By David Lee #AS3041
It has been almost 28 years now that I have agonizingly spent in Pennsylvania’s prison complex fighting to disentangle myself from this state sanctioned enslavement. I have been unceremoniously held captive for a murder which I did not commit. Unfortunately as an impoverished Black man living under wretched conditions in the most powerful country in the world, I realize that hundreds of thousands of other impoverished people of color have been victimized by state, local, and even the federal government of this wealthy country. For people like myself, truth, or the facts does not determine rather a person will spend time in a government sanctioned cage. Race, class status, political connections, and the educational levels of the accused play a far more significant role than the truth!
In America the vast majority of those accursed, suspected, and convicted of committing crimes are Black, Brown and poo; usually these people are lacking in high degrees of education as well. For those government officials who engage in this game of destroying innocent lives, or even over charging the guilty, our humanity means absolutely nothing to them. Black lives do not matter to them! Justice does not matter, only careers, statistics which allows them to appear to be doing a good job, convictions, lies, and sustaining this system of anguish is more important than the truth. How else could it be that the United States represents only 5% of the worlds population but 25% of the worlds prison population. In additional Black people are only 13% of the American population, but almost 50% of the prison population. However, Whites commit 69% of the crimes in the country, does something seem drastically out of place here?
Certainly I am not attempting to suggest that everyone existing in these cases throughout the country are innocent because that would be untruthful. Nonetheless, do human beings need to be relegated to cages to protect the public? Are not state, local, and federal governments responsible for the closure of hundreds of schools throughout the country? While they are able to maintain millions in prisons around the country. The lack of jobs in the country and poverty are made to seem to be problems for the private business community to solve. But what usually gets left out of the conversation is that many of the corporations seek out public resources to grow their private wealth while these very same corporate bosses, executives, and other elites who benefit from public funding will denounce impoverished people if they seek out public assistance. This is only one of the many problems associated with capitalism. The poor suffer in unthinkable ways while the wealthy elite are allowed to benefit in both private and public markets. Mass incarceration just happens to be one of those markets in which corporations have found ways to turn huge profits from the anguish of the poor, especially poor Black people.
I recently read an article in the USA TODAY by Ellis Cose titled GERMANY’S HUMANE PRISONS. It talked about the humane living conditions of the prisoners and how those conditions allowed the prisoners to maintain their human dignity and develop the skills needed to someday rejoin the larger society and not pose any threat to society. It is funny because political leaders in this country are not able to reach such humane decisions in regards to their prison populations, but Germany can. I often wonder does it has anything to do with the racial and economic makeup of the prison population in this country? Sometimes I explain this to people and they respond by suggesting that their prison population is not as large as the one that exists here in the United States, thus they can afford to treat their prisoners with human dignity, bingo! That is the main point here, why is the prison population so large in this country? Crime rates have nothing to do with the issue of prison growth. Harsher laws and sentencing guidelines played a major role in this growth, and the lack of humane concern for those being persecuted in these agonizing cages. Books like Let’s Get Free / A Hip Hop Theory of Justice, by Paul Butler; The Political Roots of Racial Tracking in American Criminal Justice, by Nina M. Moore; The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander; Race to Incarcerate, by Marc Mauer; Life Without Parole: Living and dying in prison today, by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr; Mass Incarceration on Trial, by Jonathan Simon; Living in Infamy: Felon Disenfranchisement and the History, by Pippa Holloway; Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress, by Becky Pettit; Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, by Brandon L. Garrett, all tell a very different story than what is normally heard on a regular basis in the mainstream media.. There are many other books that I did not name here that also explain how we’re basically being oppressed by the American government and her corporate cronies, however, issues of our oppression usually never get mentioned in discussions of crime and punishment.
The true economic and political reasons behind the mass incarceration movement in the United States has been safely hidden under the type of rhetoric designed to criminalize poor Black and Brown people, and to simultaneously turn us into sub-human beings. Until within the last few years, not many people dared to hear our painful stories of dehumanizing treatment, the destruction of our families and communities, and the social chaos that comes along with such destruction are basically ignored. Yes the root causes of crime, which exist in poor communities of color has been down played, ignored, or totally distorted into issues about individualism, and personal morality. Poverty, gross underdevelopment, homeless, joblessness, the closing of schools, our oppression and enslavement, and white supremacy, and other problems which we have been born into are pushed out of most conversations when addressing mass incarceration, that is until recent years.
As mentioned above the books which I have named are just a few which are expanding the conversation and enabling people to organize against mass incarceration. Coalitions, organizations and movements have come into existence within the last 5 years which have given those of us being held captive some signs of hope. Human Rights Coalition (HRC), Decarcerate PA, Fight for Lifers, Right to Redemption has formulated a coalition of organizations known as CADBI or the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration. Some of these organizations have been around for longer than 5 years, and fighting for our human dignity and freedom. These are just a few of the organizations that are in this struggle for justice in PA, and I pray for us to be able to all unite in this most important fight for freedom on many levels.
Another vital issue which has been brought to the forefront of the struggle for justice is police corruption. America is an extremely violent country, and the police are just an extension of what this country has always been. White supremacy, enslavement of African people, the genocide of Native Americans, and the violent suppression of people of color has been rooted into American culture from day one. Therefore, the police in this country are nothing more than a continuation of oppression, enslavement, and violence. They have spent decades covering up their crimes against Black and Brown communities, and now because of the technology of the cell cam they are being caught in action as they murder and frame innocent people. I often wonder how many people are living in these agonizing cages along with I as a result of police injustices? We must understand that cops do not just murder innocent people out on the streets, they also frame innocent people as well. They intimidate witnesses into lying to save themselves from being falsely accused and arrested for crimes. Or they give informants opportunities to frame other people to save the informant from imprisonment. Is this justice? We’re talking about men and women whom have taken an oath to serve and protect, not to oppress, exploit and destroy human lives. We must understand that cops are the first offensive in the mass incarceration movement in this country, and they often frame innocent people for crimes they did not commit in order to make themselves look good in the media and public eye, or to purge their insanity on people of color.
Once we are in our cages the process gets exponentially worse for the impoverished defendant. Excessive charges are usually levied against us in attempt to set the stage for the accused to plea bargain out of lengthy prison sentences because the fear of going to trial and losing a lop sided contest; designed to favor the prosecutors by unimaginable odds. Thus fear, not necessarily guilt is what gives prosecutors such great power to compel defendants to plead guilty. If you have a system predicated on white supremacy, classism, and the intentional underdevelopment of its Black and Brown victims, what does any logical person think will be the outcome? Mass incarceration is no accident, and the type of people filling these cages are not accidental.
The United States continuously engage in international acts of violence to resolve political and economic issues. In those acts of violence tens of thousands of innocent human beings are murdered, and considered to be collateral damage by the American government and her financial partners. Exactly who goes to prison for these horrendous crimes? These are international crimes committed in the name of progress, but we tarry in cages for acts which pale in comparison to this state sanctioned terror.
In March of 2016 it will mark the 28th year of my captivity. During this agonizing period of time I have witnessed many changes, all for the worse. I have seen the PEL Grants (designed to educate us) taken away in the early 90’s thus significantly reducing the educational opportunities for a prison population in desperate needs of the skills and knowledge to survive in a highly competitive social arrangement. Not to mention the need for those of us serving (walking death sentences) to be educated enough to comprehend complex laws designed to enslave us.
I have also seen these prisons become industries of mega commercial exploitation. Corporations see us as easy victims because we lack an organized voice to speak for our human rights; our rights to be treated with human dignity. Companies compete with each other for the exclusive rights to exploit us, and our families because they know that the vast majority of the money we spend with them comes from our loved ones on the outside who care enough about us to make sacrifices for us to have certain goods. Almost every product sold to us is over priced, especially considering the .19 center an hour starting pay scale for PA prisoners. The pay scale goes from .19 cent to .42 cent and very few ever make it to .42 cents an hour. It literally took me 27 years of anguish to get there, and with the inflated prices of the items sold to us, it is not nearly enough for the services rendered.
In essence we are being intentionally underdeveloped from childhood to adulthood; made dysfunctional by a system based on a white supremacist foundation and orientation, and subsequently criminalized and imprisoned. But this is referred to as justice in America! We are experiencing a new form on enslavement which has been ignored for a very long time in this country, and it is now time to stop the dehumanization of our lives. We need massive political awareness campaigns and support to stop this large scale human trauma and death from taking place. I continuously work and pray for that day to come soon! Please help us end this state sanctioned enslavement!