It’s well-known that the United Statesimprisons more people than any other country. Too often it seems we throw people in prison and forget about them. They’re wayward people who deserve punishment for their bad deeds, right? But, what happens after prisoners get released? According to a 2011 Pew Center study: “45.4 percent of people released from prison in 1999 and 43.3 percent of those sent home in 2004 were reincarcerated within three years, either for committing a new crime or for violating conditions governing their release.”
California’s recidivism rates are some of the highest in the country. California also spends a lot on its prison system. The state spends more money locking people up than it does funding higher education. Prison reform in the US is necessary; what we have now isn’t working well.
Last night I went to an alumni mixer for my business school. My friend and I mingled, exchanged pleasantries, answered the question oft-asked in SF, “Who do you work for?” and eventually landed in chat circle with three others. A man named H shared the story of his career ascent: “I made some bad choices in my life that I take responsibility for. I wasted a lot of time. I spent 8 years in prison.”
Say what now? Prison? Like Oz-style with shanking and what not?
Yes, prison. San Quentin prison. You know, where Johnny Cash held his first prison concert?
He went on to tell us about the program he joined in prison that helped him reset his life. It’s a program called The Last Mile that focuses on teaching prisoners business skills and providing project-based learning experiences. They eventually transition into a paid internship with one of the many technology companies in the Bay Area.
As I listened to H speak, it impressed me how forthcoming he was about his past and the path that led him to this point. He admitted to having made mistakes, but took the steps to change the course of his life for the better. Through The Last Mile, not only is he now employed with an up-and-coming technology startup, he had the opportunity to meet and learn from top leaders in the industry, the kind of people with whom ladder climbers dream of rubbing elbows. Had he not shared his story, I would have assumed he’d taken a more traditional route to reach his current state. His appearance and demeanor were professional and he spoke knowledgeably about the work he does. He enthusiastically praised the program and seemed grateful for the opportunity.
I didn’t ask what led to his imprisonment. It’s unimportant (to me). What’s important is that in the present he’s working hard to carve out a fruitful life for himself.
I greatly appreciate knowing that organizations like The Last Mile exist. It’s one kind of reformation our prisons need. People aren’t disposable. Prison shouldn’t be a place people go to learn how to become better criminals or lead to a vicious cycle from which people can’t escape. As H said, paraphrasing one of the speakers he’d met: “We recycle cans and bottles, why can’t we recycle people? Give them another chance?”
I wish H the best. I hope there are many more out there like him, being given a second chance at life.
In Tanzania this summer, I had a stimulating conversation with an Irish woman who had taken a break from her teaching job to manage a resort in Zanzibar. When she discovered that I’d been in Tanzania for three weeks, she was in shock. “I thought Americans didn’t get much holiday time?”
“I work for a company that provides really good benefits in the hopes of retaining employees.”
“Lovely. My American relatives come to visit us in Ireland and they only stay for six days. What’s the point? Stay home! There’s no time!” Imagine this said with a delightfully animated Irish accent.
“Why don’t Americans fight for more time off?”
I gave a heavy sigh and answered, “I don’t even know where to begin.”
The article sourced a recent study that found “57% of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of last year. “ Reasons given for this varied: some feel they have too much work to afford to take time off, others are afraid to take time off for fear of returning jobless and some just feel they can’t afford to do anything.
There was a time when I worked for a large insurance company as a contractor (because they were too cheap to hire me and many others full-time; of course, the execs got nice fat bonuses most years and they can afford shiny commercials with a celebrity endorser). I was only a few years out of college and didn’t have enough saved to afford to take unpaid time off. Even calling in sick wasn’t an option. No work, no pay. So, I get it. But, I didn’t like it. Working days on end with no break in sight. At a job I hated. With no health, dental or vision insurance and a micro-managing mid-level boss spying on everyone’s move. Another who kept calling me by the name of another black girl. I needed a break. We all do. Taking time off can have a beneficial impact on our physical and mental health, as well as our productivity at work. While according to the study, the average American employee gets 13 paid days off, the United States doesn’t mandate it (and I’m not sure how I feel about government intervention in this realm).
However, according to CNN Money the UK mandates employers give employees at least 28 paid days off, France decrees 25 and Japan 20. If vacation time is good for the body, good for the soul and good for the business, why don’t Americans fight for vacation time?
Cafferty’s question generated a (mostly) healthy debate.
Patrick from Oregon said,
“Many who work making minimum wages or near it are unable to afford a vacation. heck we can barely afford to buy gas to get to work.”
A more cynical MnTaxpayer commented,
“Because most corporate drones think they are more important then[sic] they really are.”
Quite a few chalked it up to our strong American work ethic. Guy Williams summed up the recurring themes nicely,
“Reasons: (1). Americans, for the most part, have very strong work ethics. (2). We fear losing our jobs if we aren’t at our desk every day other workers see our absence and maneuver for an opening. (3). We barely keep our heads above water with the work load we have; setting it aside for 2 weeks or longer means an unconquerable mountain of backlog when we return. That’s why we don’t take vacations.”
On Friday, CNN Money posted a somewhat related article: “One in three U.S. workers has no paid sick days” which similar to the vacation post received a large number of responses. This time some of the responses were a little sharper in tone.
J. Medford replied,
“I live in a 3rd world Caribbean Country and we have that right…America is weird.”
To which Burns8282 responded,
“Says the guys in the 3rd world country. Ill take the American work ethic and the title of most powerful country in the world.”
Ouch! (As of this writing the response had received 6 positive votes, 14 negative votes.)
In an unrelated comment, Waytooold2 chimed in,
“when your[sic] worried about being outsourced you don’t worry about sick days”
The eye-rollingly named liberlmedia added,
“They should move to Europe if they want paid vacation.”
Others worried about the increase in malingerers (one woman worried about an uptick in drunkards taking the day off to nurse hangovers). However, many were sympathetic to the plight of those without paid sick days. As Nick Knight commented,
“America, slowly becoming a right wing toilet.”
And the battle between the 1% & the 99% continues as Madisontruth stated,
“Welcome to the new normal. The 1% who control the game board see us all as pawns. This is why government intervention is necessary.”
Why don’t Americans have as much time off as other countries? Is it a strong work ethic? Is it that we’re pawns in a game played by a few, dazzlingly wealthy people in charge? Are we just so used to it that it never occurs to us to ask for more? Even when people do take vacation, some end up working anyway!
I don’t know what the answer is. What I do know is that I choose to live my life with respect to my future self. When I make important decisions, I ask myself: will I feel it was worth it; will I feel good about it? If not, it’s probably not the right decision. When I look back on my life, I don’t want to lament all the time I spent not making the most of it, not enjoying myself, not doing something meaningful. As I lay on my deathbed, I surely will not regret spending too much time working as I reflect on my life choices. I work hard during work hours, I play during play hours. When I’m on vacation, don’t call me and I’m not checking work emails.
Of course, it’s not that black and white. I’ve progressed well in my career. I have chosen to work in a field where the smart employers – as in employers that realize employees are their best asset – fight over employees by dangling tantalizing benefits in our faces. I have the option of saying “Hellllll to the no” to jobs with shit benefits. But, that could change: I could lose my job, the debt ceiling could finally crush us and work “perks” like sick days and vacation time could disappear. However, I’ll do my best to live a life to love and in any case, liberlmedia has a good point about moving to Europe…I did love France when I visited.
As far as we know, we get one life to live and I want to enjoy the hell out of this one!
This year’s election and the 2008 election have shown me a side of some Americans that I find abhorrent, disgustingand sad. I cannot say I was / am proud to call them all my fellow countrypeople.
At times I feel very unwelcome in my own country. I’ve worked and continue to work hard. Once I left my parent’s house to attend college, I was fully on my own. I worked an average of 30 hours a week while taking 12-15 hours a semester and still managed to have an active social life and hold leadership roles. I’ve struggled through jobs that I didn’t like or that didn’t pay well, usually both at the same time. I am an active contributor to American society. I volunteer my time, I give to charities, I give money to the homeless. I pay what seems like more than my fair share in taxes. Yet, there will still be people who look at me and assume the worst.
There are people who claim racism in America doesn’t exist anymore. We’re “post-racial.” That black people don’t have it hard. That slavery ended over 100 years ago and we should stop complaining. We’ll just ignore the Jim Crow laws, segregation in schools, and voter disfranchisementthat occurred after the end of slavery.
Ever heard of implicit racism? How about systemic orinstitutional racism and the far-reaching impacts of it on longstanding institutions like standardized tests that may be biased toward people of certain socioeconomic groups?
Or the influence of a teacher’s personal biases and the effect it may have on how well their students do. Or economic discrimination? Or implicit bias and how it affects how doctors treat their black patients? These are the less visible forms of prejudice, bias and discrimination that black people experience over the course of our lives that are easily overlooked by those who don’t walk in our shoes.
Sometimes it’s exhausting being black in this country. I even get angry sometimes. But, god forbid I’m angry or I’ll be seen as an “angry black woman.” I can’t just be angry: I’m black, female and angry. My emotions aren’t my own. They belong to a stereotype. But, more than angry it makes me sad. And sometimes I cry. I hate to admit it, because I’ve been told and taught not to show weakness, not to let ignorant, hateful people get me down. To live my life the best I can to prove people wrong. But, sometimes I get tired. It’s tiring feeling like you have to be the best, because if you’re not, someone inevitably will think, “Yep, just another lazy n-.”
Some people claim not to see color. That’s not helpful either. We AREN’T all the same and it’s disingenuous to pretend we are. Some people say, “Why are black people always bringing up race?” Because other people WON’T LET US FORGET IT!
If black people are only voting for Obama because he’s black, what’s motivating Latinxs, Asians and other non-Black groups have for voting for him? Are they color struck as well?
If you posit that black people are voting for Obama because he’s black, what does it say about themajority of white men who support Romney?
Why do some people assume that a black person would vote for Obama because he’s black and not because they’ve made an informed decision to choose him between a choice of two candidates? What does that say about the person who makes this assumption and their view of black Americans?
I thought the one-drop rule was supposed to be a thing of the past in this country? Yet, people still refer to Obama as black when in fact he’s biracial. Yes, I’m aware that he self-identifies as black. But, which came first? Other people treating him as a black person or him self-identifying as such? Do people forget that Obama is half-white? Can we be real and admit that people in this country still socially categorizes people based on skin color?
Will there ever be a time in this country where people don’t assume members of a racial or ethnic group will behave as one large block?
Can I just have an opinion on something or someone and not have someone attribute the reasoning for it to me being black?
Why is it that some people think whenever the topic of race is brought up by someone of color that they are “playing the race card?” I can’t speak for all people of color or all black people, but games with race aren’t games I care to play. If I bring up the topic of race, it’s not to play some damn game. I’m certainly not “winning” anything holding a black card, especially given the latest AP poll findings that a majority of Americans harbor negative views of blacks.
I have never claimed to be a victim.
I have a college degree.
I pay my bills.
I have never asked for a handout, unless you consider taking out student loans that are like an albatross around my neck for tens of years a handout.
I don’t immediately assume that anyone who looks at me oddly or is rude to me is racist.
I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. You try living in America as a black American for 30+ years and see how it changes your view of the world.
Americans watch black athletes play sports, listen to music performed by black people, laugh at black entertainers, but seemingly ignore the contributions of the hardworking black people in finance, law, technology, science, education and blue-collar jobs who are not in the public eye, but quietly work hard to achieve the American dream (whatever that is these days) and see little to no representation in the media.
We get to hear positive rappers like Common called a hoodlumjust because of his chosen career.
We get to hear Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States reduced to nothing more than her behind. It’s disrespectful. She is the goddamned first lady of the United States of America and you’re a Congressman. Why are you talking about her backside?
Is there a place I can live where people don’t make these asinine assumptions? Some place where I can just be Keisha?
There’s no hate in my heart. I love learning about different cultures, trying new things and opening myself to new experiences, which sometimes is scary and intimidating, but overall I think I’m a better person for it. It’s why I travel. It’s why my friends and I could model for a Bennetonad. I wish more people were open to experiences and people outside of their comfort zone.
Race and ethnicity should not be a taboo topic in a country like the United States where we truly have people of all kinds. Let’s not make excuses in the face of blatant or latent racism. Racism exists in this country, let’s not deny it, pretend it’s a thing of the past, gloss over it or act like only people of color ever discuss it. We’ll never get past it if people insist on living in denial and get uncomfortable talking about it. Instead of accusing people of “playing the race card” or living with a chip on their shoulder: think about it, engage in a dialogue about it and examine your own beliefs.
I'm Keisha ("Kee-shuh", not to be confused with Ke$ha). I am a (later) thirty-something, non-mommy, non-wife, who lives in San Francisco, California New York and has lots of opinions on lots of things.