Each day in America one thing is certain: Somebody will go to jail. This may not seem like an issue to some people. For most of our lives we’ve been taught the maxim, “If you do the crime, than you should do the time.” But some students think there is more to it than that.
“The prison industrial complex has two roles, profit and social control,” says Benjamin Woods, Howard University P.H.D student and co-founder of Students Against Mass Incarceration.
Founded in February of 2011 at Howard University, S.A.M.I is a social awareness and community activist group whose mission is to “raise awareness about the prison industrial complex, political prisoners, and recidivism.”
“This issue is affecting our people on a mass level so we want to spread locally and connect with all the HBCU’s,” said Woods. Answering the call of action to extend the efforts of S.A.M.I., Leamon Harris, a student at Morgan State University, joined the organization and recently hosted an interest meeting at MSU’s campus to educate students.
“The 13th amendment supposedly abolished slavery, but we fail to realize that if you commit a crime then it doesn’t apply to you. You are then subject to the system,” said Harris, as he spoke to a room of students and community organizers last week.
Over the last year, S.A.M.I has organized various events to help bring awareness to the disproportionate number of blacks in prison, including hosting open mics, rallies, and community discussions.
Calling himself a “prison abolitionist,” Woods and others were inspired and mentored by Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness.”
In a recent talk given by Alexander at Morgan State, she mentioned that “more African-American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.”
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that as of 2008, over 840,000 black males are in prison, making up over forty percent of the country’s total prison population.
Beyond just occupying cell walls, a new study by M. Marit Rehavi of the University of British Columbia and Sonja B. Starr, who teaches criminal law at the University of Michigan Law School also suggests that blacks are given sixty percent longer sentences than whites.
Even in the midst of all the negative statistics aimed at blacks in America and their high rate of imprisonment, Woods remains optimistic about the future.
“Last year, we saw the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and other movements going on across the world. We are seeing the beginning of something big if we take advantage of the opportunity.”