OMSA discusses prison and prejudice

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) held a seminar led by success pathway coach LeeAntwann McCline on Nov. 13.

Officially advertised as “Prison Is My Second Home,” approximately 10 students attended the discussion, originally meant to be held for an hour but lasted close to two hours. During this time, McCline spoke to students in a personal and honest manner about the high incarceration rates of African Americans in the United States, the country’s overall prison statistics, and the repugnant prejudice and racism that still exists in America.

He also proposed several questions at the start of his presentation, including “How do we get to prison?” “What is its relationship to slavery?” and “Who funds prisons in America and incarcerates people?”

First of all, it is very important to note, as it was mentioned in this seminar, that there is a difference between “jail” and “prison.” While jail is short-term, prison is long-term, where inmates carry out, for example, a life sentence.

“There are [approximately] 2.4 million people in American prisons,” McCline states. “This number has grown by 500% in the past 30 years.”

In the courtroom, the figures are just as startling. While about 80% of judges are white, only 7% are black; similarly, 44% of the defendants are African Americans and 30% white. The remaining percentages are made of mostly Latinx or Hispanic people as well as other races.

So, the follow-up questions that have plagued America for generations remain: why are there so many prisoners, and how is race incorporated into this? McCline and the attendees spent the entire two hours discussing this and digging even deeper.

“Money is a huge reason we have so many prisoners,” he says. “Several corporations [such as the bail industry, law enforcement, and phone companies Corizon and Global-Tel, which charges $17 for a 15-minute phone call] make huge profits… Private prisons are a $70 billion industry.”

McCline also says, “If prison wasn’t a good money industry, no one would be in it.”

One of the most significant subjects McCline also covered was the effect of prison on inmates and ex-convicts, specifically how much the former suffers and the latter loses once they are released. Often, he compares prison time to slavery.

“Once you are convicted – once you become a slave – you are my property,” he speaks hypothetically. Much like slavery, according to his presentation, people in prison are kept alive “just enough to live” but are left vulnerable and unprotected.

“When you treat people like animals, that is how they are going to behave,” explains McCline. As a result, inmates frequently turn violent both against each other and later on, against others upon release.

The discussion then highlights life after prison, which oftentimes is even harder. Not only is it harder to re-acclimate to society, it is hard to find a job because most employers will not hire ex-convicts. Consequently, people will resort back to crime just to get by on their own. This is just one example of how their rights are taken away, and unfortunately, this is not even one of the worst consequences.

“One thing that we all have… the most valuable thing we have… that will hurt more than losing [anything else]… is time. Time, you cannot get back.” This is an inmate’s greatest weakness, and of course, it is what is used against them.

While McCline speaks in a general sense throughout the discussion, the main point of his session is that while prison affects men and women of every race, it is most detrimental to black people because not only do they make up a large percentage of prison inmates, they face discrimination and prejudice regardless of their background.

It is enough to make everyone in the room wonder why this happens and what the solution is.

After his presentation, McCline then asks the audience, “What are your thoughts?” For the last hour or so, the conversation shifts between prison and racial discrimination in society.

“Segregation is between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’” he says, while referring to the relationship between race and social status.

At one point, he alludes to one of the reasons why racism still exists in the 21st century, similar to the common idea that racism is not inherited but taught.

“When you walk into a kindergarten classroom, kids are hugging each other… They don’t [worry about] who is a Republican or who is a Democrat… As we get older, we start to assimilate [to what we see around us].”

By the end of the session that was more like an intimate conversation between himself and the students, he left them with a powerful lesson in tolerance and combating the bigotry that exists around the world today.

“We have to learn how to appreciate people for their uniqueness… [and] we have to realize that we all are the same.”