Maria Rosales (rosmar) Tue 25 May 10 07:53
I'm enjoying this conversation a lot. Thank you. On this: "Baggy pants mimic prison issue pants, which don't come with a belt and therefore sag below your rear. That's where the fashion trend comes from." Are you sure about that? I've read that no one knows for certain--some early researchers made this speculation, and others started citing it as fact. Also, that while intentionally loose-fitting, most prison pants do not sag below one's rear--they are cut more like pajamas. And many prisons issue jumpsuits, not separate shirt and pants.
Maria Rosales (rosmar) Tue 25 May 10 07:55
(I should add--that is a question on a small point, which does not in any way undermine your larger point about distancing from people one loves.)
Rik Elswit (rik) Tue 25 May 10 08:12
<scribbled by rik Tue 25 May 10 08:21>
Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 25 May 10 08:38
While I'm all for solidarity, I struggle with what to do. As in, if black kids are so underemployed (1), and they are dressed in a manner that is gangsta-style (2), then how is an employer to determine if in fact the job applicant is a gang member (3), which is a real concern in the marketplace? And why is anyone surprised that the kids (black or white) who are dressed in a more traditional way are the kids getting the jobs? Solidarity is a beautiful thing, but if the practices are keeping you from reaching other important goals then what is a person to do? There should be a way to maintain loyalty and present oneself in a way that doesn't put people off. We may be taught to not judge a book by its cover, the fact is, first impressions are incredibly strong, and you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Tue 25 May 10 09:20
David Simon's answer simply boils down to the fact that corporate America doesn't need them. They're excess people.
Maria Rosales (rosmar) Tue 25 May 10 09:29
Is fear of hiring a gang member really a widespread concern in the marketplace? If so, should it be?
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 25 May 10 09:35
Yup. And what does society do with excess people? More and more of us fall into that category every year, but they came for blacks some time ago. And for the most part, we said nothing, because we were not black. In terms of building a mass movement to end mass incarceration, one key group has to be middle class/affluent white drug users who as Michelle bluntly but accurately puts it, are "collateral damage" in the war on drugs. I only recently learned the full details of how alcohol prohibition ended (from Daniel Okrent's interesting new book "Last Call"). It was mostly a bunch of high-society people who organized the effort. That part I already knew, but I didn't know why. Turns out they were hoping that when the federal government started getting excise taxes on alcohol again, they could be convinced to repeal the income tax! Hey, whatever works. (Maria slipped in)
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Tue 25 May 10 09:36
When the potential workforce is so much bigger than the number of jobs available, why take a chance?
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Tue 25 May 10 09:36
David Wilson (dlwilson) Tue 25 May 10 09:41
I ran a marketing research office in 2000 and worked out of mall doing consumer product surveys. I hired a lot of high school kids to recruit people and do the interviews. One black kid decided to come to work dressed in his "colors." There was no way he could have worked dressed like that. Even if I hadn't objected, mall security would have snagged him. slip
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 25 May 10 09:43
Yeah, also, as Michelle points out, there are a ton of state licensing boards who have automatically said that anyone with a felony conviction is out, even if it's by no means clear why it's not ok that, say, a hairdresser should not have a felony record. And we've made it very very easy to get a felony record if you are black. Hiring guidelines, even when not restricted by law, are often quite mindless. And of course, some people actually are imprisoned because they are violent, sociopathic, or crazy - and who wants to sort all that out and be prepared to defend your decision if something goes wrong? Easier just not to hire ex-felons. (and more slips!)
Gail (gail) Tue 25 May 10 12:58
(Aside for anybody reading their first WELL conversation, a "slip" happens when people are posting simultaneously, so that while somebody is posting a response to post number 11, expecting it to be number 12, another one "slips in" ahead. Usually the meaning and context are still clear, but sometimes it's very helpful to realize that happened. Other times it's just fun to post to display the rapid activity.) I recent learned that there is active national organizing to try to make it easier for people to get a clean slate after serving time. Here's an article about removing that check-box for convictions before somebody even gets to an interview -- this has passed in several states and major cities already. <http://criminaljustice.change.org/blog/view/ban_the_box_campaigns_gain_steam> A quote: > "It is quite possible that the impact of the legislation > would not even be greatest in the workforce, but rather > in the prison," Reilly writes. "Passing this legislation > would send a clear message to thousands of people being > released from the ACI every year: You do have a chance. > Dont give up." Here is "All of Us or None," an advocacy organization devoted to restoring jobs and voting rights after incarceration: http://www.allofusornone.org/ I learned about this movement recently from <couey> -- a WELL member who has been working on these issues, and the situations of families whose breadwinners and loved ones are behind bars. And I'm going to have to buy my copy of "The New Jim Crow" now... this discussion is just too interesting.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Tue 25 May 10 13:01
(say goodnight Gracie! SLIP!) The way this discussion is going you will have to view "The Wire." At least the David Simon interviews by Bill Moyers. I sense a reluctance on your part Michelle to give it its due. You wrote a great book (for a lawyer) and your arguments will be used as the basis for any future discussion of the impact of the mix of mass incarceration, racism, and black experience in America going forward. What "The Wire" does is take believable characters, allows the audience to follow them over time, and shows how people experience the many themes that you raise in your book. Hell, I learned how to read social science and can even enjoy it. But the name of the game always is *can you tell a good story." It's just a suggestion, but if you captivate your audience in the right way, you stand a better chance of getting your message across.
Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 25 May 10 13:23
That is a great interview. Makes me want to get the Wire via Netflix.
Gail (gail) Tue 25 May 10 13:27
Fiction can also send a powerful message, that's for sure. (I finally rented all of the DVDs for The Wire series after a friend told me that it is the best illustration of how naked capitalism (in the form of the drug trade) and bureaucracies, from the gangs to the cops to the unions to the schools to city hall, really function. It was worthwhile, and it could indeed help lay some groundwork for appreciation for more scholarly works among some of the population.) Cultural change comes from many fronts, hopefully.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 25 May 10 15:20
It made me put them at the top of my Netflix queue! Disc One should arrive by Wednesday.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 25 May 10 15:43
A great book *for a lawyer*! Ooh, way to insult the guest! ;-) I will say that reading the careful and logical arguments in Michelle's book *almost* made me wish I'd gone to law school. She really put a case together. But I think <dlwilson>'s post and several others point towards a good question - where do we go next, and how do we get more people interested in this issue? As good as The Wire is, and it's great, I don't think it's going to result in a mass movement to end the drug war. Yes, the futility of the drug war is there for anyone who wants to see it, but we inhabit a country where the last 3 Presidents (we're pretty sure) all at least dabbled with drugs and still it's the great third rail of American politics. And while not criticizing The Wire, which really manages to turn this tragedy into art, lurid images of black criminals in popular entertainment are more part of the problem than part of the solution. Maybe we need affirmative action in arrests. For every black kid swept up on ghetto streets, they have to go arrest some pot-smoking 50-year-old white lawyer in Chevy Chase.
Gail (gail) Tue 25 May 10 16:14
Right now there is some progress towards legalizing marijuana. If that comes to pass, will that help? I was thinking about the underground economy. If marijuana was legalized, regulated and taxed, that would no longer be part of what could pay the bills for street kids. Without some economic reform and some other jobs, the problems are not fixed simply by legalizing controlled substances.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Tue 25 May 10 16:23
I should have added that you weave 3 takeaway points from "The Wire" into any presentation on mass incarceration. The war on drugs is senseless, destroys lives, and costs society way too much. What gets rolled out onto the street by the various bureaucracies is done merely to "juke the stats." Capitalism and globalization are driving this train. People *know* when they are dished dirt and no amount of bullshit can cover that up. Slip
Jack Kessler (kessler) Tue 25 May 10 17:18
Great discussion, but I see some long-standing confusions in it. Two issues here interest me: so many people being in jail, and so many of them being Black. Right now a Black guy is begging, 'scuse me "panhandling", from a bench near where I'm sitting here in San Francisco -- he is about age 70, noisy, scruffy, incoherent, irritating -- half the mumbles I'm hearing from passers-by suggest that in their eyes he's a charity-case, the other half mumble that he's an abuser of some sort who should be locked away somewhere. I remember when my own grandfather (White) got like that, and he received a lot more care & family love & community support than this guy today maybe has had or ever will -- much of this for ancient and complex "causes" made lots worse for being resurgent, now -- the last of the Black communities which were thriving in San Francisco during my childhood 1950s are being forced out, finally, their few remaining residents shifted to outlying Oakland and Richmond, the way Harlem got "moved" to Bridgeport, "Urban Renewal means Negro Removal" is an old slogan here. But this prisons thing is something new. It's no surprise to me that Nixon began it, or that Reagan fostered it -- somewhat a surprise that Clinton continued it, but that inter-regnum in our long Neocon Reaction had various anomalies in it, as Clinton himself admits in his bio. US and particularly California prisons in the 1950s contained nowhere near the numbers they do today. Every US citizen needs to drive by the Vacaville prison -- or just look at it on GoogleEarth -- the place is enormous, a StarWars-style concentration-camp city, extending over a mile along the roadside, the general public ignorance of its existence and enormity is a national shame. It's not surprising to me that so many Blacks are in that prison population: the lowest-quintile and least-empowered people in any society are bound to suffer most, in such a general prison development -- and US Blacks are down there at the low-end firmly still, it seems, in spite of great advances since the 1950s. But to me there's more to it. Certainly there is racism involved, also the War On Some Drugs. Behind both though there is simply "fear" and a tendency to resolve that using "exclusion" -- a tendency we also developed during our Red-baiting 1950s, and before, altho we've never built & stuffed so many prisons to house & hide it as we have now. That is what Wacquant is getting at or at least beginning from, I think. It is some of what Bourdieu believed, and most of all it is what Foucault pinpointed very precisely. It's that the strategy of paranoid majorities is to sequester and remove noisy, incoherent, scruffy, irritating minorities -- also to remove truly "dangerous" people, but not just them. So I feel sorry for and distressed about the Black guy begging around the corner from me this morning. But my greater worry is the broader "majority paranoia" which his situation, and that huge prison up at Vacaville, over-crowded with people who from personal necessity are learning criminal attitudes and skills there, both represent. If we can't, or won't, care for our lowest-quintile Underclasses -- if we simply lock them up and try to forget them, whether they are Black or White or any other color -- then what sort of society have we become? Jim Crow is part of the problem, certainly. Barry Sheck's Innocence Project is just beginning to redress that. But it's also much bigger. My personal hope is that it's mostly a Neocon Era aberration -- along with all the other Nixon/Reagan baggage we carried forward from the Great 1968 Reaction -- and that Obama, like Clinton before him, is a glimmer of hope that those times are a-changing at last. I hope so still. Obama is doing a good job: he needs more help from us -- altho today he sent the army to the Mexican border, so that's trouble...
David Albert (aslan) Tue 25 May 10 17:28
Going too fast for me here! Not sure where to chime in. I will reply to: > Is fear of hiring a gang member really a widespread concern in the > marketplace? If so, should it be? with the suggestion that that isn't really the issue; I think people who don't hire someone because they are dressed a certain way are not so much worried that they will be hiring a gang member as they are concerned about a general corporate image. There are stores in which that is exactly the way you need to dress to get hired (at least, I assume so based on how the people who work there are dressed) but most stores are not like that, and customers seeing people dressed a certain way will make assumptions about the goods and services they will be receiving -- possibly to the detriment of the store. Not saying that's okay, or that it's an appropriate hiring practice, just that is the current reality. If enough people hire their clerks without regard to attire, eventually people will stop noticing. But who's going to go first?
Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Tue 25 May 10 19:52
What a great conversation - so many threads I want to pick up on . . . I'm so glad Jack brought up the Vacaville prison. He's absolutely right that it's mind-boggling. It's absolutely enormous. When you see it, you suddenly get a sense of what it means to put millions of people behind bars. One day, I believe, historians will look back and marvel that a nation that called itself the "land of the free" constructed such a monstrosity. One of the challenges associated with building a movement to end mass incarceration is that the millions of people warehoused in prisons, like the one in Vacaville, are largely invisible. People in prison are out of sight and out of mind. Their "disappearance" makes it easy not only to forget about them, but also to believe the worst possible stereotypes about them, and imagine they deserve their fate. This is an interesting difference between Jim Crow and mass incarceration. During Jim Crow, the caste system was in your face. There were "whites only" signs, black folks were forced to sit in the back of the bus, and use separate bathrooms. There was no denying what was going on. The only question was whether it was justified. By contrast, the realities of mass incarceration are easy to deny and difficult to see - even when you try. As I noted in the intro to my book, I had a difficult time seeing and admitting what was really going on when I first started working on these issues. All of the rationalizations for the grossly disproportionate rates of black folks behind bars, and all of the justifications for mass incarceration create a nearly impenetrable fog. That's why I wrote the book; I wanted to make visible what is hidden in plain sight. And I wanted to challenge civil rights organizations to open their eyes to the human rights nightmare that is occurring on our watch. So I wholeheartedly agree that we need more and better storytelling (by people who are non-lawyers :-) ). I would absolutely love it if Spike Lee would turn this book into a documentary. I loved his documentary on Katrina, even though it was about two hours too long. I also think fictional stories about young black men struggling to make it on the outside after being branded felons could be powerful. Not too long ago I was contacted by a middle-aged African American man who was convicted of two drug offenses in his youth - both of which were charged as felonies. He only did a few months in prison, but after he was released he found it absolutely impossible to find a job or housing. He became desperate. When he heard that his aunt's son had died as an infant, he obtained a copy of the baby's birth certificate and assumed the baby's identity. (The baby would have been his age, if the baby had lived). All of a sudden he had a clean record and was able to get hired. He started as a sales person for a small company, and eventually became a highly successful manager. He got married, had children, and bought a house in the suburbs. He never broke the law again. But then, one day, he was driving to the grocery store, forgot his wallet, and was pulled over by a cop for speeding a few miles over the limit. Because he had no ID, he was arrested, finger-printed, and is now facing federal charges for identity fraud, lying to an officer, etc. He's looking at a 10-15 year sentence. He has a son in high school, a job he loves, a nice house, and is well respected in the community. But now his life is unraveling and he may be returned to a cage, now that his attempt to "pass" has been exposed. I think that would make a good story, though I suppose it all depends on how it turns out.
Jack Kessler (kessler) Tue 25 May 10 20:14
It does make a good story. Alicia Keys could do a song about it. One problem the incarceration binge creates is that it destroys the very distinction it was established to make. The shame of being an ex-con was supposed to make you straighten up and fly right. But this doesn't work if everyone is an ex-con. Nowadays in some communities that's the case -- Black communities, some Hispanic and Asian communities, "poor" neighborhoods, "immigrant" communities -- peer pressure makes every kid want to do time so he can be a bro. We're building time bombs, communities in which every man is an ex-con with a prison record and criminal skills and contacts. Madness.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Tue 25 May 10 21:12
Your story about the man who assumed a new identity to erase the 3 strikes is a new variation on "passing." That would be powerful and full of irony. Go on Michelle. You're a published author with street cred. Pitch it to some Hollywood producer.
David Albert (aslan) Wed 26 May 10 06:16
Agreed. Getting going on this project could also help that man personally. Maybe if he gets enough publicity someone will drop the charges.
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