July ’20 Heart to Heart Newsletter
Black lives matter. Each of us, every one of us, affirming, out loud, that black lives matter is a beginning. This one affirmation can begin an acknowledgment of centuries of pain and institutionalized oppression that continues in all its afflictive force, into this present moment.
For over thirty years Heart to Heart and its predecessor Comienzos, have worked within the jails and prisons of America. Here we witness the systemic dehumanizing, dignity-robbing punishment of incarceration.
The affirmation that black lives matter can continue through a sober look at our policing practices and in our criminal justice system. For over thirty years Heart to Heart and its predecessor Comienzos, have worked within the jails and prisons of America. Here we witness the systemic dehumanizing, dignity-robbing punishment of incarceration. It takes so many forms: executions, solitary confinement, strip searching, and many other daily humiliations. The Marshall Project’s, “The Zo” helps us hear of this experience directly from voices behind bars. Click here to view their nonprofit journalism on criminal justice.
We have witnessed Johnny Chavez dying in his cell, because his cellmate’s pleas for medical help were not heeded. We accompanied boys and girls who were sent to prisons built just for them. We heard of men repeatedly strip searched as officers chuckled.
The system in which we work has been overtaken by the impulse to punish. Our country locks up more of its own people than any other nation on the planet. We incarcerate black and brown men at shockingly disproportionate numbers. One in every ten African American men between age 20 and 34 is currently incarcerated. One in nine African American children has an incarcerated parent. That makes millions of U.S. children directly impacted by mass incarceration.
We must affirm black lives matter and see what the systems we created are doing. Young children’s moms, like Breonna Taylor, are lost forever. Hundreds of people have lost their grandparents as they died of COVID-19 while in prison, threats to no one, potential resources to our communities, these older men and women were kept behind bars by a system hellbent on punishment.
As needed reforms come to many police departments, we must look as well at the entire correctional system, and envision not penal institutions, but houses of healing.
The above icon, painted by J. Michael Walker, can be seen as George Floyd calling on us from the other side. “Harm Less,” he calls. This is a call to do less harm. It may also be a call to see all our human sisters and brothers in our innocence, in our essential state—all hungering for the same things, justice, freedom, the chance to simply breathe.
Ahaji Scheffler, President
Steve Tumolo, Executive Director