Monday, December 8, 2008

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Do convicted criminals deserve a second chance? I've been thinking about this particular issue for a while. I felt so strongly about convicts and the prison system after the murders of three members of singer Jennifer Hudson's family. The accused killer William Balfour had just completed a 7 year sentence for attempted murder, car-jacking, and stolen property charges in 2006. He had only been out for a short while and still on probation when he befriended and married Jennifer's sister Julia. I am not quite concerned about Julia Hudson's poor choice in a husband. I have talked about that topic endlessly and my conclusion was she chose to marry him because men of his sort were familiar. She probably didn't know any better. Her Myspace page which remained public days after the murders showed her to be a deeply disturbed individual who probably had identity issues. However, Julia Hudson is a story for another day.

Around the same time period as the Hudson murders, another somewhat D-List celebrity was in the news; Lyfe Jennings. Lyfe Jennings born Chester Jennings is currently facing two felony and three misdemeanor charges after leading police on a high speed chase on October 19. It is alleged that after having an altercation with the mother of his children, Jennings jumped into his car inebriated and led police on a chase that would result in him crashing his car. Now Jennings' stage name "Lyfe" is somewhat awkward. It is rumored that the name came about after he served a ten year felony arson sentence. Serving ten years seemed like a life time hence the nickname. Nonetheless, after his release and sudden rise to fame as a singer, I thought Jennings had changed his ways. His songs although somewhat preachy at times gave us a glimpse into the soul of a reformed man. So what happened on that fateful night? Unless the charges against Jennings are either dropped or reduced another stay in a state run facility is definitely in his future.

Then how about the Paper Trail man? I can't deny T.I? He's from my adopted home town. Everyone loves the "Rubber Band Man." He put Bank Head Highway on the map. Even my Mom thinks T.I is cute. My good friend who is a die hard neo-soul fan recently confessed that she can't get T.I's latest song "Anything you like" out of her head. For some reason she said she just can't stop singing the song. Despite T.I's so called swagger and the love the A town has for him he has not had a clean past. T.I has a litany of charges and run-ins with the law to his name. He has violated his parole in the past, has numerous arrest records in Georgia, and has earned a reputation as a drug dealer. Then it all seemed like he had an epiphany. He came clean from his drug-related past, cut some records settled into family life with his long time girlfriend and it seemed the king of Bank Head Highway was done with his soiled past. All was going well until Ashton Kutcher decided to Punk T.I. Who would have thought that Kutcher's Punk'd scene would play out in real life a few years later? Unable to leave his past behind, T.I. is about to return to an all too familiar place to serve a sentence for trying to purchase firearms with silencers a few hours before he was scheduled to perform at the 2007 BET Awards. T.I is a true Atalian [pronounced A-T-Alian (an urban slang for a true bred Atlanta native)] in every sense of the word and our city wishes him well.

Then how about Orenthal James Simpson? Oh I forgot! He was never arrested the first time. The second arrest however if I must comment is just a simple hoax and a joke to punish him for escaping the penitentiary for the murders of his wife and her friend.

But seriously, what should be done about people who break the law? Do they deserve a second chance? If you are a serious fan of A&E's "First 48" you will understand where I am coming from. The show chronicles the first 48 hours after a homicide is reported. Everything happens in real time. There are no simulations. The cameras keep rolling from when the body is found until the crime is solved. Sometimes it's solved other times the criminal is not brought to justice. However, if you are a fan of the show you'll concur that 95% of the time the assailant is usually someone who has a long history of past crimes. I remember watching a show from Miami last week. The guy who was a person of interest in a particular homicide had over 20 pages of past criminal records. Most of the criminals on the show and in our streets fit this same profile. Somehow, the system fails to punish them effectively the first time. As a result, they fall through the cracks and become miscreants in society and commit even worse crimes second time around. If they're convicted for attempted murder the first time, the next time it's homicide.

The prison system in the United States has earned the reputation as the go to place for people who disturb the peace. Should the prison system be more than a holding place? Why do certain individuals commit worse crimes after serving a sentence? Do they learn the new behavior while incarcerated or do they commit these new crimes because they are thrown out of the prison into a system that cringes at the mention of the word "convict?" I have not had the chance to interact with an ex-con on a personal level but I would like to at some point, not romantically though! I want to hear first hand the experiences of living in a United States prison. There are all these stories of torture, abuse, and molestation in the prisons. Most prison cells have a hierarchical system I've been told. It's like the jungle and survival is not guaranteed. Those who make it do so after under going a selection process that weeds out "sissies," making sure only the strong survive. The strong come out with vengeance in their hearts and a desire to beat their first record. Then there are some who return because once they are out they find reintegration a daunting task. They've been gone for so long and the prison cells are familiar. They can't find gainful employment and long for the meals and camaraderie of jail. But, there are others who come out reformed. They become religious while in jail and even manage to get some form of education. Regardless of the state of former convicts I believe there is still general consensus that the judicial system in this country is broken.

The coming year promises to be a year of change. Change was the operative word for the Barack Obama campaign and hopefully will be so during the Obama White House years. If our prison systems do not reform convicted criminals it might be time for alternatives. Guantanamo Bay is not the only broken facility. There are several others here on American soil that need to be closed or closely monitored. President-elect Barack Obama's background in the Law is quite reassuring, so also is his experience as a professor of Constitutional Law. Our judicial system needs to be overhauled from the way we make arrests to how we sentence so called convicts. The system has so many flaws the biggest being the fact that it is not color blind. Further, not everyone in jail needs to be there. We have a looming problem, it is more than celebrity convicts who don't have the common sense to stay out of trouble, although they were good for illustrative reasons. It involves promising minorities who are in jail because they live on the wrong side of town or are just out of luck! However you see it, we have a problem on our hands that needs urgent attention.

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