I recently read Angela Davis’s book, “Are Prisons Obsolete” (2003). In it she argues that we can, should and must imagine a world and a society in which we do not warehouse and incarcerate millions of citizens for the economic benefit of certain individuals. She brilliantly walks the reader through a historical framework, gender analysis and possible alternatives for abolitionists. I have become more interested in the incarceration of my fellow citizens as I view DJT’s overzealous ambition to deport (and/or detain) millions of immigrants, redefine what is a “crime” and create jobs for his political base off the backs of “his enemies” (that designation is reserved for those who did not vote for him). If he makes good on some of his many campaign promises, what I fear we will see is a wholesale privatization of prisons in which our fellow citizens will live in the shadows with the bare minimum of basic necessities and human decency.
DJT has already made it abundantly clear that his main motivation is to make money, hire friends who will make money, and if he happens to bankrupt the entire U.S. government in the process, he does not seem to be too concerned about that outcome. This reality coupled with the fact that most Americans have not thought about the realistic ways in which we can and should significantly decrease our prison population makes me more certain than ever that we as a nation must redefine how and why we discipline those in our society, especially when those who are most disproportionately affected by the historical, institutional and systemic racists practices and beliefs are Black and Latino citizens. Currently, the percentage of Black and Latina incarcerated women is growing at an astounding rate.
I have received several thought-provoking letters from our incarcerated brothers who read and share the Amsterdam News. Davis argues that the widespread decreases in educational opportunities across prisons is a deliberate attempt to make the possibilities for rehabilitation and mental and spiritual enrichment and empowerment even more difficult. I was particularly disturbed when I recently gave my students an assignment to design a city. They had to include a hospital, high-rise condominiums, a university and a prison. Not one student asked why they had to include a prison. Every group placed the prison on the edge of the large paper to signal the necessity to remove “prisoners” from society. Some groups even drew a river, made a bridge, and placed the prison on the opposite side of the water, away from “society.”
What nation are we if we do not include the incarcerated (or those accused of breaking the societal contract) as members of our society? What communities are we really building if we remove hundreds of thousands of brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, thinkers and leaders? Clearly not a society based on equality, liberty, truth or freedom. We must fight to rectify this current system. It is not normal. It is not sustainable. And it is not what our reality has to be.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream” and the host of “The Aftermath” on Ozy.com. You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.