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Dawud Lee & Nyako Pippen on Ending Mass Incarceration

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 And work to have these outdated and discriminatory laws abolished.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!

From “Rights of the Condemned”

Excerpt from Rights of the Condemned

By David Lee

What follows is an excerpt from a longer article written by Lee in response to an editorial by Dom Giordano that appeared in The Philadelphia Daily News on October 15, 2014. In Giordano’s own editorial, he vigorously voices his support for the ‘Silencing Act’ – a reactive, unconstitutional piece of legislation that was introduced in the fall of 2014 by PA Representative Mike Vereb following a remotely delivered commencement speech by Mumia Abu Jamal for Goddard College. The bill, which passed both the PA House and Senate overwhelmingly, was challenged in the courts on several fronts and was ruled unconstitutional.

It is vitally important for those of us condemned (in the eyes of prejudiced people) to maintain our human right to voice our pain. Mr. Giordano suggests that every time that Mumia Abu Jamal speaks that it revictimizes Mrs. Maureen Faulkner, the widow of slain police officer Danny Faulkner. Well, if he is going to be honest then it is safe to suggest that there are many instances in which she is exposed to painful issues by people not in prison. Do you silence those voices too? Moreover, listening to the broadcast commencement address at Goddard College is optional; people who do not wish to listen, do not have to listen. Furthermore, Mumia has maintained his innocence throughout the entire process, and many facts have been presented to suggest that he is in fact innocent. But due to political reasons those issues are not given the same considerations that a police officer would get if he/she were even charged with killing a Black man. Additionally, what about Mumia’s family – do they count? They are subjected to painful rhetoric as well, but who is speaking about their pain?

Now let us look at this situation from a reverse standpoint: what if a police officer had killed Mumia and 33 years later this officer was presented with an opportunity to speak on the radio. Does any honest person believe that this would raise an issue for Mr. Giordano? Would he care about how Mumia’s family felt about the program being aired with the police officer responsible for killing Mumia? Does he care about all those family members of the thousands who have been convicted of crimes and have spent years, even decades, in prison for crimes they did not commit, before being found to be innocent and released? Or the thousands who are innocent, but sadly lack the resources to prove their innocence? Or the thousands in prison for taking deals because they’re afraid of being over-prosecuted by overzealous and uncaring prosecutors. These victims do not count in the minds of those working to smash the voices of the wretched beings in the nation’s prisons whose real crime is mere underdevelopment and poverty.

In American society, it is always a safe bet to vent your absurdity on the most vilified and powerless segment of this country: prisoners! We, for the most part, are powerless to fight back. Sadly, in the minds of some people, it is okay to further trample upon our human rights because we’ve been condemned and demonized by those who view us as not in the special class of human beings. I cannot help but to cogitate in regards to how Giordano might feel about all the Black men being killed by cops around this country. Are the cops allowed to have a voice and to go onto the internet and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend themselves and to elevate their standard of living in the process? Are these takers of human life deemed worthy of having a voice? Accordingly to some people, only certain types of people accused of killing someone are allowed to speak. We the condemned masses filling up the nation’s prisons have no such rights. We must be silent while we’re being persecuted because some people might get upset with us for challenging their lunacy.

I am an impoverished Black man who has spent close to three decades in prison for a crime I did not commit and my human rights are stepped on every day of my existence in Pennsylvania’s cages of despair and agony. I could care less about Mr. Giordano’s foolishness, but he seems to represent enough people to force me to speak on this issue. We prisoners and our families can ill afford to allow people like this to just continue to walk over our rights to live as human beings. We must organize our voices too! We have a right to voice our pain! I do have compassion for those who have lost loved ones to senseless violence, but placing innocent people in prison does nothing to assuage your pain. Justice cannot be about throwing people into these cages and allowing them to just waste away. And if we’re going to speak about victims, what about all those victimized by the criminal justice system, some of whom have spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. Do we have any say in this matter?

Most of those able to overturn their cases do so through DNA evidence, but what about those of us who do not have DNA evidence available to prove our innocence? What about all those people who have been time barred by unjust laws and cannot even raise vital issues in court? We must understand that we too have rights, and we must continue to organize and fight in order for our rights to be respected and honored. We cannot continue to allow venomous people to silence us due to our status. We must exercise our voices at every possible opportunity because we have no other weapons available to us. We must resist attempts of anyone who wishes to further strip us of our humanity. These are our God-given rights, and we must protect them with a profound passion, or lose them due to others’ fears and insanity.