This unsolicited request for forgiveness is long overdue.
This cry for forgiveness is birthed out of a new revelation of the deep and damaging impact of mass incarceration on men of color; men of color like my brothers. The brothers that I grew apart from long before we grew up because in their youth they experienced the dehumanization and desensitizing that happens upon incarceration. I have been writhing with grief after watching “13TH” on Netflix. This sense of sadness and shame that has come at the realization, that, I, your sister, have not advocated for you, my brothers. My blood. I’m sorry bros. I love you bros. I just didn’t know bros.
This documentary on Netflix speaks of the loop hole in the 13th amendment which essentially provides a clause for criminals to continue to be subject to slavery or involuntary servitude. The mythology of black criminology is pervasive in media and culture today, but it began long ago. It is startling and disheartening how the narrative of slavery lives on in present policies and systems, cloaked under the guise of “criminal justice.”
“We now have more African Americans currently under criminal supervision than all the slaves back in the 1850’s.” – Senator Cory Booker
In the past, I shied away from watching TV series such as “Lockup” because these shows brought me incredibly close to some of the realities of those I love. The brutality. The identification by number not name. The memories of visitations as a college student and beyond. Remembering how unsettling it was to be frisked and undergo stringent visitation requirements. Remembering the joy on your face and your warm embrace when I arrived for a visit. Remembering the fear that came over me prior to every visit. Fearing that I would be denied the opportunity to visit you. Fearing that you were no longer allowed to see me. Fearing something would always sabotage our brief connection. And brief it always was.
As we fast forward to the present, I am ashamed to state that I’ve had the same expectation of many who have no real context of what it means to be incarcerated and that expectation is to simply “move on after release.” I remember the joy I had upon your release and I also felt quite lost because I didn’t know what to say or do. At times that feeling remains. You are an adult now. And so am I. You’ve experienced trauma for which I have no context, and sadly, I’ve expected you to simply bear that weight alone. I’ve also expected you to easily navigate broken systems in our culture that express that although free, you are still not deemed a citizen. Systems which prevent you from voting, exacerbate the cost of health care, increase barriers to employment, and multiply the cost of higher education.
Forgive me for not acknowledging your pain.
Forgive me for not acknowledging your victories.
Forgive me for not using my voice and influence to not only advocate for proactive efforts that work to prevent young people from experiencing this trauma, but also advocate for young people who have been left to recover on their own after this trauma.
Forgive me for not asking you how you were doing after release.
Forgive me for moving on with life and expecting you to do the same.
I am DEEPLY sorry.
The physical chains remain in the transport of men and women into incarceration, but the mental chains are just as significant.
On the eve of my 37th birthday, I am so grateful for lessons that my thirties continue to teach me. The current lesson is to “keep learning.” I am learning that my story, our family story is even more beautiful as I see the impression of your collective strength throughout it. Your journeys have been incredibly difficult. You guys have all continued to fight to be better men and good fathers. Perfection is an illusion made for TV; I’ve yet to meet a perfect person. You all could have thrown in the towel after each rejection post interview. You didn’t. You could have complained repeatedly. You haven’t. I know that your sons and daughters see you as heroes and so do I. Thank you for displaying what it means to persevere.
I am one who advocates for the marginalized; the outsiders, but I have been unknowingly callous to the implications of mass incarceration on our black men (brothers), our communities, our families. I am still uncertain of how to advocate well. I don’t know what I don’t know. I am hoping that you all will become my new instructors. I have so much more to learn. So much more to learn from you.
I love you guys. Thank you for being gentle and patient with me in my ignorance. It has taught me to do the same with others.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2 [NIV]