Re-entry after Death Row
Democracy Now! has a story today, interviewing Harold Wilson, a former death row inmate that was exonerated after 17 years due to DNA evidence. I made my stance on capital punishment pretty clear here, but this story is actually a lot deeper han the death penalty.
The most interesting part of his story, in my opinion, is the way in which he was released. He said he was released with:
“…the clothes on his back, 65 cents, and a token.”
Translation: he was released with nothing, REPEAT, NOTHING!!!!! WHAT?!?!?! Why do we do innocent people this way after they have been wronged by the state? Why do we do guilty people this way after they have ‘paid their debt to society?’
This is yet another problem with the prison system in this country. For those of us familiar with the Prison-Industrial Complex, the fact that people want to do everything in their power to get as many people imprisoned as possible. What I don’t understand is why perpetuators of the complex don’t buy into re-entry programs. That actually could be a nice revenue growth opportunity for them, but I digress.
Since they don’t pay attention to prisoners (innocent or otherwise), we should. If the purpose of prison is punitive, then it would only be fair/just to restore a person after their punishment period has passed. Why is it that the system is so petty that it seeks to disenfranchise individuals beyond incarceration? By the system, I mean society in general and the government.
I believe that there are certain aspects in your life that are your business. I also believe that there are certain aspects of your life in which society should be available to help you, should you so choose. In the cases of individuals exiting the criminal justice system, I feel that society has a responsibility to these people to ease their transition back into the mainstream. This means having things set up for people who just got out of jail that serve as legitimate alternatives to attitudes, lifestyles, and situations that could have contributed to their incarceration. Programs like this exist currently (an example being Detroit’s Partners For Succes Program), but they are under most peoples radar and criminally underfunded. Prison re-entry is an unfortunate reality for many Black men in this country, and instead of burying our heads in the sand and casting away these brothers [the way that others do], Black people should support these people. Help them find affordable housing. Help them with resumes. Help them find work. Help them by providing healthy friendships. All of us know individuals that are currently or at one time have been jailed. We can and must serve these people. Now, I’m not saying higher a bank robber at your brokerage firm. I am saying befriend a bank robber and communicate to that person that there are different choices available to them.
Why do convicts have to jump through hoops to vote, and in some cases are no longer able to vote after their sentences are up? Why won’t companies hire ex-cons? Why are people who have been jailed not provided with concrete systems of re-enstatement? The answers to all of these questions lie in the fundamental flaw of American criminal justice. Our system is not rehabilitative, and it never has been. Don’t believe it when anyone says that. If it was, maybe Stanley Williams would be alive. Once you understand this, it starts to make sense why people are not treated equally after they have been in prison. Further, if one is already at a societal disadvantage (read: Black), and then has jail time in their past on top of that, then they are usually treated with even more contempt.
Because of this, it is up to us as a people to unite behind ALL of our people. As a responsible community member, we need to pay attention to unique needs of all indviduals within that community. I don’t consider brothers and sisters who have server prison time as community exiles. As a result, I serve them as I serve anyone else.
We don’t need a program to get the ball rolling. Start small. Fellowship with one person you know who is in jail or has been. Learn about their life and their experiences pre, during, and post prison. Building these relationship will create the foundation upon which solutions to re-entry hardhips for individuals everywhere.