Poem: The New Jim Crow

Poem: The New Jim Crow

This summer I attended the Children’s Defense Fund National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio
which convened thousands of child advocates, faith leaders, Social Workers, community organizers and activist to build a movement to protect children in our country.

On the first day of conference at 6 a.m., young leaders convened outside the convention center for a time of silent reflection on the prison system. What many may not know is that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world and it is overwhelming inhabited by African-American men. Author Michelle Alexander calls this phenomenon the New Jim because many of these men were led to prison due to economic and racial circumstances.

After getting out of prison most ex-offenders lose voting rights and are denied employment; thus becoming a separate and unequal class.

The poem below was inspired by poems I while participating in the aforementioned silent reflection, these poems were written by young people in prison. Reading the poems reminded me that I was born and raised in one of the twelve communities in New York City that sends the most people in the state to prison.

The prison industrial complex calls us to build on the work of the civil rights movement to organize a human rights movement.

My name is 40892-422.
I am three-fifths of a man.
A post racial society is also a post truth.
Men missing we are living in wartime.
The war on drugs is a new way to make slavery last one more day.
Trips Upstate like Wyclef sings “he’ll be gone to November and November and another
Missing sons, invisible husbands and absent fathers.
A society that is painfully separate and striking unequal.
Children born into captivity for captivity.
Schools built by the same hands that build prisons a cruel coincidence.
A cheap labor force is needed to vampire communities,
feeding blood to a system that won’t die but mutates and multiples.
A Queen sits alone waiting for a King who won’t come home,
because he is locked in a tower that we won’t see.
My name is 40772-422.
My name is 50331-437.
I am a corporate commodity wearing clockwork/agent orange.
I am a sharecropper on a global plantation and this reality is the New Jim Crow.

Onleilove (pronounced Onlylove) Alston was born and raised in East New York, Brooklyn. When she was 10, she felt led to pray and read the Bible though she was not raised in the church. Four years later she walked into a local National Baptist Church where she had a life-altering conversion experience.For more than 10 years, Onleilove has worked for various nonprofit organizations such as Sojourners (where she was a Beatitudes Society Fellow), NY Faith & Justice, United Workers and Healthcare-Now! Onleilove has co-written a series of Bible studies and devotionals with The Poverty Initiative The Last Week of Jesus/Last Year of King in English and Spanish. She blogs at Wholeness4Love.

Photo credit: Photo taken by Onleilove Alston at the 2012 Children’s Defense Fund National Conference