A View from the Inside
I have been in the system my entire life, in one form or another. After my parents were stripped of their parental rights, my siblings and I were scattered. I went from one foster home, group home, and juvenile lockup/treatment facility to another, in total over 30 different places before I was 13 years old.
The system meets unruly conduct with different levels of punishment. Violence against guards is met with extreme punishment. Guards, on the other hand, break their own rules with impunity and commit acts of violence against prisoners as they please.
The severest punishment comes not when you break the rules, but when you challenge the rules. Resistance to the oppressive, unjust and inhumane rules and conditions is not tolerated. As soon as you attempt to write an officer up or assert your dignity, or worse—inform other prisoners of their rights and how to effectively communicate those rights—you will feel the heavy blow the system reserves for the audacious.
I have been placed on administrative segregation for reading policy to other prisoners; I have had my cell and property torn apart repeatedly for attempting to inform the greater community of what’s really going on in here by writing these types of columns and doing interviews with journalists.
So here is another form of conditioning, a catch-22: I am demonized for committing a crime, but when I wake up and learn to treat myself and others with dignity and then demand that the system does too, I am further demonized and criminalized. I am being told that I am a criminal no matter what I do and therefore the only part of the American system I belong to is the penal system.
As I studied history I begin to see that the ending of slavery wasn’t done out of a new alignment of this nation’s moral compass. It was done to save face because they knew chattel slavery wasn’t sustainable, because they knew the psychological chains of slavery had already been tightly clamped on and they had a new system already in the works that would maintain their hold.
To the public, they were no longer the righteous civilizing the heathens, they are the righteous defending society against the “criminals.” And yet this nation has still not been held accountable for the atrocious crimes it has committed against its own people.
During this Black History Month, as I reflect, I can acknowledge, even while I’m incarcerated, that progress has been made in this country. But the message is clear to those of us in prison: we are not a part of this country. The prison system is segregation, hate, oppression, racism, brutality, inhumanity and slavery all over again. So we still have a long way to go in the fight for Freedom, Equality and Justice.
Antonio Williams is an essayist, commentary writer who currently resides in the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Rush City.