Following is the forward to a book, Voices of Redemption: Our Road Toward Effective Change, edited by prisoners with whom I have worked in the past.
This pamphlet, produced by Siddiq A. Najee and Ronald Funderburk Day on behalf of the men at Fishkill Correctional Facility in New York, is a moving testament to the living power of redemption against the odds of the punitive incarceration visited upon populations throughout America--where cold winds have blown violently to the political right over the past quarter century. Yes, I say "violently," because the social policies that have disenfranchised more than two million men, overwhelmingly poor and of color, and have slaughtered poor people of color everywhere in the world for the greater glory of the American Empire, are incalculably more destructive--and therefore, far more "criminal"--than all the crimes committed by the inmates of prisons throughout the land.
I want to make the charge that these men are victims of toxic social circumstances that early on drained the hopeful spirit from their childhood lives and inexorably led them to their current situation. The sociology is compelling: Certain unforgiving places in inner cities all over America form a relentless and grim machinery that regularly feeds men into the nation's prisons. I am sure that many of us more favorably shined upon by dint of our social class (middle), place (secure and comfortable), and race (white), if similarly thrown into this maelstrom early in our lives, would find ourselves today in the same beleaguered position. The ultimate answer here is the elevation of all parts of the human family to a relative equality of condition--to the dignity of place and opportunity that ought finally to realize the American ideal thwarted for so long for so many: "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." A second American revolution is in order.
Which is not to suggest that any of the men who so poignantly bare their souls in these pages construe their plight as being solely the result of victimization by terrible circumstances. None take that escape route. Rather, each man writing here takes full personal responsibility for his past aggressive acts. Each has internalized the ennobling message of existentialist philosophy: I make no excuses. But each man also has learned to see through and to rescind the fool's bargain he once accepted in withering his soul's birthright by becoming the stereotypical criminal of the public's fear-mongered imagination. Instead, each has reconceived, reconfigured, and is now living his life for the good. Each is redeemed.
February 14th 2007