Our America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We lock away more people than anyone else and most of those men are African-American. Although black men only make up 6% of Americans, they make up a third of the prison population. You can’t look at these statistics and not question how we got there as a nation. Arguments can be made for racial profiling, discrimination and social class ceilings. However, the reality is that we have a problem. Our young children are trapped in horrific cycle of poverty and prison. From dreams of being a biochemist to gangbanging, how does this happen to our young men? No child is born bad. I don’t care how much people try to convince me. We all are born “tabula rasa” – the blank slate theory. If a child grows up to be a banger, then somewhere along the way they got lost. Then people tend to get lost in the blame as they work to distance themselves from another’s failure. It was his fault…his parent’s fault…the school’s fault, but in reality we all are to blame. We ALL need to start caring and changing our great nation.
“One in twelve African American men have all been incarcerated and for African American boys born in the last decade that number is expected to rise to one in three.” – Lisa Ling
Lisa took us behind bars to meet a young 26 year-old prisoner, Nick, who was preparing for release in a few days. A father of four, he has been in jail most of his children’s lives. He has over 10 incarcerations. And he is only 26. How is that even possible? It is like he left and did a U-turn before he even hit the parking lot. As he struggled to find the reason this time will be different, Lisa helped us to better understand his path that led him there. The son of an absent drug-abusing father and a mom who had to work long hours to keep a roof over their heads, Nick was left to wander the streets. Everywhere he turned drugs were being sold. When that is all a child sees, that is all a child knows – tabula rasa, people. By age 9 he joined a gang and dropped out of school by 14 years-old. So when he went to jail for the first time, he had been on the streets for years without hope…doing what he knew.
Now he was on the verge of release and his focus was on trying to get a job. The only problem is he doesn’t have any job skills. I am not saying he can’t find a job, but when we release a man we want him to succeed. It is in our best interest. Yet, we don’t provide short-termers with any opportunities to learn a skill. Imagine hitting the street with nothing and being told to find something….it makes it far too easy to fall back at what you know – what got you to prison in the first place. When Lisa asked him about whether he was optimistic about his chances out of jail, Nick was honest and said no. He knew there would be times when he would need money and have nowhere to turn. Those times are dangerous…making it easy to find yourself taking the wrong path.
Turning our attention to Carlis, Nick’s girlfriend and mother of two of his children, Lisa explored the obstacles she had in providing for her children. Many people forget those who are left behind when someone is imprisoned. Single moms struggle to make ends meet but many find themselves falling into poverty. Carlis worked 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, and was dedicated to making a better life for her children. With one child with asthma, she desired for Nick to come home and help her…the legal way. This wasn’t a new way of life for Carlis. Her father and brothers were also in prison. When asked why she believes so many African-Americans are in prison, she replied, “I don’t think that they just intentionally become, you know, drug dealers or gangbangers. You know, it starts in the home for one”. Her father had eight kids to feed and a regular job wasn’t enough. Then, her brothers thought…well, daddy did it. The cycle is like a wave. It comes around and swoops up the next generation as they stand there and watch – a continuous cycle of hopelessness. She knew that Nick’s influence would make a huge difference. If he doesn’t do what is right, she knew she’d have to make it alone.
Thirty-six year old, Royal, was introduced to the show a month after his released from almost a decade in prison. He spent his days at the public library filling out applications. Averaging around 3 a day, he has yet to hear from anyone. “People don’t want to see your face no more. We just want to see what you look like on paper and a guy like me don’t look good on paper.” A convicted armed robber, no work history for 13 years, a felon – he completely understood why people weren’t willing to give him a chance. The problem with that is that if we don’t give people a chance, they have no choices. Survival kicks in and people will do what they have to do to survive. If no one will hire him, what is he supposed to do? I know he is to blame for his crime, but told him his time was served. How can we expect him to change if he doesn’t have a chance? It is a difficult situation. His crimes were violent and so was life on the inside. Unemployment is already a struggle for people who obey the laws and work hard to be good people. There are no easy solutions. [read more…]
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