This morning, I went to hear Michelle Alexander talk about how prisons and are affecting black communities. First, you’re probably asking, “Who in the world is that?” She is a black woman who is a lawyer, civil rights activist, and author: google her! Anyway, she wrote a book called THE NEW JIM CROW, and her point is about how unfair the system is. She showed statistics about how black people go to jail in far greater numbers than any other group for non-violent drug crimes although people of all races commit these crimes with the same frequency. She made one point that really stood out to me more than anything else: currently, there are more black people in jail or under prison control, i.e., parole, probation, ankle bracelets, etc., than there were black people who were enslaved. Can you believe it? The size of the prison population is greater than the whole population of enslaved black people. Considering that slave labor was and is the cornerstone of the US economy and wealth, that’s huge.
But here is what I began to really think about during Ms. Alexander’s talk: how is it affecting black families when so many black people go to jail? What happens to a family when mom or dad goes to jail? As I began to think about it, it made me sad. So, consider this scenario.
Dad goes to jail. Dad is in jail which affects Mom because there isn’t enough money to pay all the bills. If Mom works more, she has to figure out childcare, which could possibly cost Mom. Mom has to deal with her feelings about Dad being away and help the kids deal with their feelings. Dad misses important occurrences in the kids’ lives and has to try to win his kids over when he gets out, which creates more drama for the family. Perhaps Dad is asking Mom to send him money while he is inside which creates additional stress from mom.
Dad gets out; but while he’s been away, Mom has gotten a new boyfriend. Can you say awkward? So, Dad feels betrayed. Mind you, Dad may not have a permanent place to live. He may be living in a half-way house or with family who may not really want him in the home or may not really have the money to support him while he gets on his feet. Then, Dad goes looking for a job; however, he has to check off the box that says, “I’ve been convicted of a crime.” Having to disclose that he’s been to jail makes Dad feel ashamed and frustrated, and it also makes it harder to get a job. As part of Dad’s parole, he has to pay a fine or restitution; however, because he can’t get a job, he has to borrow the money or face a violation if he doesn’t pay. Then, Dad gets criticized because people think he’s just too lazy or because they ask if he thinks he’s too good to work a low paying job. The problem in Dad’s mind is that a low-paying job really doesn’t help him. He is still unable to pay for basic necessities, his fine/restitution, and contribute to his kids.
While he was in jail, Mom applied for welfare; therefore, Dad now has outstanding child support issues. If he doesn’t pay, he could face jail time for that. Mind you, the kids are growing up and think Dad is a deadbeat and loser, and they begin to hate him because they hear Mom complaining about the bills. Dad goes to check in with his parole officer and is subject to random drug tests. Although Dad is an adult and is way older than 21, he gets tagged with a parole violation because he drank a beer.
Here’s the deal: take note of the fact that I didn’t say what dad’s crime was; however, I bet somebody has already said, “Well, it is his fault, and he shouldn’t have done whatever it is that he did.” While that could be true, I’m curious about other ways families are impacted when someone goes to jail. If you are willing, I’d love to read your shares in the comments section.