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Saturday, July 18, 2015

President Obama First Sitting President To Visit Federal Prison

President Obama has followed up on his promise to visit a federal prison this week.

The President gave a brief speech during or after his visit with inmates at El Reno Federal Penitentiary in Oklahoma.  He repeated some of the same commitments and goals he talked about while speaking to the NAACP. He also talked about what some of the intimates said to him. Apparently inmates spoke about their own responsibilities for  being where they are; gratitude for the schooling they have available to them while in jail; and on what kinds of things might have stopped them from making wrong turns earlier on their life path.
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As far as President Obama's criminal justice reform platform goes, restoring the right to vote to those who have paid their debt to society is one of the most important points to me. Taking into consideration the recidivism rate, maybe that right shouldn't be the restored the day you get out of prison. But you certainly shouldn't have to pay by losing your voting rights forever.

Wouldn't the people who have made mistakes and redeemed themselves have the most to offer as far as criminal justice reform goes? Many people who have been to prison do make contributions already. But if they were restored to full citizenship and seen as legitimate outside their neighborhoods, maybe one or two or twenty would rise to national prominence. Maybe those one, two, or twenty would be able to make broad sweeping changes that actually make sense.

Maybe those one, two, or twenty, feeling the faith of their nation behind them because their full citizenship is restored will have confidence enough to go back to school then cure cancer or invent ways to use green sources of energy much more slowly. There are people coming out of prison and doing these now. But there could be more if they didn't have to jump over hurdle after hurdle built by people who see them as lesser human beings.

Those of us who are black, have experienced something parallel if we didn't go to an all black school. A part of the brain and energy is spent dealing with unacknowledged racism of white people while in college. That extra energy is expended daily.  How much bigger does that extra expenditure of energy have to be if you are an ex-convict, with fewer citizenship rights, moving among people who don't see you as good, safe, or whole?

You and I, those who have not been swept up into the criminal justice system in any serious way, can only guess at some of the things that need to be fixed pre-jail, during jail, and after jail. Those that have been there know, don't they?  And I don't know about you, but I am especially interested in pre-jail, preventing people from becoming frustrated or hopeless or just going along to get along and winding up in jail.