March was Justice month.
On the 13th, we had the pleasure of a visit from the loquacious, diligent and powerful native Baltimorean Dr. Helena Hicks, famous for her initiation of the first lunch counter sit-in in America. She hasn’t stopped fighting for civil rights, and is a forceful advocate for neighborhoods and individuals even today, sitting in at drug stores, expelling antagonizing police from her neighborhood, and admonishing former students of hers that happen to be presiding judges.
Dr. Hicks primed us for next week’s book discussion, a talk about prison systems in America, the people who make money off of them, and the people who are left permanently destitute and dehumanized from having been through them. First, a liturgical analysis of the very notion of our prison society tells from a Catholic perspective why it is necessary to abhor prisons in America and the society which condones them. Next, Prison Profiteers exposed the underlying reasons for why we imprison more people in America than in any nation on Earth, 1 in about every 106 people. Hint: it’s green. Private prisons charge America per prisoner, inherently benefiting off of the imprisonment of human beings, which means they have stakes invested in criminalization, in more laws that are easy for people to break, in harsher sentences, in the preying of law enforcement on the poor–people who don’t have the cash to fight back. Though private prisons are a relatively small gig in the scheme of things (housing 3.7% of American prisoners), they are not the only ones profiting from a massive prison population. Phone companies, healthcare corporations, the makers of tasers and uniforms–any company that sells their wares to a prison has invested in the school-to-prison pipeline, which affects Baltimore’s families, its neighborhoods, its employment rates, and even its famed epidemic of abandoned houses–over half of Baltimore’s black male population is in prison, numbers that hurt Baltimore far worse than suburban white flight.
Half of our group has a family member or close friend in prison and that number is set to grow with the expanse of the prison population. One of us has experience working for an agency that benefits inmates at immigration prisons, another deplorable subject entirely. Eventually, a lot of Baltimorean prisons will be released and they’ll be largely poor, uneducated, underexperienced, and without a lot of hope. In the meanwhile, we hope to reduce that number who are put away by helping out in schools, churches, and other agencies which in the words of Dr. Helena Hicks are an important anchor which ties us to our communities, promoting a positive self-concept and a productive lifestyle. I’ve always valued community and find ESC to be an important personal anchor; maybe if you’re reading this it could be one of yours too. We’ll be here in Baltimore, working for the vitality of our communities. Thanks, Dr. Hicks.