An Inmate Speaks About Racism

Ju22IsraelprisonThe 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.

Being Black in Montana

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.

stop-racism-thumb23027873From 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.

nunst042For 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.

Is Racism Still Alive in America?

The term “racist” has become almost as offensive to Americans as the “N” word is. Calling the average American a racist will elicit a varied response, but most Americans will be offended, and will defend their minority friendly credibility with a story about their black friend, a count of the minority friends on their Facebook friends list, or even the fact they voted for Barack Obama.

The media is generally quick to accuse politicians and superstars of making “racist comments” even though some of these comments taken in context may not have really been racism. Calling someone a racist can be a weapon in politics, if you can convince voters that one candidate in any race is a racist, the negative publicity can change the vote.

With the general attitude in the mainstream being very anti-racist on the surface, generally we feel that in our country we have “moved past that”. After all we elected our first black President, so we cannot be a racist nation right?

Despite all of this, racism is still alive in America. Recently I was talking to a black friend who lives in a small town in Montana. In her place of employment a group of customers were discussing the upcoming election, debating whether they would vote for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. A few of the customers were calling Barack Obama a “ni**er” right in front of her. She was absolutely hurt, not just that they were making this racist slur, but right in front of her while she stood there listening. She burst into tears. How could these people hate her so bad that they would do that? It is the year 2012, haven’t we moved past that?

The Associated Press developed surveys, which were administered online, to measure sensitive racial views in several ways and repeated those studies several times between 2008 and 2012. In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. Overall, the survey found that by virtue of racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote in his Nov. 6 contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. **

So in truth a deep seated racism still exists in much of our culture. If it can affect the outcome of the Presidential election, it surely can affect the board of pardons and parole. If average everyday Montanans can be blatantly racist when speaking of the President of the United States, they can certainly be so when speaking of a felon looking for a chance to live again in society and prove he or she has changed.

It is about time that we here in Montana weeded out the racists from the Board of Pardons and Parole, the judicial system, and our local police departments. They exist, they hold these positions, and it affects the lives of real people every day. Do you want your tax dollars supporting racially motivated oppression in your home state? Maybe it is time we admitted we haven’t moved past that, and we worked to ensure equality for our fellow citizens.

**Click here to read the article regarding the Associated Press surveys and the presidential election.

Medical Records Regarding Clive’s Knees

Clive Kinlock has been experiencing a lot of pain in his knees lately, they are degenerating and he is being refused proper medical treatment. We have obtained some medical records regarding the condition of Mr. Kinlock’s knees and will be adding links to this information in the previous articles we have posted regarding this. You can read the documents here: Clive’s Medical Evaluation, Knees (PDF)

Links to our previous articles about Mr. Kinlock’s Medical Neglect:

Montana’s Neglect of Prisoners Medical Needs is Torture

Update on Clive’s Medical Needs – Racism in Prison Administration Culture

Thank you for your continued support of Mr. Kinlock’s fair treatment by contacting these people in protest for the chronic condition of Mr. Kinlock’s medical neglect:

Governor Brian D. Schweitzer
Office of the Governor
Montana State Capitol Bldg.
P.O. Box 200801
Helena MT 59620-0801
(406) 444-3111, FAX (406) 444-5529
BrianSchweitzer@mt.gov

Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger
Office of the Lt. Governor
Montana State Capitol Bldg.
PO Box 200801
Helena, MT 59620-1901
(406) 444-3111, FAX (406) 444-4648
jbohlinger@mt.gov

Director Mike Ferriter: (406) 444-3930
momholt-mason@mt.gov

Members of the Law and Justice Committee
http://leg.mt.gov/css/committees/interim/2011-2012/Law-and-Justice

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Update on Clive’s Medical Needs – Racism in Prison Administration Culture

Thanks to all who took the time and made the effort to contact Montana officials regarding Clive’s appeal for treatment for his knees.  To date, nothing has been forthcoming from the DOC/MSP.  Could racism be involved in this denial of treatment?  We do know that a Caucasian inmate is getting his knee surgically repaired after being injured playing basketball.  Yet after 12 years and over 5 medical doctors’ recommendations, Clive is still denied treatment as his knees continue to deteriorate. 

UPDATE: Clive’s Medical Evaluation, Knees

Wouldn’t this actually be considered a form of torture, being forced to endure continuous pain and deterioration with a treatable condition, yet being unable to do anything to alleviate the problem through medical intervention as anyone outside prison would certainly do?  The DOC has no problem using every conceivable tactic to make money off inmates and their families yet slack in their responsibility to adequately take care of their human ‘property’.  Most pet owners or ranchers would not ignore treatment for their ‘property’ so why is it OK with Montana’s to endorse such blatant disrespect for people?

Yet, there are other disturbing situations where the color of one’s skin means discrimination in the Montana DOC/MSP, such as being the only one selected from out of a room full of inmates for a strip search during an Ultreya worship meeting, or by being selected out of the yard with other inmates of color for a strip search while listening to music together, while all others doing the same thing are ignored.  Complaints about such abuse go ignored within the system as they pass the grievance from one department to another until the statute of limitations is in effect, or they change the rules mid-stream so nothing you have to say goes anywhere.

So, we continue to seek your assistance, with thanksgiving, in promoting medical treatment for Clive Kinlock’s knees, and for your diligence and support coming from many places around the world.