I Taught Playwriting in a Prison & My Life Will Never be the Same: Documentation of Millennial African/Brown Griots
The audacity of this title is the impetus for the article you are reading. My limited experience teaching caged African/Brown men (ages 18-21) in prison is the why but not the what I am writing about. Yes, no free man with a conscience will enter a prison filled with his peers and exit guilt free. Nor will he leave without interrogating the too common socio-economic inner-city to prison pipeline. That said, my intent is to document my experience/reflection and hopefully bridge the gap betwixt 21st century American prison and the reader while offering a solution to this problem.
The first thing to note is how many minorities are employed by the prison system. This is a twisted business working to feed and oppress families of color. Therefore, to shut down the American prison system is to provide and prevent opportunities for minorities. One family will get their son OR father back while another will lose an (or the only) income. There are many stakes to secure the future of prison and that is disheartening.
Betwixt shifts I witnessed crowds of African/Brown working class men and women coming and going. This is honest work with pros and cons. The pro is there are African/Brown professionals policing African/Brown inmates. The con is they are caught in a cycle built to maintain the inhumane condition and conditioning of American slavery.
My second observation is the condition of the inmates, who should be home receiving love, but are stuck eating canned vegetables with dinner and passing time in cages playing infantile board games. It is limiting to say the men are bright and bursting with creativity (They ARE); But in navigating the confines of their oppression they follow the inner-city to prison pipeline manufactured to continue the for-profit institution prison has become. Their bodies are commodities and that is too familiar. It is a nostalgic reflection of chattel slavery.
We arrive at dinner and my role is to sit with a select group of inmates in effort to scribe their thoughts into a short play an actor will read for their entertainment. Each group would create a story inspired by a picture prompt of abstract art. We wrote two plays. The plays varied in length and genre; but they both explored the theme of freedom. While one group philosophized the picture the other sought comedy in their interpretation. In essence, these young men are millennial African/Brown griots with the ability to craft story on demand.
When we are searching for the missing pieces in our communities we must remember the prison system holds the key to the cage that binds our gems. Our responsibility on the outside is to speak out against irresponsible sexual activity that leads to the premature conception of bastards who will not be provided the socio-economic resources necessary to escape the inner-city to prison pipeline that has been privatized to maintain the economic profit of supremacists.
There are too many children in our community who, like the biblical character Ishmael, are born into unfavorable circumstances that reduces the chances of their success. We must STOP navigating the inner-city institutions (e.g. school, church, etc.) ignoring and denying the mental illnesses created by the aforementioned behavior; and, like the privileged, give our sons and daughters the opportunity to observe the depression of their existence through education, therapy, and retreat.
No, nothing will start from the bottom. The parent(s) must also do this work in order to secure the success of their children. In effort to dismantle the for-profit inner-city to prison pipeline we MUST stop creating disadvantaged children who will become the products (articles manufactured or refined for SALE) who continue to propel the success of privatized incarceration. This is our role in the matter. These are our children; and the prison is a foster parent who lacks good intention.
If you have information about free/affordable mental healthcare services; OR if you are a mental healthcare provider or youth advocate/mentor post your services below and social share this article and your thoughts on the topic.