoid indoctrinating my opinions. For example:
Blacks and Hispanics are minorities in America, yet the imprisonment statistics
show the following:
1 in 15 Black adults are in prison;
1 in 9 Black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are in prison;
1 in 3 Black people will suffer imprisonment at some point in their lives
1 in 16 Hispanics are in prison
Considering that both state and federal investigations have acknowledged racial disparities in the criminal justice system and made recommendations on solving said disparities, why hasn't any action been taken to implement said recommendations?
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Blacks are a minority, representing 25% of its overall population. How is it then that Blacks represent the majority of its county jail population with a whopping 75 percent?
Why doesn't consideration as a mitigating circumstance for parole/ probation revocation include whether the violator lives in a neighborhood infested with prolific alcohol and illegal drug activity since the majority of said revocations involve alcohol and drug abuse?
Since unemployment is a contributing factor that leads to imprisonment, why hasn't anything been done to eliminate the 51% rate of unemployed Black males in Milwaukee? Furthermore, why is it that in Milwaukee Blacks are 3 times more likely to be unemployed than Whites?
I made sure that every time I spoke that I asked what I deem tough questions. Unfortunately, said questions didn't lead to broader discussions, but instead were curtly responded to without any dialog. I learned quickly that Restorative Justice was the wrong forum for raising these issues. I felt like I was trying to push an 18-wheeler up an icy hill. I was also unsuccessful in convincing the Restorative Justice staff to discuss how social justice can't exist unless there's equal justice in the pre-prison community, the prison community, and the post-prison community. My reasoning for this was because the ripple effect of injustice in any one of those communities will affect all of them.
At the Restorative Justice graduation ceremony, which was video-taped, there were approximately 40 guests from the pre-prison community. Among them was our guest speaker (the only Black person among them) named Jerome Dillard. All of the graduates were allowed to say "a few words" upon receiving our certificate. I was called first. I read from an uncensored statement that I had completed just minutes before I was called. I said:

“I'm going to tell you a story and then make my comments.

One day a holy man asked the Lord to show him what heaven and hell are like. The Lord led him to 2 rooms. In the middle of the first room was a large round table that had a large pot of stew in the middle of it. The people sitting at this table were all thin, starving, malnourished and just miserable. Strapped to their arms were spoons with very long handles that allowed them to reach and get a spoonful of the stew out of the pot. But because the spoon handles were longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths. The Lord told the holy man, "My son, you have seen hell."
They then went to the next room, which had the same setup as the first room, with the table, stew, long-handled spoons, etc. Except in this room, the people were plump, laughing and happy. The holy man said, "I don't understand." The Lord told him, "It's quite simple and requires but one skill. You see, they have learned to feed each other, while the greedy think only of themselves."
[Applause !!!]
I'm from the inner city where prevalent crime is seen as normal; where you'll find more than one Pat, Tim and Tanya on every block.
I believe that every crime that occurs in the inner city victimizes not just everyone in that community, but everyone in this country.
Since 'unequal justice' is an oxymoron, I challenge America to step up to the plate and solve this social injustice by any means necessary.
As part of the American community, I believe that prisoners must be allowed to participate in this problem-solving process. Despite my prisoner status, I will continue to fearlessly network with anyone who is motivated to restoring justice on 3 levels: community; prison; and those released from prison.
Imprisonment is definitely not the answer due to the manifest racial injustice where Blacks represent the majority of the prison population, yet a minority of this country's overall population.
Instead, I believe the answer lies in restoring justice to the abandoned concept of crime prevention based on fundamental principles including love, respect, and equality, as well as community and individual accountability.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." As such, I believe that once we believe that justice can only be served by us feeding each other with the spoons of justice, can we then be nourished with the nutrients of equality.
My name is Rufus West, and I approve this message.
I was surprised when they applauded what I had said. Even more surprising was after we received our certificates, the guests that I had met were interested in knowing what I felt they could do to handle everything that I was trying to shed light on throughout said Restorative Justice program. Their alacrity to get involved in this righteous endeavor was refreshing! I immediately noticed that I was always in the middle of a circle of guests fielding relevant questions. I also noticed that I was closely being watched from a respectable distance by the prison staff. Virtually every guest that I spoke with encouraged me to get my message out on the street. Said encouragement added fuel to my galvanized spirit and passion for social justice.
That night I decided to do a dissertation that starts on paper and ends with said videotape. I would call it "Unequal Justice Is an Oxymoron," which is a quote from my graduation speech. I planned to proliferate it among every department, school, organization, politician, community center, internet, etc. Said guests taught me that if I limit my proliferation to the Black community, then I will likely be excluding people who may be of intrinsic value to the struggle for social justice. Similarly, said limitation would also fall victim to the illusion that this is a Black problem and not an American problem. As an American problem, the responsibility falls on every citizen. When America goes to war against another country, it sends every race in order to win its wars; not just a certain race. When America taxes its citizens, it taxes every race. As such, there's no reason to employ isolationism when it comes to social justice.
This dissertation will not contain said graduation videotape because (according to prison staff) said graduation was mistakenly taped without any audio, which is why my graduation speech is written above. Nevertheless, I am pertinacious in my optimism. As a vanguard of justice, I expect such an ambitious endeavor to be a struggle. We are all designed to struggle from conception to resurrection. I choose to struggle against unequal justice. Will you?
Completed on the 15th day of March, 2009.
Mansa Lutalo lyapo aka Mr. Rufus West P. 0. Box 900 (CCI), Portage, Wl 53901

No comments: