We worship in a prison nation, where 90 percent of federal prisoners haven’t even seen a trial. The poor are offered deals in holding cells with forty other prisoners by a public defender who doesn’t even know their name. I myself signed away my life to these prosecutorial agreements multiple times, not because I was guilty of what I was accused of, but solely because I couldn’t afford bail. My choices were simple: languish in jail for twelve to nineteen months for a joint’s worth of pot or take the deal, accept a felony on my record, and get out that day. This was after waiting three to six months of subhuman conditions, violence, abuse by guards, lack of proper medical care. I spent years in jail over a period of a decade. Those lost years weren’t due to the severity of my crime but solely to socioeconomic conditions beyond my control.
By the time I looked up, I was a multiple-time felon. I repeated this cycle several times. I would be released on probation, put out on the street with little or no support systems, and instructed to do in twenty-eight days what I had never been able to pull off: get a job, get sober, stay out of trouble, and find a place to live. I couldn’t get a job with any upward mobility; whole neighborhoods wouldn’t rent to me. I couldn’t get financial aid to go to school. The prison extended far beyond the grounds of the jail itself. I saw people beaten within an inch of their lives by fellow prisoners, experienced dehumanization by the guards, and witnessed the profiteering by the “canteen” companies that sold us products on the inside. But the most insidious part of the system was how seamless it all was – a system that most of the public never bothered to examine.
From “Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S.” by Lenny Duncan – Fortress Press