Originally published in the Autumn 2018 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 58, printed November 8. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Autumn 2018 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post (pending). For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

By Hassan Shabazz

When you look at the Department of Corrections, we have to understand that it is a business – “big” business. Billions of dollars of taxpayer money are funneled into corrections every year, but the public is not seeing a positive return on its investment. There should be no prisons that are understaffed, no lack of clean water, no inedible food and no failure to provide adequate medical, dental, and mental health care, among other things. 

So where are all these billions of dollars going every year? Inquiring minds would like to know. 

The truth is that, as long as Truth-In-Sentencing exists, then mass incarceration will continue to cost taxpayers for results they just won’t see. While our communities suffer and education and health care are suffocated to death, multibillion-dollar corporations will continue to benefit from modern-day slavery totally funded by the citizen who sees not one iota of the profits. 

We have to do something about this social cancer known as mass incarceration. I am a mentor in a Pre-re-entry Self-Governing Community here at Augusta Correctional Center, where residents volunteer to participate in incentive-based workshops created and facilitated by model prisoners/mentors. 

Residents sign on to govern themselves in an effort to prepare for release and ready themselves for an actual re-entry site at a lower level facility. They attend 12-week workshops such as “L.A.B.” (Life and Business), where residents learn how to equate life to a business and how that can bring structure to their lives. They learn how to start a business, write a business plan and more. 

That is coupled with the “I.F.L.E. (Investments for Life Economics) Tower” workshop, where residents learn about the stock market, how to day trade and how to Invest their money. They are also offered “Clase de Espanol,” where they can learn conversational Spanish. And there is a workshop called “Communication,” where they learn how to interact with others in a respectable, considerate manner and how to express themselves intelligently. 

There are many more mentor-created and -facilitated workshops, but they all work to bring about a change in the mind of the residents in comparison to how they were before their stay in the community. 

We do this with no funding and our own talents and, after completion of the program, residents represent what it means to be reformed. What we are showing is that if we are successful at reform through a conscious choice to govern ourselves, we are ready for society. 

There is no other community like this in any other prison in America, but that doesn’t have to be. In fact, this type of program could be used in a conviction-intervention facility where we combat the criminal mentality with ex-offenders who have succeeded in destroying it. 

We are talking about solutions here, and a cost-efficient one at that. Instead of pumping billions of dollars into warehousing prisoners, let the taxpayers’ money go toward something that will actually solve the problem of mass incarceration, rather than pay more officers to work more hours in overcrowded facilities, with no resources to take care of those that they are there to secure. 

Give men like me a chance and you will see that it is the best investment that you could ever have made. We want to make a difference and we know that we can. 

Hassan Shabazz is a member of Virginia Prisoner of Conscience and the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality 

Categories: Editorials

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