I guess that the history of humanity definitively proves that it is possible to get used to anything. I am quite confident that I am not alone in being able to state that if you are not careful about what and who you allow into your life, you will find yourself rationalizing your adoption of their value system and often doing things that you could have never imagined. Put simply, if we do not carefully monitor outside influences, we will invariably find ourselves becoming the monsters that we should be working against. I am confident that you understand that in this nation, the number one priority of these “monster men” is the destruction of Black America.
At the beginning of each semester, I introduce myself to a new class of students by informing them that I am from Mansfield, Ohio, a quaint little town whose income relied on a General Motors factory, Detroit-Empire Steel, and the Mansfield Reformatory.
Of course, my relatively simple description fails to tell my young charges anything about my origins. Hence, I always follow this basic information with the following question, “Have ever seen The Shawshank Redemption?” Most share that they have indeed seen the Hollywood classic, I then inform them that the prison used in that film is the Mansfield Reformatory. “I am from a prison community.” Most are shocked to learn that I have been inside that facility hundreds of times. It was a family tradition that we would go and visit uncles who have for one reason or another found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Although many of you will find this strange, however, these Saturday visits were a routine aspect of what we did as a family every weekend.
One of the more interesting aspects of being African-American and working-class in America is the realization that whatever negativity or misfortune that may befall you and/or your family, you are not alone as others around you are most certainly going through something similar. This early childhood lesson removed all of the shame of going to visit incarcerated loved ones. We were not alone in this Saturday ritual that allowed my grandmother to have contact, although limited and fleeting, with her sons, my beloved uncles who I still admired and aspired to be like despite their present status.
A recently released report by The Sentencing Project verifies what my family always knew; we were far from being alone in having beloved family members locked away in some penitentiary. In fact, things have grown much worse since I first began visiting my uncles at the Mansfield Reformatory. Although I am neither shocked nor surprised by recent figures shared by The Sentencing Project, it is still a bit sobering to learn that there are 2,200,000 (2.2 million) people locked away in American prisons as of 2015. This shocking number translates into an incredible 500% increase in Americans incarcerated today versus forty-years ago.
As with most things in America, when it comes to negativity, African-American men invariably receive more than their fair share of misery and discord. The Sentencing Project indicates that African-American men are six times as likely as their white counterparts to be incarcerated. In fact, for African-American males in their 30s, 10% of them are incarcerated at some level every single day.
One does not need to look far into the data provided by The Sentencing Project to understand that the mass incarceration of black men flows from what could be appropriately termed “the perfect storm.” Consider for a moment that far too many African-American males are entrapped in impoverished community whose hallmark are inferior schools, unfortunately an increase in education is the only path to not only economic stability/success, but also the access to money via means that society has deemed legitimate and therefore do not open one up to incarceration are one of the crucial elements to black males being able to provide for those that Black America consider their responsibility (wife, children, extended family). Make no mistake about it, the vast majority of black men who are incarcerated are not doing sentences derived from a violent crime, we are disproportionately incarcerated due to a property crime. In other words, our marginalized economic posture has forced many of our kind to resort to pursuing financial resources “by any means necessary.”
There is little room to argue against the harsh reality that the negative viewpoint that society holds for black men greatly affects how they are treated in the criminal justice system. One needs to look no further than the recent outcry of significant segments of the nation regarding the Opioid crisis and how it has been generally agreed that treatment, not mandatory incarceration, is the far better way for us to deal with this proliferation of white and non-poor drug users. When compared to this societal decision to handle Opioid abusers with ‘kid gloves’ and send them to treatment instead of a jail cell, the mass incarceration of African-American men is even more revealing regarding the disregard that this nation holds for black males. It is obvious that the powerbrokers and decision-makers who have decided how this nation will deal with crime have a stern unchanging message for black males, if you are caught committing any crime, you are going to jail for a very long time. Although this message is daunting, disappointing, and destructive to black families, it nevertheless is true and stands as one of America’s most telling positions regarding black men in “the land of the thief and home of the slave.”
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017