September 22, 2011
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” -Donald Rumsfeld (Former Secretary of Defense and owner of Mount Misery, a former plantation which was the site of Frederick Douglass’s resistance to the unsuccessful breaking by Edward Covey., Infamous “slave-breaker.”)
As students and educators we are constantly challenged to think outside the box and come up with new ways to navigate life and re-invent ourselves in order to make a difference in our own lives and improve our societies. In order to do this we must be “armed” with facts and information that will help us make the best possible decisions. As much fanfare was given to marking the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, a seldom acknowledged tragedy was also remembered–– The 40 year anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion, on September 9, 1971. To many of those outside the United States this uprising may be unknown or carry little weight, but please take a moment to listen to Princeton University Professor of Religion And African American Studies, Cornel West, in a moving speech aired on the Democracy now website commemorating the event. http://www.democracynow.org/2011/9/12/attica_is_all_of_us_cornel
While the Attica Prison Rebellion was a genuine rebellion against poor living conditions, led by the majority black prison population, it was truly, and honestly a desperate attempt to bring to light the ongoing racism that existed (and exists today) inside and outside of our criminal justice system, and in the prison-industrial complex. In a desperate reaction to the shooting death of black “radical activist” prisoner, George Jackson, by guards at San Quentin Prison on August 21, 1971, the majority of the prison population in Attica rebelled, seized control of the correctional facility, taking 33 officers hostage.
In commemorating this particular 40 year anniversary, we also acknowledge the full weight it bears during this pre election year, illuminating the very same issues in our over crowded and in-humane for- profit –prison system. A Justice Department Report stated, “…of the 2.3 million inmates in custody, 2.1 million were men and 208,300 were women. Black males represented the largest percentage (35.4 percent) of inmates held in custody, followed by white males (32.9 percent) and Hispanic males (17.9 percent).” So here it is … if we pay particular attention during this pre-election year, and we listen to loyalties being pledged by candidates and the politicians personal mission statements, http://www.prisonpolicy.org/ we begin to see the overwhelming magnitude of the racial and financial components of this problem. We can begin to connect the dots between the absurdly rapid growth of the prison population and how this affects not only the outcome of elections but also how it directly affects each and every one of us financially and socially.
Prison inmates are rendered invisible two-fold, not only forfeiting their right to vote by being incarcerated, but through redistricting: census residence rules requiring that people who are incarcerated be counted at their places of incarceration on Census Day. That means voting control streams out of densely populated urban areas, into the countryside where the prisons reside. Well, then, you find an absurdly large swath of voting males absent from the large cities of the nation, where their voices might be heard, instead, they are denied the vote in prison and their census bodies are folded into the predominantly white rural country side, boosting constituency in those sectors.
Now, not only are the voices silenced, but their hometowns are further impoverished, and suppressed by bearing the burden of the annual $60 billion prison budget. Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project said “…The country’s $60 billion prison budget results in less money for education, health care and child services. Communities need the resources to prevent crime by investing in youth and families.”
The implications of this financial re-districting are hard to ignore in these fiscally challenging times. Private corporations like CCA and the GEO Group are awarded billions of dollars in profits through contracts with governments that commit the rapidly growing prison population (the increased use of incarceration and the War on Drugs) by being paid a per diem or monthly rate for each prisoner confined in the facility.
The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) documents the impact of mass incarceration on individuals, communities, and the national welfare. They produce research and make it available to empower the public to participate in creating better criminal justice policy.
It is vital to think about all the ways that perhaps we might change this construct, particularly in respect to: how we vote, whom we vote for, how we see ourselves as meaningful participants in our own societies. What are our career choices, and what can we do to change the state of things? We can begin by acknowledging that turning a blind eye to a self-perpetuating system, which awards $60 billion dollars to private corporations, who sustain their wealth by directly profiting off the mass incarceration of a black and brown majority, effectively insuring the re-election of government officials that support that process. The additional burden of bearing those costs falls directly on the backs of the poor under-educated and socially impoverished citizens, who in many cases have nothing but crime to resort to, in order to survive. Less money for education and social programs means power for only the few.
It really is important to know exactly what is going on. Listen to Marvin Gaye –