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George Wallace stands in front of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama (AFP/Getty Images)
From The Root:
Fifteen years after Vivian Malone and James Hood successfully enrolled at the University of Alabama, I had my first day of classes in August of 1978 at the “Capstone of Higher Education” — the state’s flagship.
On June 11, 1963, Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, an iconic segregationist, stood in the door of Foster Auditorium to prevent Malone and Hood from enrolling as undergraduates at the university. Wallace stepped aside only after President John F. Kennedy activated the Alabama National Guard, which ordered him to allow Hood and Malone to enroll. They began classes on June 12.
I entered in the summer of 1978 fully aware of the institution’s racist past and with a quiet commitment to single-handedly tearing down any remaining vestiges of segregation. I exited four years later, with a crimson-covered diploma in hand, a few battle scars and dozens of lifelong friends, including many who grew up along winding roads in the countryside instead of on urban streets and asphalt courts.
Educated in the inner-city schools of Birmingham — where the works of Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and Nikki Giovanni had been woven into my tapestry — I put on my Levi’s jeans, sneakers and an Izod knit top and dashed off for a 9 a.m. Biology 101 class with Dr. Graham. In the huge auditorium filled with about 350 students, I counted five blacks.
It’s always hot in Alabama in August. On that Monday morning, I quickly made my way on foot from my residence at Tutwiler Hall, passing Denny Chimes and crossing the huge quad along the way. A photographer had captured Malone making a similar trek in 1963. But on this day, there was no need for photographers or an escort. After the first two black students successfully entered and began classes at the university in 1963, thousands more would follow.
† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Abusing Prisoners Decreases Public Safety – An interview with author and former prisoner Shawn Griffith
If given the attention it deserves, an important new book is certain to make significant contributions to the public discussions of US prison policy. The author, Shawn Griffith, was released last year from Florida’s prison system at the age of 41, after spending most of his life, almost 24 years, behind bars, including seven in solitary confinement. Facing the US PrisonProblem 2.3 Million Strong: An Ex-Con’s View of the Mistakes and the Solution was self-published just months after Griffith was released from what is the third largest state prison system in the US, after California and Texas.
This new book’s thoughtful analysis and chilling reflections on what author Shawn Griffith experienced while incarcerated is a remarkable illustration of why the US public must listen to the voices of current and former prisoners who have stories that only they can tell. Griffith writes that “by integrating my own personal experiences with statistics and examples from different corrections systems around the nation, I am attempting to discredit the general perception that the system is designed to enforce and protect justice for everyone. The U.S. criminal justice system is an economically and politically profitable enterprise for special interest groups in this country. The general taxpayer needs to understand how the abusive policies fostered by these groups worsen the U.S. prison problem and the debt crisis through wasted corrections expenditures.”
Florida’s state prisons are the book’s main focus because “the majority of prisoners are incarcerated in state institutions. As of 2010, the US incarcerated 1,404,053 prisoners in state correctional institutions. For that reason, and based on my own twenty years of experience… Florida serves as an especially relevant test case for the changes needed in the US correctional system for two reasons. First is the size of Florida’s prison population and some of the political causes of its growth… Second, Florida has enacted some of the toughest sentencing laws of any state, causing correctional budgets to soar while educational budgets have been cut repeatedly,” writes Griffith.
After reading about the many different ways prisoners are abused, the very notion that US prisons are designed to rehabilitate or improve public safety, can only be viewed as a sick joke. Griffith writes that:
“hidden behind the walls, huge numbers of human beings have their spirits broken daily. Secretly, many suffer false disciplinary reports, illegitimate confiscation or destruction of personal property, physical beatings, rape, and sometimes fraudulent criminal penalties. Substandard nutrition, indifference to serious medical needs, and policies that encourage laziness have also become common. These practices help to sustain rates of recidivism, which is defined as a return to prison within three years of release.”
“Indeed, the strongest factor in reducing the rate of criminal recidivism is education, especially higher education, the one correctional expenditure that federal and state politicians have slashed.”
This course must be reversed,’ writes Griffith, himself an example of the healing power of educational programs for prisoners. While incarcerated he began his long journey to full rehabilitation, gaining his GED and then taking over 40 accredited college correspondence courses with an emphasis on criminal justice, psychology, and marketing. He has a 3.5 GPA from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. As a teacher in prison, he helped hundreds of inmates gain their GEDs.
Since his release in 2012, Griffith has lived in Sarasota, Florida where he founded Speak Out Publishing to publish other works of non-fiction that focus on tackling some of societies’ most pressing issues. Copies of Facing the US Prison Problem 2.3 Million Strong can be purchased directly from Griffith, through his website: www.speakoutpublishing.com, by mail: Speak Out Publishing, LLC at P.O. Box 50484 Sarasota, Florida 34232, or by phone: 941-330-5979.
According to a Modern Healthcare analysis of federal records, more than 5,400 of the 51,729 people on the government health entitlement blacklist were placed on it after failing to pay an HHS-backed medical student loan. Given a still-shaky economy, some in the health care sector expect that trend to continue.
The increasing frequency of default-related blacklisting could prove problematic as the Obama Administration tries to entice more medical students to become primary care and family doctors. Primary care providers and nurse practitioners will be crucial to effective Obamacare implementation, since the health law is expected to drive up demand for medical services as millions of previously uninsured Americans gain coverage.
But the ballooning cost of a medical education could end up being a major barrier to the Administration’s recruitment efforts. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) 2012 report on medical school debt, “86 percent of medical school graduates had education debt, with a median amount of $162,000″ in 2011 — a number that has been rising steadily over the years.
AAMC estimates that a borrower with the median $162,000 debt “would have monthly payments ranging from $1,500 to $2,100 after residency.”
That disproportionately affects the very primary care doctors that are integral to health care reform and the U.S. medical system at large. In a 2012 report, consulting firm Merritt Hawkins & Associates found that family practitioners, pediatricians, and psychiatrists are the lowest-paid physician groups in the U.S. with a base pay of $189,000.
While that’s still a lavish salary compared to average U.S. compensation, it pales in comparison to specialist pay — and as the entitlement blacklist numbers underscore, that contributes to a system in which care providers are banned from treating certain patients for purely financial, rather than medical or criminal, reasons.
This milestone is the result of a long-term increase in Hispanic college-going that accelerated with the onset of the recession in 2008 (Fry and Lopez, 2012). The rate among white high school graduates, by contrast, has declined slightly since 2008.
The positive trends in Hispanic educational indicators also extend to high school. The most recent available data show that in 2011 only 14% of Hispanic 16- to 24-year-olds were high school dropouts, half the level in 2000 (28%). Starting from a much lower base, the high school dropout rate among whites also declined during that period (from 7% in 2000 to 5% in 2011), but did not fall by as much.
Despite the narrowing of some of these long-standing educational attainment gaps, Hispanics continue to lag whites in a number of key higher education measures. Young Hispanic college students are less likely than their white counterparts to enroll in a four-year college (56% versus 72%), they are less likely to attend a selective college, less likely to be enrolled in college full time, and less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Beautiful Pit Viper, 2011
from Serpentine by Mark Latia
I couldn’t take my eyes off them, from the spade-shaped wedge of head to the tapered tail, and all that sinuous muscle in between. These predatory geometries made me want to stroke the snake-laden pages. As Mr. Laita writes: “Their beauty heightens the danger. The danger amplifies their beauty.”
And when we focus on their sheer, alien otherness, we feel more human — as Mr. Laita acknowledges at the end of “Serpentine,” when he quotes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that needs our love.”
Millions of Americans suffered a loss of wealth during the recession and the sluggish recovery that followed. But the last half-decade has proved far worse for black and Hispanic families than for white families, starkly widening the already large gulf in wealth between non-Hispanic white Americans and most minority groups, according to a new study from the Urban Institute.
“It was already dismal,” Darrick Hamilton, a professor at the New School in New York, said of the wealth gap between black and white households. “It got even worse.”
Given the dynamics of the housing recovery and the rebound in the stock market, the wealth gap might still be growing, experts said, further dimming the prospects for economic advancement for current and future generations of Americans from minority groups.
The Urban Institute study found that the racial wealth gap yawned during the recession, even as the income gap between white Americans and nonwhite Americans remained stable. As of 2010, white families, on average, earned about $2 for every $1 that black and Hispanic families earned, a ratio that has remained roughly constant for the last 30 years. But when it comes to wealth — as measured by assets, like cash savings, homes and retirement accounts, minus debts, like mortgages and credit card balances — white families have far outpaced black and Hispanic ones. Before the recession, non-Hispanic white families, on average, were about four times as wealthy as nonwhite families, according to the Urban Institute’s analysis of Federal Reserve data. By 2010, whites were about six times as wealthy.
The dollar value of that gap has grown, as well. By the most recent data, the average white family had about $632,000 in wealth, versus $98,000 for black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families.
“The racial wealth gap is deeply rooted in our society,” said Caroline Ratcliffe, one of the authors of the Urban Institute study. “It’s here, it’s not going away, and we need to care about it.”