Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Open Letter to the P.O.T.U.S. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Hey guys....below is the text of a letter I recently sent to the White House. Let me know what you guys think!)

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Hassan Hartley, and I am an author, activist, convicted felon, and  small business owner.  Congratulations on having been elected to a second term,so now let's get to business: there is a perception among many in black America that a “black agenda” has not clearly been outlined for you to incorporate into your policy decisions.  I have been reading your PDF file located on the White House website entitled, “The President’s Agenda and the African American Community”,and you make some great rhetorical points in the document. What troubles me as I read it, is that it appears to be little more than platitudes and glittering generalities. It appears as though some measure to scramble together bullet points to appease African Americans for election purposes was the intent behind the agenda. 

As a former convicted felon, who has authored a book on some aspects of social, cultural and political aspects of the Prison Industrial Complex, what troubles me is that more is not done legislatively to correct the damaging policies of the “War On Drugs” on millions of young black men who have been convicted of low-level drug crimes. Young black men who,socioeconomically, for all intents and purposes, are trapped in a cycle of recidivism that devastates the African American community exponentially. Family bonds are often strained, even destroyed, and children are being raised in marginalized subcultures that accept limited education and mass incarceration as real possibilities for their lives.

Lives ruined because of low level drug crimes, crimes that their white counterparts, commit with equal frequency, if not greater frequency, but who are not targeted, arrested, convicted and sentenced at nearly the rate as someone who looks like you or me.

No one expects you, Mr. President, from the Oval Office, to wave a magic wand to heal the ills of Black America. There are things that can be done, however, in terms of policy, to put us in a better position to be able to help ourselves. In her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, Michelle Alexander astutely points out that more black men are under the control of the criminal justice system today, primarily because of the War on Drugs, than there were black people enslaved in the South after the 1850 Census (3.5 million).

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 is a start, but far more must be done. Attempting to reduce recidivism with Reentry Councils is laudable, but legislation that allows an offender to vote, not have his or her criminal record impact their ability to gain employment, and be able to truly turn the page on the mistakes of the past, needs to be crafted as soon as possible. As an entrepreneur, I am glad to see more being done for small business owners like myself(although I am currently a one man LLC), but I haven’t felt the policies kick in yet, and getting a Small Business Loan for someone in my position is difficult, at best.

I would love to work with your Reentry Council to help ex-offenders not only get properly trained to enter or re-enter the job market, but be able to become legitimate small business owners as well. This seems more realistic than hoping other companies will offer us a job coming out of prison. Teaching these young men how to fish, instead of offering a fish, will help out tremendously. Many of these young brothers literally have reading levels at or near the third grade. This is particularly troubling to see young men ages 18-35 that cannot read on a fourth grade level, but who, if trained properly, could maximize a wealth of talents and skills to help make this nation even greater.

It fuels my cynicism to see the public school system so badly broken as it is. Schools in "urban" areas are a joke, even compared to my days as a teenager, and they were not a sparkling gem of a model even then. There is a direct relationship between a lack of education and crime/incarceration, and you can alleviate some tax burden on the American people by quoting the disparity between what it costs to incarcerate a citizen, and what it costs to educate one.

 I wonder sometimes if a dumber, less critical electorate becomes a more manageable one, particularly for corporate special interests who pillage the middle class and poor with ruthless efficiency. These same corporations invest heavily in privatized prisons, while the public schools become veritable wastelands. If the "underclass" is allowed to expand due to mass incarceration at this same rate, this great nation will fall to the ignominy of many other  nations before her.

I pray for your continued success, Mr. President, as your success will translate hopefully into America’s success. Thank you or your staff for taking the time to read these few words.

I am,
A Friend and Supporter,

Hassan Hartley

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