Every time I go to the Durham County Jail, I find myself not alone. There are many others who I find myself in company with. We walk, we dance, we sing, we chant. We get to the jail and I find myself making the most noise I ever had in a while. My smile meets my tears, because I realize that those people, the ones who come to the windows, don’t get to have the luxury of smiling, of dancing, of making noise. They have to adhere to the rules of their enslavement, as per the 13th amendment.
I can understand, how to a group of extremely privileged students, a party making light of the system of putting people back into legal slavery. After all, that’s just a technicality to them. Everyone is free these days, and we’re past racism, right?
My school is an extremely well known school for being very entitled, and getting everything they want. And I can’t exactly argue, when I know students go to their summer homes in the Hamptons and winter cabins in the Alps. It’s not really something that makes me feel any type of way, other than shocked that people actually hold that type of money and are so casual about it.
Whenever I tell my family and friends from home the latest Duke scandal, and the way the students so vehemently defend it, they’re so surprised. Even my younger sister, who has no context behind the mass incarceration system was very quick to denounce this party idea. “It’s not even a fun idea,” She told me over the phone. “Why would anyone want to have a party about jail?” And I couldn’t give her an answer, because I have no idea. But some people on campus do.
Their complaints generally work around the narrative of, “Well, I was just having fun. I don’t see how this actually connects to the system of mass incarceration. You’re making a big deal out of this.”
At the teach in we held, they didn’t come to listen, to actually discuss the connections. They came to laugh at the pain that we hold, to make it seem irrelevant. “Why don’t you go do this at the jail?” They said, accusatorily. But the thing they don’t want to hear, is that we do. I believe the majority of the time I leave campus, it is to the jail. I go, I listen, I stand in support. This isn’t an easy thing to do. A lot of these prisoners are in jail for inability to pay for tickets, for fees, for fines, many of which come from the extortion of these people, many of which are black and brown, because, in a society like this, we tax the poor and marginalized much more than we do the rich. These students, confused about how this connects, don’t realize that the money that they used to put together the cage they put their pledges in is the same money that is being saved from being used for the community. In addition, they refuse to acknowledge that that disposable fund they have comes from the privilege of being able to build and save money, to make money, while other populations were not only kept from doing that, but were contributing to that wealth without receiving any money.
Another thing that I honestly couldn’t understand was when one of the students in the crowd yelled at us “What is the harm in this party?” Over and over again. It surprised me how much more they got upset when someone said, “You wouldn’t have a Holocaust party, so why have this?” The anger was astounding. People were saying that it was too much of a comparison, and that we were dramatizing this party, but how could you say that, when what we are doing to those who are truly incarcerated is legally slavery. American slavery, the type that people don’t want to discuss anymore, and say we’re past it. When we study the 13th through 15th amendment in school, they tell us that these were the amendments that enforced freedom for everyone. But they aren’t.
If you go to the jail, you can see them from the windows, banging, watching. Holding up the signs saying “HELP US”, wishing that they could get out too. I know that one of the questions was “What do we do when all the murderers and killers get released?” There are many ideas going around, and many believe that coming up with our standards for our own community might be helpful. I would be happy to brainstorm ideas. But I don’t know if it’s just me, but I don’t think putting people back into a system that we’re too ashamed to even teach properly is the right way to “punish” people.
These people are dehumanized in this system, malnourished, not wont to receive proper medical attention, which actually leads to death. They’re forced to solitary confinement, and sometimes, aren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom, something that many argue would be a basic human right. Yet here we are, having to debate why your little prison party actually ties into a bigger context.
Like it was put by a very dear friend of mine the other day, “Y’all on some fuckshit.”