In Criminal In Justice In America, author Marshall Frank presents a powerful argument for amending laws and process regarding the war on drugs, prostitution, abortion, capital punishment, sex offenses and more. Frank points out how narrow thinking has created an irreversible justice quagmire which not only creates more crime, it serves a prison industrial complex that has grown into a cheap labor pool for corporate America. Only a non-politically correct, thirty-year career cop with the muzzle removed can dare offer such candid and startling alternatives to a failed system that now houses 2.3 million inmates in America’s prisons, at least a third of whom do not belong there. Readers with interest in the American justice system will find this a stimulating and fascinating collection of essays on subjects never before tackled in this manner. Definitely a book for thinkers. Read more about this book or buy the book on Amazon.
The following essay was submitted as a writing assignment by an incarcerated person who has agreed to allow us to present it on our web site. We feel it is another witness to the racial attitude still prevalent in our state and that supports the accusation that racial bias is a factor in the often excessive and harsh sentences given to minorities.
Reid Danell, English 151 Writing Assignment – Lesson 1
The Riverside Reader Topic #5 Essay
The state in which I live, Montana, has an overwhelmingly white population. Our prison system is a reflection of these demographics. One of the smallest minority groups here are African-Americans. Most Black inmates come to Montana from out-of-state, whether for college or with the military, and thus normally have few ties to Montana communities. For these, and possibly other cultural reasons, Black inmates are seen as “different” by white inmates within the Montana state prison system.
A subtle undercurrent of racism pervades the prison population here. Subtle, because it is rarely blatant or out in the open. It’s far more craven than that. When behind closed doors, after making sure all of the faces within the room are white, out come the jokes and snickers. Stereotypes about Blacks are widely held by white inmates, and even by some of the other ethnic groups. Yet, none of this is ever voiced directly to a Black man, or even in his hearing. Instead, when a Black inmate is present, it’s all smiles and pats on the back.
These attitudes are very prevalent here. I’ve been guilty of them myself, even if it is by omission, rather than by commission. Being white, with a shaved head, goatee, and “Irish Pride” tattooed down my forearms, I’m seen as one of the “good ol’ boys.” Many times I’ve stood there and listened to someone say the most offensive and hateful things about Black people. Deep in my heart I want to shout, “You ignorant piece –of-sh-t! That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! Unless you have something intelligent and meaningful to say, do us all a favor and shut the f-ck up.” Yet, I never do. On my best day I may maintain a disdainful silence. At my worst, a halfhearted chuckle. Thus, an opportunity for heroism is sabotaged by cowardice. While no excuse, the fear of being ostracized, and group conformity, are powerful societal forces.
Possibly even more insidious, is the institutionalized racism among prison staff and officials. Blacks and other minorities are more often singled out for pat searches, cell shake-downs, and investigations than white inmates are. Some of it is informal. It’s not uncommon for a guard to feel comfortable exchanging racist jokes with white inmates. The implications of that are profound, given the “us vs. them” mentality between staff and prisoners.
There are heartening moments though, even if they are born of tragedy. The recent shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, has ignited universal outrage and disgust among inmates here, regardless of race or background. For however fleeting of a moment, the terrible injustice done to this young man has united many of us as men; as Americans; as human beings. It often takes tragedy and injustice to unite people across perceived boundaries, and that’s tragic in itself, but with it has come a small glimmer of hope for the restoration of human decency and solidarity.
The question remains to be asked, “Will there b any lasting change here as a result of what happened to Trayvon Martin?” Sadly, it is not very likely. Attention spans are short and human ignorance runs deep. Still, not all is bleak. As our nation becomes more and more pluralistic, perhaps an increase of bi-racial and multi-racial families will make racist attitudes and stereotypes a thing of the past, even in prison. Or, more heroically, maybe a brave man, or men, will take a stand for what’s noble and virtuous, and cease to tolerate racial prejudice within their sphere of influence. Perhaps they will combat ignorance with truth, and turn the time of racial hatred here. Perhaps. And, so, hope remains.
In America today you are better off being rich, white, and guilty than poor, black, and innocent. —Conventional wisdom, 2003.
On March 18, 1963 the Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright promised the “guiding hand of counsel” for the poor as well as the rich, for people of color as well as those who are white, and for the guilty as well as the innocent. The holding was simple: Indigents in felony cases who cannot afford a lawyer must be provided one. The broad and powerful rationale supporting the decision went back to first principles. Effective counsel is a fundamental right because it ensures all the other rights the Constitution affords an individual dragged into the dock to face accusers and the awesome power of the state. It not only protects the innocent from wrongful conviction, but promotes the integrity and efficient operation of the entire system by making sure law enforcement cannot cheat or cut corners when prosecuting the guilty. Read the rest of this article here
By Clive W. Kinlock
These thoughts came to me upon reflection of this White fellow inmate’s essay, and I am recalling my own experience in the beautiful state of Montana. I want readers to know that as a Black man born in Jamaica, West Indies, I have been royally subjected to racial discrimination. There are many God-fearing White people whom I’ve met, with hearts of gold and who were sensitive to the issues of being human, that I have personally experienced kindness, love and compassion from. Such people I embrace and welcome in my life experiences. The problem for me comes with those who refuse to see me as a human being first, and Black later; or dare judge me because of skin color at all.
From the first weeks and months after coming to Montana, it was real obvious to me that being Black was going to be a huge problem. I was not considered for a good paying job as a welder and as a last resort had to settle for work at a car dealership in order to take care of my family. Even with that job I had to work much harder than my White counterparts to keep my job. My co-worker’s performance was often unproductive and unacceptable to supervisors, so it became the norm that work was left in my work area to complete, which I did it gracefully.
My skin color came to haunt me at other times while walking down the street. White people would cross over to the other side just to avoid me. It was strange to see people lock their car doors when I pulled up beside them in a store parking lot. Being targeted by police after moving to Great Falls was the most frustrating. They would follow me home while driving back from work, or an event. I would be approached while sitting in a public park by undercover police who would check my ID and ask me personal questions, then walk away with the attitude that I must be some sort of high profile criminal. The issue of being a Black man in the United States of America was never sincerely embraced by the White majority.
The most disturbing and stressful thing for me was being disrespected by a bartender who used the N-word with me. It made me feel less than human and stimulated me to act out on impulsive emotions because of being discriminated against for such a superficial reason. Society at the time, caused me to resent being a Black man in America, and I found myself resenting my parents for bringing me to the USA.
It was no surprise to me after entering the Criminal Justice system that being a Black man from Jamaica would be the underlying factor in my prison sentence. From the start the justice system had quickly outfitted me with their most incompetent public defenders, or the ones with the most ambition to move ahead in the system, to ensure that this Black man did not get an opportunity to receive the full benefits of the constitution and laws of the State of Montana. As a Black man, I am not protected by the due process of the courts, nor entitled to any ‘rights’.
Judge McKittrick‘s racist views made him incompetent and unable to render decisions with objectivity, which is imperative for a person in that position. He sentenced me according to the truth he decided upon, not the truth demonstrated by forensic evidence that rendered the victim’s most damning statement, false. My Black skin gave McKittrick the ammunition he wanted to inflate my sentence to the longest he could manipulate. His dehumanizing and hateful comments about how he viewed my worth as a human being while in his court were beneath his jurisdiction and belong only to God.
For these 21 years of my incarceration, all my efforts to hold the court and my public defenders accountable have fallen on deaf ears, so far. However, through it all my confidence in God and my growing faith have prevailed against every effort the system has made to redefine me according to their measure of a man – White man that is! The system as a whole turns a blind eye to every incident of racism and discounts all claims of such, or just blatantly ignores them, as my experience repeatedly has been.
During these years in prison, racism has been an active and ongoing part of the experiences Black people endure under the Montana sky. Black inmates are targeted for strip searches while doing the very same harmless activities as White inmates. We might be listening to music together in the yard and suddenly we are told to submit to a strip search while no one else has to. While worshipping during a chapel service, I have been the only one told to step into the restroom to be stripped searched.
Black jokes, being referred to by the N-word, and enduring various forms of harassment when refusing to ‘rat’ out my peers, are common experiences that made me so much harder to deal with during my first years in prison. Later on, being targeted along with my wife because we are a bi-racial couple caused many stressful times when staff attempted to suspend our visits on trumped up claims of violating prison policy. One or both of us were systematically harassed at nearly every visit, which we were careful to document and report, resulting in my transfer to a regional prison after 20 years at MSP.
Prison is a very isolating and lonely place, and so much more so from the perspective of a Black immigrant from another country. Medical treatment is denied for chronic yet preventable problems because I am to be deported and Montana does not want to waste any of its money on a person who is not a citizen. This is the reason I’ve been given for being denied treatment on my knees that several doctors have recommended. Most recently, an appointment with a specialist that was recommended by the doctor at CCA, was cancelled by MSP/DOC. This denial of my medical need for my knees has been consistent over the last 12 years, resulting in increasing debilitation.
As for my views on racism, in my heart I do not see a person’s skin color as an underlying factor in how I relate to them. I am more of an attitude kind of person, meaning, it is a person’s behavior that determines how I relate to them. I believe that every human being has the right to reject anyone including Black people, but that they will ultimately have to answer to God who made us all in His image.
David Ranta, 58, spent 23 years in prison until the conviction integrity unit of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office concluded after a year-long investigation that the case against him was fatally flawed. Click here to read the rest of this article.
New Developments as of 2013
Clive has filed a motion to withdraw his plea based on evidence which proves his innocence in the sexual assault charge.
Motion to Withdraw Plea (updated) (not all documents relating to this motion are provided at this time due to the nature of the legal proceedings surrounding this motion. The full document will be released in the future.)
Victor emigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica when he was five. He joined his mother and sister, who already lived in Brooklyn, and started school right away. Kids teased him: they called him coconut and said he came over on a banana boat. He had his first fight in elementary school, when another student threw a chicken bone at him during lunch.
By the time Victor got to high school, the taunting stopped, because he was indistinguishable from the other young black men in Brooklyn. When he graduated in the 1990s from an overcrowded, under-equipped, and drug-ridden high school, Victor wanted the life his mother wanted for him, a life free from the poverty they knew both in Kingston and in Brooklyn. “I started seeing my mother struggling,” he says “and I just wanted to help.”
Victor earned little money, however, at his record store job. He decided to sell marijuana to make ends meet, and his life quickly turned sour. He was caught, charged with felony possession of marijuana, and put on probation at age 18. With a felony on his record, finding a job became next to impossible, though as a legal permanent resident, Victor could work. Department stores wouldn’t even hire him during the holiday season, “when they were giving out jobs,” he recalls. “I feel that one charge took my life through stigma,” he says. He went back to selling marijuana, and when he was caught again, he got a four-year prison sentence for violating probation. After that, the almost-native Brooklynite faced an even harsher sentence: Victor was deported to Jamaica, taking his place among the 30,000 deportees there who once lived in the U.S…
Read the entire article here: http://thepublicintellectual.org/2011/05/02/jamaicans-targeted-for-deportation/
Belafonte, 85, whose singing career helped popularise calypso music, was receiving an NAACP Image Award at a ceremony in Los Angeles on Friday night, and used the opportunity to launch an impassioned appeal.
The group most devastated by America’s obsession with the gun is African Americans. Although making comparisons can be dangerous, there are times when they must be noted. America has the largest prison population in the world and of the over 2 million men, women and children who make to the incarcerated…the overwhelming majority is Black.
They are the most unemployed…the most caught in unjust system of justice…and in the gun game…the most hunted. The river of blood that washes the streets of our nation…flows mostly from the bodies of our Black children. Yet as the great debate emerges on the question of the gun, while America discusses the constitutional issue of ownership while no one speaks to the consequences of our racial carnage. Where is the raised voice of Black America? Why are we mute? Where are our leadership? Our legislators? Where is the Church?
Not all…but many who have been recipients of this distinguished award were men and women who spoke up to remedy the ills of the nation. They were committed to radical thought. They were my mentors, my inspiration, my moral compass. Through them I understood America’s greatness. Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Bobby Kennedy, Connie Rice, and perhaps most of all, Paul Robeson. For me, he was the sparrow. He was an artist who made us understand the depth of that calling when he said “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are the civilization’s radical voice.”
Never in the history of Black America has there ever been such a harvest of truly gifted and powerful artists…our nation hungers for their radical song…let us not sit back silently. Let us not be charged with patriotic treason.
- Harry Belafonte
‘Montana Justice: Power, Punishment, & the Penitentiary’ by Keith Edgerton
2004 by the University of Washington Press
During Montana’s early territorial years, ‘criminal justice’ was almost non-existent: a few towns had inadequate and chronically overcrowded jails; occasional prisoners were sent east to the federal penitentiary in Detroit; and, vigilantes summarily dealt with others suspected of crimes. In 1871, the federal government funded a penitentiary in Deer Lodge and later turned over to Montana when it achieved statehood in 1889. In this absorbing book, Keith Edgerton provides a social history of the Montana Penitentiary, with a primary focus on its early, formative years.
Read more about the book including an except from the book itself here: http://citizensforclive.org/articles-links/book-review-montana-justice-power-punishment-the-penitentiary/