According to Homeboy Sandman, “Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the biggest name in the private prison industry, contacted 48 states offering to buy their prisons. One stipulation of eligibility for the deal was particularly bizarre: “an assurance by the agency partner that the agency has sufficient inmate population tomaintain a minimum 90% occupancy rate over the term of the contract.” With that being said, one of the main issues we are facing is the outrageous numbers of African American and Latinos that are filling up the prisons. “Hip Hop exposes the current punishment regime as profoundly unfair. It demonstrates the view by, if not glorifying lawbreakers, at least not viewing all criminals with the disgust the law seeks to attach for them (Butler).” In 1972 to 1997, right around the time hip hop became popular, the prison population experienced its greatest expansion. Increasing by 500 percent. Most people were being locked up for nonviolent offenses. I can’t help but ask, how in the world was this happening? Who is responsible and how do we stop it?
About 90 percent of what we read, see, and listen is controlled by six media companies. Most importantly, the works of the media plays a part in forming a stereotypical way of living, it controls our way of thinking, and brain washes the masses. Our culture is being defined right before our own eyes. The very same people who own most prisons are the exact same ones with mass-media ownership. The popularization of hip hop directly correlates to the point in time when prisons were being filled up even though violent crime had decreased. Most arrests were due to drug possession among African American and Latino citizens. To make it even worse, people of color were being sentenced to prison for a longer period of time than a white person. Powder cocaine was more common in impoverished areas and thereforeused to incarcerate minorities with unfair sentencing. In other words, whatever was and is being used in affluent communities automatically becomes criminalized and used against us.Prison has become a business to control and mange communities and the public’s view of the world. People of color are often made out to be the “bad guys,” in movies and real life. The media has created a world of stereotypes. We have been desensitized, brainwashed, and trained to not challenge authority and just accept things for the way they are. In the early 90’s hip hop took a turn for the worse; mainstream music changed the entire game. It turned into an unethical business practice. It’s hidden agenda was blind to the masses. People were tricked into thinking that this genre of music was encouraging a violent lifestyle. That it was glorifying the use of new school gun violence and drugs. As Biggiesays in Things Done Changed, “Damn, what happened to the summertime cookouts? Every time I turn around a nigga gettin’ took out.” The innocence in the newer generations was no longer present. Street violence became a form of survival. Fist fighting turned into gunplay. No questions asked; just do or die. New ways of living were adopted during the crack era, as Bogazianos explains in 5 Grams. Communities were being taken over by gangs; people of color turned on each other. The media created a corrupt system that provoked a start to a modern form of slavery. The 13th Amendment
has allowed a system of inhumane torture to exist in prisons. Many of us who haven’t experienced time in prison or don’t know what it is like to have someone closely related in prison do not care what happens inside those walls. We have been trained to become selfish and not care about our neighbors. Why are we letting such form of slavery exist in this country? Let’s open our eyes and know our rights. Don’t be blind to the fact that we are free people with equal rights. Don’t be fooled that slavery no longer exists. Take a minute to imagine what it is like to sit in a small cell with no privacy or right to leave. A place where you are a subject and are being monitored at all times. In an environment that is being controlled. Where inmates are treated like animals. In what way is sending people to prison keeping us “safe?” What happens when the prisoners are released?
According to the Washington Post, hip hop has two faces. One side is “conscious,” where political, social and cultural issues are exposed and the other side is about “the bling bling,” or more glamorous life (Butler). Gangsta and “bling bling” rap formed a materialistic, sexist, and homophobic way of thinking. In this article Butler also discusses how rappers have become a target and are being highly monitored by cops and the FBI. Bogaziono’s explains that to the public, youth in poverty were unintelligent and most likely going to become criminals. Ways in which “criminals” were identified was read in their body shapes, IQ scores, actions, and fashion style. Without even knowing it, the public began to accept that most colored people were criminals. The commercialization of hip hop proved to be effective in the minds of many. Corporate America’s high influence and power misled so many of us. This capitalistic world leaves colored people last, as if we don’t matter.
Paul Butler imagines that, “..hip hop can be used to inform a theory of punishment that is coherent, that enhances public safety, and that treats lawbreakers with respect.” It can bring forth a form of justice that is productive and punishes people in a humane way for crime. He suggests that ghetto philosophers and classic philosophers should meet in order to punish better. “First, people who harm others should be harmed in return. Second, criminals are human beings who deserve respect and love. Third, communities can be destroyed by both crime and punishment.” One if the most important things to keep in mind when punishing someone for a crime, is to take into consideration the role of the environment. The hip hop culture does not ignore the effects on crime when living in the ghetto. For example, if a woman is being convicted of robbery and she is currently supporting two children, we will have to reconsider not sentencing her jail time or she should be given the opportunity to work and support her family. It’s about taking the whole community into consideration. What happens if we leave motherless and fatherless children in the streets? Without any parenting or guidance? The community will suffer even more.
Furthermore, Butler says that “Some hip-hop artists have suggested that lawmakers define crime in a way that does not challenge powerful corporate interests—even when corporations cause harm. KRS, in “Illegal Business,” explains: “In society you have illegal and legal/ We need both, to make things equal/ So legal is tobacco, illegal is speed/ Legal is Aspirin, illegal is weed.” It is legal for a corporation to make a gun. Business people responsible for defective products are not typically prosecuted—even if the products cause death or severe injuries.” Who is to say what is legal and illegal? Why abide to a system that contradicts itself?
This is when we ask: Who do we punish? What should be punished? How should we punish? I have come to conclude that a change and reform in the justice system is the way to go. An idealistic mission statement must be created and new laws that treat people humanely will determine the levels of criminality.
First, we must create a colorblind society. All convictions and sentencing must be exactly the same within all races. Second, drug addicts should not be treated as criminals, rather a person with health issues. Third, there are three types of prisons. All three will include a rehabilitation center, and education system, and employment to provide for their family. Fourth, before being released from prison a few psychological tests must be passed. Fifth, follow-up is mandatory until two years after prison release date. Sixth, guarantee ex prisoner a job within a month of release date.
Level one prison is for teenagers 17 and under. Cases of robbery, drug dealing, etc, must be treated with rehab. Provide therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists in the facility. Work on figuring out their real issues. People usually do things for a certain reason. History of drug abuse or diseases in family could be the main reason why someone is the way they are. Through education we will help teenagers find their areas of weaknesses and strengths. It’s about building skills to use in the real world. They must learn and pass tests concerning their history and culture. They must be given the opportunity to work and earn wages.
Level two is for people 18 and older. Cases of robbery, drug dealing, etc, must be treated with rehab. There will also be many types of counseling services at the prison. It is our goal to find out every inmates issues. Why did they commit the crime? How to go about changing their way of thinking. Educate them in math, language, culture, business, and law. Must be able to past tests in each class. Must leave with general understanding of their own history and culture. Must learn their areas of strength and weakness. Must perform labor and will earn wages to provide for their family if need be.
Level three is for murderers and rapists of all ages. It will be divided in half for teenagers and adults. Security is enforced in this facility. Extensive amount of rehab and behavioral tests must be completed. Education and labor is also an option after proving themselves. Sentencing time depends on yearly improvement of mental stability.
Parents with families can go on trips to the nearest town with escorts. They will be given a shorter sentence time if they cooperate as well. No abuse will be tolerated in facility. Guards, teachers, and counselors must provide unbiased services. Cells will not be locked and will look more like normal rooms. Bathrooms will have privacy. Once there is a violation made by the prisoner consequences will be harsh. Everyone will be given an opportunity to change and go back to their community with a job. But once rights are abused and laws are broken in the prison will result in more jail times. Prisoners families will be allowed to visit three to four times a week for up to four hours. But only under good circumstances. The more rules that are broken the more rights will be taken. When released from prison a probation of two years is intact. They will have to attend more counseling services where more tests must be passed and community service must be completed. There they will start more programs to help guide towards a career. Food will be healthy and tasteful. Options for sports and gym time will be provided based on cooperation with counseling and overall attitude. Drug addicts will not be required to do any prison time. They will be directly sent to rehab and treated for illness.
In the article Poetry Behind The Walls, “Save the Kids is dedicated to build a movement that advocates for alternatives to incarceration that offers peace-oriented services for youth an the community, and helps to transform the juvenile justice system and end community and institutional violence.” Youth are encouraged to use poetry as an escape to express their insecurities, weaknesses, strengths, issues, etc. It’s a form of stress release, education, and therapy.
Artists, “..have to virtually lose their identity to conform to industry standards. They are imaged, packaged, and marketed—or, in other words commercialized—to meet corporate interests (Poetry Behind).” The transformation in mainstream hip hop that took place started a new movement towards destruction. Corporate media has become some of the biggest criminals known to mankind. They have continued to fool and mind control several millions of people. They took our identity and market it into a criminalist way.
This is a call for action. To challenge the people in power and mark our territory. The prison industrial complex must be reformed into a place where people can still enjoy nature and walk freely around the grounds of earth. They must start to recuperate through therapy of the soul and mind. Not through torture and humiliation. We must put an end to capitalism. We can’t let it turn us into psychopaths. Let’s reverse peoples way of thinking. People of color are beautiful and we must learn to embrace it. We are not monsters. We are simply trying to survive in a world that placed us into a hostile and impoverished environment. Something we can’t seem to run away from. This world needs to be a place that has zero tolerance for police brutality. In the case of Trayvon Martin, his killer got away. Justice must be served! No one should get away with such act of violence. Let’s educate ourselves and other’s on our history and culture so that we can find our purpose in life. Let’s start caring about one another. Let go of the selfish way of thinking. Let’s bring hip hop back to its roots. Artists should fight back and not be “sell outs.” Our problem starts when we think we have nothing else to fight for. Slavery in prisons, criminalization among colored people communities, an unjust justice system, and negative media portrayals of the African American and Latino community are some of the few problems we are facing in this day in age. I believe that my generation is facing a few diseases called ignorance, selfishness, and media distraction. These things are keeping us from being great and achieving the unknown. Let’s educate the public and act on what we know. Anything is a start.
“Culture shapes the law, and law is a product of culture(Butler).”
Poverty is one of the main reasons why crime rates are high. Here is an interview with Mos Def speaking on poverty and stereotypes.
Hip Hop and Politics
Hip Hop and Politics: The Rockefeller Drug Laws
Tupan on Society