Education Versus Incarceration

We’ve all heard the statistics about Black males and education. According to the 2005 US Census Bureau less than 8 percent of Black men graduated from college. This number is less than twice the number of white men (17.3%) and four times less the rate of Asian men (34.7%). We’ve also been beat over the head repeatedly with the statistics involving Black men and prison. The same census had 10.1 percent of Black men between the ages of 18-29 in prison while the numbers for Whites (1.5%) and Hispanics (3.6%) are far less. Do I believe that social conditioning and arbitrary laws that target young Black males play a role in the stark contrast of these statistics? Absolutely. Do I believe that personal accountability has to play a role as well? Most certainly. This is not the point of today’s post.

I want to discuss what happens to a subset of Black men when they are incarcerated. They end up exactly where society tells them they would arrive since they were young. They could easily accept their lives as a complete failure and relegate themselves to behave as animals that they are chained and caged. For a portion of Black men when faced with the harsh reality of being imprisoned they become enlightened. It would be hard to imagine that would happen considering that the behavior that landed them in prison is the type of behavior which lacks abstract and critical thinking skills.

I think the most famous case would be Stanley Tookie Williams, the founder of the Crips street gang. Williams was sentenced to the death penalty after being convicted of robbing and murdering four people. While on death row Williams wrote children books that were aimed at keeping children out of gangs. He was eventually nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It doesn’t negate the fact that he committed heinous crimes but one can’t help but imagine what Williams could have been if someone stopped his path towards self-destruction. If someone cultured the capacity to learn and free their mind from mental and cultural slavery. There are many Tookie Williams in almost every prison across the country.

On the another note you have Eddie Ellis who spent 25 years in prison, during which he earned a bachelor’s degree from Marist College and a master’s degree from the New York Theological Seminary. Today he is president of the Community Justice Center in Harlem, which helps ex-offenders find jobs and housing. Imagine how many more people he could have helped if he didn’t spend 25 years behind bars.

Outside of obtaining degrees and improving themselves intellectually a lot of Black men who enter prison embrace Islam. I don’t know the individual reasons for inmates who choose to become Muslim but if I had to guess I would would go with the implementation of discipline, Black nationalism and forethought might be amongst the top reasons. I’m not Muslim but I do respect the discipline that it takes to follow that faith. There are many reasons why a lot of inmates choose to embrace Islam versus Christianity but I won’t go into those reasons today (saving that for a different post).

The circumstances in which these men end up in prison does not make them animals incapable of critical thought nor does it relegate them to men who are incapable of improving themselves. If only these men had found the encouragement and inclination to improve themselves before they seemingly threw their lives away perhaps the statistics of black men in prison wouldn’t be as distorted.


13 thoughts on “Education Versus Incarceration

  1. Silent Scorpion

    One of my responsibilities as a counselor is try and be that person who interrupts the foreshadowed high school to prison pipeline. Its amazing how far gone kids are by the time they get to the age of 14. Not just young black males, but all minorities and both sexes as well. I see so much untapped potential and as much as I want to create that change, I know that some of my kids won’t make good decisions.

    I wish that more people would reach back because our next generation needs that encouragement, especially young black men.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      yeah i think 14 is way to old. not saying it can’t be done but its way more difficult. by that age they have at least 11 years of memories and their attitude has been shaped by a destructive environment. that’s at least 11 years of unlearning or changing that has to be done. i want to open a charter school. K-12. the key is to get them early enough where they are able to rise above negative influences.

  2. Lioness Rising

    I remember in “Waiting for Superman” when they estimated that we could save money by giving each child (especially black.hispanic) private education through college vesus waiting for them to be incarcerated (which cost about 100k a year, I think). That stat was powerful because it showed how our social priorities shape individual life paths.

    I also think that black men in certain areas are raised to be men of incarceration. Many (because of environment) engage in reckless behavior knowing they will end up in prison. Once they leave they find it hard to function in the outside world, not just because they have trouble finding job but because its hard for them to be self-sufficient, especially with socially acceptable jobs. These skills need to be instilled from birth. The key is education especially pre-HS years.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      yeah its crazy. just like war, the privatization of the penal system makes it profitable to the wrong people (corporate buddies of politicians) and takes money away from the wrong people (tax paying citizens). its crazy where our priorities lie.

      oh yeah, you’re definitely right. in some neighborhoods going to jail is almsot like a right of passage.

  3. Jubilance

    I just finished reading “The Other Wes Moore” which is about 2 men from Baltimore named Wes Moore – 1 became a Rhodes Scholar while the other is in prison for life after a robbery & killing of a police officer. While I was reading the book, what struck me the most about how these 2 men’s lives diverged because of the interventions (or lack thereof) of their families & communities. The Rhodes Scholar looked like he was going to end up in prison himself, but his family intervened to the point of sending him to military school. Unfortunately a lot of Black men who end up in prison never had anyone to intervene or steer them away from this “pipeline to incarceration”. Couple that with the self-fulfilling prophecy that these kids face – with teachers & other adults who tell them & treat them as mini-criminals from a young age.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      i think i may check that book out. its crazy because although you may encouragement it may not always be enough. sometimes you have brothers (as in my case) who grew up in the same household and had the same encouragement but ended up on two entirely different paths.

  4. gemmieboo

    great post!!

    i had a long discussion about something similar at a house party this weekend. yes, loud music was playing in one room, and we’re in another having a philosophical convo about success and access. i dont truly believe you can succeed with having access to certain tools and resources. whether theyre given to you at birth (i.e. those of privilege) or you’re given them through education/mentoring, they are necessary to climb to the top.

    i think everything you highlighted in this post is due to a lack of access, a lack of education, a lack of concern from society– all which contribute, IMO, the high incarceration rate of black men. its so unfortunate. and i think the general public fails to accept that if these men are given a chance at a young age, they MAY make better choices. sure, you cant eliminate all crime, but i think you can certainly attenuate a lot of it through various opportunities. if we spent more money on education (not throwing money at schools, but actually INVESTING in programs that are specifically aimed at TEACHING and not TESTING) than we did on prisons, our black men would have a chance. but the cradle-to-prison pipeline is soooo real and sooo much a part of the “system” now that is hard to tackle because big money is on the line. crime really does pay!! smdh. i wish more people realized this to do something about it .

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      that’s something a lot of people don’t realize. there is a vast difference between teaching and testing. i could test well on almost everything i took but that doesn’t mean i actually learned anything and it really doesn’t speak towards my quality of education. all that means is a teacher taught me how to take a test. for instance, i didn’t test highly on my sat or gre and i didn’t test low either. that didn’t speak towards my aptitude to learn, it just showed i’m not a good standardized test taker.

  5. Wu Young, Agent of M.E.

    Sadly many of these young guys don’t become the concern of the state until they become defendants. The current education and judicial system coupled with a ton of missed opportunities and community apathy only grinds many of these guys down. For many, when they get out they are angry at everyone and to a point they have a right to be. The lack of encouragement at school and at home is literally killing cats. If no one ever tells you of your worth or potential then what?

  6. Tica

    I wanted to add my two cents…from perhaps a different perspective that no one really touched on….I agree Tunde 14 is too old. It’s starts at home. A bigger problem which has a more significance in the high rate of incarceration of our young black men is the destruction of the nuclear family. Too many of our brothers are not taking care of their sons or their daughters. It has been proven that having a father in the home or at least a stable, consistent male father figure (i.e. uncle) who can teach a boy how to be a man and make better choices can significantly decrease the likelihood that they will end up in prison. They need someone to guide them. As children we all emulate the things we are exposed to. If we are exposed to positive behaviors we are more likely to exhibit those behaviors. It has to start with teaching at home…teaching at school is a lost cause if children are not prepared to learn. Children cannot learn if they are hungry, or scared and have a chaotic unstable home life. Start at home…provide stability,love, discipline, build self esteem, integrity, and demand accountability…those are the foundational things that our young men need to keep them out of prison.

  7. The Suburban Thug

    Man, I have this discussion at least twice a month with various folks. There are reasons for those who end up in prison, but I wish we as a people could do better at negating the bs that drives many of these cats to do ignant thangs that end them up in prison.

  8. Flyy

    I know I’m like 18764 days late, but this post >>. I have a friend who has been incarcerated for 6+ years. I still believe he is one of the smartest individuals I’ve ever met. I have no doubt when he comes home in 2 years that his success will know no limit. Like Gem said, access… his access to education, to a nuturing environment, to resources growing up left him feeling as if he had no choice but crime to take care of himself and his brother. Prison gave him time to rethink his actions and actual stable environment. It’s a sad shame but he was able to complete more school (GED and Associate’s along w/ hella certificates) in prison than I think he ever would’ve been able to with pressures from the outside. I just think had he grown up in a different position, in my position so to speak… he could’ve easily outdone many of the achievements I call mine today. I can’t wait to see what he makes of himself upon exit. He also ended up embracing Christianity… I’m interested in your thought on the Muslim vs. Christian adoption but I’ll wait for that post.


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