By Uhuru B. Rowe
October 23, 2016
This past October 15th marked my 40th Birthday. But rather than talk about how old I am getting and how I’m experiencing some sort of real or imagined mid-life crisis, I want to talk about something more important.
What I write, express, and relate to you via my blog posts concerning my experiences in prison aren’t just gripes or complaints about my situation. The corporate news is prohibited from having free access inside prisons here in Virginia. So I am attempting to use this platform to educate and enlighten members of the public about what is taking place behind the walls of prisons in the U.S., especially since it is tens of billions of your tax dollars being used to construct and operate these prisons.
“All you do is complain about your situation; just remember how you got in there,” is what one person expressed to me alluding to the crime I committed that landed me in prison. Is that how most of you feel about about what I share on this blog?
Listen, none of us “on the inside” are innocent by any stretch of the imagination, except those who are truly innocent of the crime(s) for which they have been unjustly convicted. But, does that mean the Dept. of Corrections has the right to subject us to dehumanization, mistreatment, torture and abuse? Even detainees labeled as terrorists and enemies of America and held indefinitely in deplorable conditions inside concentration-like prison camps in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, demand humane and just treatment and often go on longterm hunger strikes until these rights are afforded them. Some detainees have been hunger striking for years and are often subjected to torture via painful force-feeding techniques.
But, how many of you remain unwilling and unmotivated to speak up and advocate on our behalf? Even after you’ve become aware that the dehumanization, mistreatment, torture and abuse of prisoners that is taking place right here in America’s prisons. Is your silence and non-action on these issues indicative of your tacit approval and acceptance of what is happening to us?
There are well-known, influential, million dollar mainstream organizations advocating on behalf of animals like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (P.E.T.A.) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (A.S.P.C.A.). These organizations are right to exist because animals are incapable of speaking up for themselves and have a right to live peacefully without mistreatment, torture and abuse just like any human being. But where are organizations equal in size, scope, funding and mainstream appeal advocating on behalf of incarcerated people whose very lives are in the hands of those who wield ultimate power and authority with little oversight, transparency, and accountability? Do we not have a similar right to exist without mistreatment, torture and abuse just like animals do and the right to protest without fear of retribution and retaliation from those in authority over us who sadistically aggravate our suffering on a daily basis? Where are organizations like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Prisoners (P.E.T.P.) or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Prisoners (A.S.P.C.P.)?
There are numerous, much smaller grassroots organizations which advocate on behalf of, or work in solidarity with, incarcerated people that can potentially fulfill the role of an organization like P.E.T.P. or A.S.P.C.P., but these are either localized, unknown, under supported, underfunded, lack mainstream/national appeal, or have little to no influence or sway in the political arena.
Until people from every section of society come together and agitate, organize, and form organizations that have the potential to catapult prison issues to a national agenda, then the physical and mental abuse, neglect, mistreatment and dehumanization of incarcerated people will persist unabated, thereby putting your communities at risk. How so?
With the transition of the penal system away from an environment which prioritizes reform, treatment, education and rehabilitation towards a more punitive, exploitative, and dehumanizing form of imprisonment, most people are unaware that the torture, abuse, mistreatment, and dehumanization of incarcerated people exacerbates our antisocial personalities, attitudes, and behaviors, which increases the odds that we’ll commit new crimes against unsuspecting citizens and return through the ever revolving doors of incarceration.
“Man, when I go home, the first thing I’m going to do is buy me a package [drugs] and a gun so I can get money,” one young man says to another during a typical conversation in prison. This is the type of attitude and mentality which proliferates in an overly oppressive and harsh prison environment which cares little about education, treatment and the mental and moral development of those it incarcerates; but, rather, focuses on the exploitation of prisoner labor and the myriad of schemes designed to extort funds from prisoners and our loved-ones to offset the costs associated with operating prisons in the face of bloated corrections budgets.
So people in society should be concerned with and have a vested interest in how we are treated behind these prison walls. To do so is not to be considered “soft on crime” but “smart on crime,” considering that nationally, thousands of prisoners are released back into society every year to communities all across America. What type of formerly incarcerated person do you want living in your community? One who has been properly educated, humanely treated, and reformed while in prison and leaves with a renewed sense of purpose, or one who has been neglected, abused, mistreated, and dehumanized, and leaves in a defeated, broken, angry, bitter, agitated and parasitic state? Your answer will reflect if you truly care about reducing crime in your community.