Achieving Equality and Freedom in the Age of Mass Incarceration
by Robyn Short
The following is a synopsis of the book that I am writing.
To atone is to repair a wrongdoing or an injury to another person. When we atone, we restore the wronged party back to his natural state of innocence. The spiritual component of atonement is to restore our perceptions so that we perceive the Divine, the oneness, in all of humanity. To do this, we must elevate our consciousness. As Albert Einstein so brilliantly stated, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”
To see the world anew requires an understanding of how we came about perceiving the world as we currently do, so that we can reconcile our belief systems with the truth. And the truth is that we are all created equal by our Creator. And yet, when the United States constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, the Three-Fifth Compromise deemed black Americans to be only three-fifths of a person. For the next 100 years, black Americans lived in this country with no human rights. And yet, their human contribution to this nation was tremendous and indisputable, which is why slaveowners fought so viscerally for the legal rights to own human property.
On January 31, 1865, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Abraham Lincoln, and the abolitionists of the time, rightly believed that all people were created equal by their Creator and deserve equal and fair treatment under the law. They rightly believed that when our founding fathers wrote the following excerpt from the Declaration of Independence “all men” were not limited to only white men: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” With the greatest and noblest of intentions, the writers of the thirteenth amendment and those who worked tirelessly to ensure its passing, fell short of their goal. By including the caveat of ‘punishment for a crime the thirteenth amendment left open a window for racism and injustice to remain woven into the fabric of our society.
And though the consciousness of Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist was elevated from the consciousness of oppression, the Thirteenth Amendment itself was not something the majority of white Americans wanted, appreciated, or believed to be morally correct. What they wanted was a way out of the Civil War, a war that had economically crippled the nation and devastated their families. And so, as news trickled across that nation that black Americans were free—free to leave the plantations, legally recognized as human beings and not three-fifths human—they realized there was no where to go. They were not welcomed in South, and by and large, they were not welcomed in the North. Prior to the Thirteenth Amendment, black Americans were not “taking jobs away” from white Americans, but after the emancipation, many white Americans felt threatened by the perceived new competition in the workplace.
For the next 100 years, black Americans struggled to find their way. Though free and legally recognized as human beings, they did not experience the same opportunities, freedoms, or human rights as white Americans. And just as the the civil rights movement was building up momentum, just as white Americans were standing up en masse in support of their black brothers and sisters, Martin Luther King, Jr., the leader of the American civil rights movement, was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
One year later, on July 14, 1969, President Nixon called for a national anti-drug policy at both the state and federal levels. Two years later he declared drugs to be “public enemy number one” and launched an official “war on drugs.” This war on drugs—waged by the American government against American citizens—would more accurately have been called a “war on Black Americans.” For the last 40 years, the war on drugs has been waged against communities of color in urban ghettos. Although white Americans make up 70 percent of the United States population, and black Americans only 12–13 percent, 70 percent of our prison population is African American. And, white Americans use and sell drugs at higher rates than black Americans.
The purpose of this book is not to hash out all the facts of the war on drugs; readers can, and should, read Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Colorblindness in the Age of Mass Incarceration for a detailed history of how the war on drugs has marginalized the African American community. The purpose of this book it to create a roadmap for all Americans to bring equality, freedom, and peace to our nation, fulfilling the intentions of the Thirteenth Amendment, elevating the consciousness of this nation, and atoning for our nation’s oppression of our black brothers and sisters.
This book will outline the facts of mass incarceration and the lifelong marginalization of those who have spent time behind bars. This book will offer solutions for atoning for our history of oppression and address the spiritual component of both the problem and the solution. One aspect of atoning is the action of addressing the harm; the second aspect of atoning is the spiritual process of perceiving the ‘injured party’ as whole, perfect, and complete … in other words, perceiving our ‘oneness.’
Although 60 percent of those who are incarcerated in American prisons are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, there are individuals who are incarcerated for heinous, violent crimes. While this book will focus largely on the racial disparity of our criminal justice system, it will include those who have committed violent crimes in the discussion of atonement and how we embrace those individuals back into society when their debt to society has been paid.
ATONEMENT will address the following:
A detailed explanation of the marginalization of African Americans via the criminal justice system.
The New Underground Railroad (a phrase coined by Michelle Alexander): A human rights movement that offers love, support, kindness, understanding, jobs, housing, and basic human necessities to individuals who have been incarcerated so that they may begin anew. In essence, we must lift the stigma that is associated with having served time in correctional facilities and honor the debt to society that the person paid.
Forgiveness: We must acknowledge the hypocrisy and disparity in our criminal justice system; taking ownership of our ancestors actions; atoning on their behalf; building/rebuilding trust.
How our language perpetuates the marginalization of individuals who have been incarcerated, and suggestions for how we might begin talking about those who are and have been incarcerated.
Specific laws that need to change in order to end the war on drugs, and thus bring an end to mass incarceration, including how all American citizens can lobby for changing these laws.
An economic plan forward for the millions of people whose livelihoods are reliant on the criminal justice system: Prison employees; third-party vendors; corporations who rely on inexpensive labor via contracts with prison for their “human property;” etc.
Laws that need to be enacted to help individuals re-enter from incarceration back into their communities, including laws that allow for discrimination of individuals who have been incarcerated.
Restorative Justice community programs that address the stigmatism associated with incarceration; programs that address healing and forgiveness; programs that offer community support and involvement in grass roots peacebuilding initiatives.
Robyn Short has ghostwritten numerous books and is the founder of goodmedia press and goodmedia communications. She is a student of A Course in Miracles, a self-study system of spiritual psychotherapy. Robyn is a passionate believer in peace and social justice. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Auburn University, a Masters of Liberal Arts from Southern Methodist University and will graduate with a Masters in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution from Southern Methodist University in 2014. Robyn is the author of Prayers for Peace, and the forthcoming children’s book Peace People, co-authored with Nanon Williams. Robyn is available for book signings and to speak on topics of peacebuilding and nonviolence, especially as it relates to these core issues. Contact Robyn by email.