About a month ago I attended/volunteered at the 10th Annual FACTS Benefit, which was held at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, their current exhibit titled “A Dream Realized” compared the life and legacy of Dr. King with that of President Obama through a series of similar photographs.
I had never been there, and definitely want to go back sometime and check out all of the museums in Exposition Park. It seems like a fun place to take my sisters. Anyway, the event was really thought provoking. I learned so much about how many individuals and families are affected by Three Strikes. It was heartbreaking to meet so many mothers who have sons or daughters in prison for non-violent crimes that do not warrant a life sentence. After meeting these families and hearing their stories, it infuriates me to think that Californians could ignore these injustices. According to Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who was the keynote speaker, African Americans make up 7% of California’s population, yet they represent 45% of those in prison because of three strikes sentencing. Something is definitely wrong here.
The Benefit held a silent auction for artwork made by prisoners at Security Housing Unit — or the SHU, at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California. Prisoners are not allowed to use art materials in “the hole” so prisoners improvise and use paper pulp from magazines or toilet paper and place that on drawing paper. Colors are obtained by using the coating of vitamins, candy or coffee.
A lot of individuals and groups were present to support FACTS and it was really great to see so many grassroots and non-profit organizations come together to create visibility for an issue that seems to be so hidden and unspoken. The Youth Justice Coalition was in attendance and a young activist performed a spoken word piece that was as gritty and dark as her experiences on the rough streets of LA. As she said in her poem “we’re the children who rose from Watts in ’65… we’ve had enough, take the system down, and build something, now.”
It is imperative that the three strikes law be amended. The prison industrial complex is flawed, prisons are astoundingly overcrowded, and there are obvious racial implications when looking at the statistics. Funding really needs to go to rehabilitation rather than putting people away for life for non-violent crimes. Until that happens, the injustice will continue, and these individuals and their families will continue to be oppressed by the system.