Human Dignity

Hola mi gente,
As if you needed more proof that the war on drugs was just another way to lock up Blacks and Latinx and radicals, more and more key players at the center of the CIA-crack cocaine scandal continue to come forward. While things did not turn out well for Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb, who stunned the world with his “Dark Alliance” newspaper series (Webb’s top editor abandoned him, he was drummed out of journalism by the Times and Washington Post and other leading newspapers, and eventually committed “suicide”), it seems he will have the last word.

A documentary, Freeway: Crack in the System, by Marc Levin (released at the same time Hollywood version of Webb’s life, Kill the Messenger, was released)…

“…  not only explores the corrupt foundations of the drug war itself, but also calls into question the draconian jail sentences the U.S. justice system meted out to a mostly minority population, while the country’s own foreign policy abetted the drug trade.”

Today’s image is courtesy of the upcoming film, The Birth of a Nation. It depicts a black man with a noose made from the US flag around his neck. As one critic put it, it’s like a “… punch to the gut.”

Seeing the Human

Birth of a Nation_ Nat Turner_ 2016_ 001


Not too long ago, a high ranking correctional officer admonished me for missing a workshop at his facility. It seems that my workshop participants, thinking I had been replaced, expressed their disapproval so vehemently, the guards had to call in reinforcements.

I run workshops in Rikers Island, one of the most infamous penal colonies in the world at one of their most problematic facilities, Anne M Kross (“AMKC”). The captain asked me what was it about me that created such loyalty. I just shrugged and said, “I treat them like with respect.”

Saying shit like that always gets me in trouble.

I considered the mini rebellion by my participants a compliment, especially considering that the NYC Dept. of Corrections (DOC) bureaucrats who run these programs have problems wiith how I facilitate my workshops. The greatest compliment, however, is whenever I run into a brother or sister on the outside and they come up to me to hug me. I remember being in an isolation ward and telling one the brothers there, “You don’t belong here.” He said he would come see me when he got released and he did. He’s now involved in a campaign to do away with the torture of solitary confinement.

Still, as I further reflected about my workshop participants’ “mutiny” I was reminded of the the thing I do that perhaps others don’t: I refuse to see them as criminals. I see them as human beings. I believe that all people, regardless of their criminal justice status, have the right, as we all do, to live with dignity and their humanity respected and valued.

I have seen and worked with many people who had committed murder, but I have never seen a murderer. I have seen many people who had stolen from others, but I have never seen a thief. And here’s the hardest one for me. I have even seen and worked with people who had committed terrible sex crimes, but I have never seen a sex offender. Throughout the years, I have evolved enough to realize than any person is more than a crime.

It is irrational to define people by their worst act or acts. It denies the existence of all the other deeds they have committed, the many good or even noble, acts. I recognize those other deeds, the other, good aspects of their personalities. I see people who had done a crime, not criminals, or inmates, detainees, or cons, or animals.

When I began to see the people instead of just the crimes, they also saw the good parts of themselves. In giving respect, they respected me, and as a consequence, respected themselves. They began to have self-respect without denying their crime.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you most know by now the  United States incarcerates more people than any other nation on the planet. We’re in the midst of a brutal social experiment in which we have enslaved black and brown people and poor people. We’re so hell-bent on retribution and punishment that we have lost sight of the humanity of our brothers and sisters and in the process, we have lost our souls.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…


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