One Hood United: A Youth and an Elder Share Their Perspectives
on the Efforts to End Mass Incarceration
By Nyako Pippen and David Lee
How do we stop mass incarceration?
NYAKO PIPPEN: Our short term resolution would be to first parole the many prisoner being held months and even sometimes years over their eligible minimum release date. People whom have met the criteria for being paroled, but are being unfairly denied parole for frivolous and often discriminatory reasons. For example, being labelled a “threat to community” of “lack of motivation.” These are far-fetched excuses that are impossible to determine in a brief parole hearing.
Second, we must release the many elderly prisoners that are being held captive for reasons that stem from racist, self-serving judgers who place these elders behind bars at a time when class and race discrimination were disguised as the “war on crime.” These older prisoners hold no apparent threat to the public and if anything most will be a benefit to the community and can assist in education our youth out there seeking direction.
Also, we must come together as a people! As a nation! And work to have these outdated and discriminatory laws abolished. Beginning with one of the most detrimental of all – Death By Incarceration. In other words, Life Without the Possibility of Parole. Such sentences are being issued at an unprecedented rate. Often due to over-zealous prosecutors who overcharge defendants in the first place. Furthermore, eliminate the wide range of charges for which these sentences can be imposed. Ultimately it will take for our communities to form a movement that will force lawmakers to restructure these guidelines and mandatory sentences.
For the long term permanent solution, we must work to bring about awareness through education. We have to educate ourselves in order for us to infiltrate this system that was built on racial, class, and gender discrimination. We need to create opportunities to place people in positions to change this system from the inside out. We need people from similar backgrounds and people who have an understanding of our culture and our struggle, and who do not view the world through a capitalist lens.
DAVID LEE: I personally believe that the process is already in motion with the organizing being done by organizations like Decarcerate PA, Human Rights Coalition, Black Lives Matter, and others. Once you enlighten people about how we’re being systematically oppressed, we can then collectively work toward creating real solutions to our collective issues. We know that the mass incarceration movement in this country has been directed toward people of color, and poor people in general. We must each people that in order to live in a truly free social arrangement, we cannot allow human beings to be treated like incorrigible animals in American prisons.
I recently read an article titled “Germany’s Humane Prisons” by Ellis Cose, in the USA Today, and it talked about treating prisoners like human beings rather than like animals. Prisoners lived in apartments rather than cells. Thus, the ideal was about human growth and development, not human devaluation and oppression. If we can change the narrative to human development and respect of all human rights, you would not have a need for so much imprisonment. Human development should be taking place from childhood to adulthood. Thoroughly developed human being with equal opportunities available to them, in a social arrangement geared toward loving and respecting each other, would not be committing so many acts of rebellion and aggression in the first place.
We have to help people to see the truth about what is actually taking place. We must understand that crime will always exist in a social arrangement such as the one that exists here in this country. But poor people did not create this arrangement, nor do we perpetuate it. America was built off of enslavement and oppression, so in order to stop mass incarceration we must stop those people who profit off of our agony.
How do we ignite hope in those who don’t believe there can be change? Of for those who don’t know we need change?
Nyako: I think of our more reliable sources of hope is to remind our people of where we came from and what we have overcome thus far. Our proven resilience will remind our people that through our unity we can overcome virtually anything. In a society where instant gratification is the mentality of the masses, it is important to highlight the progress that we, as a people, have made over the years. Pointing out the direct and indirect impact protestors had/have on our people, and those who oppose us, can go a long way (e.g. Million Man March/Justice or Else, Black Lives Matter, and the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration, just to name a few).
Now as far as the people who don’t believe we need change, I think this speaks to us as a people controlling our own source of media. Living in a society that propagates all sorts of negatives in regards to us, it’s important that we establish a media source that will inform people of what’s truly happening in the world, not the distorted version. I believe in our people enough to believe wholeheartedly that once they are informed and educated as to the oppressive, racist and unjust state this country is currently in, they will get on board for the sake of protecting our rights to live as human beings.
David: First we must properly educate ourselves regarding historical, political, and other germane issues and share what we gather with those people in despair. If we organize with confident and like-minded people, we will be able to secure some small victories as we work toward creating a larger vision. Each small victory builds confidence for those in despair. Thus, we can help people begin to see and believe in the larger visions we create. There are times when people need to see examples of their power to change, and they need to see positive results in various areas of our struggle to help them to see how we can make progress while still continuing to struggle toward larger goals.
How do we implement actual life skills into our schooling process?
Nyako: The importance of life skills must be highlighted to instill confidence in our people and to show them how to survive in this country. I believe that the traditional curriculum is important: math, writing, reading, etcetera. But the emotional development and character development are equally important. Without these survival skills our current educational process is failing us. Oftentimes, the background which we come from hinders us to the point of us not acquiring the necessary skills to translate the things we learn into success.
Life skills like emotional discipline and character development are the link between education and success. Therefore, I think that it is imperative that we adults come together and create formats for a more comprehensive curriculum that will cater to both education requirements and other essential life skills. Once we’re able to establish effective curriculums for our children we can approach the school system with our proposals and pressure them to adopt them based on the unique needs of our children.
David: Schooling really is about training our children to assist in the maintenance of an oppressive super-structure known as the U.S. government and her corporate cronies. We want to educate our children because education is about empowerment, and in the process we must teach them all the necessary survival skills. We must teach them the necessary defense strategies and how to build institutions. We must each them how real communities function. All this and much more must be a part of their education.
How do we highlight injustice, as well as race and class discrimination, without teaching hate?
Nyako: Our first task would be to create an avenue of media that will reach the people. Especially the youth and those of us living in poor neighborhoods throughout the country because it is vitally important that we reach this demographic. Once we have the attention of this group we can highlight the many examples of discrimination that plagues our society everyday. We must also highlight and teach this country’s history of discrimination. This would show how far we have come, while simultaneously showing how far we have to still go. Thus we can find ways to channel our anger in positive ways.
David: Telling the truth in regards to white supremacy and capitalism is not about hating other people, but about stopping oppressive practices. Our struggle for liberation and self determination has never been about hating people based on race or class difference. Notwithstanding, without the truth being told in an emphatic manner, we cannot enlighten the wretched souls being crushed under the weight of systemic oppression. The truth is the truth, and we must teach our children the truth without teaching them how to be like what we’re working to stop!