My Journey of Restoration– Click to view…
Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
John Newton was a wild-living sailor and slave-trader who got saved and became a godly pastor and the author of many hymns, including the beloved, “Amazing Grace.” He said late in his life: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”
Even if your past is not as wicked as John Newton’s, you should be growing in your awareness of those two great facts. The longer I am a Christian, the more acutely I am aware of the exceeding wickedness of my own heart. I can identify with the hymn writer, Robert Robinson, who wrote, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” But, thank God, the more I see my own sinfulness, the more brightly God’s grace shines. As Robinson also wrote, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!”
The story of Peter’s denials is recorded in Scripture to underscore these two great facts: the weakness and sinfulness of even the most prominent saints; and, the greatness and abundance of God’s love and grace toward those who fail. For those who are walking with the Lord, this story warns us to take heed lest we fall. For any who have fallen, the story holds out the hope of pardon through God’s abundant grace if you will turn back to Him.
Even when we fail the Lord badly, if we will repent God will restore us and use us again in His service.
~ Is Justice now justified or Is waiting for the righteous judgement enough to continue to live right~
No Justice, No Peace:
To me the phrase “No Justice, No Peace” is not so much a threat as much as it is a cry of the heart. It is not simply a call to protest, but also a naming of the powers and what those powers have done.
A lack of justice has resulted in a lack of peace.
So many of the people of color, in particular the people of African descent in my life went to bed on last night without a sense of peace. And I am not sure that some of my non-Black friends understand why.
There is a lack of peace because of the painful reminder that historically black lives are valued less than the lives of others. This painful truth is reiterated by the invoking of names like Emmett Till, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant III, and Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown,and now Walter Scott It is reinforced through disparities in legal sentencing, in execution rates, and in drug policing.
To view the many fallen people of color and others please click this link:
Heavy hearts now lack peace because of the lack of justice in our nation.
But there is a lack of peace also because of the very real fear that many of us parents who have children of color, will feel every time our kids walk to the store. It is the twinge of fear and lack of peace that I and other black men feel every time we are profiled just because of the way we look.
No peace because of no justice.
Soon after the story of Trayvon’s killing became national news I found that many of my white friends did not understand the hurt and anger that I and many others felt. Likewise after the verdict was read, I again received messages from friends who didn’t get the powerful response that they witnessed on social media sites. A lack of understanding is alright, but a lack of care, a lack of concern is not.
After the jury’s verdict came down I like so many others was stunned. Dumbstruck. Silently screaming. My first instinct was to go for a walk and cry. To be quiet. But there is a time for silence and there is a time to raise our voices. Mine is now raised in calling for justice, in calling for divine intervention, grace, and guidance, and in calling out to all of us to work for change.
So now that we see that there is neither justice nor peace, what is next?
We must work for both: To fix a broken justice system and a to fix the broken peace within our hearts and within our communities.
A lack of justice and a lack of peace is a call for action on two different fronts. This means organizing to change dangerous laws like the “Stand Your Ground” and the “Stop and Frisk” policies as well as heartless gun laws in our country. But it also means working to restore peace on an individual level. This is reaching out to those who are hurting. Preaching and writing about this not only prophetically, but also pastorally. It’s working not only to change laws, but to change a culture that is far too violent in the first place. It’s not only ensuring that the taking of black life is prosecuted just the same as when a white life is lost, but it is working to build abeloved community in which no lives are lost to unnecessary violence. Change laws, get guns off of the street, and change our culture.
The “WAR” on drugs is another bogus attempt to render Justice to our communities that failed. Here is a video and a case we are working with FAMM to overturn: https://youtu.be/C_ES5m4ovPM
Please watch Julie’s video, and share it with people you know. Because the fight for sentencing reform isn’t just about wasted money or prison over-crowding, it’s about real human beings.
Aaron & May Pratt
Second chance Alliance
I never imagined my struggles as an ex-offender would one day be used as a way to adopt Best Practices in the calling of offering re-entry services to a disenfranchised populous of individuals. I never imagined I would be before a room of professionals speaking on this topic. If God could use anything, let it be me is my prayer this afternoon.
The adoption of these five elements will increase the chances of successful inmate reentry:
• Standardized Objective Assessment,
• Appropriate Classification
• Community Service
Research on Reentry and Correctional Programming Based on literature reviews of reentry research and correctional programming the key components of effective reentry initiatives include the following components: Standardized Assessment. Research indicates that standardized assessment can help with the referral of inmates to appropriate programming (Serin 2005). Assessments that identify inmates’ needs help administrators understand which types of programs to offer inmates and therefore promote the chances of more successful reentry to the community.
Work Release/Job Training. Several studies have looked at the benefits of work release and job training for inmates. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that job training, vocational education programs, and work release produce modest but statistically significant reductions in recidivism (Aos, Miller, and Drake 2006).1 In a descriptive study of reentry participants in Baltimore, Visher, LaVigne and Travis (2004) of The Urban Institute cite how inmates who took part in work-release jobs, received job training, and worked as a condition of supervision are more likely to have a job post release. Educational Programming. Research shows that educational programming has demonstrated lasting positive effects on inmates. Research finds if classes improve inmates reading and language skills, they are less likely to be rearrested after release (Piehl 2002). A report by the Reentry Policy Council recommends that correctional facilities teach basic skills and literacy to inmates who are cognitively capable of learning. The Council states that it should be a goal to enable most inmates to read at a minimum of an eighth grade level, and correctional facilities should make GED programs available to interested inmates (Reentry Policy Council 2006). The Washington State Institute for Public Policy states that inmates involved in education programs have reduced rates of recidivism (Aos, et al. 2006).
Community Component. The Reentry Policy Council advocates that correctional staff allow for and encourage inmates to participate in community service. Community service that helps inmates build or improve productive skills is ideal (Reentry Policy Council 2006). Continuity of Programming Pre- and Post-Release. Research points to the important link between programs offered during incarceration and follow-up programs recommended for inmates after release. According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) article, initial studies of The Delaware Key/Crest Program3 state that the link between therapeutic programs during incarceration and follow-up programs in the community may be the most important piece of that program (Mathias 1995). In an article on correctional treatment where the principles of correctional programs are discussed, Gaes, Flanagan, Motiuk, and Stewart (1999) talk about the importance good coordination between correctional programs and aftercare programs. Researcher Involvement. As part of their guiding principles of effective correctional programming, Gaes, et al. (1999) highlight researcher involvement with program development and implementation. Researchers can play a valuable role at translating national best practices for the specific reentry needs of a local jurisdiction
Key Principles of Correctional Programs A literature review of research articles identified principles of effective programs. Based on a review of research articles, Gaes, et al. identified eight key principles of correctional programs. The following is a brief summary of those principles. 1. Criminogenic Needs. Programs should address such things as pro-criminal attitudes, pro-criminal associates, impulsivity, weak socialization, below average verbal intelligence, risk seeking, weak problem solving and self control skills, early onset of antisocial behavior, poor parental practices, and deficits in educational, vocational, and employment skills. 2. Multimodal Programs. Ideally, programs should treat all the criminogenic deficits of an inmate. Inmates often have multiple deficits and therefore are at an increased risk of recidivism. Addressing only one or two deficits for inmates with many deficits reduces a program’s effectiveness. 3. Responsivity. Program administrators should consider the learning styles of inmates and match those with the teaching styles of the staff. 4. Risk Differentiation. Programs should target the higher-risk inmates, who have the most criminogenic needs because they are more likely to benefit from programs than lowerrisk inmates. 5. Skills Oriented and Cognitive-Behavioral Treatments. Programs should teach social learning principles and skills that help individuals resist anti-social behavior. 6. Implementation and Continuity of Care. There should be coordination between correctional programs and aftercare programs. Programs that started in a correctional facility will be more effective if they are continued after release. 7. Dosage. Although there is limited research that specifically addresses the issue of dosage (i.e., exactly how much programming is the right amount of programming), it is generally agreed that programs should be of sufficient duration. 8. Researcher Involvement. When researchers are involved in program development, implementation, and evaluation, programs have been found to be more effective. Examples of how researchers can be beneficial include designing programs that are based in best practices, enhancing the integrity of implementation, tracking progress to help make mid-course corrections, and evaluating whether the programming is working as intended. Targeting dynamic risk factors should be the focus of programming that attempts to follow best practices.
Whenever prisons or prisoners are portrayed by the media or the entertainment industry or even just discussed by ordinary people often the expression, “doing hard time” is used. I have served many years in just these type of places – like the ADX in Florence, CO – that are sometimes used as examples of “hard time.” And to be honest, I did not and do not think of those years as “hard time” or the rest of them as “easy time.” It was just “doing time…”
When prisoners say, “doing time,” we mean it literally. How we deal with or mitigate the damage of those units of time we are serving, whether it’s years, decades, or forever. Some of us also consider self-improvement and attempting to gain our freedom part of doing time. There s an opposite to that, of course. We refer to it as, “time doing you.” That is when you allow your conditions to define you and fall into negative or self-destructive behaviors like drugs, gangs, or unnecessary violence.
“The coldest, most inhumane time I have done were the years that I spent at the ADX, or Administrative Maximum in Florence, Colorado. Among other labels it has been described as, “The Alcatraz of the Rockies,” and the most secure prison in the world.”
I was taken there right after it opened. I was there with Tim McVeigh, the Unabomber, and some of the first World Trade Center bombers, and various gang and mob leaders. I m often asked what it was like being there and it is a hard question. This is because your circumstances change there over the years. Also, there is no common ground to start from, nothing to compare it to. My standard answer is, “Imagine being locked behind two steel doors into a very small bathroom, and three times a day, large, angry men bring food to you. Five times a week, three of those large, angry men chain you up and escort you with sticks to a slightly larger room for an hour of court-mandated recreation. That s an incomplete answer, but it usually ends the conversation, which is the point. For the purposes of this conversation, I will try and be more detailed. One primary aspect I remember is that in the ADX, for the first time in my life, I was truly alone. Of course, it was solitary confinement, but this is the modern version with soundproofing and baffles in the vents, etc. We did have intermittent contact with a few people on the range in rec periods, but that was a few hours a week.
And he took him aside from the multitude (Mark 7:33).
Paul not only stood the tests in Christian activity, but in the solitude of captivity. You may stand the strain of the most intense labor, coupled with severe suffering, and yet break down utterly when laid aside from all religious activities; when forced into close confinement in some prison house.
That noble bird, soaring the highest above the clouds and enduring the longest flights, sinks into despair when in a cage where it is forced to beat its helpless wings against its prison bars. You have seen the great eagle languish in its narrow cell with bowed head and drooping wings. What a picture of the sorrow of inactivity.
Paul in prison. That was another side of life. Do you want to see how he takes it? I see him looking out over the top of his prison wall and over the heads of his enemies. I see him write a document and sign his name–not the prisoner of Festus, nor of Caesar; not the victim of the Sanhedrin; but the–“prisoner of the Lord.” He saw only the hand of God in it all. To him the prison becomes a palace. Its corridors ring with shouts of triumphant praise and joy.
Restrained from the missionary work he loved so well, he now built a new pulpit–a new witness stand–and from that place of bondage come some of the sweetest and most helpful ministries of Christian liberty. What precious messages of light come from those dark shadows of captivity.
Think of the long train of imprisoned saints who have followed in Paul’s wake. For twelve long years Bunyan’s lips were silenced in Bedford jail. It was there that he did the greatest and best work of his life. There he wrote the book that has been read next to the Bible. He says, “I was at home in prison and I sat me down and wrote, and wrote, for joy did make me write.” The wonderful dream of that long night has lighted the pathway of millions of weary pilgrims.
That sweet-spirited French lady, Madam Guyon, lay long between prison walls. Like some caged birds that sing the sweeter for their confinement, the music of her soul has gone out far beyond the dungeon walls and scattered the desolation of many drooping hearts.
Oh, the heavenly consolation that has poured forth from places of solitude!
Taken aside by Jesus,
To feel the touch of His hand;
To rest for a while in the shadow
Of the Rock in a weary land.
Taken aside by Jesus,
In the loneliness dark and drear,
Where no other comfort may reach me,
Than His voice to my heart so dear.
Taken aside by Jesus,
To be quite alone with Him,
To hear His wonderful tones of love
‘Mid the silence and shadows dim.
Taken aside by Jesus,
Shall I shrink from the desert place;
When I hear as I never heard before,
And see Him ‘face to face’?
What is mass incarceration?
Mass incarceration is a massive system of racial and social control. It is the process by which people are swept into the criminal justice system, branded criminals and felons, locked up for longer periods of time than most other countries in the world who incarcerate people who have been convicted of crimes, and then released into a permanent second-class status in which they are stripped of basic civil and human rights, like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, access to public benefits.
It is a system that operates to control people, often at early ages, and virtually all aspects of their lives after they have been viewed as suspects in some kind of crime.
Give me a sense of what’s happened over the last 40 years in terms of the numbers of people in prison, in terms of how it’s affected specific communities, whether it’s very high turnover or people coming on now.
For a very long time, criminologists believed that there was going to be a stable rate of incarceration in the United States. About 100 of 100,000 people were incarcerated, and that rate remained constant up until into the early 1970s. And then suddenly there was a dramatic increase in incarceration rates in the United States, more than a 600 percent increase in incarceration from the mid-1960s until the year 2000.
An exceptional growth in the size of our prison population, it was driven primarily by the war on drugs, a war that was declared in the 1970s by President Richard Nixon and which has increased under every president since. It is a war that has targeted primarily nonviolent offenders and drug offenders, and it has resulted in the birth of a penal system unprecedented in world history.
So America has a higher incarceration rate than other nations. Do they have a higher crime rate than other nations?
No. The United States actually has a crime rate that is lower than the international norm, yet our incarceration rate is six to 10 times higher than other countries’ around the world.
It’s not crime that makes us more punitive in the United States. It’s the way we respond to crime and how we view those people who have been labeled criminals.
You said it started with Nixon. Give me a sense of the progression and how through each president since Nixon the incarceration system has been ramped up, and sometimes in unexpected ways. …
Some of our system of mass incarceration really has to be traced back to the law-and-order movement that began in the 1950s, in the 1960s. …
Segregationists began to worry that there was going to be no way to stem the tide of public opinion and opposition to the system of segregation, so they began labeling people who are engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience and protests as criminals and as lawbreakers, and [they] were saying that those who are violating segregation laws were engaging in reckless behavior that threatens the social order and demanded … a crackdown on these lawbreakers, these civil rights protesters.
This rhetoric of law and order evolved as time went on, even though the old Jim Crow system fell and segregation was officially declared unconstitutional. Segregation[ists] and former segregation[ists] began using get-tough rhetoric as a way of appealing to poor and working-class whites in particular who were resentful of, fearful of many of the gangs of African Americans in the civil rights movement.
Pollsters and political strategists found that thinly veiled promises to get tough on “them,” a group suddenly not so defined by race, was enormously successful in persuading poor and working-class whites to defect from the Democratic New Deal coalition and join the Republican Party in droves.
Unfortunately, this backlash against the civil rights movement was occurring at precisely the same moment that there was economic collapse in communities of color, inner-city communities across America.
In an excellent book by William Julius Wilson, entitled When Work Disappears, he describes how in the ’60s and the ’70s, work literally vanished in these communities. Hundreds of thousands of black people, especially black men, suddenly found themselves jobless.
As factories closed, jobs were shipped overseas, deindustrialization and globalization led to depression in inner-city communities nationwide, and crime rates began to rise. And as they rose and the backlash against the civil rights movement reached a fever pitch, the get-tough movement exploded into a zeal for incarceration, and a war on drugs was declared.
So there was a rising crime rate at that point, but over the last 40 years, the incarceration rate has pretty much been exponentially up. Has the crime rate remained high as well through that time?
Many people imagine that our explosion in incarceration was simply driven by crime and crime rates, but that’s just not true. That is sheer myth, although there was a spike in crime rates in the 1960s and 1970s. During the period of time that our prison population quintupled, crime rates fluctuated. …
Today, as bad as crime rates are in some parts of the country, crime rates nationally are at historical lows, but incarceration rates have historically soared. In fact, most criminologists and sociologists today will acknowledge that crime rates and incarceration rates in the United States have moved independently [of] each other.
Incarceration rates, especially black incarceration rates, have soared regardless of whether crime is going up or down in any given community or the nation as a whole. …
Ironically, at the time that the war on drugs was declared, drug crime was not on the rise. … President Richard Nixon was the first to coin the term a “war on drugs,” but it was President Ronald Reagan who turned that rhetorical war into a literal one.
At the time President Reagan declared his war on drugs in 1982, drug crime was on the decline. It was not on the rise, and less than 3 percent of the American population identified drugs as the nation’s most pressing concern.
So why would he declare an all-out war on drugs at a time when drug crime is actually declining, not on the rise, and the American public isn’t much concerned about it? Well, from the outset, the war on drugs had much less to do with … concern about drug abuse and drug addiction and much more to do with politics, including racial politics.
President Ronald Reagan wanted to make good on campaign promises to get tough on that group of folks who had already been defined in the media as black and brown, the criminals, and he made good on that promise by declaring a drug war. Almost immediately after his declaration of war, funds for law enforcement began to soar.
But the crack epidemic hit after this declaration of war, not before. Many people assumed that the war on drugs was declared in response to the emergence of crack cocaine and the related violence, but that’s not true. The drug war had already been declared, but the emergence of crack cocaine in inner-city communities actually provided the Reagan administration precisely the fuel they needed to build greater public support for the war they had already declared.
So the Reagan administration actually launched a media campaign to publicize the crack epidemic in inner-city communities, hiring staff whose job it was to publicize inner-city crack babies, crack dealers or so-called crack whores and crack-related violence, in an effort to boost public support for this war they had already declared [and to inspire] Congress to devote millions more dollars to waging it.
The plan worked like a charm. Millions more dollars flowed to law enforcement. There was the militarization of law enforcement of the drug war as the Pentagon began giving tanks and military equipment to local law enforcement to wage this war. And Congress began giving harsh mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offenses, sentences harsher than murderers receive, more than [other] Western democracies.
And soon Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove they could be even tougher on them than their Republican counterparts, and so it was President Bill Clinton who actually escalated the drug war far beyond what his Republican predecessors even dreamed possible.
It was the Clinton administration that supported many of the laws and practices that now serve millions into a permanent underclass, for example. It was the Clinton administration that supported federal legislation denying financial aid to college students who had once been caught with drugs. It was the Clinton administration that passed laws discriminating against people with criminal records, making it nearly impossible for them to have access to public housing. And it was the Clinton administration that championed a federal law denying even food stamps, food support to people convicted of drug felonies.
So we see, in the height of the war on drugs, a Democratic administration desperate to prove they could be as tough as their Republican counterparts and helping to give birth to this penal system that would leave millions of people, overwhelmingly people of color, permanently locked up or locked out.
How does George W. Bush fit into this narrative? …
I would say the Bush administration carried on with the drug war and helped to institutionalize practices, for example the federal funding, drug interdiction programs by state and local law enforcement agencies, and the support for sweeps of entire communities for drug offenders, communities defined almost entirely by race and class.
So the drug war was born by President Richard Nixon and President Ronald Reagan, but President Bush, both of them, as well as President Clinton, escalated the drug war. And sadly we see today, even with President Obama, the drug war being continued in much the same form that it [was] waged back then.
… Why should we care? Why should we pay attention to this?
I think most Americans have no idea of the scale and scope of mass incarceration in the United States. Unless you’re directly impacted by the system, unless you have a loved one who’s behind bars, unless you’ve done time yourself, unless you have a family member who’s been branded a criminal and felon and can’t get work, can’t find housing, denied even food stamps to survive, unless the system directly touches you, it’s hard to even imagine that something of this scope and scale could even exist.
But the reality is that today there are more African Americans under correctional control in prison or jail, on probation or parole, than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the civil war began.
More black men are disenfranchised today as a result of felony disenfranchise[ment] laws. They were denied the right to vote in 1870, the year the 15th Amendment was ratified, prohibiting the laws that denied the right to vote on the basis of race.
There are 2.3 million people living in cages today, incarcerated in the United States, and more than 7 million people on correctional control, being monitored daily by probation officers, parole officers, subject to stop, search, seizure without any probable cause or reasonable suspicion.
This is a massive apparatus, and that system of direct control of course doesn’t even speak to the more than 65 million people in the United States who now have criminal records that are subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.
The impact that the system of mass incarceration has on entire communities, virtually decimating them, destroying the economic fabric and the social networks that exist there, destroying families so that children grow up not knowing their fathers and visiting their parents or relatives after standing in a long line waiting to get inside the jail or the prison — the psychological impact, the emotional impact, the level of grief and suffering, it’s beyond description. And yet, because prisons are typically located hundreds or even thousands of miles away, it’s out of sight, out of mind, easy for those of us who aren’t living that reality to imagine that it can’t be real or that it doesn’t really have anything to do with us.
What is it like for someone leaving prison? Talk me through the restrictions, the monitoring, the things they are locked out of for the rest of their lives.
I think most people have a general understanding that when you’re released from prison, life is hard. You have to work hard to get your life back on track, get it together. But I think most people imagine if you really apply yourself, you can do it. It just takes some extra effort. The people who believe that rarely have actually been through the experience of being incarcerated and branded a felon.
When you’re released from prison in most states, if you’re not fortunate enough to have a family who can support you and meet you at the gates and put you up and give you a job, if you’re like most people who are released from prison, returning to an impoverished community, you’re given maybe a bus ticket, maybe $20 in your pocket, and you return to an impoverished, jobless community.
You’re now branded a criminal, a felon, and employment discrimination is now legal against you for the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter how long ago your conviction occurred. It doesn’t matter if it was five weeks, five years ago, 25 years ago. For the rest of your life, you have to check that box on employment applications asking have you ever been convicted of a felony.
Hundreds of professional licenses are off limits to people who are convicted of a felony, and sometimes people will say, well, maybe they can’t get hired, but they can start their own business; they can be an entrepreneur. In some states you can’t even get a license to be a barber if you’re convicted of a felony. Can’t get a job. Can’t find work in a legal economy anywhere.
Housing discrimination is perfectly legal against you for the rest of your life. In fact, you can be denied access to public housing based only on a [reference], not even convictions. Discrimination by private landlords as well as public housing projects and agencies, perfectly legal. You’re just out on the street.
Discrimination in public benefits is perfectly legal. In fact, under federal law, you’re deemed ineligible for food stamps for the rest of your life if you’ve been convicted of a drug felony. Fortunately many states have now opted out of the federal ban on food stamps, but it remains the case that thousands of people can’t even get food stamps, food support to survive, because they were once caught with drugs.
What are people who are released from prison expected to do? … Apparently what we expect people to do is to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees, fines, court costs, accumulated child support, which continues to accrue while you’re in prison. And in a growing number of states, you’re actually expected to pay back the cost of your imprisonment, and paying back all these fees, fines and court costs can actually be a condition of your probation or parole. What do we expect those [people] to do?
When you take a look at the system, when you really step back and take a look at the system, what does the system seem designed to do? It doesn’t seem designed to facilitate people’s re-entry, doesn’t seem designed for people to find work and be stable, productive citizens.
No, if you take a hard look at it, I think the only conclusion that can be reached is that the system as it’s presently designed is designed to send people right back to prison, and that is in fact what happens the vast majority of the time.
Most people who are released from prison return within a few years, and the majority in some states return in a matter of weeks or months, because the challenges associated with mere survival on the outside are so immense.
We’ve been working in Kentucky, where felons have been disenfranchised for life. Tell me about how that works and also what it means, what it signifies.
There is no rational reason to deny someone the right to vote because they once committed a crime. We live in a democracy, of the people by the people, one man, one vote, one person, one woman, one vote. In other Western democracies, prisoners are allowed to vote. There’s actually voting drives that are conducted inside prisons. But here in the United States, it’s not only [that you are] being stripped of the right to vote inside prison, but you can be stripped of the right to vote permanently in some states like Kentucky because you once committed a crime.
Many people say: “Well, that’s just not a big deal. So you can’t vote. What’s the problem with that?” Denying someone the right to vote says to them: “You are no longer one of us. You’re not a citizen. Your voice doesn’t count. You’re relegated to a permanent second-class status, do not matter. You’re not a person to us, a person worth counting, a person worth hearing.”
That message is a powerful one, and it’s not lost on the people who are forced to hear it. We say that when people are released from prison we want them to get back on their feet, contribute to society, to be productive citizens, and yet we lock them out at every turn. We don’t allow them to vote, we don’t allow them to serve on juries, so you can’t be part of a democratic process. …
Now, if we adopt this attitude, we can’t pretend then to really care about creating safe communities. We can’t pretend that this system that we devised is really about public safety or serving the interests of those we claim to represent.
This system is about something else as currently designed. It’s more about control, power, the relegation of some of us to a second-class status than it is about trying to build healthy, safe, thriving communities and meaningful multiracial, multiethnic democracy. …
Tell me what effects locking up so many people from one small community has on that community and what horizons and possibilities it then presents to the youth coming up in that community.
Some scholars have actually argued that the term “mass incarceration” is a misnomer, because it implies that this phenomenon of incarceration is something that affects everyone, or most people, or is spread evenly throughout our society, when the fact is it’s not at all.
Mass incarceration in the United States isn’t a phenomenon that affects most. It’s concentrated in extremely small pockets, communities defined almost entirely by race and class, and in these communities it’s not just one out of 10 who serve time behind bars. No, often one out of three are likely to do time in prison.
And in communities of hyperincarceration that can be found in inner-city communities, in [Washington], D.C., in Chicago, in New York — the list goes on — you can go block after block and have a hard time finding any young man who has not served time behind bars, who has not yet been arrested for something.
And in these communities where incarceration has become so normalized, when it becomes part of the normal life course for young people growing up, it decimates those communities. It makes the social networks that we take for granted in other communities impossible to form. It makes thriving economies nearly impossible to create. It means that young people growing up in these communities imagine that prison is just part of their future. It’s just part of what happens to you when you grow up.
And the behavior of the police in many of these communities only reinforces it as they stop, frisk, search people no matter what they’re doing, whether they’re innocent or guilty. It sends this message that you’re going to jail one way or another no matter what you do, whether you stay in school or you drop out, or if you follow the rules or you don’t. You’re going to jail just like your uncle, just like your father, just like your brother, just like your neighbor. You, too, are going to jail. It’s part of your destiny.
And it affects one’s mindset. It affects people emotionally. It’s growing up not knowing and forming meaningful relationships with their relatives, their parents. But it’s also devastating for people who come out and want to do the right thing by their family and aren’t able to find jobs and support them.
I can’t tell you how many young fathers I have met who want nothing more than to be able to support their kids, maybe get married one day, but they have no hope of ever being able to find a job, [no] hope of doing anything else than cycling in and out of jail.
So we’ve decimated these communities, and we’ve destroyed all hopes of anything like the American dream. …
You could look at the numbers and say, OK, crime rates are at historic lows in the United States; incarceration rates are at historic highs — great, it works. Locking all these people up has bought crime rates down. So if you view this as the great prison experiment, as an effort to eradicate crime, has it been successful?
Many people imagine that mass incarceration actually works because crime rates are relatively low now, so hasn’t this worked? Hasn’t this been a grand success story?
The answer is no. We have decimated millions of people’s lives, locked up and locked out millions of people, but in the places where the war on drugs has been waged with the greatest intensity, places where we have locked up the most people, gone on the most extraordinary incarceration binges, crime rates remain high and have actually increased.
You take communities like Chicago, New Orleans and in this neighborhood in Kentucky where the drug war has been waged with just extraordinary, merciless intensity and incarceration rates have soared as crime rates have soared. When you step back and actually look at the data on crime and incarceration, you don’t see a neat picture of incarceration rates climbing as crime rates are declining. No, in fact in many of the places where crime rates have declined the most, incarceration rates have fallen the most. …
In places like Chicago, in New Orleans, in Baltimore, in Philadelphia, where crime rates have been the most severe, incarceration has proved itself to be an abysmal failure as an answer to the problems that need to be addressed.
[There] seems to be something almost counterintuitive going on here, that once you start locking up too many people, you can actually start to destroy the social fabric of a community to the point where it creates the conditions for crime rather than prevents crime, which one would assume was in some people’s minds the point of incarceration.
One might assume that the more incarceration you have, the less crime you would have. The research actually shows, though, that quite the opposite is the case once you reach a certain tipping point.
When you begin to incarcerate such a large percentage of the population, the social fabric begins to erode. … When you reach a certain tipping point with incarceration, crime rates rise, because the community itself is being harmed by the higher levels of imprisonment. It can no longer function in a healthy manner. Incarceration itself becomes the problem rather than the solution. …
More than half of the people locked up in the community we’re focused on are locked up for selling drugs. Does locking up people selling drugs stop the drug trade in a neighborhood?
… Since the war on drugs was declared, there has been an exponential increase in drug arrests and convictions in the United States. Between 1985 and 2000, more than two-thirds of the increase in the federal population and more than half of the increased state prison population was due to drug convictions alone.
Drug convictions have increased more than 1,000 percent since the drug war began. To get a sense of how large a contribution the war on drugs has made to mass incarceration, think of it this way: There are more people in prisons and jails today just for drug offenses then were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980.
Does it work?
Arresting people for minor drug offenses in this drug war does not reduce drug abuse or drug-related crime. It is common sense and conventional wisdom that if you arrest one drug dealer, there will be another dealer on the street within hours to replace him. …
We have seen that today, 40 years after the drug war was declared, illegal drugs in many respects are cheaper and more readily available than they were at the time the drug war was declared. It’s difficult these days to find politicians who will openly defend the drug war on the grounds that it’s actually worked or that we are any closer to winning it than we were 40 years ago. And yet the war goes on.
It goes on and on, and every day people are arrested for minor drug offenses, branded criminals and felons, and then locked away and then relegated to permanent second-class status. Simply arresting people for drug crimes [does] nothing to address the serious problems of drug abuse and drug addiction that exist in this country.
The war goes on, as you said, but there are efforts underway in various states … to start to change things. … The aim is to reduce the jail population to save money. The idea in principle is to pump that money back into treatment and, in theory, things that will help prevent crime rather than exacerbate it. Could you talk to me about what is good about these initiatives underway in various states but also about their limitations?
It’s encouraging that in states like Kentucky and Ohio and in many other states around the country, legislation has been passed reducing the amount of time that minor, nonviolent drug offenders spend behind bars. It’s a step, a positive step in the right direction.
The concern, though, is that these reforms are motivated primarily because of money, fiscal concerns. State budgets have been struggling to meet basic expenses for prisons, [and] these bloated prison budgets have created a situation where politicians either have to ask taxpayers to pay up, pony up more money, raise taxes, or downsize our prisons somewhat.
And because these reforms have been motivated primarily out of concern about tax dollars rather than out of genuine concern about the communities that have been decimated by mass incarceration, people who have been targeted in this drug war and their families, the reforms don’t go nearly far enough.
We may reduce the size of prison population in some states somewhat by reducing the length of time some people spend behind bars, but as long as people, when they’re released from prison, still face legal discrimination in employment and housing, are still denied food stamps, are still denied financial aid and access to education to improve themselves, they’ll be back. That revolving door will continue, and they may stay for a shorter period of time, but that castelike system that exists will remain firmly intact.
If we don’t do something to reform our probation and parole systems and turn them into systems that are actually designed to support people’s meaningful re-entry in society rather than simply ensnare people once again into the system, we can continue to expand the size of our prison population simply by continuing to revoke people’s probation and parole and keep that revolving door swinging.
In fact, the problems associated with our probation and parole system became so severe that by the year 2000, there were more people incarcerated just for probation and parole violations than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980.
So without major, drastic, large-scale change, this system will continue to function much in its same form. The question is whether we have the political will to do what is required.
If we were to return to the rates of incarceration we had in the 1970s, before the war on drugs and get-tough movement really kicked off, we would have to release four out of five people who are behind bars today. More than a million people who are currently employed by the criminal justice system would need to find a new line of work.
Most new prison constructions employ predominantly white rural communities, communities that are struggling themselves economically, communities that have come to view prisons as their source of jobs, their economic base. Those prisons would have to close down.
Private prison companies now listed on the New York Stock Exchange would be forced to watch their profits vanish if we do away with the system of mass incarceration.
This system is now so deeply rooted in our social, political and economic structure, it’s not going to just fade away, downsize out of sight with a little bit of tinkering of margins. No, it’s going to take a fairly radical shift in our public consciousness, … and that is going to be a change of mind, a change of heart that will be a hard one, but it’s necessary if we’re ever going to turn this system around.
The long list you gave me there of obstacles to reform felt insurmountable as you were going through them. What can be done? What is being done other than this tinkering, as you say, to move things in a more just direction?
Despite the extraordinary obstacles, I remain hopeful and optimistic that a movement against mass incarceration is being born in the United States. It exists in communities large and small. Nationwide, young people are organizing against mass incarceration on campuses. Formerly incarcerated people are organizing a movement to abolish all the forms of discrimination against them, voting and housing and employment, access to public benefits.
There is a movement for major drug policy reform as well as a movement for restorative justice, to shift away from a purely punitive approach to dealing with violent offenders to a more restorative one that takes seriously interests of the victim, the offender and the community as a whole.
So there is a movement being born, and while the obstacles are great, I have to remember that there was a time when it seemed that slavery would never die. There was a time when people said segregation forever, Jim Crow will never die, and the Jim Crow system was so deeply rooted in our social and economic and political structure and all aspects of social, political and public life, it seemed impossible to imagine that it could ever fade away.
And yet the movement was born. People who recognized the gap between what we were doing, who we are, and who we wanted to be as a nation and were willing to fight for it, to make sacrifices for it, to organize for it, to speak up and to speak out even more than when it was unpopular, that kind of movement is being born again.
So I’m hopeful that as people begin to learn the truth about what is happening, and as the curtain is pulled back, that we will learn to care more about the folks in and beyond and commit ourselves to doing the hard work that is necessary to end mass incarceration and to ensure that no system like this is ever born again in the United States. …
… Talk to me about youth detention and how that affects life chances and the chances of being incarcerated later in life as well.
In communities where there are very high rates of mass incarceration, communities that have been hit hardest by the system of mass incarceration, the system operates practically from cradle to grave.
When you’re born, your parent has likely already spent time behind bars, maybe behind bars at the time you make your entrance into the world. And at a very young age, you find that you are going to be viewed as suspicious and treated like a criminal.
No matter who you are, what you’ve done, you’ll find that you’re the target of law enforcement suspicion at an early age. You’re likely to attend schools that have zero-tolerance policies, perhaps where police officers patrol the halls rather than security guards, where disputes with teachers are treated as criminal infractions, where a schoolyard fight results in your first arrest rather than a meeting with the principal and your parents.
You find that a very young age, even the smallest infractions are treated as criminal. You’re criminalized at a young age, and you learn to expect that that’s your destiny. You, one way or another, are going to jail.
When we think of criminals, we typically think of the worst kind of rapists or ax murderers or serial killers, or we conjure the grossest caricature of what a criminal is and think that is who’s behind bars, that is who’s filling our prisons and jails, when the reality is that most people’s introduction to the criminal justice system when they live in these ghetto communities is for something very small, something minor.
Maybe they were stopped and searched and caught with something like weed in their pocket. Maybe they got into a fight at school, and instead of having a meeting with a counselor, having intervention with a school psychologist, having parental and community support, instead of all that, you got sent to a detention camp. Suddenly you’re treated like a criminal, like you’re worth nothing. You’re no good and will never be anything but a criminal, and that’s where it begins.
Then we feign surprise that these young people then wind up very often with serious problems, emotional problems, act out in violent ways. We act surprised, and yet what have we done? What messages have we sent? How have we treated them? What forms of violence have actually been perpetrated by us, the state, the government, us collectively, upon them?
I think we ought to spend a lot more time thinking about how young people are criminalized at early ages rather than just imagining that a life of crime is somehow freely chosen. Many young people find they are criminalized long before they ever are able to make choices about who they want to be in our society.
… What effect does locking up so many people from one concentrated neighborhood have on that neighborhood?
Locking up extraordinary numbers of people from a single neighborhood means that the young people in those neighborhoods imagine that incarceration is their destiny. They have no reason to believe otherwise. All evidence suggests that that is in fact their fate.
It also means that in these communities, the economic structures have been torn apart. There are very few people who are able to work because they’ve been branded criminals and felons.
The economic base in those communities is virtually nonexistent. Jobs are often nonexistent in these communities. Housing is often difficult to come by or tenuous. People find themselves rotating from home to home, sleeping on couches or trying to find places to stay because they can’t get access to basic housing. Getting access to education or public benefits is very difficult.
When this happens on a large scale, when most people in the community are struggling in precisely this way, the social networks are destroyed. And it is a virtual statistical inevitability that if you’re raised in that community, you too will someday serve time behind bars.
Why is there so much drug abuse in Beecher Terrace?
Drug abuse and drug addiction is not unique to poor communities of color. It is like this everywhere in America, but how we respond to drug abuse and drug addiction in poor communities of color is radically different than how we respond to it in more privileged communities.
If you’re middle class, upper-middle class, living in the suburbs, and your son or daughter becomes dependent on drugs, experimenting with drugs, the first thing you do is not call the police. The first thing you do is figure out, how can I get my child some help?
If you’re a schoolteacher working in a suburban school, and you come to discover that a child in your school may be struggling with drugs or have a drug abuse problem, the most likely response is not to call the police. The most likely response is to get them help.
And in fact, if you’re struggling with depression in a middle-class, upper-middle-class community, you can get prescription drugs, lots of them, lots of legal drugs to deal with your depression, your angst, your anxiety.
But in ghetto communities, where there is more than enough reason to be depressed and anxious, you don’t have that option of having lots of hours in therapy to work through your issues, to get prescribed lots of legal drugs to help you cope with your grief, your anxiety.
No, people in these communities have little choice but to self-medicate, and when they do, when they decide to turn to marijuana or turn to cocaine or turn to some type of substance we’ve designed, we’ve decided is prohibited, is off-limits, then rather than responding to these people with drug treatment and say[ing], “How can we help you cope with your crisis and help you through this period of time and help you deal with your drug addiction?,” instead we say: “Oh, the answer for you is a cage. We’re going to put you in a cage, lock you in a literal cage, treat you like an animal, and when you’re released, we’re going to make it almost impossible for you to find work or housing or care for your children.” That’s our answer to drug abuse and drug addiction in these communities.
If we really cared about people who lived there, would that be our answer? I think not. I think the way in which we respond to drug abuse and drug addiction in these communities speaks volumes about the extent to which these are people we truly care about.
I’ve lost some joy, I’ve lost some time
Now it feels like I will lose my mind
Journey long and lost my way
And now it feels like I’m lost, is all I say
Searching here and over there
For what I’ve lost where is it, I don’t know
But I will find a way to lift up my hands
And I will find a way to worship You, Lord
Though my heart is low I’ll find a way to give You praise
I will find a way to love You more
I’ve lost so much down through the years
It seems that all I find of late is a face so full of tears
I search each dark and empty place
The peace I used to know somehow I have misplaced
Searching here and over there
For the things I’ve lost I don’t have them anymore
But I will find a way to lift up my hands
And I will find a way to worship You, Lord
Though my heart is low I’ll find a way to give You praise
I will find a way to love You more
One thing I’ve not lost is the will to move ahead
And I kept a faith and trust in You Lord
And I find way down within myself
A love for You, Lord, that overflows
But I know that I can love You more
With every loss and through it all
But I will find a way to lift up my hands
And I will find a way to worship You, Lord
And though my life is broken I’ll find a way to give You praise
My pain is still a reality today. I have put my hands to the plow and honestly moved forward, but like everything in life there is a time to smile and a time to cry. Dates, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and all memorable occasions render times of reflection. I left home at the ripe age of seventeen. I was accepted in the Navy and College at the same time. I had my first child(a son) Demir Deshon Pratt at seventeen part of the reason I was in hot pursuit of success. After completion of boot-camp and a semester of school I went home to get married and set-up my family. Another child was born shortly after my son turned one years old(a daughter named Paris Deshon Pratt). I graduated college and turned down my commission to officer candidate school and went into the fleet. After two campaigns abroad I came home to a sick son who was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia, who died shortly after that. My daughter was left with my then wife who was young and couldn’t deal with the death of our son and being a parent with an absent husband serving his country. Shortly after that my mom past and I was in Beirut and was introduced to what it fells like to take a human life all the while grieving the lost of the Mother that gave me life.
Paris really didn’t get a good chance at life with her mom because she wasn’t exposed to structure anymore. We divorced and my life got more intricate with time due to the demand placed on me by the Navy to serve with honor all around the globe. I would go visit and offer my brief time to attempt to structure my daughters life, but I always was greeted with resistance. Well as time would have it my life went left after exiting the military, not knowing about the hidden scars from nine campaigns I plunged into a dualism existence, serving God and mammon. That behavior landed me into years of not really being stable, drug addiction and riotous behavior led to (Prison). My daughter was left to many types of abuse while living in my home town of Washington D.C. with her mom. She was exposed to the many different effects of a lifestyle her mom could only afford her. Exposure to many men, drug deals and murder and all sorts of dysfunctions that led to her negative behavior. I made one more attempt to right the misfortune of us both and went to get my daughter and afford her a better chance at living, still un- rehabilitated and in sheer delusion that I was in control of my life I brought my daughter to live in my dysfunction of dealing drugs and living a dual life style with my new family and kids. She was jealous and felt neglected although she had structure and siblings to live with that had somewhat of a good model to exude before her. She no longer lived in the ghetto and depraved circumstances, she was in an up scale community, but with a different set of demons still before her eyes.
I had to go serve a Federal obligation for 5 years and she was left with her step mother and siblings, but she couldn’t deal with the boredom and structure living without the iron hand of a man around. She performed so well and achieved academic success beyond any of the other kids, but she wanted to go home to her mom in Washington D.C. where she was neglected and abused. Well today marks the 10 year anniversary of our last talk before she made a fatal choice that would alter her life forever:
Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007
Crack dealer sentenced to life in fatal shooting
Silver Spring woman charged with murder in slaying of District teen
A 23-year-old Silver Spring woman charged in the November 2005 premeditated fatal shooting of a Washington, D.C., teenager in Silver Spring was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Parris Deshon Pratt of the 100 block of Croyden Court was found guilty March 16 of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Phillip Cunningham, 16, who lived in a Washington, D.C., group home.
Pratt shot Cunningham to death because she believed the boy had been ‘‘snitching” to police about her crack cocaine dealing business, Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Feeney wrote in his sentencing recommendation.
The Hon. Nelson W. Rupp Jr., the judge presiding over Pratt’s trial and sentencing, said he was ‘‘struck by the total lack of remorse” Pratt showed when she spoke to the court before her sentencing.
‘‘It’s not going to happen again if I have anything to do with it,” Rupp said before delivering his sentence.
Before the sentencing, Pratt apologized for getting herself into the situation that led to Cunningham’s death and asked for forgiveness from the boy’s family. But she said she felt her life was in danger at the time of the shooting and that she was the ‘‘sacrificial lamb.” She said it was the witness who testified against her that fired the bullet that killed Cunningham. She admitted to shooting Cunningham twice in self-defense.
According to the sentencing recommendation, it was Pratt’s DNA, not that of the witness, which was found on the gun.
‘‘If my back is against the wall, I do the best that I can,” she said before her sentencing. She said she was ‘‘totally out of my character” and abusing drugs when the shooting occurred.
According to defense testimony before her sentencing, Pratt was physically and sexually abused as a child, and abusing the drug PCP by age 14. Several of Pratt’s family and friends testified before her sentencing that she was misunderstood and a product of her upbringing.
But Rupp said it shocked the ‘‘conscience of the court” to see Pratt’s family claiming ties after defense testimony stated that she had been living on the streets, and ordered family and friends, who were weeping when Pratt was sentenced to life without parole, out of the courtroom.
‘‘If there was a way to charge the family … they’d be charged,” Rupp said.
Pratt was charged with first-degree murder and the use of a handgun in the commission of a felony three days after the shooting. According to the sentencing recommendation, a witness to the Nov. 17, 2005, slaying came forward and told police that Pratt lured Cunningham into her car and drove Cunningham and the witness to the 9200 block of Manchester Road, where she shot him in the head three times.
Pratt fired two shots at Cunningham after asking him to take a walk down a driveway on Manchester Road, according to the sentencing recommendation. As Pratt and the witness began driving away, Pratt noticed Cunningham was still moving. She backed up the car, and shot Cunningham in the head a third time.
Pratt then drove to Wheaton after the shooting to sell crack cocaine, according to the sentencing recommendation.
At the time of his death, Cunningham was enrolled as a sophomore at Calvin Coolidge High School in the District. Erica Cunningham, the 24-year-old sister of Phillip Cunningham, said Thursday her brother was a typical teen who was just ‘‘starting to get it together.” Cunningham also had three other brothers, all wards of the Washington, D.C., foster care system.
Pratt also received a sentence of 20 years for the use of a handgun in the commission of a crime, and five years for the possession of a regulated firearm by a prohibited person, to be served consecutively.
After the sentencing, public defender Alan Drew said he would appeal the sentencing and pursue a three-judge review panel.
I have a story of pain and triumphs just like we all do. I am not ashamed at being transparent about my struggles, failure, and challenges for without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. Praise God for His grace. I am fighting so many different fronts for myself and my kids. I have another son doing life for the same thing here in California, so you see this is a another part of the “WHY” to Second Chance Alliance. I have real life experience to offer to our communities and families abroad,. My wife has her own story to tell as well. Please pray my strength today. Thanks for your time in reading this blog and for your pondering to assist us in our cause, if you never viewed it click the insignia below.