The deceptions of crime and punishment in American society
THE DECEPT IONS OF CRIME AND PUNISHMENT IN
The following is one of several speeches I give to college students studying criminal justice who visit the prison I ’m incarcerated at. llow me to reintroduce myself.... Note, Lt. Riley’s reference to me as an inmate. It is rooted in the psychology of identity repression. This is vital to the institution’s livelihood. Because, if the role identities and relationship interaction between those labeled as inmates can be manipulated—that is, be viewed as relationships between objects and peop1e—the manipulation can then replace social responsibility and compassion. The reduction takes place in language and culture and typically beneath your conscious awareness.
The statement read in the court, “Guilty as Charged” essentially changed the relationship between myself and society forever, particularly in the way of what I was convicted of—FlRST DEGREE MURDER———and my identity as a murderer now having been conﬂated. The stereotype of a murderer is very difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle from the uncle, father, relative, friend and brother I am to many outside these walls.
Within these walls, I am legally condemned. I am a socially dead person whose existence has no legitimacy whatsoever other than to fuel the prison industrial complex.
Politically detached of those rights, which prior‘ to conviction were inalienable and served as protection against inhumane treatment, my conviction renders me devoid of society’s civil conscience. The mere label of “criminal” in itself has psychological implications that too often allows for you to stop viewing me as a human being. For just as you have been socialized into what it means to be a student, friend, or worker~—so too are you socialized into what it means to be a criminal. This now makes everything publicly acceptable with regard to my disenfranchisement and the cruel and demeaning treatment I am to suffer——while making palatable to you this institution’s very own inhumane treatment and criminality. Here, we are talking about an institution built on the tenants of slavery——an institution that was outlawed due to its brutal and sadistic nature yet remains intact behind these walls.
When transferred to outside medical providers my prison garb mocks me as if the dangerous zoo pet for all to marvel at in ‘fear. I can literally at times see people cringe and shift their gaze away from me. For this “uniform of contempt” provokes them to think the worse of prejudices about me. In fact, during the last few months of 2006 reporter
Meredith May of the San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper would interview me here at the prison. Initially, her opinion of me was that of a ruffian, goon or some low life criminal of the sort. The opinion, of course, was based on her review of newspaper clippings and court files. Despite her having been areporter for over 20 years, she willingly accepted this propaganda without question. I began to realize noteven she was free of the institutional process.
About this time I had began to take an interest in writing so I signed up for a creative writing class taught here at the prison. There were many times while sitting in class that the fear of becoming “institutionalized” would appear in our writings. We often wrote about how the mannerisms and behaviors of prison life had worked their way into our hearts, minds, and souls. All this got me to thinking that if prisoners could so easily become institutionalized——that is, adapt to the setting, its rules, ete.~—then what of people in the free—world, particularly those like Meredith. This unavoidably forced me to question why it is that people in the so-called “free” world assume they are free to make choices and live a life independent of the circumstances in which they are raised and inﬂuenced by. There are exceptions, however, the majority of us are simply prisoners of an environment that we truly do not understand the impact of.
These environments, very much like prison, shape our views, beliefs, reality, conscious, and the conscience. Like puppets we get our strings pulled by the forces and circumstances they create. Personally, I was tired of being a puppet. So long before
Meredith came along I had been engrossed in learning just how it is puppeteer pulls our strings with the various institutional structures of racism, education, culture, politics, law and economics. What I was to gain, in time, would be simply profound and consequently cut the strings to the puppet I had become. I began to understand how reality was created; how it is exploited; how it controls; and more importantly, how it is designed to drive many to kill. What I stumbled across obviously was the science at the heart of telling my story. I have learned all too well now the cursors of destruction, disorganization, oppression, institutionalization, and the violence of the mind and body it creates.
Social structures, or the environment to say, result from institutional forces that affect people in both positive and negative ways. Take for example, America’s penal institution. Arguably, the positive aspect of prisons in American society has been said to remove presumably criminal elements from society. Yet, the fact remains that 60% of all murders and rapes go unsolved; and over 90% of property crimes. When we consider the mass incarceration of Black males, for example, family structures and other social networks in the community are destabilized and crime prone environments are created for reasons detailed in full in my recently published book Domestic Genocide.‘ The
Inslilu/ionalizalion of Society. Here, I have cited some 300 sources ranging from Harvard
Professors—to whom I have built a report with over the years——to Professor Todd
Clear’s book, Imprisoning Coinivmnities How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged
Communities Worse, which provides
...high rates of removal of parent-aged residents from poor communities sets off a series of efforts that destabilize the capacity ofthose communities to provide informal social control.
This becomes all the more evident when we look at the institutional impact on
American ghettoes. The institutions that prevail here have effectively manipulated our thinking and conditioned us as if lab rats to exist in an environment of extreme poverty and ignorance. As a consequence of the chaos that comes of this, our informal social controls are weakened because daddy either dead or locked—up. And the only religion we practice is self—preservation——kill or be killedl—because drugs and guns are sprinkled about as if parade candies. When we look to other institutions it’s pretty much the same scenario. America’s educational institution creates scores of poorly functioning ghetto youth. In terms of political gamesmanship, the sch00l—2-prison pipeline has been highly effective.
Furthermore, as I have indicated our incarceration exacerbates these problems. After years, if not decades, of being tormented, humiliated, and isolated from our loved ones, we are extremely insensitive, volatile, embittered, sexually deviant, and shell—shocked having been shot-up by block guns and bombed with explosive canisters of tear gas.
Having underwent such treatment, the psychological effect has us foaming at the mouth like rabid dogs by the time we are released back into that other cage——THE GHETTO. As can be expected, we are mad. Mad, not inasmuch as angry. But mad as in having been driven to the point of pure insanity and sure desperation given what this manipulation has created within us. Therefore, by humiliating and brutalizing us as prisoners society stands to increase our potential for aggressive violence. The dope, prostitution, robbery, and high homicide rates affirm this.
So why is it that Black and Latino males makeup majority of the prison population?
Racism aside, we are that sector of American society that has put up the most resistance to the status quo. Here, it is important that we recall the intense social and political upheavals of the 19603: Particularly, the AIM, Puerto Rican, Civil Rights, and Black
Power Movements. These movements effectively organized a political force that, as of to date, posed the most formidable challenge to the class and racial hierarchies which exist in American society. Notably, the political history taught in American schools omits the fact that during this period, when Ronald Reagan was governor of California and the
Black Panthers were marching on the capital with ﬁrearms, a mendacious effort was being undertaken by government agencies to undermine these movements.
Consequently, the mobilization of millions of poor, oppressed people of color during the 1960s would make today’s ghetto youth subjects of State repression for reasons best described by Christian Parenti’s characterization of “social dynamite.” Social dynamite is that segment of the
. population which threatens to explode; the impoverished low-wage working class and unemployed youth who have fallen below the statistical radar, but whose spirits are not broken and whose expectations for a decent life and social inclusion are dangerously alive and well.
They are the class that suffers from “relative deprivation.” Their poverty is made all the more unjust because it is experienced in contrast to the spectacle of opulence and the myths of social mobility and opportunity. This is the class from which the Black Panthers and Young Lords arose in the sixties and from which sprang the gangs ofthe 1980s.... ,
...[S]ocial dynamite is a threat to the class and racial hierarchies upon which the private enterprise system depends. This group cannot simply be swept aside. Controlling them requires both a defensive policy of containment and an aggressive policy of direct attack and active destabilization. They are contained and crushed, confined to the ghetto, demoralized and pilloried in warehouse public schools, demonized by a lurid media, sent to prison, and at times dispatched by lethal injection or police bullets. This is the class——or more accurately the caste, because they are increasingly people of color—~which must be constantly undermined, divided, intimidated, attacked, discredited, and ultimately kept in check with what Fanon called the
“language ofnaked force.”
What Parenti has put to us explains, in part, why it has been that since the 1960s, we have witnessed on all fronts the demoralizing of ghetto youth. The “War on Drugs,” was but one tool of soci—political manipulation. It was constructed around media dramatizations of crack babies, mendacious comparisons between street gangs and the
Italian Maﬁa, and disparaging criminal justice policies.
To the watchful eyes of the world these machinations would effectively cast upon us an image of menacingly evil and thus the ghetto came to symbolize a bivouac from which urban predators terrorized the city. The desired effect was forthright! The “War on
Drugs,” exacerbated both public fear and the call for the hunt and capture of young Black and Latino males. The corral effect this would have would lead to a massive prison construction boom around the nation. By 2007 aggressive policing within urban communities resulted in one out of nine Black males between the ages of twenty and thirty—four being captured and caged. The irony of which, all races use and sell drugs at the same proportionate rate! However, Blacks and Latinos are targeted to due to racial profiling which persists in American society. Let us now turn to the issue of crime.
Citing Professor Jeffery Reiman’s book, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get
Prison, I discuss in Domestic Genocide the fact “that nearly all crimes in capitalist societies represent perfectly rational responses to the structure of institutions upon which capitalist societies are based.” This is so because most people who commit crimes are motivated by a desire for property or money and their activities are an understandable way of coping with the pressures of inequality, competition, and insecurity—ail' of which are essential ingredients of capitalism. Driven by unemployment, poor education and by a competitive desire to keep up with the Joneses, many of us become “criminals.” From this, Reiman gives a telling critique of America’s economic system:
To the extent that a society makes crime a reasonable alternative for a large number of its members, that society is itself not very reasonably or humanely organized and bears some degree ofresponsibility for the crime it encourages.
The question I ask you, as practitioners of criminal justice, is: “Are we willing to cast ourselves as a society that creates criminogenic conditions for some of its members, and then acts—out rituals of punishment against them as if engaged in some awful form of human sacrifice?” I believe the question to be answered with my very incarceration!
Moreover, a spotlight has been cast upon a major flaw in society’s disdainfor its criminal element. America, unfortunately, is nation of hypocrites! It condemns and demonizes criminals. All the while, seldom does anyone in American society go through life without committing a crime themselves. Seriously folks, it has been reported that over ninety percent of Americans have committed crimes that, had they been caught, would have landed them in prison. This is a given considering the fact that hardly a day goes by without a newspaper story about corporate executives indicted for fraud, insider trading, or price ﬁxing. Politicians are arrested and convicted for selling or accepting bribes.
Policemen are filmed using excessive force on citizens, make arrests based on racial stereotypes, deal in drugs, plant evidence on innocent people, and lie under oath. Priests are convicted of molesting children. Doctors bill Medicare for procedures they did not perform. Yet we tend to stereotype as criminals those who look like Snoop Dogg, while those who look Martha Stewart are considered upstanding citizens.
—Ivan Kilgorc (2014)
Googlc Ivan and find out more about his wrongful conviction, books, radio interviews, articles, music, and the United Black Family Scholarship Foundation to which he has recently founded. See his blog at: http://wwwwillisraised.wordpress.com.
Enjoy the read.
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Contact Ivan at: \/Q lvan Kilgore, CDCR No. 1306
California State Prison—Sacramento
FB2—l 18 '
P.O. Box 290066
Represa, CA 95671
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DOMESTIC GENOCIDE: THE INSTITUTIONALIZA TION
BY IVAN KILGORE as a growing number of committed scholars and advocates for social justice have caught the vapors and awoke to the fact that these institutions have been designed with the sole intent of organizing American social and economic life to the advantage of its predominately white ruling class. In the case of many Black Americans and other people of color this often means that their communities and lives will be exploited to the fullest, if not destroyed.
In his highly critical analysis of these institutions, Ivan Kilgore unapologetically explains in his book——D0mestic Genocide: The Institutiomllization of Society——the various cultural and institutional forces that have operated to preserve this agenda. Here, the backdrop of this thesis centers around 39 years of Ivan’s short life where the day—to—day struggle to rise above the mire of poverty, injustice, racism, miseducation, and violence in American society have taken him on a journey throughout American ghettoes, college hallways, and prison dwellings. Consequently, the circumstances that came of these events would hurl him onto the nation’s highways and into the bowels of Mexico to traffic illicit drugs and other forms of destruction that resulted in his being placed before a jury on two separate occasions for capital murder prior to his 26”‘ birthday.
In response to Ivan’s story the San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper would receive sweeping reviews that prompted countless individuals in the Bay Area to join mentoring organizations. (Google Ivan Kilgore and find out more about his wrongful conviction, radio interviews, articles, blogs and music) Joining the fervor would be renowned Professor Alvin F.
Poussaint of Harvard University and the late Professor John Irwin of San Francisco State
University, who would greatly assist to inspire Ivan to bring this project to life.
Domestic Genocide is constructed around nine chapters that at first reading seem to stand independent of each other. Part autobiography, part seini—academic, poetry, prose, spoken word, urban non—f1ction, it captures the voice of those afflicted by the blowback of capitalism. It, undoubtedly, makes for an incredible case study of how the various institutional forces impact many poor, Black and oppressed Americans.
Excerpts to Domestic Genocide are available at http://www.willisraised.wordpress.com.
I n what has become a highly controversial topic, American institutions have come under fire
Enjoy the read,
Ivan Kilgore \/31306
P.O. Box 290066
Represa, CA 95671
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