americancivilwar-com-f-douglas
source credit: american civilwar.com

Frederick Douglass, a slave in Maryland who became an abolitionist and journalist said, “It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.”

“To make a contented slave it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken the moral and mental vision and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason.”

How often have you heard: Black people are stupid.  Genetically they don’t have the abilities of white people. Genetically they are predisposed to be criminals. If you hear anything enough you start regarding it as truth.  Many white people thoroughly believe they are a higher cut of human being.

In July, Bill O’Reilly making an extremely stupid remark on air at Fox News, commenting on Michele Obama’s comment that slaves built the Whitehouse said, “Those slaves werewell fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.” However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. 

women prison labor
photo credit: popularresistance.org

Most people do not realize how many of the products they purchase off the shelf and on online sites are products made by slaves in the prisons for as little as .29 an hour.  From Eddie Bauer’s jeans to Victoria Secret’s lingerie to military ammunition and supplies our police force needs to needlessly subdue anyone they choose to stop and harass. These products made by prison inmates are used against themselves. Inmates who are paid a ‘wage’, when released are presented with a bill for room and board which puts those released in high debt in a society where it is nearly impossible to rent an apartment or find a job.  It is important to keep the prisons full, and no politician shooting off his or her mouth about reducing prison populations will be able to accomplish more than a small amount to make it look as if something positive is happening.

How do they keep the prisons full? They start with the children and separate them from their family intent on ruining their chances of getting ahead.  Are their children who are uncontrollable.  Yes, but you have to go back to the beginning of their lives. How many of them have parents in prison?  How many of the men in their families have been to prison, because the odds for a black man is one in three.  The odds for Hispanics: one in six. A black man with a high school education has a 70% chance of going to prison.  So, logically, keep a black man out of school and there is a greater likelihood of filling the prisons because – no education means no job.

When Jamie gets out of prison when he is 40, and so far they have kept him at a level where he is allowed no phone, no job and no education. The property manager at the prison physically took his GED book and 18 other books from him – for no reason, when he was transferred .  I can only conclude that she didn’t want him to self-educate.  One of his greatest worries is wondering what will become of him when he gets out, because although he knows I am here, I will be pushing 70 when he gets out and my health is not the best.

Most people have heard of the ‘school to prison pipeline’, but it is more than that. It is also the ‘cradle to prison pipeline’, the ‘poverty to prison pipeline’ and the ‘prison to poverty pipeline’. Why is there a funnel that keeps a never ending supply of children being forced through it knowing it will irrevocably alter the course of their lives. Sadly, many, or perhaps most of these children won’t have a chance to build a positive life.  They can never play catch up because they are too far behind the eight ball. They will have to support themselves anyway they can find to do so. Legal or illegal because you have to eat.  The prisons bank on the revolving back doors of the prisons.  It is the least costly way of keeping the prisons full.

If these men and women had a support structure in the beginning, there is a good chance it isn’t there any more. Their life experiences and what they learn living in a biased justice system that doesn’t supply them with the experiences and subsequent wisdom they need, or the courage and confidence to have a life filled with love and hope. These are broken men – and women. The odds are completely stacked against them unless they are lucky enough to find an organization that guides them into the right direction.

I have read, if a prisoner is paroled they have a step down program that counsels them on re-entering society and helping them find at least a half-way house. Prisons do not have any programs for those that do their entire time. They are simply put out the door with 30 days of medications, a bus ticket, a few bucks and they are on their own if there is no one to pick them up. There are some programs if they can find them after they are released. If they had been in solitary confinement – they go from their cell to the street.  I can’t even imagine how horrifying that is.

What we learn as children sets the stage for how we make decisions in our lives when we become adults. If a person comes from a dysfunctional or broken family who had children without knowing themselves what it means to parent children, how are they able to learn what behavior and control is needed in society. They may end up in foster care bounced from home to home until they drop out.  What do they have the time to learn if their education has been totally disrupted and no one cares one iota if they succeed or fail?

Not every child who has been suspended from school came from a family such as this. Some just had the misfortune of having a teacher with the tendency to suspend more black children than white. Teachers often have more tolerance and leniency toward white children. They suspend 4x more black children than white. Without realizing it these teachers when they were children may have learned their bias from the adults around them. They may never say it aloud, but they can’t help but believe and expect their black students to be trouble makers.

When I was a child going through middle school in the 60’s not one child was handcuffed

kids in handcuff
photo course: bordc.org

by the police and put in the back of a police car. Not one. Not a single solitary one. But then, the first black classmate I had was in 5th grade and he was the only one. Through 6th grade black students were segregated simply because they lived in the black neighborhoods.  I never went into those neighborhoods.  I was too scared. Why? Why did I feel that way? What did I hear, and when, to make me afraid to go where they lived?  I couldn’t tell you. Not one school had a cop – a trained and sometimes brutally physical cop, who sometimes slammed kids to the ground, the way they do now. There were no cops on school premises every hour the school was open. What the hell happened? Children haven’t changed. Parents and parenting changed. Adults, coming from the baby boomer age wanted to be friends with their kids, gave them more freedom, didn’t teach them to respect the generation that raised them. Parents lost control.

At school it became  easier to suspend students than to work with them. Many schools no longer have on site guidance counselors or nurses. (This article should make you cry or get very angry) There have always been mischievous kids – pranksters – kids who picked on other kids and kids who would get into physical fights. They were sent to the principal’s office and he meted out punishment. Maybe the paddle, which I admit to getting, and it was never considered abuse. I deserved it, I’m sure. Or we got detention or a meeting with parents would happen, but never was a child handcuffed and taken away – until it became profitable. Then the child would have to see a judge and often, most often, if you were black you went to juvenile detention. Why? Why is there zero tolerance for young children doing what children do? Why did it become so necessary to ruin so many young lives?

This funnel was called the “school to prison pipeline” because so many children who were forced through it could never get their lives on track. Juvenile detention changed them. Many became angry. Many were sexually abused. Until just this year juvenile facilities used solitary confinement as punishment if they ‘broke a rule’. Now children cannot be put in solitary, but it took one boy committing suicide to make the change. If adult brains can be permanently scarred, what would it do to a child? It is heartbreaking. I’m not talking about children who have committed a serious crime, I’m talking about a child who had a teacher who couldn’t, wouldn’t take the time to help  because perhaps they had too many kids in their classroom, so it was easier to call the on-site cop who feeds him into the system.

It is quite odd and very disturbing that the majority of the children fed into this pipeline are black. Teachers who were interviewed admitted they are more likely to kick a black child out of class than a white child. Hispanics are in the middle. What does it say about us as nation, supposedly a Christian nation, some people think, yet our dislike and fear of black people even extends down to children, who are also supposedly children of God, if you believe in that sort of thing. Why are black children treated as though it is in their genes to be criminals, which is impossible. The state system, quite frankly, took away their realization that they, too, have just as much to offer as white children. Many have been set on the road for failure because the new definition of slavery lives in the prisons.

It is drilled into them that they don’t fit into a white man’s privileged society. I know we have many successful people color. I am talking about the ones the juvenile justice system got hold of and created a revolving door class of uneducated children who grew up and couldn’t get on their feet and landed in prison quite often convicted erroneously.

This blog is dedicated to Jamie Cummings who spent far more years in juvenile detention than what he was sentenced. He should not have been sentenced in the first place.  It is appalling what they did to him. No crime was committed. A cop who had harassed him earlier illegally kicked his way into his house with no probable cause and no warrant. His mother was badly hurt. Since Jamie was a minor they gave him 9 months in juvenile detention because he was the only one they could “punish”.  His brother was over eighteen and there was nothing they could charge him with.  His other brother was just a young boy and his sister was pregnant. So Jamie was it.  There needed to be some reason why the cop kicked the door in. But they didn’t let him out in nine months. He was in for more than four years, until he turned 21. By then he was seriously depressed in a juvenile facility for kids with mental issues. He did three stints in solitary confinement which they called Behavior Modification Programs or BMP. The day he got out, walking home from visiting a cousin he was arrested again for only walking and someone thought he looked suspicious. You can read this story in more detail. What do you think happened to his education?

Jamie didn’t need to be sacrificed for the Prison Industrial Complex as someone to increase the profit of their bottom line. The possibilities of his life was shattered. But would he have had a successful life coming from the poor section of small town in east Texas where job opportunities were slim? We’ll never know. He has grown up while being locked up, a total now of more than 14 1/2 years with 6 1/2 to go.

How many more children have suffered the sadness of having their lives stolen from them for profit. So many of these children end up getting in more trouble and ending up back inside. What else do they know?

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9 thoughts on “The Prison to Poverty Pipeline

  1. Very well thought out piece, you should be proud as the justice system is forced to change. If it won’t change willingly we should force the change. Why? Because until everyone gets a chance we all suffer.
    Jamie should never have gone to juvenile detention so why should he suffer because we let him down. Everyone has a right to an education without fear, to grow and be nurtured without discrimination. Let’s fight for the oppressed since no one else will. Why do we support #BlackLivesMatter? Because everyone is the same regardless of skin colour.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is so true. But although we know what the right thing is to do, it is not profitable for them to do anything more than just enough to make it look at though they are doing something positive – like saying they were releasing 6000 inmates last year, when 40% were on home arrest, 40% were illegal aliens and 20% were with about 1/2 years of being released anyway – but the public watching mainstream media only heard they were releasing 600o people – all federal but not state because the corporations have too big of a hold on those prisons. They will never cut back on the amount of the prisoners by much because too many corporations depend on slave labor to make their products and that is disgusting. The American people don’t know this. When Sanders was running he said he was going to cut the population by half but there is absolutely no way he could do that. But we have to keep trying.

      Liked by 1 person

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