I read some of my poetry at a spoken word event in , I agreed. Then I met a guy who became my mentor, named Michael Norwood, an incarcerated author with his own publishing company. He showed me how to structure and write. My mother worked at the Library of Congress, so the copyright process was easily facilitated for me. I did my first book. I mailed it to the Library of Congress, but after that, my mother would go downstairs with all my other books.
She knew the people.
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They found out what I was doing, read my poetry, and wanted to be involved with it, so the universe conspired to do everything to help me facilitate that. I just wanted to share my poetry and my story with the world.
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From there, I started coming out with many books. But as I aged, I learned that one of the purposes of the system is to make you invisible and mute. Then they can make you a commodity. They have contracts — how many D. You become a business. I realized this through reading about historical figures in this country and throughout the world, what they were able to do with their pen and voice, and how they were able to move people through literature.
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With the media production company, Unchained Media, I met [Kristin] Adair, who was a photographer and a lawyer. When we met, she was starting a fellowship with Halcyon.
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In , she came out with a documentary about becoming free. It centered on three youth from D. You go in a cell, sit on a bunk, see the video of us talking about decades-long experiences. We came in as children and served over 20 years. You see our pictures all over the cell.
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What does that spark for you? From an aesthetic perspective, I love it. It looks better. The only thing I have against it is I believe law-abiding, working-class citizens who contribute to the fabric of the city, who do our dry-cleaning or clean our dog shit — I believe we have a right to affordable housing in the city. Because I live in the high-income area now, I see things. I see people pay people to clean their house, nannies for their kids, walk their dogs.
You were talking about affordable housing as a way toward reform. Do you have any ideas or visions for criminal justice reform? What are the biggest things people are overlooking? There are people who have contracts, you have these unions with correctional officers fighting to stay perpetuated. They want their industry to grow.
It may have racial implications, but when you look at it, slavery was economic first. Then race was used to perpetuate it. For criminal justice reform, I encourage you to look at it from an economic perspective. Start going after those entities. King did with the bus boycotts. Once the unnamed, domestic workers who were going to work in the upper class began de-investing in buses, the buses saw how much money they lost and were willing to compromise. You encouraged us to start looking at this from an economic perspective.
What should groups like Arnold Ventures be thinking about when working to transform the criminal justice system and make our approach more effective? What you have going on is organizations are investing in criminal justice reform and re-entry. But no one on their staff has been a criminal or been in prison. No one on their staff has re-entered society after returning from prison.
Theoretically, your ideas make sense. Those who have direct experience and who are actively working in the field, especially those who have formal education, I think they should be employed, and if not employed, at least funded as consultants to do the work. As an individual, you can be dynamic, but your performance is not as impactful because you have economic restraints. Their bodies and brains are not getting the proper nutrients they need for the frontal lobe to function. There are many things in the community and in the prisons that are definitely socioeconomic.
If the economics is right, people are not thinking about robbing your iPhone or shoes, because they can afford their iPhone and their shoes. Many things can develop our children into criminals.
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We have to seriously look at the economics. I have to wait for all of this just to make some money?
My solution is literacy, arts, and some tech centers. Federal drug laws account for the longest maximum sentences out of any crime you could commit, with some reaching up to 40 years or life in prison for large quantities of drugs. Even small amounts of drugs can land you years, but the real issue is the unfair sentencing for drugs that target lower-class offenders.
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of requires a minimum sentence of five years for five grams of crack, grams of cocaine, 1 kilogram of heroin, 40 grams of fentanyl, five grams of meth, kilograms of marijuana. Five grams of crack is much different than grams of cocaine, for instance, when the two drugs are so similar. The drug laws and the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that affect drug offenders hit low-level offenders especially rough.
According to the Pew Research Center , in the racial demographics were as follows:. In America, people of color are incarcerated in state and federal prisons across the country at higher rates than white people, with African Americans landing in prison at more than five times the rate of white people.
In the following five states, states with predominately white communities, this number jumped to a rate of 10 to one:. Oklahoma, which is the state with the highest black incarceration rate in the nation, holds more than one in every 15 black males over the age of 18 in prison. Hispanics and Latinos see nearly the same range of racial disparity, with Latinos in the US imprisoned at 1.
However, blacks are still more than twice as likely to wind up in prison than Hispanics. There is clearly a serious problem with lingering racism in the criminal justice system, whether at the state or federal level. With racial profiling, harsh drug laws and over criminalization, mass incarceration rates, and institutionalized discrimination all to blame for these shocking numbers, the problem also relies on socio-economic status.
Many organizations advocate for criminal justice reform.
One of the best examples of this shift is the overwhelming opposition to mandatory minimum sentences. Some 87 percent of voters want judges to have more discretion to sentence nonviolent offenders on a case-by-case basis rather than saddle them with formulaic sentencing requirements that have clogged our prisons with people convicted of nonviolent crimes.
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