Jail’s Racism Gets Worse: But Who Really Cares?

Posted: January 20, 2014 in At-risk kids

This Martin Luther King Day I’ve been thinking a lot about the racism of our prisons. It’s a truth that Americans seem determined to ignore. Celebrating the life of this great man should be more than heartwarming ceremonies. As a nation we must act to stop the mass incarceration of people of color particularly young men of color. With this in mind I decided to re-post a piece I did about racism and criminal justice.

Kids in the system

It was one of those rare afternoons in my jailhouse classroom. Twelve or so teenaged boys dotted around the room, their heads, some shaved bald, others wild and wooly with neglect, bend over their desks doing something. Reading a book; writing an essay—or a love letter to a shorty.  Whatever they were doing, they were quiet. It didn’t happen often over the ten years I taught high school at a New York County jail, years that I chronicle in my book I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine: Tales of Kids in Adult Lockup.Usually, chaos rules in jail.

But that day Ms. Polland, the classroom correctional officer, and I were standing at the front of the room looking over the sea of orange jump-suited, brown-faced students, enjoying the peace.

Then, “Do you really think the criminal justice system is racist?” she quietly asked.


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