My Dear Grandchildren – I Am Afraid For You
Over the last eleven years I began my study into America’s prison system. I never knew anyone who went to prison before my daughter’s boyfriend was arrested. I knew nothing about prison except what I saw in movies. Until I was in my 40’s there weren’t any weekly TV series that took place in prison. All the shows with cops showed them a pillars of the community. They we the good guys. No wonder it is so hard to see them as bad guys now. Good cop, bad cop, they all look the same. So the average person has had no way to understand what happened inside prisons unless they had family locked up. Then they learned the truth about our justice system and their plans for them and their families.
My grandson’s father and I began writing to each other. I was appalled by the things he told me about how they were treated. How could they treat people like that? It’s inhumane. So I began to study and read everything I could to find about what it is like to be black in this country because it looked like it was almost all blacks in every photos I saw. There are a lot of white people in prison, too, but if you go by the photos in the news it is portrayed as black mass incarceration. Why? Were black people that bad? Or were black people, being suppressed since slaves were freed, and became a tool to be used to get presidents elected.
In 1975, when I was twenty-one, I met a man who said he worked for a government agency I won’t name because at that time he made me promise not to. Besides, he may still be alive. He was infiltrating the top level of the KKK in Houston. He never told me any names. I don’t even know if his name was real. For five years he would drop in on me wherever I lived. He would tell me things but never enough that I could repeat and get him in trouble. I think he just needed someone to talk to sometimes. We talked about race problems and how important it was for the government and the KKK to make people continue to believe black people were inferior in their minds; incapable of deep rational thought. Inferior. Keeping racism going important politically. He even asked if I wanted to join to see for myself. I remember laughing about it then, but I didn’t join. I do remember thinking that maybe black people were a different species of human and not as good a white people. After all, the government kept up the idea that blacks have a criminal gene that makes them a danger just because they are black. In 1980 this man came by my house after the birth of my second child. He gave me a card and a gift, held the baby for a few minutes and said he had to go. I never saw him again. I have often wondered what happened to him.
Something had been going on for a long time and most white people had been brainwashed into believing it. To this day they STILL believe it. Some are waking up, but not enough. There is still an enormous fight for equality. The government still tries to tell people that people of color – all people of color are inferior or to be feared. Now we have to build really big walls to hide behind or to keep people out and keep people in, like Berlin. Separate families. Some on one side and some on the other. This is to keep the fear fresh in their minds. There are still people who want to believe this, and thinking it sets them up on a superior pedestal. But all it really does is exactly the opposite. It tears us apart.
MY GROWING UP YEARS
Before this, throughout my life, I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t see it affecting my life. I wasn’t black. In fact, my entire life growing up I was scared of black people. I was scared of the kids I went to school with. Why? Because they were different and no one explained that to me. Why were they kept separate? We fear what we don’t understand. Was it something I read? Who taught me to be afraid? Was it the fact that they lived on their side of town and “we” white people lived on our side of town, which we knew as the better side of town.
Black people weren’t allowed to live on our side oof town. I heard things. If a black family were to move into our neighborhood, property values would go down. I heard they didn’t know how to take care of their houses. Proof? Look how poor their houses were. Black kids walked down my street to get to the big park at the end of the block. They always walked on the side of the street by the ice cream factory, never in front of the houses. They never talked to us. We never talked to them. No one told me why. I was never told to be friendly. It was just understood they were different and we didn’t mix with them.
My mother sold Tupperware. Over the years she had dozens of women who she managed in her unit. Many times, when we later talked about this, she always told me how she wasn’t prejudiced. She had a black woman in her unit – one black woman in all those years. She told me how nice she was. We also had a black cleaning lady named Violet who came once a week. The only time I ever went into the black neighborhood was to go with my mother to drive Violet home. The bread factory was there and the smell when it was baking was intoxicating.
Since black people were never talked about in my house, and black kids didn’t go to the same schools, I had no black friends. there were none to talk to. But they weren’t talked about negatively, either. Still, I grew up afraid of them. But I was also curious. What did their hair feel like? Did their skin feel like mine? People fear what they don’t understand. Later in life, visiting my street, it was run down. Many houses were turned into rental properties. I saw black families. An old neighbor said, “See what happens when the blacks move in?”. But it wasn’t because of blacks, it was because of renters. Renters don’t put money into keeping a place looking good and the owners of that property don’t keep it up for renters. Too often renters – any renter – trashes the property. It was sad looking at my old house, and it was white people living in it.
When I think back, it was so easy for so many people to believe what they were told. After all it was our government telling us what to believe. We also believe how our community believes, in social issues and religion. How could we not believe our government who we thought was trying to protect us. We had no way of knowing the true intentions. We were taught to be ignorant. No adult ever talked about the race issues. At last no one talked to the kids, especially in the 60’s. Not one word was said. I graduated high school in 1972, still knowing nothing.
This summer I will be going to my 45th class reunion. Many of these same students will be there. I’d like to talk to some of them about that time period in our lives. Do they remember? Maybe they can help me understand what happened. I’m connected to some of them on facebook. I never thought before how this affected them. How many had families who were caught up into what America did to so many black families. How do we undo the damage we all did by falling in line and believing the garbage our government put out over our trusted evening news and our trusted newspapers? Too many people still believe it and watch programs like Fox News which doesn’t tell the truth any more than the rag sheets like The Enquirer. It’s pathetic what people believe as the truth.
Nothing in my life has devastated me more, and has caused more pain in my heart than watching the ripping apart of the dignity and lives of so many people. having the life sucked out of them in prison and continue to be destroyed even after they are released. What is the difference between them and the kids in my home town? How can we all get together and meet and catch up and not talk about the elephant in the room. Are my white classmates prejudiced against my black classmates? Is this small group of people somehow different from the rest of America’s? Do they understand the reason for why Black Lives Matter? Black lives have never mattered, so All lives can’t matter until black lives matter. It hurts my heart like nothing else ever has. I didn’t understand. I do now. Yes, other lives have been trampled on in this country by the white man, but my families blood is mixed now with black blood so this is also the degradation of my people, too. I can’t separate who I am from who you are.
Grandsons you are young. My granddaughter, you are almost grown and are too removed from me for you to understand who I am, and hopefully one day you may want to know who I am. When caught between two parents who love you it is easy to think the truth belongs to only one. As you mature I can only hope someday you will look for the other half that completes the truth and helps you understand how much you’ve lost by not being able to understand both the white and the black families you are part of. I have been fighting the best way I know how to educate people who don’t understand.
I have read hundreds of articles and watched dozens of videos and movies. I have written and read hundreds and hundreds of lnd.ters from inmates and written hundreds of articles to bring alive the fact that the people in prison are ordinary people like you and me who breathe and hope and dream. Yes, some are violent criminals but we also have violent people on the outside and some of them are the people who are supposed to protect us. But the majority of the people in prison are there to make money for corporations like CCA ( Corrections Corporation of America) who still depend on slave labor for profit. They created a monster with an appetite that needs to be fed.
It is you boys I worry about the most because not much can be done to protect you. When the white cop looks at you they won’t see the white in you. You will have no privilege in their eyes. You will be another dangerous black kid and if you breath wrong they will shoot you. They may just shlot you anyway and make up a story that they thought you were reaching for a fictional weapon. They will only see black. You can’t stay protected inside your white mother’s house forever, always in her presence. She isn’t worried enough. “I’ve taught my sons to respect authority.” But has authority been taught to respect her sons? No.
I watched a movie tonight. “13th” I could hardly make it to the end. It talked about The death of Emmet Till. This is the third time in two weeks I have read of him even though he died so long ago. How coincidental is it that the woman, now age 81, who accused this boy of flirting with her when he was 14 and white men beat and mutilated him, came clean in 2007 and said she lied. It’s too late now. But it is only now, ten years later that it is in the news. The courts decided not to prosecute the guilty parties. I thought there was no statute of limitations on murder. If Emmet had lived he would be 70. The woman went into hiding and it doesn’t sound like she had a happy life. Why did she do it? How could anyone do that? But they do – to this day, they still do. Grown men killed this child because he was black. White people have killed black children and men to this daplllpppy. They are mentally sick to hate people because of the color of their skin.
How man people have died and the killer. got away with it by saying they were afraid of the color of his skin? We can’t even prosecute them? They are killed for sport because they think of black people as being unworthy. Who is to say one day a white person would say they are afraid of you and decided you needed to die. Or maybe they decided you looked like a dangerous child and handcuffed you, took you out of school and sent you to juvenile detention. It happens every day. You will be judged, not by who you are, but by what you look like.
It is easy for a white person to say, “I’m not racist!” But would you be suspicious of someone just because he wore a sweatshirt with a hood. Would you cross to the other side of the street if he was walking toward you? Would you fear for your life in a black neighborhood because you think they are all drug dealers and criminals? Have you been brainwashed to be afraid?
Until American government stops what they are doing, and I don’t see that happening, my family isn’t safe. The black race has never been safe and I never understood that. Not deep inside where it counts. I knew everything that happened but I didn’t know how it felt. I didn’t understand the repercussions.
Could white politicians all clambering to be the next “law and order” leader; think of the destruction they have been advocating as they declared the black man dangerous? It is still happening. TWO DAYS AGO, Our top Republican, Paul Ryan, who can’t decide if he is for or against Trump, as he contemplates his own career, declared black people are inferior, lazy, and don’t want to work. We should take away all social structures to help poor people and the rich white men should mentor them and teach them how to do things. I gagged with vomit.
I knew then that this new Trump administration wasn’t done doubling down on black people but he has also added anyone else who isn’t white to the list. Yet Trump declared while campaigning, “Black people are going to love me! They have never had it so good as they will with me! Vote for me! What have you got to lose!” Then he threatens the city of Chicago. Clean up your city or Ill send in the Feds!”
America is a scary place because of all the different people they hate – in the name of God. Murder charges for doctors who perform legal abortions. Lock up grade school kids for an after school fight. Lock up a little girl for shaking her first at a cop. Run down a protester with your car and kill him? That’s okay. Report the news as a journalist and get locked up. This is our America now.
Grandsons, I will do my best to protect you. I will do my best to reach as many people as I can to help them understand what has happened. This is my promise to you. This is my reason for living. It is the focus of my day – every day. I love you dearly as I do all of my seven grandchildren, but you are the ones who will have to fight for the privileges my other grandchildren will take for granted because they are white.
I’m so sorry.
The piano improvisation was the first recording made since the surgery on my arm. When it was injured I feared I would be unable to play again. It has taken a few months but gradually I am able to lift my arm and make my fingers move. There is still nerve damage that makes it painful to move my wrist back and forth, and press fingers down with even, controlled pressure. It is very painful to sit up straight for any length of time. In order to play gigs I have to be able to sit and play three 45 minute sets, so I have a lot of work to do.
Subscribe to our monthly newsletter about prison issues and inmate writings. The next issue will be going out within a week so click on the link and add your email address!
http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world
You can also follow the blog by email so you don’t miss any posts. That, too, is in the info beneath the post