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Dozens of cases of assaults on prisoners have resulted in serious and permanent injury, as well as a small number deaths over the years, without anyone being held accountable.  

Black and Brown people are at risk of assaults in and out of the nation’s prisons. Even though a lethal encounter is less likely in New York’s prisons because firearms are not allowed behind the wall, assaults on black and brown bodies in prison are brutal, frequent and create lasting psychological damage, frustrating rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation not only requires rehabilitation of the person, it requires reforming the environments and systems in which those needing rehabilitation exist.

Now that President Biden controls the levers of power, I’m hopeful he will not only make good on his promises of police and criminal justice reform, but that as he does so, he will invite stakeholders on both sides of the divide to the table in crafting legislation both removing and penalizing criminal justice mechanisms that perpetuate the racial and class inequities that result in mass incarceration. 

Like many other government policy initiatives, mass incarceration is monetized and corporate. It is the de facto redlining of black, brown and poor people in its current formation, with little incentive to move from the economic status quo towards restorative justice and rehabilitation. States were encouraged after the Crime Act passed in 1994 to adopt Truth in Sentencing reforms that built prisons and packed them with black and brown bodies. 

I’m hopeful Biden will incentivize police and criminal justice reform.

As the nation struggles with multiple crises, I weigh the pros and cons of my own complaints, as COVID-19, the economic recovery and social justice demands are pressing issues for all communities in America. 

Given my own complicity in my situation, I sometimes feel like I need to wait for everyone else to be served, but the lives of black and brown folk have been prefigured in ways I would not have chosen for myself. Prefigured in ways that explain the predominance of black and brown people filling the holds of the nation’s prisons like slave ships of old.

The disproportionately high number of people of color being killed by police, the increased mortality rate for persons of color infected with COVID, and all the inequities require that I lodge my complaint as a vested member of the community in question. With some guilt, I still raise my voice so that prisoners are not to be forgotten in the conversation of reform and social justice.

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.

Reginald Stephen is a writer incarcerated in New York.