A call to the ‘occupied seats’ for help

bridgingthegapA biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.

Last year I wrote an article titled “Empty Seats” published in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. In this article I raised to attention the need for us men to be present and involved in community matters.

I highlighted the parallel between the empty seats the men left at our Black History Month Celebration here at Lino Lakes Correctional Facility and the empty seats we left in our communities as one in the same. This is still a very relevant issue that plagues our communities and still needs to be dealt with.

Fast forward to a year later. Life has done to me what it always does: Just when I think I understand something, new levels of complexities are revealed. The new layer of this very complex issue is the opposite side of the spectrum of the “Empty Seat Attitude,” and that is the occupied seat. For the sake of this observation, I will call it the unrighteously occupied seat.

This occupied seat exists all throughout our society. It is played out by people who are hired to positions to serve people and communities, and they occupy these positions but neglect the responsibilities of that position. This attitude is a major problem, and I see it as one of the biggest stumbling blocks preventing us from moving forward as a society.

Isn’t there great pleasure when you go to the doctor’s office and you get service by a passionate nurse who tells you that your high cholesterol is not something you want to continue to ignore and for your sake, if you want to live a long and healthy life, you will begin to take better care of yourself? Verses the rude smart-mouth who has the job but could care less about you or your health; they’re just there collecting a paycheck.

Or what about the rude waiter or waitress whose service is so bad that he or she can make a five-star meal taste like crap? The recent string of Black men being killed at the hands of police officers is another example of how dangerous this unrighteous occupied seat can be.

These officers were hired to protect and serve communities, but they see the community and its people as full of demonic criminals selling untaxed cigarettes, gun-toting babies who are so dangerous that the only way to stop them is to meet them with deadly force. The people occupying these seats ultimately cost others their lives.

There are seats at the state capital filled with paid officials who are paid to work on behalf of the citizens whose taxes pay their salaries, but the very issues that mattered to them when they ran for office are the same issues that they ignore every day. On the surface people will say that communities of color do have people who occupy some of these seats and they do have representation. But what good is representation if it’s not representing?

The sole purpose of this “Bridging the Gap” column is to allow us (the incarcerated) to let our voices be heard and for the community (those reading) to listen and make contributions, and for us together to put fire to the “feets and behinds” of the people who occupy seats and are supposed to work on our behalf.

The BRIDGE is a collective of men incarcerated throughout the state of Minnesota, with our headquarters in Lino Lakes Correctional Facility. We are partners with Voices For Racial Justice, and we are currently lobbying the Department of Corrections (DOC) for better re-entry services for the men before they are being released.

As examples of the disconnections we incarcerated face, I personally have never texted on a cell phone, and I have friends who have never used the Internet before. We have proposals on the desks of the DOC officials for more applicable programming inside to help provide men with the critical skills they will need to be successful upon their release and a host of other issues regarding us and our rehabilitation.

In closing, I’m sending out an A.P.B. to everyone in the community who occupies a seat and can help us out. I would like to invite as well as urge you to join our movement. To quote the late, great Dr. King, “We begin to die the moment we stay silent about the things that matter.”

Mass incarceration is real, and some of our brightest wings are locked in cages.

Kevin Reese is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to info@voicesforracialjustice.org. To learn more about the organization’s work, visit www.voicesforracialjustice.org.