Drug War Prisoners

REGINALD ALEXANDER, February 7, 2001
Response to Drug War Talk: What's Up With African-America?
Black People Deserve Another Chance

Dear Website,

I agree with many of the issues you raise in the Drug War Talk: What's Up With African-America?"

Let's explore why that book "The Tallahassee Project" met with indifference at the meeting of the Black Women's Caucus. And why a non-black's view of racism is not considered viable in the black community

I suspect that members of the Black Women's Caucus view drug usage (i.e. dealing, etc.) as a real detriment to our race and community. Therefore, they are unsympathetic to anyone imprisoned for such. Amazingly, this is an attitude you would find in the "heart of the ghetto," where "real" lives are lost and deaths are not just "statistics." Drug-related crimes have left personal damage, and not just damage on paper. So from that point of view they have little sympathy for Drug War prisoners.

The task must be: convincing them that black people deserve another chance, after serving a "fair" sentence. And that, as it stands today, sentences are grossly unfair, particularly in the case of African-Americans convicted of drug crimes. It is unthinkable to me that a person could be imprisoned for life (or put to death) for drug trafficking. But is it unacceptable to the public?

Life in prison is death too! Death occurs when a person ceases to exist. That defines "life in prison." You have no future. Honestly, if I'll never get out of prison, I would prefer death. If I'm going to be imprisoned until I'm old and useless, I prefer death. My point is: Life in prison is death.

But it's apparent to me that the public - particularly my black people - approve of such harsh sentencing. There are a few celebrated cases where the public comes to the aid of someone harshly sentenced. But not many. Of course, the public is somewhat blinded by the State's propaganda. More so, they are callused against sympathy for drug dealers because the tragedy of drugs is right at their front door. The problem is, they can't see the real hand that steers the drug car.

Getting the public to realize that is a mission tantamount to the difficulties my people faced gaining freedom (which we still don't have). I sincerely believe that.

Now, to address the issue of a non-black's understanding of racism. To put it in an analogy, I guess it's like a man professing to truly understand what a woman experiences during child birth. We can be present to hold their hand, help them breathe, etc. But women swear we can't ever truly know what it's like.

In a sense, I agree with the analogy, though I also agree you were not professing to know what it's like to be black. I suspect that your question will be ignored because you do not have the right to question "What's up with African America?" when the problem it relates to is not yours but ours.

In another sense, I disagree. Let me say that, personally, I see no progress in our struggle. No one I know has gotten out of prison. We want to see "faces," hear stories of prisoners gaining freedom as a direct result of activists like you. When movements fail to garner results, the movement loses steam. I'm in my 11th year of incarceration. During the years, I've corresponded with a dozen activists against the Drug War imprisonment. None has asked me how they could assist me personally, help me to regain my freedom or reduce my sentence. Not one!

I don't mean offering to hire an attorney for me, etc. Not one has said, "Tell me about your case. Let's see if we can't get a group of my friends and your supporters together and see if we can't have an influence with the parole board."

None of the activists I have corresponded with has been concerned about my plight, personally.

To all of you I've been a statistic.

I don't say that in anger. It's said to point out that we are people - real people - not just numbers. In that regard, I applaud the effort put into The Tallahassee Project.

Let me toss something at you. Suppose you put together a group of 50-100 men, citizens who would go to the courts or parole board and say: "I want to sponsor this certain prisoner; release him and I stand responsible for him for a period of 3 years parole."

You would have to secure a job, dwelling, etc. for the said inmate upon his release. Then, after 3 years a judge could release that person from your direct supervision if they've made a successful return to society.

At the end of 3 years, you'd have 50-100 ex-Drug War prisoners on profile. Their successes would prove that Drug War prisoners are not a lost lot, unable to change their ways. Sure, it's a small dent in the problem. But it could be done in conjunction with the ongoing mission.

This would speak volumes about the faith the 100 sponsors have in reform. It would put "faces" on the cover of their literature. It would give hope to others. Of course, it's a huge commitment, and the plan would require guidelines such as what percentage of a sentence would have to be served before a prisoner would become eligible, and a host of other guidelines. It's a monstrous task, but a step toward the goal.

Prisoners want to see progress. We need to see a few walk out these gates. We've heard so much talk, read so many letters - empty promises - over the years. (Of course, most of it came from friends and family.) The point is: Your mission should seek to yield short-term results, as well as the ultimate, I believe.

Finally, it's a fact that none of the so-called popular black leaders fight vigorously for black Drug War prisoners. We're the living dead, a society behind bars. Let me close with this. There is no progress where there are no positive results. As to The Tallahassee Project, I wish it would include profiles of those who've been freed, through the help of activists, and been re-acclimated successfully into society.




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