Professor Mark Chapman
Black Prison Experience
12 April 2012
Envision a Freer Future
"We should ask how it is that so many people could end up in prison without major debates regarding the efficacy of incarceration,” Angela Davis an activist and teacher writes. Angela Y. Davis’s powerfully written “Are Prisons Obsolete?” makes the human rights misfortune in our jails and prisons vivid. She convincingly compares the United States practice of incarceration to a new age of slavery rather than a system of criminal justice. Davis thoroughly exposes us to the American prison system structured by racism and sexism. She calls for ‘new terrains of justice.’ We must consider the two million Americans presently behind bars as well as the corporations who profit from their torment.
Angela Davis remembers a time known as the Abolitionist Movement. During this movement, individuals envisioned a time when slavery would be eradicated. Eventually, the Civil War broke out and slavery was eliminated (to a certain extent.) Then, along came convict leasing, another saddening aspect of history. However, what once seemed impossible came to pass, (abolition of slavery) which is encouraging for present day society. It was this chain of events that helped move our country forward. By understanding Davis’s proactive argument, she makes clear that she wants us to envision a future that will be freer similar to how the abolitionists envisioned their future. Davis calls for an audience to pay mind to a group of people who are suffering and living under brutal conditions due to extreme ignorance and many of us need to open our eyes.
By examining the Reagan era politicians, Davis calls attention to the fact that the “tough on crime” motto, which was supposed to keep communities safer from crime and also called for longer sentencing, had minimal effect on the crime rate. Therefore, it troubles me that we still live our lives based on this twisted thought. As history has displayed to us, mass incarceration even during that time had minimal effect on the crime rate, and only resulted in an increasing prison population. It seems that our society turns a blind eye to these issues, and it is devastating to read about an issue that should have been solved long ago.
In chapter three titled “Imprisonment and Reform,” Davis goes on to tell us how she sees the ways of prisons operating as a way of damaging people psychologically and then releasing them back into society;” this was disturbing to read. She provides us with Charles Dickens description of his visit to Eastern Penitentiary, which really captured my attention. Dickens stated, “I believe, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong,” after he visited (48). Dickens criticizes the notion that imprisonment is the most suitable form of punishment, which was a bold, yet necessary statement. Davis uses Dickens to highlight the similarities between the early United States prison systems and today. However, it seems unbelievable that political backwardness seems to be our issue currently. Also in chapter three, Davis recognizes Malcolm X, which I enjoyed reading after learning about him in this class. She highlights that his prison education was an example of prisoners’ ability to turn incarceration into a transformative experience, which must be considered. It seems that many us do not acknowledge self-rehabilitation, but it is possible and Davis makes this vivid. It was upsetting to read that to pursue self-education, Malcolm had to work against the prison regime; this seems absurd. For example, Davis writes, “Prisoners very early recognized the fact that they needed to be better educated” (57). It seems that many of us do not recognize that prisoners are aware that they need to be better educated in order to better deal with their problems and themselves, so the fact that Davis brings attention to this is beneficial to our society. Davis concludes this chapter with an...
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