Forgotten Fathers: Parenting and the Prison Industrial Complex | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Forgotten Fathers: Parenting and the Prison Industrial Complex | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Forgotten Fathers:

Parenting and the Prison Industrial Complex

by David J. Leonard | special to NewBlackMan

Happy father’s day to all the fathers and grandfathers, but especially to those in Attica, San Quentin, Angola, and countless other prisons throughout the United States. For many, this is a day of celebration, of happiness and reflection. It is a day where kids give their dads homemade gifts and extra-special hugs. While everyday as a parent brings smiles and laughter, it is day where it is hard not to feel special as a dad. Yet, it should also be a day of reflection, where we as a society think about those who are unable to celebrate as a family. I am speaking about those among us who as Angela Davis laments have disappeared from the public imagination: incarcerated fathers.

According to a report entitled “Children of Incarcerated Parents,” in 2007 America was home to 1.7 million children (under 18) whose parent was being held in state or federal prison – that is 2.3 percent of American children will likely be celebrating father’s day away from dad. Despite hegemonic clamoring about family values, the prison industrial complex continues to ravage American families. Since 1991, the number of children with a father in prison has increased from 881,500 to 1.5 million in 2007. Over this same time period, children of incarcerated mothers increased from 63,900 to 147,400. Roughly half of these children are younger than 9, with 32 percent being between the ages of 10 and 14.

The problem is even more pronounced when looking at Black and Latino fathers. The numbers are startling: 1 in 15 black children lives away from their parent because of incarceration. For Latinos that number is 1 in 41, compared to 1 in 110 for white children. For incarcerated African Americans (1 in 3 black men are currently in prison, jail, on probation or parole), father’s day isn’t simply a day of disconnect from their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, but one that highlights their separation from their own fathers and entire family.

The consequences of America’s war on drugs (a war principally waged against black and brown America), of America’s “New Jim Crow” (see Michelle Alexander’s work), are evident on this day. Too many fathers, particularly black and Latino fathers, will celebrate alone, away from their sons and daughters. Writing in response to the widespread debate about the state of black fatherhood, Michelle Alexander makes clear the links between the new Jim Crow and “missing black fathers” in America. “Here’s a hint for all those still scratching their heads about those missing black fathers: Look in prison,” writes Alexander. She continues,

The mass incarceration of people of color through the War on Drugs is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Hundreds of thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites.

The systematic efforts to break-apart families, destroy communities, and separate fathers and mothers from their children is a direct result of the incarceration of drug users. According to Alexander, as of 2005, 4 in 5 drug arrests were for possession by individuals with no history of violence; in the 1990s alone, a period that saw a massive expansion of America’s war on drug users, 80 percent of those sent to prison were done so for marijuana possession. Yet, again we see how this is not a war on drugs or even illicit drug use, but use within the black community even though whites are far more likely to use illegal drugs. In a number of states, between 80 and 90 percent of all drug convictions have been of African Americans.

The impact of the war on drugs transcends father’s day. The systematic effort to dismantle families results in isolation and disconnection from community, support systems, and loved ones 365 days per year. It has resulted in a brain drain and systematic removal of grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters – entire communities. On average, children live 100 miles away from their incarcerated parents. A 2000 U.S. Department of Justice Report found that over half of America’s prisoners have not been visited by their children. An expansive and far-reaching criminal justice system touches so many of our lives.

The memory is still vivid. I was sitting in my office, preparing for parental leave of absence, when my phone rang. I could hear the sadness and fear in his voice. He had been convicted and was facing jail time. He was scared of losing his career, the life that he had worked so hard for up until that point, and a future of seeing his kids and grandkids grow up. Listening to my father’s voice was disheartening; the prospect of having to tell my children that grandpa wasn’t going to be there for our next visit was terrifying then for many months to come. Thankfully (and revealing the ways in which privilege operates within the criminal justice system), our family never had to see him go jail. I did, however, see the financial and personal difficulties that besiege so many families. Too many families are being split apart because of expanding and overzealous criminal justice system. Too many fathers and mothers have to tell their children that they have to go away. Too many children wake up each and every day with a parent locked up. Too many children have to go through a metal detector simply to deliver a father’s day wish today.

Last year, in  “Imagine What Father’s Day Is Like for All the Dads and Sons in Prison,” Stephen H. Phelps offered the following father’s day reminder: “Let us take advantage of this Father’s Day to turn our well-wishing toward the ends for which our hearts are shaped; toward compassion for every son and every father who is in prison. And especially for black and brown men in prison.” Reminding us all that “these men are your sons. We are all their fathers,” Phelps calls upon us to collectively remember those who are unable to share this day with their children, who because of the troubling war on drugs are unable to be the fathers they would like to be. So, on the 40th anniversary of the racially-based and ineffective war on drugs, lets work toward the greatest present of all to not only fathers, but mothers, children, and our society at large: its end.

via Forgotten Fathers: Parenting and the Prison Industrial Complex | NewBlackMan (in Exile).

NewBlackMan (in Exile): Real Consequences: The War on Drugs, the New Jim Crow and the Story of Jonathan Hargett

Sean Proctor for The New York Times

Real Consequences:

The War on Drugs, the New Jim Crow and the Story of Jonathan Hargett

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Most basketball fans have never heard of Jonathan Hargett. A basketball legend with immense potential, Hargett never fulfilled this promise. In a recent piece, The New York Times sought to explain this unfulfilled potential, chronicling his story as not just tragic but a cautionary tale.

Pete Thamel’s story is one that begins and ends with the basketball court. It replicates the popular narrative of the African American baller whose immense talents and endless potential were derailed by pathological behavior, a lack of discipline, and a system that did little to curtail these bad behaviors. In an effort to highlight this tragic story, Thamel imagines the tragedy through his greatness on the court, seemingly reducing Hargett’s story to one of talent left to rot in the fields.

Noting how Amar’e Stoudamire, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony have noted his greatness, Thamel uses their assessment to not only authenticate the wasted potential but to make clear the American Dream that could have been; yet, his life is more nightmare and according to “‘What Happened to Him?’” that isn’t because of a lack of talent or opportunity:

His signature move was his ability to freeze an opponent with a crossover dribble, then blow past him toward the basket, lobbing the ball off the backboard and catching it and dunking it with one hand. It became known simply as a Hargett.

“Especially when you’re talking about memories and things like that from high school basketball and A.A.U. basketball, he’s definitely one of the names that comes up,” Anthony said. “What happened to him?”

The answer is jarring and sadly predictable. Hargett, who turns 30 this weekend, is an inmate at the medium-security Indian Creek Correctional Center here, serving the final months of a nearly five-year sentence for drug possession with intent to sell.

Thamel’s answer is rife with simplicity and stereotypes. We are told over and over again that Hargett ended up in prison rather than the NBA simply because of his own demons and the failures of those around him to save him. Having lost his father, who died of pneumonia, Hargett grew up with his mom and 6 siblings.

Hargett’s mother, Nancy, worked multiple jobs to help support her six children. With his mother often working and no father figure around, Hargett began to form bad habits. Lancaster said that after Hargett’s ninth-grade year, he began showing up late to practice, and Lancaster noticed an entourage beginning to form around him.

In other words, the death of his father, the failures of his mother, and the influences of the street derailed Hargett’s greatness on the court. Lacking the necessary discipline, focus, and ability to see beyond the present, Hargett spent more time smoking marijuana than honing his craft. He eventually became addicted to marijuana, leading him on a path to prison rather than the NBA. For Thamel, Hargett’s own personal failures and demons are only part of the answer as to “why” or “what happened” to Hargett, as the other part of the story rests with the culture of sports.

A story about agents, handlers, and others who saw Hargett as a dollar sign, as an amazing talent who could line their pockets in the long run, Thamel (and others) treat Hargett as an expose about the pitfalls and dangers of contemporary sports. At its core, it really frames the narrative along these lines (in the words of Hargett himself): “The moral of this whole story is to help someone not to make the same mistakes.” In other words, the story that is offered here is one that imagines him as someone who made bad choices because of a lack of discipline and values (“culture of poverty”). Worse, his own failures are exacerbated by a system that never held him accountable. His fate wasn’t simply the result of his own failings but that of a system based in the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable young men like Hargett, whose talent insulates from the necessary discipline. These personal and institutional failings end with his incarceration.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Real Consequences: The War on Drugs, the New Jim Crow and the Story of Jonathan Hargett.

Dr. David J. Leonard: White Denial and Black Middle-Class Reality – Part 2

White Denial and Black Middle-Class Reality – Part 2

Denial is a fixture of contemporary racial discourse. Reflecting segregation and the entrenched nature of white privilege, the efforts to deny through citing a mythical black middle-class, as if the black middle-class reveals some post-racial reality, defies the facts on the ground. It defies the realities of America’s housing situation.


A 2012 study entitled, Price Discrimination in the Housing Market, found that like the poor paying more for various goods and services, the black middle class pays more for a home:

No matter what the ultimate reason for the price premium, our results imply that systematic, robust racial differences in the price paid to buy a home – on the order of 3 percent on average in multiple major US markets – persist to the present day, long after many of the most overt forms of institutional discrimination have been eliminated. Considering the average purchase price paid by a black homebuyer in our sample is $177,000, this translates to an average premium of about $5,000 per transaction, a substantial amount given the average income of black households in these cities.

The costs of racism on the black middle-class are evident in the difficulty in securing home loans. For African American joining and remaining part of the middle-class is a precarious and difficult task because of racism. According to a report in the New York Times, black homeowners otherwise eligible for traditional fixed rate 30-year mortgages often had subprime loans. In NYC, it “found that black households making more than $68,000 a year were nearly five times as likely to hold high-interest subprime mortgages as whites of similar or even lower incomes. (The disparity was greater for Wells Fargo borrowers, as 2 percent of whites in that income group hold subprime loans and 16.1 percent of blacks).”

Additionally, Joe Weisenthal, with Did Racist Subprime Lending Cause The New York Foreclosure Crisis? notes that according Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shawn Donovan, “Roughly 33 percent of the subprime mortgages given out in New York City in 2007, Mr. Donovan said, went to borrowers with credit scores that should have qualified them for conventional prevailing-rate loans.” Differential access to different types of loans has huge financial cost. “These practices took a great toll on customers, Weisenthal notes. “For a homeowner taking out a $165,000 mortgage, a difference of three percentage points in the loan rate — a typical spread between conventional and subprime loans — adds more than $100,000 in interest payments.” As noted in the article, the prospect of paying an extra 700 dollars a month over 27 years highlights the financial cost and burden resulting from subprime loans.

Housing discrimination in all its forms demonstrates the precluded benefits of middle-class status to many African American families, but the ways in which racism is shrinking the size of the black middle-class. Evident in foreclosures, the resulting lost wealth, and the overall financial burden of racism, a Black middle class is bound to be fundamentally different from a white middle class.

The consequences of these historic and ongoing practices of discrimination are clear. “Segregation of neighborhoods and communities often means, for African Americans, less access to schools with excellent resources, key job networks, quality public services such as hospital care and quality housing,” writes Joe Feagin and Kathryn McKinney in The Many Costs of Racism. “The later factors, less access to quality housing, also limits the ability of African American families to build upon substantial housing equity, a major source for the wealth passed along by families for several generations.” These are the costs of racism for all African Americans.

Continue reading @ Dr. David J. Leonard: White Denial and Black Middle-Class Reality – Part 2.

Metta World Peace and the Stigma of Criminalized Bodies Pt. 2 | Urban Cusp


Metta World Peace and the Stigma of Criminalized Bodies Pt. 2

By David J. Leonard

The elbow seen around the world and the media fallout continues to bother me. Over the last five weeks, I have found myself debating others online, yelling angrily at the television and otherwise struggling to make sense of Metta World Peace’s elbow of James Harden. As I noted in part 1, my concern stems from a media narrative that too often invokes the language and frames reserved for “criminal justice” matters (the courts). It also reflects a narrative that refuses to let MWP live in the moment, to be defined by his actions in our present. Instead, he is defined now (and as he has been since 2004) by his actions and the meaning of those actions within our racialized society. Having paid his debt to the NBA, and society, he continues to be dogged by the past, an unfair constraint of America’s criminalizing culture.

The efforts to criminalize MWP, to depict him as pathological and dangerous, as a constant threat to those on the court is illustrated in language usage but also in the constant references to his past. The constant reference to the Palace Brawl and to past suspensions without any acknowledgement of the specifics of each instance (and the differences), the timeframe involved, or the changes MWP has shown is telling. For example, many commentators continue to reference his “past,” his “history” and the fact that he has been suspended “13 times in his NBA career for a total of 111 games.”

However, few provide any specifics, as if they don’t matter. Three of those suspensions (4 games) were for exceeding the maximum allowable flagrant foul points, with another coming from his leaving the bench during an altercation that he was not involved with. Even his first suspension in the league (4 games – “With the Pacers, four games for confronting and making physical contact with Miami Heat coach Pat Riley, for taunting the Miami bench, for committing a flagrant foul-2 on Caron Butler (pushing him into the stands) and making an obscene gesture toward fans”) or two of his more recent suspensions, both of which were clearly impacted by his involvement with the Palace Brawl, points to the problems of imagining MWP as some “habitual” offender.

None of this is to excuse MWP for the elbow or even past actions (including a plea of “nolo contender” in a case where involving infliction of injury his wife, clearly his most troubling offense yet one that received much less media outrage that the elbow or the Palace). Rather, I call for specifics and reflection as a way to caution against the continued merging of the criminal justice system and public culture, between the criminal court and the basketball court. The normalization of the language of the criminal justice system and the criminalizing of “bad” bodies gives life to America’s prison culture, to America’s new Jim Crow.

This leads me to why the media coverage regarding the elbow gives me pause – why it troubles me more than the elbow itself. The intrusion of the language of the criminal justice system, the ubiquitous references to Metta’s past, and inability of others to allow MWP to move forward without the past shackling, defining, and controlling him reflects a larger injustice: the stigmas, life-sentence, and 2nd-class citizenship “afforded” to criminalized communities. “A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind,” writes Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

Continue reading @ Metta World Peace and the Stigma of Criminalized Bodies Pt. 2 | Urban Cusp.

New post from @NewBlackMan- Campus PD: Criminalizing Higher Education?


Campus PD: Criminalizing Higher Education?
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

In what was obviously a slow night television night, I found myself searching for something to watch.  After perusing up and down the onscreen schedule, I came across Campus PD (I was somewhat familiar with show having read about their filming in Pullman, WA, where I live), a show that “takes viewers along for the ride with officers on duty to capture firsthand all the mayhem and excitement they take on night after night when student fun spirals out of control.” The show is described in the following way:

From policing parties and security issues, to keeping the peace at sports events and arresting possible suspects, ride with the “Campus PD” as they tackle the ongoing challenge of keeping students safe. Depicting university life from the perspective of the law enforcement professionals who police them, this ground-breaking new series presents a real-life account of these modern-day campus heroes. As they gear up for a shift, these courageous cops know they’re in for a few surprises!

The series heads to five college towns across the country including Tallahassee, FL, San Marcos, TX, Cincinnati, OH, Chico, CA, and Greenville, NC. It takes viewers deep inside the internal lives of the law enforcement professionals policing a town of fun-loving college kids. It isn’t easy, but these dedicated officers love their jobs, and wouldn’t have it any other way.


The emphasis on “fun,” “keeping student’s safe” “fun-loving college kids,” parties, and “binge drinking COEDS” is instructive, demonstrating how a show about criminal misconduct goes to great extents to decriminalize its primarily white, middle-class, “participants” and in doing so criminalizes the Other once again.


The show might as well be called “Warning PD.”  In the three episodes I watched on television, and countless clips online (which don’t necessarily show the encounters from start to finish leaving it hard to see the final resolution), I have only seen a handful of actual arrests.  For the most part, the show brings to life several excessively permissive campus police forces, who tolerate abuse, disrespect, and a culture of chaos.  In many instances, college students are given countless warnings, and only after failing to comply with instructions, are they forced to deal with the repercussions of their actions with a ticket or an arrest.


Another common theme within these initial episodes I watched from start to finish was a belief from the students they were unjustly being persecuted by the police.  Students would often note that, “they were not doing” anything wrong, or that they were simply engaged in “harmless fun” only to be harassed by campus police.  Given the ways in which harassment, racial profiling, and pre-text stops so often define the experiences of youth of color, it is a troubling re-imagination of policing in America.  Worse yet, Campus PD does a good job in showing why many college students view police as unfairly harassing them.


In two different episodes (as in the book Dorm Room Dealers), students respond to the presence of police by telling them to go “police” and investigate some real criminals.  That is, they were wasting their time with the happenings of college students since they were harmless, as opposed to those who “lived over there.”  In both instances, “over there” was clearly the neighborhood inhabited by poor people of color.  This assumption (one that is reinforced by the show) that the “real criminals” exist elsewhere reflects the power of American racial and class logic.


According to a study from the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 95 percent of respondents imagined an African American when asked about drug users.  In other words, blackness operates interchangeably with criminality, especially in relationship to the urban poor.  Better said, “to be a man of color of a certain economic class and milieu is equivalent in the public eye to being a criminal.” (John Edgar Wideman, p. 195)


The consequences of the permissive policing and a culture that imagines college students engaged in criminal activity as just having fun (as opposed to the “real criminals”), is evident in the lack of attention directed at the criminal misconduct taking place at America’s colleges and universities.


According to a 2007 study reported in USA Today, over half of America’s college student regularly abuse alcohol and drugs.

The study found that college students have higher rates of alcohol or drug addiction than the general public: 22.9% of students meet the medical definition for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence — a compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences — compared with 8.5% of all people 12 and older.


Increasingly, along with the traditionally seen drug and alcohol abuse, college students are abusing prescription drugs like Adderall, termed “smart drugs” by many college students.  “For many middle and upper-middle class young people in New York,” notes Lala Straussner. “Adderall is much more acceptable than using methamphetamine (more common on West Coast) or crack cocaine, although the brain doesn’t know the difference.” Yet, the ubiquity and acceptance of “smart drugs” is simply the perceived function or the consequences of these drugs but the ways in which crack and meth are both racialized and connected to distinct class identities.  Prescription drugs, on the other hand, are linked to those in college, who are said to have a future, illustrating criminality and criminals are identities are constructed as elsewhere and not within college communities.


While shows like Campus PD illustrate the ubiquity of instances of public intoxication, cases of drunk-driving, and physical assaults, other issues plague college communities.  As such, it does little to elucidate the problem of sexual violence (20-25% of women in college will experience rape or an attempted rape), prescription drug abuse, and even drug dealing.  The erasure of these systemic problems reflects a culture that imagines college as a space of parties, fun, and adolescent behavior rather than criminal activity.


This type of narrative is evident in the recent drug busts at San Diego Sate University and Columbia University.  In 2008, after a several month investigation, authorities arrested 75 students (96 people in total), confiscating drugs worth a total of approximately $100,000 worth of drugs.  Among the 20 students arrested for distribution and sales was a criminal justice major, who when arrested was in possession of two guns and 500 grams of cocaine.   San Diego County Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis made clear that their investigation demonstrated “how accessible and pervasive illegal drugs continue to be on our college campuses and how common it is for students to be selling to other students.” This was certainly true with Columbia University, where 5 students were arrested as part of “Operation Ivy League,” “a five-month undercover sting, during which police purchased $11,000 worth of drugs from the students out of Columbia fraternity houses and dorms.”


While the media rendered this incidence and that at SDSU as a shocking spectacle, it is clear that the situation at these schools is a national phenomenon.   This should actually be surprising given how drug markets are as segregated as the rest of America.  According to A. Rafik Mohamed and Erik D. Fritsvold, authors of Dorm Room Dealers, who spent 6-years examining drug distribution at a Southern California Private school, not only do students sell to other students, but do in a reckless manner, which in their mind highlight a sense of entitlement based on the students’ middle-class white identities.  Phillip Smith describes their findings in “Dorm Room Dealers: A Peek into the Drug World of the White and Upwardly Mobile”:

Mohamed and Fritsvold show repeatedly the reckless abandon with which their subjects went about their business: Dope deals over the phone with uncoded messages, driving around high with pounds of pot in the car, doing drug transactions visible from the street, selling to strangers, smuggling hundreds of pills across the Mexican border. These campus dealers lacked even the basics of drug dealer security measures, yet they flew under the radar of the drug warriors.

Even when the rare encounter with police occurred, these well-connected students skated. In one instance, a dealer got too wasted and attacked someone’s car. He persuaded a police officer to take him home in handcuffs to get cash to pay for the damages. The cop ignored the scales, the pot, the evidence of drug dealing, and happily took a hundred dollar bill for his efforts. In another instance, a beach front dealer was the victim of an armed robbery. He had no qualms about calling the police, who once again couldn’t see the evidence of dealing staring them in the face and who managed to catch the robbers. The dealer wisely didn’t claim the pounds of pot police recovered and didn’t face any consequences.



A former Columbia student highlights a similar culture there, adding more evidence to the arguments offered in Dorm Room Dealers.

But, in fact, the prestigious institution on Manhattan’s Upper West Side has long been “ripe” for drug trafficking, a knowledgeable 2009 Columbia graduate told The Daily Beast. “I think the permissive environment of Public Safety”—as Columbia’s campus police force is known—“makes it a no-brainer proposition,” said this former student, who described himself as a recreational drug user who dabbled in selling. “I always felt safe.”


The culture and climate of Columbia in terms of public concern and policing, as opposed to the levels of surveillance found a few miles away in Harlem, tells an important story about how race and class operate in contemporary America.  Campus PD offers a similarly distorted glimpse a crime as well.


Media accounts of these two recent drug operations and shows like Campus PD have done little to shine a spotlight on the double standards that exist between the primarily white middle-class student population and poor youth of color when it comes to policing and incarceration.  With the situation at Columbia, one student has plead guilty thus far; although charged with the most serious crimes, he was sentenced to 6-months in prison in July.  In a city where 46,500 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2009, with 87% of these people being black and Latino, the inequality is quite clear.


San Diego saw a similar outcome, with many of those arrested pleading guilty only to face probation and entrance into a drug diversion programs, leading some people to question why police are spending so much time and energy conducting investigations against college students that do not result in incarcerations.   When considering the media coverage, popular representations of college campuses, levels of policing and unzealous prosecution, it is no wonder that while African Americans constitute 13% of all monthly drug users, they represent 38% of these arrested for drug possession, 55% of convictions and 74% of prison sentences; it is as argued by Michelle Alexander, the new Jim Crow, ostensibly cordoning off America’s college and universities from policing and prosecution.  The criminalization of black and brown youth and the decriminalization of white America, particularly its middle-class college-bound constituency, have material consequences.


Evident in a show like Campus PD and the various examples provided here is the ways in which  “what it means to be criminal in our collective consciousness to what it means to be black.”  In other words, “the term black criminal is nearly redundant . . . . To be a black man is to be thought of as a criminal, and to be a black criminal is to be despicable – a social pariah” (Alexander 2010, p. 193).   No wonder so many students yell at cops to go focus on the “real criminals”; that is the message they have learned all too well.

Originally posted at NewBlackMan