Care Not Cages
About thirteen years ago, I sat alone on a stainless-steel stool, shivering cold, in a concrete cell in Southern California. For the first time in my life I contemplated how might I survive living in a cage.
I was eighteen and finishing high school. My potential was ripe for collegiate success. Then in my worst moment, every possibility exploded. I had been arrested and charged with a serious offense.
My experience as a detainee – captured in one of the many cages created to shackle Black people – was not totally detrimental. Unlike so many other Black youth and other young people of color, I was not thrown into prison and forgotten. After serving a minimum jail sentence and surviving under extended probation surveillances, I moved on with the support of my community.
Nonetheless, I took with me the trauma of a human cage and being treated like an animal, along with a felony stamp and a roused curiosity about the criminal justice system.
Since being incarcerated, I’ve earned a BA from a California university. In the process, I learned how disproportionately the state invests in education compared to corrections, incarceration and policing. I began to wonder about the relationship between the state’s budget priorities and running statistics on the likelihood of Black people ending up in prison versus college.
Thanks to continued education as an activist and organizer in the movement to end mass incarceration and racialized oppression, I have my answer.
First, I no longer contemplate a life behind bars. I travel up and down the state of California helping people reimagine a world where no community is traumatized by state violence and no family is destabilized by racialized oppression.
Imagine our city, flooded with centers for development and learning, created for us and by us, instead of poverty, militarized policing and violence. I welcome the work to ensure that our children may live in a world with no more cages.
California’s 2017-18 budget increases total funding on corrections to and all-time-high of $11.4 billion. This proposal is starkly at odds with over 64 percent of California voters who have already taken a stand against wasteful spending by passing Proposition 57 last fall.
That victory came with the promise to reduce the average daily prison population by over 2,000 in 2017-18 to the tune of $38.8 million in savings. With proper implementation, Prop. 57 gives us a chance to reverse our reliance on incarceration and bring our loved ones home.
Despite the potential windfall, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released a proposed spending plan that insists on neutering the potential cost savings estimated in Prop 57 through a series of regulatory maneuvers that entrench punitive and costly policies. The state’s budget proposal recklessly puts every Californian at risk of increased racialized, state violence.
During the 45-day public comment period (July 15 – September 1, 2017), we must remind Associate Director Timothy M. Lockwood at the CDCR that we voted to release human beings from cages.
In 1971, President Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” that turned out to be a war on Black and Latino people. Instead of investing in education and development in our communities, we are continually flushed down a pipeline to dehumanize, cage and eliminate us.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to re-vamp the “tough on crime” era and reintroduce punitive sentences. It is our duty to pressure our state Assembly to vote in favor of the RISE Act (SB 180), which will repeal ineffective sentence enhancements for prior drug offenses and send our message loud and clear: We want care, not cages!
Budget/policy advocacy is one of the many approaches to dismantling institutional systems of oppression. Everyone benefits. Fully implementing the will of California voters to reduce incarceration will reap millions of dollars in savings that could be reinvested into our communities.
Join us. The time is now!
The writer is Statewide Coordinator of Californians United for a Responsible Budget