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Friday, July 17, 2015

Mass Incarceration is the Most Important Social Justice Issue To Date

Today was yet another day full of choices. We had to choose between a group open mic talk or take a Graffiti tour. My choice was obvious but my feet protested. The Graffiti tour was a lot of walking but I really appreciated the street art and learning about why people tag things. I was surprised to learn that there are actual unwritten rules in the Graffiti community such as not tagging a Church, school, or Mosque. Also it is considered disrespectful to go over someone Else's work. I didn't know that the Graffiti community was so organized and I can honestly say that I have a whole new respect for graffiti artists. One of the most interesting facts that I learned was about "etch" which is a clear-colored form a graffiti that is very common. It is usually put on glass windows and it kind of burns into the window and never comes off. It is very frustrating for store owners to see this form of graffiti because it means they would have to replace the whole window. I also learned that the reason that most graffiti artists tag their names because it's a matter of reputation and being well known. I can't read most of the graffiti I see because the fonts are very difficult to read but it one of our graffiti tour guides told us that it took him almost a year to be able to fully read and understand the graffiti fonts. 

regular show
the "gram"

After a fulfilling lunch, our class headed over to the Eastern State Penitentiary. The prison was shut down in the early 70's and had a creepy castle feel to it. The cells were tiny and dehumanizing. I've always battled internally on the question of mass incarceration. Elexis put it in words that made sense to me, "prisons are necessary for the development of society but what happens on the inside is unacceptable."

small portion of the artwork

I believe that the Justice system has completely failed it's citizens. America has one of the highest Incarceration rates in the world, yet we claim to be better than most countries. Prisoners have to deal with inhuman conditions and work for little to no money. One of our speakers, Jessie, spoke on how prison was not just for punishment anymore, rather for breaking the will of other human beings. Jessie, during his time in jail, took the time to work on a master piece. He used prison blankets as his canvas and different newspapers as the paint.  He depicted what he saw was wrong with teh system. I didn't really agree with how he used the female body to depict the weakness of our government, but art is art. Jessie and Dr. Kirk James spoke on how Prison is the modern day slavery because it is an endless cycle of oppression that bring prisoners back to prison. I cannot stress enough on how prisons are especially harsh to people of color. African Americans represent over 50 percent of the jail population which is disgusting. 

There is a lot more that was talked about during the prison session but it's hard for me to type it out. I've been turning over the question of prisons and their conditions in my mind for as long as I can remember. Going to the Eastern State Penitentiary today proved all my worst fears and made me despise our "justice" system more than I already do. I don't have the perfect solution for our incarceration problem, all I know is that our system does not work. When over 70 percent of the jail population is in solitary confinement for non-violent charges, our system is broken. When adolescents as young as 11 are charged as adults when they didn't know better, our system is broken. When over 2 million people out of our population is in prison rather than being productive members of society, OUR SYSTEM IS BROKEN. 

After the prison visit, I was very low in spirits and didn't feel like doing much. However, we had to opportunity to watch a movie today and I couldn't pass it up. We watched a movie about a woman who doesn't believe in monogamous relationships until she meets the right one. Though I enjoyed the movie, my mind couldn't help but stray back to the feeling I had when learning about Jessie and Dr. James' stories. I feel like I'll be in a bad mood for the rest of my life knowing that there are millions of people being mistreated at this very moment in a prison. 

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