The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

My usual Audible selections consist of self-help type books that I listen to before going to bed. But when this book popped up on my list, I was intrigued. Why would prisons ban this book? I HAD TO read it…rather, listen to it.

A few minutes into the introduction and I was sitting up on my bed. This was not one of those books I could listen to or read at bedtime! I almost gave up on this non-fiction because it forayed into territories unknown to me – criminal justice and race history in America. But I persevered because Michelle Alexander’s claim that mass incarceration of African Americans had created a ‘racial underclass’ shocked me.

In the book, the author carefully examines the history of race discrimination, starting with slavery, segregation, and civil rights and moving into the evolution of the criminal justice system and the ‘war on drugs’. Michelle Alexander not only takes jabs at conservative politicians but also blames Clinton and Obama for worsening the crisis.

There are several talking points in this book – harsh mandatory minimums, unfair law enforcement practices, the efficacy of incarceration for drug offenders, parole laws and the invisible discrimination of ex-convicts.

My only issue with the book was its trivialization of drug offences in general. We must understand that drug offenders not only destroy individual lives but also ruin families. It is technically “non-violent” but we would be foolish to turn a blind eye to the violence drugs inject into the lives of young people and their loved ones.

Nevertheless, this is a great book and a must-read if social justice interests you.

Although this book was written seven years ago, it is relevant and little has changed since then. The New Jim Crow disturbed me even though I’m not black and not behind bars. I imagined myself as an African American young man and a first-time non-violent drug offender, serving my mandatory five-year prison sentence. I imagined reading this book in prison. It would make me feel angry, helpless and hopeless knowing that the decks were stacked against me all along.

Sadly, I understand now why this book was off-limits to prison inmates.

(This article was originally posted on the author’s Facebook page on February 2, 2018)

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