Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Thomas de Luze via Unsplash

I am moved and inspired by the recent uprisings spurred on by the videos documenting the modern day lynchings of Ahmaud Aubrey and George Floyd, who were hunted and preyed upon like wild animals. These videos depicting the modern day lynchings of Black people aren’t new. In fact they occur so frequently that I believe that the loop-the-loop fashion in which they are shown is a sort of subliminal message to all Americans that a Black life holds no value in America. I am hoping that this time the global outrage displayed has real staying power, and is not the byproduct of some sort of COVID-19 boredom phase. Because if it does not lead to the destruction of the American foundational pillars of genocide, slavery, racism, sexism, classism and unfettered capitalism, you can rest assured that another modern-day lynching of a black life is occurring at this very moment. It is just a matter of if it is caught on tape. 

The recent murders of Aubrey, Floyd and Breonna Taylor seem to have moved the needle in a way that the others did not. I have never heard the level of truthful and honest discussions currently taking place in the mainstreamed media regarding America’s treacherous and savage history. This gives me hope because the only way to address and possibly reconcile for the greatest crimes ever committed against humanity (genocide & slavery) is with the truth. 

The conversations I’ve been hearing pertain mostly to police misconduct. But I believe that we must raise all the aspects of systemic, institutional racism in describing exactly what and who America truly is. And since I am innocent and wrongfully convicted, I have an obligation to address the beast which has since this country’s inception made being Black a capital crime. The criminal “just-us” system — historically and currently — is built on the commodification of Black bodies, ever more so in Pennsylvania, and this is a plea for help for those of us who are trapped in the belly of this beast. 

Pennsylvania has circa 50,000 incarcerated human beings, more than 5,000 serving natural life sentences, meaning that they have been removed from the ranks of humanity because there is no feat they can achieve that would warrant their release. Pennsylvania has the most lifers in the country, according to the public radio broadcaster WHYY. They also report that Black prisoners account for 65 percent of those serving life sentences, a percentage that makes a person of color in Pennsylvania 18 times more likely to receive such a sentence. Most of them will die in prison because the appellate system creates an insurmountable barrier. 

As such, Pennsylvania provides a perfect case study of how racism has insidiously infected the criminal justice system to the point where the system itself is the real criminal. I am in no way claiming that everyone is innocent or wrongfully convicted in Pennsylvania, but I am asserting that there is a large contingent of incarcerated human beings in Pennsylvania who are there simply because the trial court obtains a conviction of Black, Brown, and poor people, at arguably any cost, and the appellate court works to uphold the conviction.

And in this time of reflection, guilty persons of color also deserve another look. The history of this country confirms that almost every aspect of Black lives have been impacted through institutionally racist policies and laws, which destroy the stability of every facet of Black life, from birth to death.

Now we have come to a place where the real life consequences of these systematic oppressions can be reviewed, discussed and hopefully corrected. We have a duty to reevaluate the lives of the millions of poor Black people who lives were engineered through poor education and poverty, the most effective arm of racism, And since the prisons are full of Black people whose lives were directly shaped by this insidious arm, they may deserve a chance at redemption through a meaningful education that was initially denied to them. 

My heart tells me that if we let this moment pass as if it is just another moment, we might be forever forsaking all future Black Americans. Lastly, this essay is a plea for help for all of the innocent and wrongfully convicted human beings that are only in prison because of a lawless appellate system that refuses to uphold and enforce the Supreme Court precedents that governs it. Any meaningful investigation into Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system will reveal an overtly racist system that incarcerates its minority population to assure the survival of the rural areas where the majority of its prisons are located, while securing millions of tax paying dollars for the prison industrial complex.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Shonari Warren is a writer incarcerated in Pennsylvania.