Analysis, Integration, Observation, and Reactions
by Tyree Wallace
Analysis and Integration
The preeminent topic of last week’s class discussion was the question “what are prisons for”? And within that discussion was one recurring theme, and that theme was that prisons ostensibly exist for the purpose of bettering society. Fundamentally I take issue with that prevalent societal thought process as there is overwhelming evidence that the polar opposite is actually the reality. Prisons adversely affect families, communities, and most individuals. There is empirical data showing the ill effects of prisons and mass incarceration (in books such as The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and within statistics kept by organizations such as the Southern poverty law center and other such organizations). Despite the overwhelming evidence of mass incarcerations failure to benefit society, and in the face of powerful evidence of its adverse impact. More prisons are built, more people are arrested and more families, communities, and individuals are negatively impacted. Countless amounts of finances are allocated to the punishing or the suffering of human beings, as opposed to funding more preventative, restorative, and humane measures. Tangible evidence that prisons improve society, is at best lacking. This point was articulated well in the book The Soul Knows No Bars. “We’re engaged in a bizarre social experiment, as we imprison ever more of the population.” “And the more we pour resources into this violent power, the less is available for kind power endeavors.” ” We’re spending some forty billion dollars a year on housing and feeding inmates (more than three times what is spent on the much vilified welfare program, Aid to families with dependent children.)” What if you took the twenty thousand dollars a year it takes to incarcerate a person, and used that instead for education, drug treatment, family counseling, and job training? ” (SKNB P.34). While society as a whole undoubtedly believes that prisons are bettering there are too many failures within the criminal justice system (i.e. violent prisons, recidivism, and a lack of positive programming) for that belief to be factual. Too many women and men are forever stained and damaged by their encounter with the criminal justice system for this system to be a benefit of any kind. “One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison”. (JM p. 15) What are prisons for? Is a question answered differently by different people. Changes within this paradigm must be made, in order for the system to truly be just.
This sessions analysis of the criminal justice system, law enforcement, court system, and parole invoked a wealth of emotions from all of the class that was palpable. From my observations the majority of the class focused on the bias, the inequities, and the failures of the justice system as a whole. I believe however, that a few students were more so proponents of the justice system, yet failed to (at least loudly) articulate that point during the group discussion. This dynamic was very much present within our group, during our discussion of the district attorneys office and their role within society. These diametrically opposed philosophies made a true “consensus” virtually impossible. While a consensus was not reached, the interaction was both interesting and informative .
I found myself drawn into the segment of the discussion that was focused on policing and the implicit and outright bias that exists within policing. This conversation took me to a place mentally where I found myself examining my personal encounters with law enforcement. All of which, except one encounter were hostile, personally dangerous and frightening. This fear and perceived danger that is felt within interactions with law enforcement by the overwhelming majority of black people, is real and it is justified. As stated by Bryan Stevenson (J.M. pg 43) “I found Bureau of Justice statistics reporting that black men were eight times more likely to be killed by the police than whites”. Most young men and women lack the proper sophistication to safely navigate a police officers bias, insecurities, or fear. This point is well stated by Bryan Stevenson in (J.M. pg 43) “The more I thought about it the more concerned I became about all the young black boys in that neighborhood”. Did they know to stay clam and say, It’s okay”? (J.M. pg 43)
With all of the failures within the criminal justice system, that are effecting the lives of prisoners, families, and communities in such a dynamic way. With the lack of integrity and oversight within law enforcement. As said by Bryan Stevenson (J.M. pg 49) “Law enforcement officers knew that Myer’s story would be very difficult to prove, so they arrested Walt for sodomy which served to shock the community and further demonize McMillian; “. With the bias, under-representation, and flawed process of the jury process. As stated by Bryan Stevenson (J.M. pg. 59)” In the 1970s, the Supreme Court ruled that under-representation of racial minorities and women in jury pools was unconstitutional, which in some communities at least led to black people being summoned to the courthouse for possible selection as jurors (if not selected)”. And with the lack of a quality defense afforded to most defendants. Exampled by the statement of Bryan Stevenson. (J.M. pg 77) “During the trial, the appointed defense lawyer presented no evidence about Herbert’s background, his military service, his trauma, from the war, his relationship with the victim, his obsession with the girlfriend-nothing”.
Those of us within society that are cognizant of the fundamental, structural, bias, inequalities, and flaws that permeate the justice system, we have an obligation to act. We have a duty to vote, to mobilize, to sound the horn, and to get off of the sideline, and resist. Stated succinctly by Bryan Stevenson (J.M. pg 46) “You’ve got to keep beating the drum for justice”.
Last week’s session of a critical analysis of the Criminal Justice System (Law Enforcement, the Court System, and Parole) challenged my way of thinking, my capacity to lead, as well as my ability to empathize. During the small group portion of the exercise, when we were asked to discuss what were some of the things that the district attorneys office does well, does not do well, and how could they improve. I observed that two of our group members had little to no interest in participating and there was communication issues with two of our other members. I observed that one of our small group members was visibly agitated, and that explained that member’s lack of participation. Based on prior statements in class, I assumed that this group member’s agitation was due to contrary feelings concerning the direction of our discussion. The discussion, I believe organically had a liberal slant due to the fact that the conversation was steered by only two people. Due to the many different dynamics within our group, there were extreme communication issues. The lack of communication and participation was evident within our presentation. And while I attempted to present what was “recorded”, my efforts were futile and the presentation lacked the professionalism that I would normally demand from myself.
I did notice that many of the groups worked well together and produced well put together presentations. There was one common theme coming from all of the presenters. And that was that the criminal justice system needs to be, and do better. I observed that students with a more conservative outlook concerning criminal justice, normally keep those comments to themselves. I am unsure of the exact cause, but I believe that those views would be unpopular and consequently challenged in this type of setting. It takes a large amount of self assuredness to knowingly place your ideology add odds with the ideology of your classmates. As we continue this session, I hope that we all feel comfortable enough to be our authentic self, and that we all support each other despite our ideological differences.
After class, I experienced a confluence of emotions. I felt relieved that the class was over due to the awkwardness of our group dynamic. I felt saddened that one of our group members, in my estimation was being overly critical of themselves, and my attempts to lighten their mood was unsuccessful. These two emotions of relief and sadness, were both real and visceral, however they were overpowered by the by the feeling of resignation that happens when I leave this classroom setting and return to “prison realities”. Leaving a place of exploration, newness, hope, and possibility, a place that is packed to capacity with inquisitive minds, only to return to the oppressively stagnant essence of prison, reminds one of their lot and position in life with alacrity.
The next day, I had the opportunity to process all of what took place in class. Already I was fully engulfed within my prison routine and looking forward to next weeks session. Gone was the sadness, relief and resignation that I experienced the night before, and back was the anticipation of what was to come. I felt, and continue to feel confident in my ability to grow as a student, and as a writer. Because of the grade and comments that I received on my initial paper, and because of my comfortability within this space of higher learning, I feel as though that this experience is a paradigm shift that I will forever be thankful for.
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