October 14, 2015

Women After Prison

Two weeks ago, we spoke to incarcerated men reentering society about lives full of panic and the hard road ahead. But women are the news of mass incarceration right now — so we’re following up. ...

Two weeks ago, we spoke to incarcerated men reentering society about lives full of panic and the hard road ahead. But women are the news of mass incarceration right now — so we’re following up.

Compared to 1980, seven or eight times as many mothers, sisters and daughters are serving time in American prisons — they’re the fastest-growing sector of that enormous population. More than a million American women are under the control of our penal system now: mostly on probation but including more than a hundred thousand behind bars right now. 

Netflix’s series, Orange Is The New Black, has turned the incarceration of women into a headline by representing it as half-tragic and half-comic world, a M*A*S*H for the present moment, in which the women are menaced by male guards and plagued by addiction and mental illness, but keep on cracking jokes — saved by sisterhood and occasional sex.

Some of that may be true, though our guest, the formerly incarcerated activist Andrea James, wants to remind us that this particular problem isn’t especially funny. The others, Denise Lewis and Wanda Luna, speak of a heaviness in women’s prison: the pain of separation from children and partners. And women carry a battery of preexisting problems with them into lockup: a history of bad mental and physical health (often untreated), records of domestic violence, and near-universal substance abuse.

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On top of that, only about 1 in 3 women is locked up because of a violent crime, compared to more than half of incarcerated men, leading James to argue that women, for the most part, are locked up for “hurting themselves.”

With the former newscaster and minister Liz Walker, we’re listening to three local women tell personal stories of trauma, abuse and separation, and to consider the gender gap in incarceration.

 

 

This Week's Show •

The Rebirth of A Nation

The question we didn’t quite nail in this conversation was: how did the Lincoln Republicans blow the victory they’d won on the battlefield? Weren’t they bluffed, waited and in simple truth terrorized out of the ...

jpgThe question we didn’t quite nail in this conversation was: how did the Lincoln Republicans blow the victory they’d won on the battlefield? Weren’t they bluffed, waited and in simple truth terrorized out of the real emancipation they’d fought for? In Congress and the White House the Republicans held all the cards at the war’s close, yet their project of radical reconstruction failed utterly, and the mission of building an interracial democracy went aglimmering. Chris Devers, listening in, points to a starker verdict from Doug Muder on-line: that the Confederacy continued the war through 1877 to victory in unrefereed overtime.

What the Lincoln Republicans did win — despite opposition from President Andrew Johnson — was the near-radical Constitutional amendments, a sort of life-support system for the dream. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th promised birthright citizenship and “equal protection of the laws,” and the 15th prohibited discrimination at the ballot box. Eric Foner said emphatically in our conversation that the 14th amendment (main platform of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s) wouldn’t have a chance of passage in Congress today. The 15th amendment is being tested even now.

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Heather Cox Richardson scored it provocatively: that the war victory and the lost reconstruction gave us the left-right divide that Americans have shouted across ever since:

The question of ‘for whom should the American government work’ is the fundamental question that we have grappled with since the very first day of Reconstruction…Should it be helping the “makers” by creating extraordinarily low taxes? Or should the federal government be helping as many people as possible to be able to rise into middle class, into a competency, into a place where they can feed their kids and move their own way up through society? …It’s a tension that speaks directly to what Lincoln was up to when he helped to form the Republican party, what the early Republicans were at work at in Reconstruction… when the weight shifts from a government that should work for everybody, giving everybody a say — African Americans, women, immigrants — to a government that reflects the needs and wants of a very few wealthy people.

Both our guests Eric Foner and Heather Cox Richardson want to shout it from the rooftops: the little-known history of Reconstruction is where the story of the Civil War gets really interesting. It’s the period when, as Drew Faust has said, Americans became modern. The federal government came into its own, bringing with it new institutions: absentee ballots, common currency, an income tax, new rails, and global trade. W.E.B. DuBois called Reconstruction black America’s “brief moment in the sun.” Two of history’s nine black U.S. Senators represented Mississippi briefly during the 1870s. Black empowerment during Reconstruction was incomplete and, ultimately, doomed by Klan violence and a national loss of nerve. But it birthed the ideas of inclusion, citizenship, and democracy that we’ve struggled to realize ever since.

Podcast • June 18, 2013

Mark Blyth (9) : On the Dead End of Austerity

The Great Gatsby is out as a film again. Go see it! Think about it. Basically you have this tiny elite. How many yachts can they buy, right? They have all the goddam cash. And ...

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The Great Gatsby is out as a film again. Go see it! Think about it. Basically you have this tiny elite. How many yachts can they buy, right? They have all the goddam cash. And they don’t need to invest in a recession because they can live off the interest on their investments, so they’re fine. Everybody else is screwed if they don’t have investments. They can’t consume enough because of the wage skew. We’re back to where we were in the Twenties and Thirties.

Political economist Mark Blyth, with Chris Lydon. June, 2013.

Mark Blyth, the butcher’s son from Dundee, is sounding off again in the Scottish pub where we all belong — if you want the news of wealth in our time deciphered, and if you can listen as fast as Mark Blyth talks. The authority of his brash gab is reinforced by the reviews hither and yon of his pithy new treatise from Oxford on the false doctrine of the day: Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea. That idea he’s been bashing in our conversations for almost three years now is the doctrine (rampant in official Europe, fashionable in the US) that governments can shrink their way out of debt by slashing their public budgets. Professor Blyth’s counter here is that it’s government’s job to grow the economy and the taxes that will service the debt.

Not the least of what’s new in Mark Blyth’s book is the argument that austerity (not inflation) was the proximate cause of Naziism in Germany in the Thirties — also of Japanese expansionism in the same period that led to World War 2. So there may be a grim warning in his evocation of Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and the Jazz Age.

In the class-divided skies of British Airways nowadays he sees another flash of where we’re going:

I fly a lot on British Airways, which now has four classes in its planes when you go trans-Atlantic. It’s the medieval class structure brought back to life. At the very front of the plane where you turn left instead of right as you come in the nose — first class! — that’s the Aristocrats. They’re the ones you never get to see. Literally, the Lords and Ladies. Then, when you turn right, you go through all these flat lie-down beds. These are the trans-Atlantic Knights of the Financial Nobility. Then you get past that to Premium Economy, which is like the Serfs with Money — you notice that’s a very small section of the plane. And then: one third of the air frame has two thirds of the passengers. Cattle. Cargo. Self-loading. Everybody else. It’s a bit like the societies we’ve built for ourselves. And until the people — not at the bottom but the ones in the middle, the ones whose voices matter the most in politics — say: you know what? I just can’t afford $50,000 a year for whatever Ivy League or non-Ivy League university my kids gets into. How am I going to do this? Let’s say you earned $150,000 a year… That’s a lot of money — it’s three times the median income. You’ve got a chunk of change, but you still have to eat. Let’s say you save $40,000 of that. That’s still not enough for one year of college. And you won’t get financial aid because you’re making $150,000. I know professors who can’t send their kids to these schools. And that’s if they have one. What if they have two? So when that constituency starts to say: hang on a minute; there’s something seriously wrong here. That’s when you’ll begin to see change.

austerityMark Blyth’s argument here is drawn from life — that is, from his own:

Let’s go back to my experience. My mother died when I was very young, and I was raised by my paternal grand-mother. Basically all we had was her state retirement pension and occasional handouts from my manual-worker father, who was a butcher; and that was usually in the form of in-kind: bits of dead things were dropped off at the house on a Friday. And we made our way through. I went to school with holes in my shoes. So then I got to university and all the rest of it. I did this with all these state-funded ladders of achievement. Schools worked. If you were smart enough you got in. There were grants available. You didn’t have to have complete financial records. You did not have to go miles into debt to do this, and that was that. People say to me: good for you, but someone had to pay for that; basically you’re taking from others and enjoying yourself. Well, my answer is: you gotta be kidding me. Do you know the taxes I pay now? Suppose I hadn’t exactly advantaged myself through the education system. Suppose I’d stayed in Dundee. Well, I probably would have been in the military which is a huge tax loss. Or I’d have been in jail, which is very expensive. Or I’d have been a marginal worker, and I’d have paid very little taxes into the public purse. Instead of which I come over here and as somebody who’s done pretty well I pay a lot more taxes over my lifetime than I ever took out of the welfare expense.

This stuff pays for itself. It creates an equal society. It creates the possibility of mobility. It creates the idea, the ideal and also the belief that it’s possible to succeed. And we are dangerously close to creating a world where those ladders of mobility and that belief — that all-important belief that’s critical to the germination of capitalism — is going away. We have a winner-takes-all society where those who can opt out and those who are left behind do what they must. That is what worries me. That is where the scary politics start.

Mark Blyth in conversation with Chris Lydon. June, 2013.

Podcast • March 25, 2010

Jared Malsin: the kid next door reports from Bethlehem

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Jared Malsin. (27 minutes, 16 mb mp3) Jared Malsin looks, sounds and writes like your bright and earnest American kid from down the street. Until two months ago, ...

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Jared Malsin. (27 minutes, 16 mb mp3)

Jared Malsin looks, sounds and writes like your bright and earnest American kid from down the street. Until two months ago, he was reporting in the Palestinian Territories for Ma’an News Agency. A dozen voices like his in our ears, telling the day-to-day story of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, might force us to change a cruel, foolish and dangerous misuse of our power in the region. Which must be part of the reason Israeli authorities detained Jared Malsin in January, without charge, kept him in jail for a week and then denied him re-entry into the West Bank.

So he’s cooling his heels back home, and we’re getting to know a model reporter before he’s famous. Three years out of Yale, Jared Malsin is the child of teachers in Hanover, New Hampshire, and a graduate of Hanover High School. After college, his news instinct pointed him to Bethlehem, because “you look to the side of the story that’s not being told.”

… As a journalist your natural inclination is to give voice to people who don’t have a voice. There’s nothing like being on the ground and seeing what’s happening with your own eyes. You can read about the settlements and the wall. It’s another thing to be in Bethlehem, the city I lived in for two and a half years, and see how the wall cuts across the main road to Jerusalem and wraps around the gas station and then cuts between two house and through an olive field and has just completely mangled the city. Something about being there, and seeing it with your own eyes — there’s truth to it that you can’t argue with. The challenge is to get that across in reporting, in writing, in photography or whatever medium you’re working in.

The story in Palestinian these days, Jared Malsin remarks, is not the consuming flap around new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. It’s that four teenagers have been shot by the Israeli Army in the last few days — deaths that will not be explained or investigated. “If you’re on the ground you get a different sense: you can sense the wind shifting and right now I get the sense the conflict is in one of those periods where it’s going to start becoming more violent.”

If you’re living in the West Bank or Gaza, your water gets shut off for a week or ten days at a time, in the summer, routinely. Which means that if you live in a refugee camp in Bethlehem, for a week or ten days in the summer you can’t wash yourself; you can’t wash your children. You can’t take a shower. You can’t cook food. It’s incredibly dehumanizing, but it’s one of these issues you just don’t hear about because there are no explosions going on. It’s one of these daily lived ways that people live occupation. And that’s what I think the real meaning of it is… Those are the stories I’m interested in.

Where, I wondered, is the Palestinian Gandhi between the warring Fatah and Hamas factions?

People ask me that question a lot: ‘where is the Palestinian Gandhi?’ My response is that he’s in jail. There are lots of people who are champions of non-violent modes of political protest. Palestinians have a huge tradition of non-violence. They protest every day, every week, in the West Bank, everywhere, and in Gaza also. Most of the tradition of Palestinian resistance to occupation has been non-violent, and yet most of those people who are leading those protests wind up in Israeli prisons, most of them. Boycott campaigns, protest marches, all the same techniques used by the Civil Rights movement in this country, Palestinians are always using today. But they’re met with tremendous violence.

Jared Malsin in conversation with Chris Lydon at Brown, March 24, 2010.

One of those might-be Gandhis, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, was scheduled to speak at Brown this week until his US visa was unaccountably held up. When he gets here, we’ll ask for a conversation.