I recently stumbled back across an article that I had read in the New York Times back in 2004 entitled, “Prison Program Turns Inmates into Intellectuals.”
The article vividly stood out to me, because I remembered being fascinated at the thought of inmates bettering their lives and becoming more intellectual as they served their time.
I also remember the feeling I had while reading that article, when it suddenly hit me that many of the prisoners who were serving time at the Otisville Correctional Facility – which is a medium-security state prison located northwest of Manhattan, New York – were serving life sentences and would more than likely NEVER see the “free world” again, and would NEVER be able to put their newfound education to use outside of those prison walls.
In the article, it was as if people were praising these prisoners and highlighting the fact that this state prison was almost like a college or university. It began to make me sick to my stomach; not because these prisoners were learning something and being highly educated. I got sick to my stomach because I want to know where all this praise, attention and resources were for these individuals before they went to prison – many of them for the rest of their lives.
What sense is it for us to be so aggressive when it comes to educating prisoners, yet be so cold, callous and uncaring when it comes to educating our young people before they go to prison?
That is ludicrous to me!
If we know it takes motor oil to effectively operate our vehicles, why would we neglect to put any motor oil in our vehicles before we start driving? Better yet, why would we drive our vehicles and knowingly refuse to put any motor oil in it day after day?
By doing that, we are asking for trouble. The engine will eventually become damaged and the vehicle will be inoperable, until you get a new engine or a refurbished engine. One thing is for sure, that original engine will never be the same, no matter how much you pray, hope or try.
Again, the better question is, why would you even put yourself in that position?
That is what we have been doing in this country – year after year.
I ran across another article in the Wall Street Journal last year, entitled, “Prison vs. Harvard in an Unlikely Debate,” where three undergraduate members of the Harvard debate team were beaten by three men who had been incarcerated for violent crimes, but were a part of a Bard College program that helps give prisoners a chance for a better life.
The Bard Prison Initiative, which began in 2001, only gives a select group of inmates the opportunity to participate, and while the prisoners don’t have to pay any tuition, the initiative has a roughly $2.5 million annual budget which comes from private donors and includes money it spends helping other programs follow its model in nine other states. Bravo!
I am all for ensuring that incarcerated individuals get educated, but why are we seeing many state legislators advocating for gutting the public education system and failing to provide our young people the equitable tools, money and resources they need to avoid prison altogether.
Having a $2.5 million annual budget from private donors to help prisoners become better educated is cool, but wouldn’t $2.5 million for our young people to become better educated be equally as good or better?
We are seeing prison educational programs and prison entrepreneurship programs get funding from private donors, foundations, grants, state and federal programs and other sources, yet we are seeing several states, like Texas, choose to remove money from the public school system and state colleges and universities – namely HBCUs.
In 2011, the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion from Texas public schools, causing massive teacher layoffs, school closures, larger classes, pre-K cuts and reduced services for “at-risk” children. The Texas Legislature, which has been run by Republicans, decided to make these cuts citing a fiscal emergency. Not only were they wrong about this “so-called” fiscal emergency, but we see that the cuts they made were not even necessary and the state of Texas experienced an $8.8 billion surplus, along with having almost $9 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
They completely ignored the youth of Texas, especially Black youth, by cutting money from public schools, higher education and financial aid to over 40,000 students.
The school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon is real and the statistics show it.
The Houston Independent School District (HISD) and many other major metropolitan school districts across this country have had an abysmal history and terrible track record, with the end result being the closing of community schools, having dilapidated school buildings, eliminating key programs and trade programs, questionable rezoning efforts, the elimination of quality and dedicated teachers, a lack of stability with school leadership and administrators and the consistent failure to provide equitable technology and resources across the board.
Black males make up approximately 7 percent of the entire U.S. population, yet roughly 46 percent of those Black males are in prisons nationwide.
Of the more than 2.3 million people who are currently serving time in prison, many of them are Black and are serving time for nonviolent, first-time or low-level offenses – mostly for drugs.
A lot of Black lives, especially young Black lives, are ruined before they truly get started with life because they chose a path that was seemingly prosperous for them, without having the knowledge, experience and education to know any better. We need to change that.
It is time that we stop with this backwards education of Black folks – one that believes it is better to spend the necessary time and resources on educating us more when we are locked up, than we do when we are in our most needy and impressionable stages of life.
Jeffrey L. Boney serves as Associate Editor and is an award-winning journalist for the Houston Forward Times newspaper. Jeffrey is a frequent contributor on the Nancy Grace Show and has a daily radio talk show called Real Talk with Jeffrey L. Boney. He is a Next Generation Project Fellow, dynamic international speaker, experienced entrepreneur, business development strategist and Founder/CEO of the Texas Business Alliance. If you would like to request Jeffrey as a speaker, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org