Statement for the Launch of the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration – June 6, 2015
By Clinton Nkechi Walker
One of the ways of how I measure humanity is by the level of compassion society and its infrastructure has for its riffraff or for those victims of society’s evils such as poverty, mental illnesses, moral absences, or failure of its educational system. Many victims of those evils are individuals that I live with every day in this place called prison. Some are individuals who will return to society in the same state, for the most part, in which they came here, due to neglect of sincere rehabilitative programs. Others among them are usually those that have been doomed to suffer for the rest of their physical life in coffins parading as correctional institutions.
If my concept in measuring humanity is sufficient then I am justified in my accusations that society’s compassion for those individuals that need their aid more than any other are non-existent or, at best, a remnant of what it is to be compassionate. Especially when speaking of those forgotten ones who are sanctioned to spend the rest of their life in prison.
The signs of a compassionate society and its inhabitants would be one that offers its criminal outcasts a genuine sense of hope and opportunity to regain society’s trust. Yet, instead of compassion, those outcasts receive condemnation at a rapid rate. Many of us are being condemned to die in prison without a second chance or a second thought.
Such practices ultimately mean wasted taxpayers’ dollars for procedures and policies that have produced little to no good results. It means the dismantling of family structures due to many family’s providers and caregivers being snatched to far away lands – which also assist in the crumbling of many communities and their moral makeup.
So many of us that are condemned to die in prison are also some of the more ready, most fit, and most remorseful individuals there are because with our sentence we are forced to journey to a place deep within ourselves – a place where we must answer some of the hardest and most uncomfortable questions, such as: Who am I with a Life sentence?; Who do I want to be with this sentence?; What am I willing to sacrifice or compromise in regards to my Life sentence? Visiting this place is necessary if we are to give ourselves a chance to survive an institution that has disfigured the minds and souls of so many others before us. That place that we’re forced to go to is the beginning of a process in which we are forced to see that we are viewed by society as nothing but the scum beneath society’s boot. At the turn of every corner, we are told that we are valueless and therefore walking corpses. We are reminded of that by regular mistreatment by prison guards, by policies of the institution that say we cannot obtain certain trades or take certain programs. They say we don’t need them because we are never going home.
The thing is that many of us see ourselves as human beings and because of that we reject and despise this boot and what it represents, which leaves us with one option – to push against that boot in its warped sense of thinking. We push in such a way that screams I AM HUMAN, I AM A HUMAN BEING.
That pushing is symbolic to a point where we begin to attack the very core of our belief system. We begin to understand what remorse is, because it is more than being sorry for what one did. It is working to correct one’s wrong.
The pushing is nothing but our struggle to stand upright and to at least get this unforgiving boot on our shoulder, even if not for any other reason but to feel a sense of value and worth. We fantasize about this boot one day stepping off us and society seeing such redeemable men and women for what they are, but until that day we hope and hope and hope and pray and hope some more. Many of us have been ready for that day for years, decades even. We’ve seen the depressing pits of worthlessness and hopelessness and we never want to see it again.
If I could ask a question, it would be: who better to deter today’s troubled youth, mend the family structure, and rebuild communities then those changed men and women who at some point helped destroy it?