In the first installment of a two-part series, Urban Faith Writer Katelin Hansen gives our readers an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the family and friends of those who are incarcerated. Check back soon for Part 2 of this compelling story.
Thanks to ongoing work of justice advocates across the United States, we are increasingly aware of the devastating effects of our prison system on the millions of individuals who have been incarcerated.
In the land of freedom and liberty, we incarcerate more of our citizens per capita than any other country in the world. There has been a 500% increase in our prison population over the last 30 years, and more than one out of every 100 adults in the country is currently behind bars.
Angela Davis notes that “prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings.” Through a broken system of predatory profiling, mandatory sentencing, and profit mongering, millions of individuals are being “disappeared” from their communities, and from their families.
So what is it like to be on the outside while someone you love is on the inside?
PJ, Molly, Cheryl, and Kim share their stories.
“I grew up with siblings who were always in and out of jail,” PJ remembers. “Our family was constantly interrupted. I’ve never been in prison, but I have five siblings and they have all been in prison. It’s like they were caught in a cycle and they couldn’t get out. They weren’t out for even a year sometimes.”
The first time her older brother went to jail, he was nine.
PJ notes that a system that doesn’t repair what’s broken, just perpetuates the brokenness. “The prison system doesn’t fix anything, it just stalls it,” she notes. “My godbrother went in when his daughter was a baby, and came out when she was 18. So where is that whole relationship? Not only is it him who’s being institutionalized, but there’s her whose growing up without a father.”
By her own admission, Molly went to jail quite a bit when she was younger. “I was addicted and it really affected my kids, because I was not there,” she recalls. When she was inside, Molly’s mother took care of her children. She understands that when you’re locked up, “other people are having to hold up your end.” Each time she had to explain to her mother that she was once again locked up she knew it affected her mother emotionally.
Molly is usually the one that manages the household, which meant when she wasn’t around, others were left to handle things on their own. “It can make people feel abandoned, left behind, feeling somewhat at a lost as a result of my being locked up.”
“On the other hand,” Molly recalls, “my daughter’s father used to go in and out of jail a lot, and I actually felt relieved. He was abusive. When he was locked up I was happy because that meant he was out of my hair for a bit.”
Cheryl has two loved one’s currently in the system, one already sentenced, the other waiting to go through the process. “It’s almost like going through a loss, almost like a death,” she notes. “There’s a grieving process. There is a long adjustment.”
Kim’s youngest son has been locked away for awhile. She shares that “it’s hard even to gather as a family. He was the one who was always joking and laughing.” He has lost his support system, and they have lost him.
“He and his younger sister were real close. It’s been hard for her, not having him around her. We have a grandson that was his little buddy, and now he’s not around. They were babies when he left. Now they’re getting ready to graduate high school and go off to college”
PJ recalls going to visit her siblings in jail as a kid. “I hated how dingy and dark it was,” she says. “I hated talking to them through the glass on the phone. I remember having to be picked up to see them through the window.”
She now has a nephew that’s been inside for three years, even though he only just got sentenced a year ago. She is frustrated that she hasn’t been able to talk to him for a while.
Because he was arrested in another state, PJ and her nephew are nearly 2,000 miles apart from one another. “The prison does have video visits that you can buy,” she says. “But, you have to pay with a credit card, then you have to download software, then at the time assigned you have to log on with that software.”
PJ says the system works as long as you have access to things like credit cards, computers, reliable internet, and a webcam. But, it’s still a better situation than it used to be.
“When he first got there we had to write to him on a post card,” she recalls. “We couldn’t even write a letter. That was their rule. You had to communicate on a post card.”
Kim also struggled to overcome long distances to stay connected with her son during his incarceration. When she was, in fact, able to visit, it could be difficult. “He was very angry in the beginning, so visits were hard,” Kim recalls. “He would get mad and tell us not to visit. It took a long time for him to calm down and accept.”
However, for PJ it’s a no-win situation: “They cut you off and make you feel abandoned on both sides. The people on the outside feel abandoned, and the person doing time feels abandoned. Then you’re supposed to reunify that relationship afterward. But its already been traumatized.”
Visit our site next week for Part 2 of this story.
Imagine a time when members of the Black community looked out for one another. Neighbors were more like family, children were safe, and troubling news such as 26 open missing persons cases were incredibly rare.
There is an unrelenting rage boiling in our community due to the lack of coverage or collaborative effort to find the missing Black and Latina girls in Washington D.C. However, we can point fingers, or even yell at the police, city officials and federal government, but what are we doing to protect our own children?
While there has been coverage from major news outlets and support from organizations such as BET and The Women’s March on Washington Organization, some would argue that the issue is larger than one may think.
There have been many cases of missing children who are White that have received major state and national coverage, along with extensive, coordinated searches, but when 14 Black girls go missing, it is a different story.
The issue is not that there is no coverage. It is that this issue became important when it became a hashtag. It should have never gotten this far.
What can we really ask of our civil servants?
There are mixed messages on the severity of this situation. Some outlets say there are 14 girls missing, while others are implying that the girls aren’t really in danger and are labeling them “runaways.”
While that assumption is not stressed by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser or other public officials, there is still a permeating, public message that lessens the concern of onlookers across the nation.
Since gaining national attention, the news of our missing girls has produced town halls filled with tears and frustration. However we are still left to wonder, “What else can be done?”
New York resident Aura Severino is one of many Americans following this story.
“Law enforcement needs to understand why they are [being] taken,” Aura says. “Are they victims of opportunity or targeted? These are questions that need to be asked to figure out what is being done with these girls. Once that is understood, moves can be made to prevent more girls from being taken and rescuing those who are already gone.”
Aura, a program manager in New York City, also feels that the family unit plays a huge role in making a difference. “Families need to educate their girls and boys about what is currently happening to encourage vigilant awareness,” she says.
Although local and state city officials are making strides to find the missing girls, one can’t help but notice that there is a lack of coverage on the fact that there are missing boys too. What is to be done when our boys, our future leaders who are raised to protect our communities and families, are also missing?
Atlanta resident Mario Jackson believes it all comes down to training and resources.
“There needs to be more neighborhood surveillance and trainings in kidnapping for D.C. Police,” Mario says. “I also believe in the old-school practice of neighborhood watches and communal security.”
Fortunately, it is being reported that Mayor Bowser is unrelenting in her efforts to address the number of missing person cases in D.C. However, some believe that addressing the issue starts right here in our own communities.
‘Unity’ plays a major role in “community,” and its members have a responsibility to be a part of it.
While Mayor Bowser attempts to reel in the community through her task force and other efforts, none of it matters without the support and action of the community. The task force will follow a procedure as deemed appropriate by the city, but how will the community light the beacon of hope?
Although New York-D.C. Native Aisha Jones commends the city’s efforts to make a difference, she charges us, the community, to do our part.
“We are so quick to save on the money and energy we put into our kids that we don’t worry about safety,” Aisha says. “Most of these girls are being abducted on the way home. Their parents are not picking them up from school or encouraging a buddy system or teaching them how to fight back.”
Like Mario, Aisha agrees that the proper resources are critical in resolving these issues.
“There should be self-defense classes for both boys and girls,” she says. “Also there is a responsibility to speak up if you see something. ‘Snitches get stitches’ does not apply when you see someone in danger.”
Take a look at BET’s compelling video on the recent news coverage below:
Weigh in below on how you and others can work to rebuild the community and protect our children.
Photo Courtesy of C.B. Fletcher
On January 21, 2017, streets around the world turned pink and shook from the passionate vibration of a unified message for gender equality at the Women’s March on Washington.
Although fiery passion could be felt at the Washington D.C. march and the hundreds of other marches worldwide—673 marches to be exact—the atmosphere was one of love and unity amongst the chanting crowds, at one point quoting former first lady Michelle Obama saying, “We go high!”
Most of the leaders of the Women’s March are women from all backgrounds who built this cause from a single Facebook post demanding that women speak up. Their principles, as listed on their website, are to create a non-violent movement to emphasize that “women’s rights are human rights.”
Activists and celebrities alike contributed their voices from a more personal perspective while simultaneously making a universal connection to the cause regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, or faith. Their words stirred the crowd and revved up the aura of revolution that took to the streets and social media.
At times, there was a wave of cheering that blanketed the National Mall in seeming praise for the unity and progress. And even with the negative commentary from a few supporters of the new U.S. president and his administration—some bashing the movement on social media—that did not deter the motivation.
The message of demanding basic human rights for women and negating any discrimination regardless of faith, gender identity, and ethnic groups was clear. With the energy of this movement in mind, millions of people agreed that we cannot be a force in voice and not a force of action. Therefore, it is important that people all over the nation take that same energy back into their respective communities and implement ways to ensure basic civil rights and equality as promised to us by the Constitution.
Photo Courtesy of C.B. Fletcher
Have no idea where to start? Here are five ways to keep the fire going and get involved in the fight for equality and protection against marginalization:
- Research and support local organizations that deal with minority and women’s issues, in addition to outreach and educational organizations that are designed to propel others forward.
- Educate yourself on local and global issues through major and smaller news outlets.
- Push for consent and self-defense classes for students of all ages to help reduce the rate of domestic violence and sexual assault. Additionally, provide resources to students on basic laws regarding sexual assault.
- Don’t allow the Women’s March to be your only movement. Join and support other causes that are affecting other large groups of people both locally and worldwide. We must acknowledge that there are blanket and specified issues that all need attention.
- Connect with your local, state and federal officials to voice your suggestions or opinions publicly, then follow up with an email or letter. This can be done on social media, at a local town hall meeting, or even at a state convention as a way to maintain open dialogue with those who have the authority to make the changes to our legislation.
The overall message of the Women’s March in Washington and all over the world was clear: “We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all, ” according to the organizers’ website. Does this message sound familiar?
How do you plan to move forward in our nation’s fight for equality? Share your thoughts below.