I am a 52 year old African-American man who has been incarcerated for going on three (3) decades. I recently read Professor Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow”: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. By no means is this paper intended to be a synopsis nor a critique of Professor Alexander’s splendidly written book. I would be remiss not to commend her for a job well done. She said a lot of the same things that myself and a lot of brothers have conversed about throughout the years as we wandered around the prison yards or partook in group discussions in regards to our plights of being black men in America’s criminal justice system. I’m glad that she afforded and provided me with the necessary research information to substantiate her claims.
As can be told by my age, I was born and raised during a very vital timeframe of the civil rights era. In fact, I can remember when I was around 8 years old, a time when I asked my mother why was she crying and she told me because some man by the name of Dr. King had just been killed. Me, being a naïve 8 years old, I just cried along with my mother, unaware of the impact of what had just happened. Unbeknownst to me, at the time, that was my introduction to this fellow named “Jim Crow” who would have an impact on my life in approximately three (3) years later at the age of eleven (11) years old when myself and a white friend the same age decided to get involved in some criminal activity. Even though we were both found guilty of the same offenses, I was the only one who was committed to a juvenile facility.
I’m in total agreement with Professor Alexander in regards to mass incarceration of people of color is the new Jim Crow caste system because even though we’re given choice of whether or not we break the law our options of getting out of a lower class lifestyle are limited to accepting the crumbs that are offered or going out and trying to eat as a man should be able to eat and provide for his family.
It is not only by choice that people of color make up the majority of America’s prison population. It’s by design, because the laws and rules are made to directly target African-Americans and other people of color and to punish us far more severely than white people whom are convicted of the same offenses. The U.S. criminal “JUST US” system is nothing more than a systematic racist machine as slavery was. It’s just been modified and modernized to appear to give us a fair deal. “Crime does pay” in the form of the prison industrial complex. There was once this single entity called State Use Industries (SUI) that sub-contracted prisoners from the commissioner of corrections to do work at a price many times less, but of better quality than civilians in the free world.
Once the “Powers that be” realized and recognized the potentiality of what could be, they collaborated and formed Maryland Correctional Enterprise (MCE) and the same machines exist in other states, by different names. One provides the work, and the other provides the work force.
A brilliant plan, so brilliant that private funded prisons are being built (modern day plantations) and filled to capacity to accommodate the workload request just as the laws are made to make certain that the accommodations are met.