HOOD DIGEST + CURB: From Mass Incarceration to Mass Liberation Glossary

The criminal justice system is an epidemic of global proportions and dire consequences.

We all know somebody who’s in jail, prison, parole, or probation. But, have you ever wondered why so many of our friends and family members get caught up in this system?

Have you ever asked yourself how come the police is so quick to roll into communities of color to bust people for selling or smoking weed?  

Now ask yourself, how come the cops don’t roll into college campuses to bust fraternity parties where drugs are laid out like salsa bars at taco stands? 

Hood Digest is partnering with Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) to explore the topic of mass incarceration: the people, the streets, the police, the prisons, the justice system, the laws, and the profits. 

I know yo ass ain’t gonna Google them even though you have the internet on your fucking phone. So, I’ll tell you what they do.

CURB is working to lower the number of people who are locked up in California. They fight to move money away from “corrections” & law enforcement and direct it to social services. 

Together, we created a hood glossary. We’re gonna challenge you to change the way you speak about people who are caught up in the system of mass incarceration.

We will challenge you to think outside the “good citizen” vs. “bad criminal” story the system has already sold us.  

Our parents and tios are buying into that lie whenever they tell us how cholos and Black people deserve to be mistreated by la chota and whenever they brag about how good and peaceful White folks are.

America would have you believe that people accused or convicted of a crime are monsters, rather than people who are targeted and caught up in the system!

Meanwhile, they complain about cops harassing the taqueros on the corner and pulling over jardineros in old troquitas. They are livid about ICE deporting their comadres and undocumented college students!

It’s all interconnected. It’s subjective and motivated by race, class, and the institutions that are dependent on locking people up.

Now let’s begin our glossary and change the labels that society places on people in prison!

CORRECT: La Pinta, La Jaula, Prison, Jail, Cage, Immigrant Prison.
INCORRECT: Correctional Facility, Rehabilitative Corrections Center, Detention Center.

HERE’S WHY: Like the famous song from Los Tigres Del Norte says, “aunque la jaula sea de oro, no deja de ser prision.”

Our parents and padrinos often compare the U.S. prison system to that of their countries of origin. They say that these jails look like “classy hotels compared to the savage conditions of the prisons back home”.

But, that comparison is problematic for obvious reasons.

First off, there are prisons and jails across the U.S. that are notorious for their inhumane and torturous conditions!

Second, the system plays down the violence and harm that people experience in prison by not calling it a prison at all!

Instead, they call it a “detention center”, “camp”, “eco-facility”, “treatment facility” or “leadership academy.” Let’s call them what they are – HUMAN CAGES!

U.S. prisons are part of a massive system used to control our people by robbing them of their civil and fundamental human rights.

Private prisons are particularly dangerous because they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which is the mechanism that provides public access and transparency for certain information. This makes it harder to keep these facilities accountable.

It is no secret that prisoners in private and public prisons and jails are physically abused, and even killed at the hands of correctional officers.

Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles is notorious for its abuse of prisoners and “unexplained” deaths.

Most human cages are only 6 ft x 8 ft – with limited lighting. In California, they also have a limited water supply. The smell, the noise, and the exposure to illness from these cramped, inhumane conditions add to the physical, mental and emotional abuse.

It is no secret that prisoners in private and public prisons and jails are physically abused, and even killed at the hands of correctional officers.

Adelanto is the largest immigrant prison on the West Coast housing up to 1,940 men and women awaiting their immigration court hearings.

The privately owned prison is notorious for its deaths, inadequate health care, mistreatment, and overuse of solitary confinement of paisas.

And forget about nutrition! People inside are given shit for food and deprived of personal care items due to the high cost of basic items.

It doesn’t end even after someone has served their time! Once they are labeled “ex-cons” our people are discriminated against in the areas of employment, housing, access to public benefits, and can even lose their right to vote!

CORRECT: Person in Prison, Prisoner, a Convicted Person.
INCORRECT: Inmate, Felon, Offender, Criminal, or Violator.

HERE’S WHY: Incarceration affects all of us. It affects families and communities – those who are serving time and those who are not.

America would have you believe that people accused or convicted of a crime are monsters, rather than people who are targeted and caught up in the system!

Do you consider yourself a criminal? Well, have you ever been in a fight? Have you ever been in a domestic situation that got out of control? Do you have ties to gangs by default just because of where you live or because you belong to a certain family?

Shit, you break the law every day when you text and drive – you’re probably reading this while you’re stuck in traffic.

Have you ever gotten behind the wheel after drinking alcohol? Smoked weed? Wrote a bad check?

Is anyone in your family undocumented?

Do you claim all of your income on your taxes?

The problem with calling people shit like “offender”, “criminal, or “felon” is that those terms dehumanize individuals, which makes it easier for society to vilify and marginalize them.

Think of words like “illegal alien”, “convict”, or “LA Galaxy fan” – no one wants to be any of those things.

To make matters worse, there is no presumption of innocence AND if you’re Black or Brown, you are targeted regardless of how law-abiding you are. Think Philando Castille

In LA, over 50% of people sitting in county jails are pre-trial, which means they have not been convicted! They are legally innocent but denied freedom because our money bail system punishes you for being poor.

Imprisonment affects real people – friends, family, neighbors, and trying to differentiate yourself from folks that get caught up in the system is only playing into law enforcement’s divide and conquer game.

CORRECT: People Formerly Imprisoned, Formerly Convicted.
INCORRECT: Ex-Convict, Ex-Con, Ex-Offender, Parolee.

HERE’S WHY: You ever wonder why we throw parties for family members who return home from prison? Wouldn’t you if your loved ones made it back safe after being ripped from your community?

Imprisonment is an active thing that happens to real people. Society would have you believe that these “faceless” individuals brought imprisonment upon themselves. But, it’s not that simple!

Social and economic conditions are the driving force putting people behind bars.

Think about the movies you’ve seen portraying White people who commit crimes as “means-to-an-end”. Maybe they were suffering from trauma or were trying to feed their kids or were avenging some brutal attack… they’re always heroic and vindicated. 

Well, it’s no fucking different for poor people of African or indigenous descent! When they are convicted in criminal court, they may be locked out of 4,800 gainful opportunities in the state of California and 48,000 across the U.S.

CORRECT: Imprisoned Women, Survivor.
INCORRECT: Dangerous Female Prisoners.

HERE’S WHY: The media would have you believe that all women locked up are like “La Reina Del Sur”. But, the reality is that nearly 90% of the women who are locked up for violent crimes are there for killing the men who physically and/or sexually abused them.

Even though women commit murder far less often than men, they tend to get longer sentences for self-defense and killing their vatos, than men who kill their female partners.

Nearly 90% of the women who are locked up for violent crimes are there for killing the men who physically and/or sexually abused them.

While these women average 15-year sentences, men’s sentences are between two and six years.

Still, the vast majority of women in prison are there for non-violent or low-level drug crimes. A lot of them are there ‘cause they were accomplices to crimes committed by their partners.

Makes you rethink the label “ride or die chick”… que no?

CORRECT: Caging, Controlling, and Punishing Our Communities.
INCORRECT: “3 Strikes,” Serving Justice, Paying their Debt to Society.

HERE’S WHY: For decades, politicians competed to prove who could be tougher on crime. Democrat and Republican pushed the so-called “War on Gangs” and “War On Drugs”. They wasted millions of dollars on law enforcement.

The Pentagon began giving tanks and military equipment to local police departments to wage these wars in poor communities of color.

Congress gave away ridiculous mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession and other minor offenses. But, they only implemented these brutal policies in poor communities.

Muthafuckas in affluent neighborhoods got away with lesser sentences, AA meetings, and drug treatment programs, or community service.

The Pentagon began giving tanks and military equipment to local police departments to wage these wars in poor communities of color.

When our folks are convicted of serious or violent offenses, they are also far more likely to receive harsher sentences than White people committing the SAME crimes.

Brock Turner, the White dude from Stanford who raped an unconscious woman got a 6-month sentence. Meanwhile, Cyntoia Brown, a sex-trafficking survivor was sentenced to life for killing her abuser when she was 14 years old.

That’s Racism 101. They teach you that shit in any intro to Chicano or Africana Studies class.

Why can they see a rich White college student as a human being, but people of color as “criminals,” even our youth?! Why can’t we all be seen as human?

CORRECT: People with Mental Health Issues, People in Need of Mental Health Services.
INCORRECT: Mentally Ill Inmates, Crazy, or Demented.

HERE’S WHY: There was a time when we used to call the bravest homies “crazy”. Back then that word was synonymous with courageous and that commanded respect in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, those were the friends who got into the most trouble ‘cause their bravery led to “stupid” (or irresponsible) behavior. This, in turn, landed them in trouble with the law.

Often times, people who commit serious and or violent crimes are dealing with unaddressed trauma which causes mental health issues and non-compassionate behaviors.

Now, more and more, people who are incarcerated are in need of mental health care and treatment for substance use issues.

The Los Angeles County jail system is the largest mental health provider in the country!

That’s what’s really crazy! It is twice as expensive and less effective to try to treat someone with mental illness in a jail or a prison than in their community. So who are the real pendejxs?

CORRECT: Trans, Gender Nonconforming People in Prison. 
INCORRECT: Male Inmates Who Presented Themselves as Women. 

HERE’S WHY: Trans people have existed in our communities long before Caitlyn Jenner started poppn’ off.

But, while Caitlyn sits in her Malibu mansion supporting Trump’s mamadas, trans and gender variant people of color are violently targeted on the streets of LA just for living.

They are targeted by cops and by the very communities they belong to. This means us! We gotta chill the fuck out on this homophobic & transphobic shit. 

Trans people become even greater targets in prison and often forced into isolation in the SHU. Subjecting a person to solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment, period.

CORRECT: People Targeted as Gang Members or Security Threats.
INCORRECT: Gang Member, Gang Leader, Street Criminals, “Worst of the Worst,” or Shot Caller.

HERE’S WHY: If you grew up in a gang neighborhood, you’ve witnessed the tension and fear that comes with gang activity.

There are many reasons our people join gangs: social, economic or even political opportunities. You may also have a primo or tio who got caught up in that gang activity due to lack of job opportunities, education, family support, mental health care or a variety of other reasons.

Cops have historically used gang databases to collect information from every young person and their abuelas on the block. Chorizos operate under the racist pretense that “everyone in the hood will grow up to commit a crime, so we might as well collect their info now and save us the trouble later!”

Those of us from the hood know that writing off someone as a gang member or targeting gangs does not address the root-causes of why our communities are not safe. We know that the violence tied into gangs in our hoods is often brought to us by the state.  

Cops have historically used gang databases to collect information from every young person and their abuelas on the block. Chorizos operate under the racist pretense that “everyone in the hood will grow up to commit a crime, so we might as well collect their info now and save us the trouble later!”

For anyone who is unfortunate enough to have a run-in with the law – being in that gang database could mean that their misdemeanor gets bumped up to a felony or worse. Once locked up, those labels dictate how guards treat those individuals.

The prison system’s anti-gang propaganda is often based on offensive, dangerous, and racist stereotypes that dehumanize Black and Brown people. The state uses those labels as excuses for treating people like shit on the inside.

CORRECT: Wasting Public funds on Prisons or Jails.
INCORRECT: Public Spending or Investing in Prisons or Jails.

HERE’S WHY: This is self-explanatory. The government should invest more in education, jobs, mental health, childcare, etc.

Locking people up does not help anyone except those who benefit from the criminal justice system like: the prosecutors, judges, clerks, and prison guards; the corporations that use prison labor; the telephone companies charging exorbitant fees for collect calls to reach family members from prison; bail bonds companies; probation and parole departments; the cops; the muthafuckas that produce the show Cops, and the countless TV shows that exploit prison life to increase ratings for their channels.

Not to mention those that are lined up to profit from so-called “alternatives” to prison, like the producers of ankle monitoring shackles.  

At the national level, there is a congressional bed quota – which mandates that 34,000 beds be maintained for detained immigrants at all times.

There are also local quotas written into some of the contracts with private facilities. These local quotas ensure that the private facilities are paid regardless of how many detainees are being held in their facilities, wasting even more taxpayer dollars!

CORRECT: Harm/Lack of Access to Public Resources.
INCORRECT: Crime & Threat to Public Safety.

HERE’S WHY: There are some real public safety challenges facing society, but the American public deserves better than to be fed the lies that a system of mass incarceration is synonymous with safety.

We lock up more people than anyone else on the planet.

You might think that locking people up brings down the crime rate. But countries like Iceland, Japan, and Switzerland have waaaaay lower crime rates than the U.S. and lock up waaaaay less people. How, Sway?

We lock more people up so that those in power can maintain the status quo.

And like all things American, if it benefits the 1%, it will get the support of the government.

The worst part about this is that it’s not our crime rates that make us so punitive, it’s the way we target Black and Brown people and the poor. That’s right… our government is intentional about only locking up poor people!

If you don’t believe me, check the FBI crime stats. It tracks all crimes, except White-collar crimes… this is despite the fact that white-collar crimes cause millions of dollars in damages and hurt thousands of American families.

But crime rates aside, safety means having the resources that our community needs not just to survive, but to thrive!

We lock up more people than anyone else on the planet.

We need to ask ourselves what type of country we want to live in. For decades, the same muthafuckas that accuse Millennials of bringing the American social stock to an all-time low, are the same people who are responsible for reinforcing the deteriorating conditions of our American society. A society that endorses locking people up like poultry as long as capitalism rules.

Now ask yourself, whose laws and what order they’re trying to defend!?

#HoodDigest

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