I want to tell you a quick story about a young man who does eleven years in prison from the time he’s 18. While in prison, he really doesn’t learn how to be an adult or to handle adult responsibilities. Although he educates himself on some things, he never gets pushed or challenged to excel or to cultivate his potential except for the few short times his mentor and big brother is in the same prison with him.
Most of his time is spent idly, not necessarily by his own choice. Prison simply doesn’t offer much of anything but the bare minimum. The few mandatory programs he does have to take are superficial; they don’t really conform to his reality. His reality is one mostly filled with anxiety. He fears his past coming back to hurt him. Something he can’t escape. He thinks his release from prison will relieve the stress and worry, but it doesn’t.
The first few weeks are a dream. After his release, everyone is happy to have him home and shower him with money and gifts. Then slowly but surely, real life seeps in: work, bills, and drama after drama. He can’t adjust. Parole expects him to cope. He tries to move to a better living situation with a childhood friend who has his own business in home. But parole says no, because him and his childhood friend were part of the same gang. Although it’s obvious, neither are in the same gang anymore.
So he’s stuck in an increasingly stressful living situation. A family member is involved in reckless life threatening behavior. He tries to intervene and resolve what’s going on. It’s not working. The family member isn’t listening, making matters worse. More stress. So he can’t function beyond being there, automated. His ambition is dead. Most of his joy and happiness are gone. What does he do?
I’m telling you his story on the failure of the criminal justice system to help with the reentry of prisoners back into society who go in as kids and come out as adults. Most have no real clue how to adjust to the pressures of everyday life, much less still living in the hood with all its beef in drama. How do you tell a guy released from prison who must parole to his old neighborhood where he has beef, that he must stay on the right track? How do you tell him to do the right thing when a family member has serious beef that can get deadly?
Some who know nothing about hood culture will say he should go to his parole officer or to the police. And tell them what? Parole nor the police are equipped to resolve hood beef. All they can do is arrest people. But now the guy who went to them is labeled a snitch. Will parole or the police provide him or his family 24-hour presidential protection? Of course not.
This is just one small example why more public funding should be diverted to community services. UFD could do more than the police or parole in helping to reduce violence in the community. There’s a deep cultural problem in the hood, poorly understood by prevailing criminologists and law enforcement experts. The problem isn’t a question of criminality or bad behavior, but it’s a question of socioeconomic survival. You need to have lived and experienced this to understand it. If society wants safety, invest in people. People will amaze you when you show them you care.
This is Dontie S. Mitchell, better known as Mfalme Sikivu, reporting to you from Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @freeDontieMitchell. Also, join the Dontie Mitchell support committee Facebook group if you want to help with my clemency campaign, my legal battles and my UFD outreach and mentorship work with young prisoners. Thank you for listening, and God bless.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.