Mass Incarceration. The New Jim Crow. The War on Drugs. Thanks to Professor Michelle Alexander these phrases are now intimately linked in the minds of social justice advocates and faith leaders as we begin a critical struggle for fairness, justice and human rights in the criminal courts, police precincts and prisons of America. The Next Movement is convinced that America can do better, and that the majority of Americans would want us to do better, if they knew the truth. The truth about systemic incarceration, structural second class status, completely uneven law enforcement practices, oppressive and selectively enforced laws that is filling the prisons of America.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

From the Inside: Dre's Story

He’s from a small northern suburb that doesn’t set off alarms in your head, like when you hear
“Englewood.”  It is home to the illustrious campus of Northwestern University, choice lake front real estate and one of the largest high schools in the country… even in the high crime areas, you can step out your front door in the morning and smell the life vibrating beneath the heavy mist of dew that has settled on the grass and trees. Dre trampled over this pulsating scenery like it was the desolate wild west.  Because when he’s gone off the weed and alcohol, he thinks he’s an outlaw.
When Dre was four, he was walking down an alley with his seventeen year old uncle, Ty, when gun shots rang out nearby.  “Stay here, Andre,” his uncle told him while pushing him between two garbage cans. 
“Don’t move until I come back!”
Ty pulled a gun from his waist and disappeared between two buildings. He was caught in a gang-related murder and Dre wouldn’t see him again until twelve years later.
It would be like he never left though, because Dre would be confronted by his uncle’s reputation all through his childhood. He would constantly hear from family and people in the neighborhood about his uncle’s phenomenal attributes. 
“He was so charismatic, all the ladies loved him.”… “He was so tough, all the guys respected him.”
Dre had none of these traits. As he got older and people found out he was Ty’s nephew, you couldn’t help but notice the shadow of disappointment move across their faces.
Dre was the shy, timid, soft-spoken type. 
“Speak up boy!” His dad would snap at him.  “You talk like you got rocks in your throat!” 
Dre’s over-protective parents kept him isolated in the house most of the time, which made him socially awkward, but an avid reader. By the time he got to high school, he had already read the majority of the books on the English curriculum. They had to place him in honors class.
Despite his academic potential, Dre wanted nothing more than to shake this lame persona. The characters he looked to emulate were the cats, like Uncle Ty: the dudes standing across the street from the school with their hats broke off; proudly throwing their hands in the air with fingers twisted up in signs to their allies; and embracing each other with secret handshakes. A brotherhood.  Everyone seemed to either love or fear them.
It was really this fear that kept him in check. But, when he was fifteen, he discovered a magic potion that would suppress that fear: weed and alcohol. He initially tried them when offered, because he didn’t want to be the square that said, “No.”
But, it was the effects that kept him coming back. The weed, by itself, was fun;  but, it made him feel more nervous and more vulnerable than when he wasn’t high. The liquor was another story. He felt like he had been dipped in a vat of radioactive waste and emerged a superhero. He didn’t feel like the same timid, insecure, cowardly guy he was before. Instead, he felt bold, confident, fearless; he felt free.
Dre stumbled through the rest of high school in a drunken haze, and just barely graduated. The weed and alcohol took him down a dark road. Under the influence, he chose to be initiated into the “brotherhood.” He so much admired them that, while under the influence, he chose to pick up a gun and shoot at someone he had been convinced was his enemy. 
When he woke up sober the next morning, his stomach dropped, as he remembered the things he had done. But, it was too late to think. He was nineteen years old, sitting in the county jail, facing attempted murder charges.
While he was on the inside, the thirst only grew. From what he could see around him, drugs and alcohol was the culture. Everyone did something. Even if they didn’t, he wore his addiction like a badge of honor. It was his identity. The only way he knew how to be. There was no reason to believe he had a problem, so despite the Narcotics Anonymous and Alcohol Anonymous programs that were offered on the inside, Dre looked at them as irrelevant to him. He eagerly awaited his parole date and that first drink…
Dre is now thirty-four, and serving a sixty-year sentence. He learned that putting on a mask doesn’t change who you are.

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