a penal system that punishes in perpetuity

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

Slavey in America, Source:

Logic and common sense would seem to dictate that after a man serves time in prison, and has repaid his debt to society, he should be allowed to re-enter the free world with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto. This right to re-enter society and choose a new path of honest and lawful living, in fact, should be encouraged and even enabled with the help of government funds and programs. This is the only sensible course of action if a society wants a reformed and useful citizen returning to the streets of America, as opposed to the all too common revolving door of criminality in this country that tends to perpetuate an underclass of black and brown people with no hope for a different or better way of life.

The unfortunate reality is that the exact opposite is true. Under the current United States penal system a nominal term of confinement often results in a virtual life sentence, where ex-offenders are forever tied to their past, and a future that offers fewer opportunities to break from it. The continuing cycle of poverty, crime and institutionalization is fueled by government policy and practice that severely restricts the traditional economic options available to the convicted felon.

As reported by Joe Palazzolo (2015, May 17. For Americans Who Served Time, Landing a Job Proves Tricky. The Wall Street Journal.), in the majority of states, a convicted drug felon is unable to “vote, teach pre-school, foster a child, operate a race track, cut hair, sit on a jury, provide hospice care, protect wild game, distribute bingo supplies, deal livestock, broker real estate, or obtain a license to become a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician.” These “civil sanctions,” triggered by a criminal conviction, is the result of thousands of federal and state legal enactments over the past 40 years which forever deny a convicted felon of living life as a normal citizen. Coincidentally, over the same four decades, Palazzolo writes, “the U.S. prison population has grown from fewer than 400,000 inmates to about 1.5 million” and counting. Fueled by drug laws that disproportionately target and impact African Americans, and the growth industry of “privatized” for-profit prison systems, there seems to be no end in sight to the escalation of the American industrialized prison complex.

It’s almost as if some Oz-like character intent on perpetuating the culture of white supremacy and Negro oppression, decrees from behind the veiled curtain of hypocrisy and political correctness, “I know how to solve the Negro problem, we’ll create within the race a substantial underclass which will never be able to rise from the ashes of their own poverty, hopelessness and lack of opportunity.” This same scenario is played out in the Biblical text. In Exodus 1: 10 the new king of Egypt observes that the Israelites are becoming more numerous and declares, “Come let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and in the event of war join our enemies and fight against us.” A different context, but the perceived problem and the proposed solution is analogous to modern times. This secret agenda is carried out while at the same time selling a false dream of hope and equality to African Americans, which after 400 years continues to elude us despite the myriad of constitutional amendments, and the passage of civil and voting rights acts to address legalized discrimination.

This hypothetical analogy is applicable because blacks have become the face of the American criminal justice system. Although we represent less than 13% of the population, we are over 65% of all state and federal prisoners. There is something terribly wrong with this picture! Although some might scoff at this notion of a conspiracy to continue the subjugation of the black race through American courts, jails, law enforcement and other institutions, the discriminatory and disparate impact is undeniable. When the lily white Federal and State legislators pass arcane and liberty-divesting laws that overwhelmingly impact African Americans, what color is the face of those who they see these laws affecting? Certainly not people who look like them. There is no way intelligent people can pass laws which perpetuate an underclass of society’s dredges and discardibles by accident. The face of the criminal, the face of the undesirable, and the face of the boogeyman in America has always been painted black. Intentionally!

By limiting the job prospects of so many African American past offenders, the federal and state governments effectively ensure that prison populations will continue to be revolving doors of hopelessness, fed by a system that not only incarcerates, but also castigates and eliminates legitimate economic opportunity for the life of the released former inmate. This perpetual punishment though not physical, is a life sentence that robs the individual, their families and communities of any reasonable chance of uplift for generations to come. It also insures that there will be an ever present and ever increasing pool of minority inmates to continue to maximize the profits for white investors, and subsidize kickbacks to crooked judges, prosecutors, states’ attorneys, and law enforcement officials. It’s all a big racket with only the winners being the white institutions and their establishment types who profit from them. Such a diabolical scheme is the thing of which conspiracy theories are made. Unfortunately, truth often proves itself to be stranger and more unbelievable than fiction. I believe it more than coincidence, that the avalanche of civil sanctions that accompany criminal convictions just so happens to disparately impact black people.

A brief look at America’s past provides all of the precedent needed to connect the dots and draw solid conclusions. United States history is replete with organized attempts by politicians and elected officials to “stack the deck” in favor of the white majority. When viewed through the lens of history, such dastardly and blatantly discriminatory acts such as a plan to perpetuate African American incarceration, and exacerbate systemic social and economic inequality seem not only plausible, but likely. Palazzolo cites a project where “the American Bar Association spent more than four years cataloging the civil sanctions associated with a criminal record, and found more than 46,000 restrictions imposed on convicted felons at the state and federal levels, of which about 60-70% are employment related.” White folk would be hard pressed to devise a more effective plan of subjugating a race and ensuring its relegation to the revolving doors of criminality, and the choices that lead to lives of hopelessness, institutionalization and death. The current American penal system accomplishes this in spades.

Gerald Torrence is a lawyer, educator, writer, social and political activist, and motivational speaker living in Atlanta. You can find more insightful opinions from TheTruthTeller at You can follow Gerald on Twitter @tttspokentruth.

#prison #politics


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