My response to this powerful and heartbreaking book:

I used to think…
We’ve always been a nation that cared deeply about “law and order”

Now I understand…
Those were terms invented to bring political cache to some candidates’ platforms, and in most cases became code for locking up black people. (In fact, if you examine history, you’ll find many experts thought we were even close to abolishing prisons by the 1970s!)

I used to think…
The growing prison population I’ve been hearing so much about was a regrettable necessity—a way to stop violent criminals from having their way in society.

Now I understand…
The rise in prison populations has no correlation at all with violent crime (which is at historic lows). What it does represent is a ludicrous and pointless “war” waged against drugs, lopsidedly handled so that more blacks end up in jail than whites (even though whites and blacks use and sell drugs at the same rates).

I used to think…
that people who called our judicial system “racist” were exaggerating.

Now I understand…
Sadly, they weren’t exaggerating. The system is actually set-up to support discrimination. As hard as it is to believe, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that: police can stop and search anyone who’s black—precisely because they’re black, and that it’s perfectly okay for prosecutors to bring harsher charges against black defendants than white defendants—they have “prosecutorial discretion” that is very, very difficult (read: impossible) to challenge.

I used to think…
Felons deserve to be disenfranchised—to lose their right to vote, to “participate” in society.

Now I think…
There are too many penalties felons have to pay after they’ve “paid their debt” to society. Michele Alexander points out that people who leave prison are legally discriminated against in housing, employment, access to education. Many of them have to pay extra court fees and “restitution” that run into the thousands of dollars… they’re behind before they even get out. (I’m still thinking about this, but I’m pretty sure I believe in fresh starts and giving people another chance…)

This book was hard to read at times. (Who looks forward to curling up in bed every night in order to feel sad, angry, confused, frustrated, infuriated, and disgusted?) But this book also gave me an important gift–empowerment. Understanding the truth, maddening as that truth may be, enables me to act, to work with others toward change. And this discriminatory mass incarceration is something that can and must change. I believe we can become a nation of people that cares deeply about righting injustice, that cares deeply about each other…

I used to think…
If we don’t talk about race, then nobody will be racist.

Now I understand…
If we don’t talk about race, we’ll never end racism.

Advertisements