The American Obsession with Imprisonment is a National Shame—and a Parent’s Nightmare

For those outside of the community, it is hard to comprehend how much the specter of prison haunts black people, black men, and particularly black parents. To bring a black child, especially a black boy, into the world is to grapple with a gnawing fear that one day you will be handing your boy child over to the American prison system. Indeed, more than half of all black men without a high school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. That fact is unconscionable, staggering, enraging.

In a recent issue of The New Yorker featuring a stunning expose on the American obsession with imprisonment, we came across the following excerpt, which we feel speaks volumes:

Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps THE fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then.

We must wake up to the outrage taking place all around us, in ways seen and unseen. We must devote ourselves to reversing this American shame, this modern-day slavery, this updating of Jim Crow. Our children must graduate from high school, must seek higher education, must stay connected to the mainstream. But that is not enough. We also must find ways, each of us, in our own spheres of influence, to take on the system itself. Tomorrow, it could be your child ensnared in the web.


1. Police Officers in School? A Recipe for Student Failure
2. Kemba Walker and the Get-Over Syndrome
3. It Wasn’t Pretty, But Philly Mayor Nutter Was Speaking Truth about Bad Parents
4. I Am Troy Davis And You Are, Too: Pondering the Death Penalty, Reasonable Doubt & Black Men


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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


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