People always say that history has a way of repeating itself, and as I listen to the local news these days, I think that those people are right. Almost 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in his famous Emancipation Proclamation, too many Americans still rely on an economic system that relies on the pain and suffering of the people of color.
If you listen to the speeches of politicians across the country and the state of New York, you hear people taking credit for lowering the crime rate all of the time. So if there are fewer people committing crimes, why are people still depending so much on keeping prisons open? Especially when those prisons just treat men and women and even children (in juvenile facilities) as if they were animals who deserved to be locked up in cages even when they are first-time offenders involved in non-violent incidents that have very little, if any, threat to public safety.
Is it a coincidence that New Yorkers in prison are mostly black and brown? Probably not. The criminal justice system, like other systems like health care and education in America, doesn’t provide the same opportunities and alternatives for all races and all ethnic groups.
Because of slavery, American society grew off the tobacco and cotton crops grown off the blood and sweat of Africans. Today, upstate New York survives off the same from their African-American and Latino descendants.
People that represent staff at both adult and youth correctional facilities talk about the roles these businesses play in their communities on television and radio, as well as Gazette newspaper articles. They talk about how inmates help out on maintenance crews in communities. They talk about how many jobs will be lost if prisons are closed. But they don’t talk about how much it costs to keep people locked up — a lot! Or how much cheaper it is to support people with things they need to make better life choices — like education, job training and counseling. When you read about Tryon closing, the focus is on staff losing jobs more than experiences of boys my age being far away from home.
Crisis or opportunity?
I know it’s hard for people to imagine how they’re going to take care of their families if they lose their jobs. Sure folks are faced with crisis, but crisis brings opportunity with it. There may be opportunity to move to another place to contribute similar work or for education and training for new career choices.
Without a commitment to change in changing times, America might still be a place where people believe that one race deserves more than another and that it’s OK to use one person’s suffering some one else’s livelihood. Are we right [back] to where we started? I hope not, but these days it does seem a lot like history’s being repeated.
Arianna Ramirez-Johnson is a sixth-grader at Wilber Lynch Literacy Academy