To describe racism in the American prison system, why not get it straight from the horse’s mouth? If you’ve read my previous posts where I shared poems and some short written pieces by my prison pen pal Thomas Porter, you will have noticed his raw, emotional honesty. No poem by him can leave you unaffected.
The following two pieces ( You Will be Tested and I Fight Against Opinions) explain racism in US prisons so much better than I ever could in a research essay.
I wish there was more I could do for Thomas besides getting the word out about the horrible treatment he receives. The inhumane racist laws may no longer exist in the land of the “free”, but racism is still very much a part of daily life …
You Will Be Tested
Upon walking into population I was unaware of the heavy racism that is a built culture here in these mountains, I walked into the cell that was provided for me, cleaned it with the soap I had brought from commissary and a rag that I was given as a wash rag.
I got on my hands and knees and focused all my anxiousness on the floor and walls, When I finished I stood at my cell door looking at the movement through the cell door slit of a window and I noticed the divination.
When it was my time to come into the unit dudes already knew who I was. I placed my name on the kiosk so that I could use it in 24 hours and I made some calls. Afterwards I stood alone, checking out how everyone was moving,
When everyone felt comfortable that I wasn’t crazy two different people pulled me to the side to speak prison rules of engagement amongst these 44 dudes. One was black and the other – who is now someone I deal with equally respectfully – was white.
The black dude asked “Do you have any connections to gangs?” I said no. Then he asked if I was religious. I said, “Why do you ask?” He replied: “How you are carrying yourself.” He showed me all the forms I needed and said, “Be careful in here, my name is …”
Next was the white dude who came that night after I was told about him being a Nazi or white supremacist. So I just listened to him speak and the very first thing he said was: “I know your circumstances because they are just like mine. I have life without parole for capital murder. So, listen up because I’ve been in these mountains for a while at both prisons.”
He continued: “You will be tested! Not just for your color but for having done something that these dudes don’t have the heart to do. You already have hate aimed at you for speaking with me but you seem capable of deciding what kind of prisoner you will be. Remember everything is a test with these COs (correctional officers) and administration, but unlike them I’m white-power-connected; you are going to be tested even harder.”
As of this very moment the blacks in my unit except for one hate me because I chose to vibe with a white supremacist and we walk the rec yard talking about the overall culture of his and mine and their differences. We are an odd pair.
By Thomas Porter
Scroll down for more of Thomas’s writing on racism.
I Fight Against Opinions
I am “a piece of sh*t,” given I killed a police officer who would have gladly killed me, justifying homicide under the title of I-am-a-cop.
I am a “piece of sh*t” that needs to be finished off when punched by some mental case dude who is praised by these COs who say “We let you do what you did, why didn’t you finish that piece of sh*t?” Yet the COs say they aren’t here to punish me.
“I am a police officer or correctional officer who took a duty to not be like us criminals” yet we all see that’s not true for some.
I am a “piece of sh*t” for loving white women or being able to show intelligence when having a conversation.
I am a “piece of sh*t” for not knowing my place in their racist ignorance.
I am a “piece of sh*t” before I am seen as a human being.
I am an opinion of pieces of sh*t!
By Thomas Porter
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I read the poem by Thomas and thought, it’s a shame that someone should be locked up just for one incident. Not several. When will he be set free to live his life normally like the rest of us? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, he is writing out his feelings and sharing them with you – his contact with the outside world.
By the time he comes out, the lockdown will be over and his prison lockdown would have finished. He will have a lot to get used to all over again.
Personally, I don’t know what it’s like in prison, but I’m sure it must be horrible to be watched all day and night just in case you slip up…again.
Thomas has life without parole … Laws are changing, and non profit groups are working hard to make more change happen, but I don’t know when that will be.
Recently, a law was approved in California, stating that max prison sentences should be 25 years, no more than that. Hopefully, this law will be adopted in other states as well.
Racism is a big thing to deal with in any situation on the streets or even in prison some prisons are political. The more political the more racism there is and the more tension there will be.
Racism in the prison should be more looked into and not looked at it as their choice. We need to stand together we all bleed the same blood.
This is a powerful article that needs to talk about more.
Hi Matthew and Deloris,
Indeed, it’s a powerful article and I hope that many people will share it. You’re very right: racism is not a choice. Racism is definitely not freedom of expression, it is just wrong. Underneath our skin we are all the same.
Thank you for your comment!
As a black woman who faces racism in the outside world, I can only imagine the type of challenges Thomas and those our race are facing. I don’t know what it’s like to face racism in a cell. It’s uplifting to see him encouraged by a WS. I hope laws change for the better so that justice can be served fairly.
I hope so too. I hope that laws will change for the better and that it will happen sooner than later.
It’s great that I have came across this article because only yesterday I was part of a race and equality workshop in my place of work. We discussed serious issues that happened in the workplace where people were racially abused. Then when they went to their line manager for support, they basically just told them “That’s the way it is here…get over it”.
Prison sounds like a similar situation as the workplace when it comes to racism. It’s not a good time for racism unfortunately all over the world and we need to do something about it.
Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work.
All the best,
Very strong poem and your entire blog post Cristine. I am living in the Netherlands( the country that is officially known for its open nature to all races , religions and languages) so I shouldn’t know what racism is, but the opposite is actually true. I see racism, maybe in more “hidden” almost in everyday life. It is enough when you don’t speak 100% fluently dutch and you will be asked where are you from, and dependant on your answer you will get your treatment. Be that bar , office or shop. I know that the prison in the U.S. is place where the racism must have totally different, much more cruel version.
The question is, what to do with it? How to fight it?
Sadly, racism is prevalent everywhere … even in the so-called more open countries. We just don’t learn from our past, do we? What to do when one is confronted by it every day? That’s a good and difficult question … I don’t know … how can anyone handle such treatment on a constant basis? No one should have to put up with racism, yet so many do …
How do we fight it? By continuing to raise awareness, by protesting, marching, demanding change.
Racism is prevalent in any prison, just like the gangs are. Everyone in there has a group they belong to, and venturing out of the group can be dangerous. They claim that belonging to a group is what keeps you safe from others coming into your cell to jump you, or worse, try to kill you. And, while this is true for the most part, yes, the CO’s are corrupt to put it lightly.
I actually worked at a maximum penitentiary before I was sent to jail myself. I worked in the men’s prison and I saw that the system in there is more skewed than out. The CO’s all claimed that the prisoners were pieces of sh!t and that they all needed to be in there for life. Also claiming they were “cops” though weapons aren’t permitted in prison’s, only handcuffs which you’re issued when you’re first hired. The only people permitted guns are the squad that actually has to go in and break up the major fights. Other than that, no guns or weapons. Basically, I called us glorified babysitters, because that’s all we did. We watched and reported.
I actually had a roommate once that was a CO. He When someone asked what his job was, because of the uniform, he claimed he was a cop. He hated that I always corrected him and said that he was a CO, not a cop. But that is their mentality almost everywhere I’ve been. It’s sad because the actual cops won’t hire CO’s. They state that they’re jaded from working within the prisons, so they view everyone as a prisoner. A cop has to be able to view everyone as innocent (I know they don’t, some are corrupt), and so they often fail the psychological portion of the testing.
Anyway, thanks for sharing Thomas’ stories. They are a good read.
There is a huge difference between a CO and a cop and if they keep on claiming that they’re “cops” perhaps they feel a little embarrassed of not being cops? Who knows. Through my correspondence with my pen pals I learn about COs too, and it’s seriously messed up. There have to be some good ones among the bunch of bad apples, but it’s like you said, one of my penpals also told me that they treat them like sub-humans, and how it makes him feel …
Another pen pal, when he was waiting in line to make a phone call, he said that that the line was organized by race … First the white prisoners were allowed on the phone, then the northern latinos, then the southern latinos, and finally black people … This is just unbelieavable! It feels as if the racist laws of the 1950s are still prevalent there. It’s disgusting that people think they can treat others like that.
Racism is one of the biggest issues going on in our world and honestly it is very sad that anyone has to go through anything like this. Most people sent to prison are mostly sent to prison for little to no reason and its usually very unfair.
I can only imagine what it is like to be faced with racism in prison and trust me its not going to be pretty.
I just wish this issue will be visited and something be done about it, because a lot people are going through it
At least its nice to see that he can write about his experiences and i hope he will be a free man soon.
Thanks for sharing this with us
Yes, it’s horrible that racism is so prevalent, in prison and in the free world … I wonder when we will ever understand anything from our history.
Hey, Lila, if we want to change things, especially big social excesses, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So I can completely understand your feeling of “oof, what can I do about such a big issue as racism”.
I have that same feeling when it comes to sustainability. But then I think of all these people that started on their own and in the end were the beginning of a turn-around.
I am thinking of Greta Thunberg. And yesterday I saw a fragment of a speech Tamika Mallory held during a Black Lives Matter protest. If you are interested you can see it here https://youtu.be/8Jzku_jx5DQ
What she does is holding a mirror to institutionalized racism and saying “Don’t tell us we are violent – you taught us that. Now teach us how to do differently, by doing differently yourself”.
We always want to have change being immediate. And it would be best if that was possible. But until then I am grateful for people like you and Tamika. Change will come eventually. 🙂
I will definitely watch Tamika Mallory’s speech. It sounds like a powerful one.
Change will come, I believe it too, I wonder when, though …
It is sad to read how racism is inside prisons. But it is also good for us to know how things really are. If we would like to enforce some type of positive change, we need to know which is the starting point. I agree that racism is a virus we have been dealing with for many years. And most people are indiferent about it.
Indeed, we must know what is happening in prisons. Only with knowledge can we provoke change.
Thank you for your comment!