By Ivan Kilgore
(The following is an excerpt from my latest book Domestic Genocide: The Institutionalization of Society.)
I begin by informing you that institutions affect people in both positive and negative ways. Arguably, the positive aspect of prisons in American society has been said to remove presumably criminal elements from the community. The down side, however, is mass incarceration of Black males, for example, destabilizes family and other social networks in the community.
Here, I borrow from Professor Todd Clear’s Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse. Clear provides a “coercive mobility theory” that states: “… high rates of incarceration, concentrated in poor communities, destabilizes social networks in these communities, thereby undermining informal social controls, economic prosperity, and stability.”
It is important that we observe here that social networks are composed of “human” and “social” capital. Both human and social capital are the building blocks of a community’s social and economic progress. Human Capital refers to the personal resources an individual brings to the social and economic marketplace. A typical example of human capital is education or a particular skill-set like experience in sales and marketing. Others include the ability to pickup on things fast (intellect) and ease in social situations….
“Social Capital,” as defined by Clear, “is the capacity of a person to call upon personal ties (usually within social networks) in order to advance some personal interest. Social capital and social networks are related. Social networks define the underlying structure of interpersonal relationships that hold the capacity for providing social capital; social capital is the capacity of networks to provide goods for people within these networks.”
Social capital is a relatively new concept in the social sciences. It has come to indicate that networks of social relationships represent a “resource” for both the individual and the community, since they provide support for the individual and facilitate collective action. Although this is not an entirely new idea, the more systematic way in which capital captures such an intuition has created a new theoretical paradigm and has assisted to develop a series of innovative research programs in politics, economics and the study of human progress—or, in the case of the ghetto, the destabilization of communities. As this suggests, the systematic approach to manipulating social capital has gained currency beyond mere academic rhetoric and has for ages extended itself to the various social policing measures which influence the ghetto.
When reflecting on the prevailing social policy of incarcerating vast members of poor communities, we must note how this policy of mass incarceration in itself creates criminogenic conditions in the ghetto. Here, Clear further provides the
…[r]enewal of young residents for imprisonment is a mobility process that affects crime. It changes the density and spread… [of] secondary relational networks. This reduces the capacity of those networks to link to resources outside the neighborhood and bring them to bear on problems of people in the neighborhood. It weakens attachment to the neighborhood and ties to neighbors, and thereby erodes the collective efficacy that serves as a foundation for informal social control. The social stresses [e.g., unemployment and income inequality] are increased stresses on the high economically stressed communities, it generates the parental dysfunctions that lead to delinquency. In short, high rates of removal of parent-aged residents from poor communities sets off a series of efforts that destabilize the capacity of those communities to provide informal social control.
What Clear has provided here with his coercive mobility theory is the deteriorating social and economic impact Black families and communities are to experience as a consequence of incarcerating young, productive Black males.
As a young huslta out there peddling death to feed my family, I did not realize the traps that were awaiting my downfall. Nor did I realize the gravity of my responsibility to my family and how vital I was to their future progress. Despite the fact that I sold drugs, the financial and emotional security that I provided to them kept the lights on and plenty of food in the ‘frig. That’s not to mention the Nikes I put on my sisters’ feet. Notably, Professor Clear stresses that such activities, irrespective of their being criminal, tie into the coercive mobility theory.
As a M.A.N., my incarceration has forced me to reckon with my greatest shame. This comes not on account of any stigma associated with being in prison. Rather, I’m ashamed because I now realize how I allowed my environment and the activities it influenced me with to deprive me of not accomplishing my goals in life and fulfilling my responsibilities to my family, which has always been my greatest source of pride and joy. I’ve been incarcerated almost 20 years. As the years have passed and I’ve come to recognize the destruction and its causes, the burden this has set upon my shoulders has been heavy yet embraced. I am to my family and community the fountainhead of stability, provider of economic opportunities, teacher, and emotional soundboard. When I slipped and was incarcerated the first time for three years, then for a second time with a life sentence, the impact this had on my peers and family was devastating. My lil’ sisters depended on “Big Bruh” to make life good for them and provide the direction our vice ridden parents had not. Without my financial and emotional support my daughter’s mother would find it with another man. So too would my sisters eventually. From this grew a perverse dependence on not only other men, which of course has been problematic over the years, but so too the state. My wife, like many single mothers, came to rely heavily on welfare. Fortunately, unlike the welfare queens of the Reagan era, she was motivated enough not to allow herself to become systematized by the welfare system.
My lil’ sisters, on the other hand, have struggled with the disparaging affect that came of the periodic welfare our mother received when we were kids. Needless to say, this for our parents was yet another drug; torpid and systematic like the old plantation system that created the African slaves’ subservient mentality….
Yet, there has been a greater impact on my community with my incarceration. Sure, me poisoning it with dope and lead was of no benefit. My activities were simply a means to an end that I believed at the time would better situate my family and I.
During the course of my incarceration I’ve noted how many of my friends and associates have fallen out with each other. Homies have killed and robbed homies out of greed and envy. Some have turned-state; became addicted to hard drugs; and not handled their business as fathers. Many have remained “stuck”—having not advanced beyond the illegal activity we were engaged in as young hustlas tyrin’ to get a buck.
Consequently, I feel this has occurred due to my absence in influencing block affairs, which has caused things to get outright messy. No longer is there any integrity; principle guiding better judgment.
Moreover, there is no solidarity. Up until I was incarcerated, I sponsored a number of weekly events ranging from BBQs to house parties that allowed for the ‘hood to come together and address issues. In addition, I encouraged the homies to attend the local NAACP community meetings, which I often partook in in an effort to facilitate solace between the young hustlas and the old heads. All this, of course, has come to an end over the years. No one stepped up to fill my shoes. So people in the community kind of just went their own way.
What has been the greatest impact of my incarceration? That, I’ll say, has been the effect it has had on the relationship between my daughter and I. She was 5 years old when I got locked up. She’s now 24. I’ve only seen her one time on account of the fact that she lives in Oklahoma. And while we speak regularly, I know that my influence in her life has been limited in terms of assisting to develop her confidence, ambition, goal orientation, and providing a positive example of male and female relationships.
These things and more have affected her in such a way she makes a poor decisions in respect to the type of men she dates; she doesn’t value education, she doesn’t have a healthy self-image of herself and, because of this, she is not motivated to do much of anything.
Now, I’ve used the above to paint a larger picture. Where I have drawn on the negative impact of my incarceration, Professor Clear magnifies the impact by urging us to consider the deteriorating impact on poor communities around the nation where millions have been incarcerated. Using the metaphor “death by a thousand little cuts,” which represents the instability caused by the removal and return of a significant number of individuals for prison, Clear points to the fact that “communities that provide large numbers of prisoners to the state and federal prison system struggle in a variety of ways. The laundry list of social and economic problems which ensue are extensive and beyond the mere examples that I have provided. Ultimately, they lead to a complete breakdown of “collective efficacy.”
Take for example how in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina countless poor Black Americans were without the necessary “collective efficacy” to aid themselves or others. The high level of social disorganization witnessed in the New Orleans crisis [speaks to] the gravity to which America’s penal institution has devastated the collective efficacy in poor Black communities… [It makes cities like New Orleans repositories of surplus population that are incarcerated at disproportionate rates].
This is only a small take on the impact of prison on my life and family. It is a difficult subject for me to address and really open up to. I can only hope that with what little I have provided I have assisted you to understand that this is one institution that is definitely destroying the lives of those who are connected to it as well as those who are locked up and hidden behind it’s walls.
Learn more about Ivan’s writings you can visit his blog websites at: willisraised.wordpress.com and ubfsf.org.