As a prisoner in America, it is clear to me that some of the racism and hatred has its origins in America’s prisons. America’s prisons are petri dishes where ethnic nationalism, racial prejudice, bigotry, and anti-authority sentiments are fostered, fed, and fomented. One needs only turn on one of the many television programs about American prisons to see neo-Nazi, black, and Latino gangs spewing their hatred and committing violent acts against people of other ethnicities.
Michigan’s prisons are not as racially volatile as prisons in some states where, to survive, prisoners are often forced to join ranks with groups of their own color. In some of these states, prisoners are intentionally segregated in different pods or housing units to prevent extreme acts of violence. In other prisons the prisoners themselves police the segregation lines in housing units in order to maintain a semblance of peace. Michigan’s prisons are not to that point yet, but they do have racial division and hateful rhetoric.
White and black nationalism are strong in Michigan, where nationalistic pride is taught as a cover for hatred and marginalization of other ethnic groups. Some groups disguise their prejudices under the facade of religion, like black nationalists, the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple of America, and white nationalists like the Odinists. Other racial divisiveness is spread through non-religious, racially exclusive gangs like the Aryan Nation or the Bloods.
The unfortunate reality for prison is that these groups often seek out younger, more impressionable prisoners to whom they preach their nationalistic messages, feeding the deep fear with which these prisoners enter prison. Hatred is nearly always fed by fear–fear of oppression, fear of another’s power or one’s own weakness, fear of what (or whom) one does not know. Because most prisoners enter prison afraid, racist messages are easy to perpetuate, leading to greater strife, more violence, and a suspicious hatred that is then generalized to all people of one or another ethnicity or color.
The sad reality is that hatred does not need an excuse to infect the fearful. It will always find a way to raise its ugly head, but when hate raises its voice to spew its repulsive rhetoric the voices of peace, the courageous warriors of harmony must drown out the hate, not with hatred for the haters but with compassion for the hated, in defense of the indefensible, and with pity for the violently fearful. We must hold public figures, including politicians, accountable for failing to publicly condemn racist rhetoric and for feeding hate. But we must also hold ourselves accountable for failing to speak up when a friend or acquaintance uses prejudiced, racist, or bigoted language, even in jest. We must also hold ourselves accountable for adding our own voice to disunity or failing to raise it for peace. As communities, as states, and as a country, we must also hold ourselves accountable for feeding the petri dish that is the prison industrial complex. It’s time to rethink prison’s pipeline to prejudice.
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Author: Bryan Noonan
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