Reality Check

So while watching a television program about the incarceration rates of black males and the cycles of incarceration and I had a reality check about my own privilege and wow, does that make you think.

This program discussed how 1 in 12 black men are incarcerated and with the family cycles that perpetuate the rates of incarceration (not to mention the rampant racism that is inherent in the prison industrial complex) that statistic is slated to reach a preposterous 1 in 3 black men with the next generations. There were interviews with a man who was being released from prison and his partner, as well as a man who had recently been released and was seeking employment and his step-father, along with the rest of his family. What struck me was how the partner of the man who was in prison stated that every man in her life had been or currently was incarcerated. Because of this, she was concerned about her own children's trajectories and was adamant about the cycle stopping with her children.

This led me to think about my own family structure. Every older male on my father's side, save for one uncle and my brother, has spent a night in prison at least, though many have served much longer prison sentences, including my father. Granted, I did not spend much time with my father's side of the family but I DID spend a lot of time with my father prior to his own incarceration. Watching that program, I couldn't help but wonder, what if I hadn't been white? What if my father and his family weren't white? It is nearly certain that I wouldn't be on the same path and in the same place I am currently.

Granted, I did not grow up in a neighborhood where violence and drug-use were the norm. My mother was a strong figure who very much influenced my path. My grandparents had a strong influence and my siblings, though not the brightest in the bunch all the time, were fairly law abiding. While my mother was a single mom raising two kids and I often subsided on Ramen noodles, I never felt impoverished, nor did I ever go to sleep hungry that I can recall. Clearly these are all factors that influence rates of imprisonment but yet, it still begs the question, why do these issues disproportionately affect African Americans? (Hint: the answer isn't that they simply commit more crimes.) On NPR, there was a statistic that stated that while 5x more white folks are abusing drugs, 13x more black men are serving time. That's serious.

So again, my whiteness. and how today, I'm feeling particularly thankful for how the cards have fallen. I have an awareness about a lot of things, like exactly how many prison doors one must go through to see their father, or what eating three meals out of a vending machine is like because that's the only food available in a prison visiting room. I also sometimes remember that this is my reality, even though it is in my past. It is my reality and not very many other people in my immediate world share that reality. Which is isolating. And frustrating. But I'm also grateful because I know that there are parts of the world, parts of my world, where my reality is the norm and that's sad. And it's all because of that cycle that I was never meant to be a part of...because I'm white. And I'm owning that tonight and being grateful for my blessings.

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