BY: Jeremy in Louisiana
Have you ever spoke with someone, heard their voice, and immediately knew that they were a part of you? The words they said, the tears they shed, every syllable could have been you when you were eleven, talking to your 30 year old self over the phone. You want to tell the young version of you everything you’ve learned over the years, all at once. You think of all the warnings and wisdom you have to offer. A million things bounce around inside your head. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, be nice to people, don’t be mean to Tommy. It’s overwhelming. But the young voice isn’t a younger you. It’s another life, in another time. A life you helped to create.
When you were eleven years old, it was 2001. It’s 2020 now. The world has changed so much in nineteen years, but when you hear the young part of you, your mind and heart go to your past. You see your mom, waiting in the kitchen for you and your brother to get off of the school bus. You see yourself sitting with granny before school, drinking a big glass of coffee milk, loaded down with sugar. You see all the trouble you got in and want so bad to keep the young one from following in your footsteps. You remember your mom and dad, granny too, saying you better not date a black person, so you go to tell the young one the same thing, but something in you remembers that it isn’t 2001 anymore and only your dad is still alive. You’re not eleven anymore. You shake off the old hatred that’s been taught from generation to generation and promise it will end with you. You won’t pass that on. You want better for the young one.
You recall riding around in trucks in Indiana with rebel flags waving in the wind, drinking beer and not caring who you hurt. It took years to cleanse your heart of that hate. At times it consumed you. You recall the black lady who used to clean your mom and Granny’s house when you were even younger than the young one. How your mom and granny used to call her nigger behind her back and chuckle. You and your brother doing it. The nicest lady in town. She always took you to the store and let you pick out any candy you wanted. You wish Mrs. Celestine were still alive, so you could apologize, beg for her to forgive you for calling her hateful names, tell her how much you love her and how nice she was to help your crippled mother. You hope she’s somewhere in the afterlife smiling down on you. You know she’s watching over you because that’s the kind of person she was.
One day, you and your brother called her nigger as she was walking away and she heard it. The nicest lady. All she did was help. When she looked back, tears ran down her face. The hatred taught to you blinded you from her pain. She didn’t fuss. She didn’t whip you, she just let you see her tears that you can feel now, in 2020, and walked away.
If you are the type of person who doesn’t dwell on dreary details, you rarely consider prison unless it is to wish that an infamous cretin be sent there. Until I came to prison, I hardly thought anything of it. Bad people are stored in prisons until they achieve the correct amount of … something … ripeness? Penance? Correction?
No, prison isn’t a place the average person thinks about. That kind of subject is what experts are for; criminologists, lawyers, lawmakers, crime victims, people who say they are advocates for crime victims, police union representatives, police admimistrators, law enforcement technology providers, corrections officials, lobbyists representing private prison operators, subcommittees, party wonks; anyone but common citizens.
This lack of consideration is, I believe, why our country is the global leader in lock ‘em up and forget ‘em.
The prison system in the United States became the world’s largest because it was founded upon those age-old policy nuggets: demagoguery and political correctness. Conditions have improved in the last few decades. We have finally decided that prison rape and murder are slightly more distasteful than education and healthcare for inmates, but just barely.
I bet you didn’t know that political discourse among inmates resembles your Facebook page. Or that even before Drake shocked white democrats, there were more than a few black Trump supporters behind bars. Or that there were less fistfights in prison sparked by political differences than there were at political rallies, believe it or not. Racists are tolerated with far more grace in prison because survival in here often relies on racism – another of prison’s unfortunate features.
I was disappointed in similarities of opinion between inmates and free citizens. I imagined that the oppression would result in a healthy distrust of the powers that be. I was wrong. For instance, many inmates of all backgrounds parrot the president’s immigration stance even though it is obvious Trump Hotels couldn’t be constructed or operated without an army of immigrants.
An old Mexican-American man on my unit was offered parole if he would renounce his U.S. citizenship and move to Mexico. England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries called this practice ‘transportation.’ The old man agreed. I might too, if I were fluent in Spanish. Instead, I’ll parole into a population full of people meaner than many inmates I’ve known, without a say-so in politics.
I look forward to greater freedom but wonder how my country, if my country, is going to come to its senses. Right now the people are at war and want to punish anyone who doesn’t think like them. The irony is that the warring factions do think alike. Both sides hate each other. It isn’t a way to improve anything. The hatred guarantees that the country will plot punishment’s pendulumn swing every two, four, six, or eight years, to the benefit of the winners alone.
What other result can a two-party-entrenched system bring? Another generation locked up and forgotten.
Is Amerika preparing its children for a life in prison? According to the modality used by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and his staff at the Pinellas County Jail to deal with violent inmates who prey on society, and then are housed with the general population inmates — the answer is absolutely, unequivocally, yes.
CNN reported today that a young girl who was being bullied by a group of troubled classmates was removed from her school’s roster and transferred to another school. As the parents filed suit, the school back-pedaled and said what amounted to – her punishment was for her benefit.
Here at the Pinellas constabulary, the method of dealing with violent, destructive bullies is to move them from housing unit to housing unit, maybe give them a time out, and then move them right back into general population to allow the cycle of violence to begin all over again.
There are a couple of disturbing factors that need to be examined in the penology mentality here and probably the most frightening is that if an inmate attempts to circumvent the cycle and protect himself with any kind of preemptive action — like getting staff involved to deter actual, physical harm by the violent predator — the inmate will likely be punished, as the story of the young girl reported by CNN.
This, like all my other accounts of life on the inside, is drawn from personal experience, and has happened to me recently. Equally frightening is the endemic culture of lies perpetrated by staff in order to cover what amounts to very personalized and branded justice. I have commented before on what could easily be construed as subjective reasoning for objective consequential happenings — but another issue that never gets talked about in Amerika’s dungeons is the brand of racism suffered by what arguably is the minority in prisons, the white or light-skinned prisoners. We hear all about the sufferings of black- and brown-skinned people, but here in the penal colonies the tables are often turned. That is precisely the case I have for your consideration.
An inmate who has been thrown out of every pod (housing unit) for aggressive, violent behavior, and threatening, abusive language was placed in our pod. I sought staff intervention for my own safety, as I’ve been the target of this young man before. The resulting action taken by Corporal Taylor was to tell me that it was my white ass that is the problem and I received a disciplinary report, was removed from my housing unit, and will be given time in confinement for supposed “manipulation of housing.”
This may not have been significant but for the fact that both Corporal Taylor and the violent inmate are black men. Why would a man with violent history not have had to be vetted before being placed with men he had been aggressive with in the past? The bigger question is why was the man who never had a violent incident in his life impugned and ultimately punished? The answer lies in the systemic divide and conquer mentality propagated by the staff at Pinellas County Florida’s jail and the statement made to me by Corporal Taylor.
There is no such thing as reverse racism. Racism is racism. Addressing these issues is never easy for either party when the very system that is supposed to be neutral and unbiased propagates for its own nefarious reasoning, the volatile environment that breeds hatred here in Pinellas Florida.
In closing, it should be noted that the inmate I was trying to stay safe from only lasted four days before having a violent, explosive outburst and was taken from the pod in handcuffs, while my pleas for justice are claimed to be lies from the top soldiers like Lieutenant O’Brien in Sheriff Gualtieri’s army.
Let’s open our eyes and watch this one!
It deeply saddens me that what has become institutionalized hypocrisy is rapidly leading to the erosion of civility and free speech in this country. Opposing views are rarely debated with substance and intellectual force. They are attacked with ritual humiliation and even violence. It is truly stunning how far we’ve strayed.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution has guaranteed the free expression of ideas:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
— First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
There are no established ideas that are untouchable. We are all free to think for ourselves. This uniquely American ideal has informed and shaped the culture of this country for over 240 years. Recently, it seems, this is changing. But if congress — the body of elected officials granted the power to write the laws of the nation — cannot curtail the free expression of ideas, why are we doing it to each other?
The spirit of the First Amendment holds us to a standard: I may utterly despise absolutely everything you have to say, but I will always fight for your right to say it. Unfortunately, the shifting temperament of present-day culture has forgotten how precious this privilege is in history. People groups galvanized against other people groups have turned countrymen into enemies by alienating those who think differently. Examples are legion.
For instance, take the NFL players kneeling during the national anthem in protest: They have a fundamental right to express their displeasure with the structures of society they feel need to change — it is okay for them to have those views and to speak out about them! On the other hand, there are those who feel the sideline of a football field during the singing of the national anthem is not the venue for protest and are, consequently, offended — it is okay for them to have those views and to speak out about them! Regardless of one’s opinion about the issue, we should all cherish the fact that we live in a country where we can openly disagree, rather than attacking one another.
Inflammatory personal attacks are increasingly poisoning our public discourse, normalizing the degradation of the human beings with which we disagree. This is fragmenting American society, resulting in opposing factions taking stands against each other.
Another example, Laura Ingraham, a commentator on Fox News, told Lebron James to “Shut up and dribble” on her show that reaches roughly 20 million people. Her statement was made in response to Lebron’s posting of a private conversation with fellow NBA star Kevin Durant in which he expressed some political views.
Long-time comedian, Roseanne Barr, was publicly vilified and subsequently fired because of an admittedly grotesque and racist tweet about an African-American woman who formerly worked in President Obama’s administration. Yet the New York Times — just last week — defended one of its reporters after several derogatory, racist, and even violent tweets against White people surfaced. President Trump has continued to normalize incendiary remarks about virtually everyone with whom he disagrees. On college campuses across the nation ideas are shouted down if they are perceived to be controversial. The list goes on.
C’mon man! We are destroying our First Amendment rights in the fog of tribalistic warfare. What seems to have escaped our culture’s grasp is that we must remain united, linked together by the core values, the shared privileges of the First Amendment — because ideas and methods of expression are inherently subjective, and in the United States, we have been granted the privilege of being able to think differently than everyone else, even to hold racist, sexist, or homophobic views if we choose, as long as we do not act on them in ways that injure others.
Personally, I despise racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, or any other ideas that work to install an artificial hierarchy based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, or socioeconomic background, and I appreciate substantive arguments that marginalize those views. Yet, I still hold dear the Constitution that provides the liberty, by law, to hold and to express not only abhorrent ideas like these, but also those ideas that generate honesty, equality, progress, innovation, forgiveness, and love.
Freedom of speech is not free. We must never forget that. With the freedom to express our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and ideas comes the freedom to disagree — and the responsibility to defend that freedom. We may not like what someone else has to say, but we should engage those ideas in order to change the opinions behind the words we don’t like. Even if we strongly disagree with the opinions expressed, or the venues chosen to express them, we still must stand up for the right of them to be expressed. When opposing ideas are silenced, it should make all Americans tremble, whether they are black, white, brown, man or woman, gay or straight, young or old, republican or democrat. It is precisely for times like these that the First Amendment was ratified. Throughout history we have seen what happens in societies that succumb to the pressure to silence unpopular opinions — atrocity is never far behind. What if the winds of popular culture shift, and it’s your opinion they come for next?