It’s Not Anyone’s Fault Our Jails are Racist
The exploitation of Black Americans in my lifetime shows itself as mass incarceration. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not calling those working in the judicial system racist.
I don’t blame the white woman who confused my Black friend for a purse snatcher months after the actual mugging took place. I don’t blame the police officer who arrested my friend with no evidence other than the woman’s shaky testimony. I don’t blame the judge who let every person in the courtroom leave except me and the white social worker before he asked if the witness could identify the one Black man left in the room as the perpetrator. I don’t blame the underpaid Public Defender who never bothered to read my friend’s file. I don’t blame him for looking at my very distinctive friend and saying, “They have an eyewitness. Look at him—who’s going to mistake him for someone else?”
I don’t blame the judge who removed my friend from his home and confined him to a mental institute to determine if he was fit to stand trial. I don’t blame the bail system that left my friend sitting in jail for months before it released him with an ankle bracelet. I don’t blame the state’s investigator who ignored my repeated calls wherein I explained my friend was with me the afternoon of the purse snatching. I don’t blame the mental health advocate who told me the system had to work itself out.
I don’t blame the court docket that took over a year to set my friend’s case for trial. I don’t blame the legislature who classified the purse snatching as a felony when less than five dollars was taken. I don’t blame the new public defender who only noticed the week before trial that the eyewitness’s original physical description didn’t fit my friend, at all. I don’t blame the DA who waited until one day before trial to dismiss the case against my sweet, gentle friend. I don’t blame any of them or call them racist. Hell, several of them were Black. But the system was racist. It always has been, and it still is.
Other truths would be easier, lots easier for me to adopt as my own than this one. After all, who am I to take up this cause, a wealthy white woman who’s never been in jail except to visit friends? Yet, it is so firmly my truth I wrote a novel about Mother Mary and Jesus being called back to Memphis by a devilish private prison project. THE BONE TRENCH is the humorous, profane, deadly serious novel my agent is currently pitching. The novel uses—literarily—my family history managing a state prison. Also my family history outlawing convict leasing in the state of Mississippi. I guess I have a reason to take up this cause after all.
THE BONE TRENCH is premised on white America’s continuing, uninterrupted intention to exploit our Black brothers and sisters. Or to state it more pointedly, white America’s failure to love our Black neighbors as ourselves. I’m not the only one who thinks this. Here’s a TED Talk about jails as economic engines of exploitation: How Jails Extort the Poor
You are a lot more forgiving than I feel reading this. I hope your friend has recovered from his/her ordeal.
Ellen Morris Prewitt
I can forgive the people; I cannot forgive the system. And he has recovered—thank you for asking about him. Talk about forgiving. Or maybe it’s engrained resignation—life has pretty much always treated him like this because he’s poor and Black, so what’s to get mad about? In any event, it was an eye-opening experience for me.
Ellen Morris Prewitt
It was Kafkaesque. Up against an implacable system, knowing he was innocent, even his “advocates” tilted against him. I will never forget his first PD’s comment about his distinctive appearance . . .then learning the eyewitness had NOT described him. Infuriating. When I was meeting with his 2nd PD, on my way out, I said this would have never happened if my friend hadn’t been poor. The PD, who was Black, stuck his head around the corner and said, “And Black.”
Lord have mercy. This tells me that I don’t even know what a bad day is….